Seven democrats are running for Long Beach City Council this year. A Primary Election on Tuesday, June 25th will narrow that number down to just three. I decided to send some questions over to a few of these candidates for us to find out more about them. Meet Ron Paganini, Liz Treston & Karen McInnis of The New Wave Dems LB. Enjoy!
Please briefly tell us about yourselves.
Ron Paganini is a 62-year resident of Long Beach. His grandchildren represent the 6th generation of family that has lived here. Now retired, Ron spent 35 years working for the City of Long Beach and knows how the City operates inside and out. He is a proud CSEA member where he rose to the rank of Executive Vice President. In that capacity, he successfully helped break the union free from City political control.
Liz Treston is a Long Beach lifer. She is a retired speech pathologist and serial do-gooder. As the Founder of the LB COAD, she has personally helped hundreds of Long Beach families in their recovery from Super Storm Sandy. She’s an expert in planning, resiliency, accessibility and a tireless advocate for ALL Long Beach residents. She was the Long Beach Herald’s 2018 “Person of the Year”.
Karen McInnis has resided in the West End for nearly 15 years. She has 25 years of experience as a Strategic Financial Executive with name brand public and private companies like Topps and Time. She’s served on the Board of West End Neighbors Association and is active in Ladies AOH and Auxiliary VFW.
Please tell us why you are all running for City Council.
While in different ways, we’ve all been deeply ingrained in Long Beach for years. The common thread is that we’ve each spent countless hours at City Council meetings advocating for issues we care about and think important to the community at large. City finances, storm recovery, resiliency, accessibility and transparency to name a few. On all these fronts, the end result always seems to be the same – an administration that’s either too corrupt or too incompetent to address the needs and challenges facing our City. Instead of inviting the community into the decision-making process, the incumbents seem to regard concerned residents as the enemy, either ignoring their suggestions or treating them with outright hostility. As a result, we have a City on the brink of fiscal insolvency and mired in ethical scandals.
Since [City Council President] Anthony Eramo took office, City taxes have increased 37%, water fees have increased 23%, sewer fees 27% and the City’s debt has doubled to over $100 million. All this, and our streets remain riddled with potholes, our sewer and water infrastructure is a ticking time-bomb and the bay remains totally exposed to the next high tide.
We’re not running because we think we have all the answers, but rather because we think we’ve the collective experience, competency and, probably most importantly, moral compass to finally do what’s right for our City and its residents. We don’t agree with each other on all the issues or the potential solutions, but know how to respectfully work through disagreements in order to arrive at better conclusions. That a dynamic sorely lacking on our current Council.
How would you address the many current issues our city is facing, such as cost of living, crumbling infrastructure, transparency, storm protection, etc.?
To be honest, the City is not going to be able to tackle many ‘big’ issues until we get our fiscal house in order. That needs to be priority number one, because things like infrastructure, resiliency and affordability can’t be addressed unless the City has the means to pay for them. Understanding that our structural imbalance is the topic of the next question, we’ll address some of the lower-cost, qualify of life issues as part of this question.
We pledge to hold “open” working meetings of the City Council. This may not be sexy, but we think it critical. Since 2012, the City Council has conducted all deliberations on public business privately behind closed doors. When they were recently called out on it, they opted not to meet at all. That’s insanity. The public should be privy to the deliberations and nuanced discussions of the City Council so they can be better informed on both the issues and what individual Council Members opinions on the issues are. That our current Council has done all their deliberations behind closed doors and only show up in public to render their decisions isn’t just bad government, it violates State Open Meetings laws.
We also pledge to re-imagine, reinvigorate and empower all citizen advisory groups. We’re big believers in the ‘wisdom of crowds’. Five Council Members aren’t going to have all the answers, but we have very smart and experienced experts among our 35,000+ residents. We want them at the table, giving of their knowledge to help make our City the best it can be. The incumbents have either let these advisory groups go fallow or stacked them with cronies. The results have been predictable.
Open Check Book. We find it ironic that our former City Manager is implementing some of this in his new role as County Comptroller. Our current fund balance, every check that gets cut to a vendor and daily or weekly income (among many other things) should be live and available to the public via the City’s website.
Parking and Transportation:
So yeah, we’re an island. It doesn’t matter how good your parking app is (or would be). If there’s no spots available, you’re not going to get one. And that’s the case most Summer weekends. We need to simultaneously focus on A) decreasing the demand (priority) and, B) increasing the supply.
- A) Residential stickers are a must, as is a muni or parking meter system. We also need to recognize, embrace and take advantage of the fact that we have one of the highest percentages of bicycle riders on Long Island and that we have a city-owned bus/trolley system that’s highly underutilized and that both are part of the answer. While the lack of bike lanes on the boardwalk gets all the attention, the truth is that we should have protected, dedicated bike lanes throughout our city. Many of our roads could accommodate these, which would allow residents and visitors alike to travel throughout the City in a safe and comfortable manner without getting in a car. Implementation would be low-cost and only require community input, planning and political will to get it done. We run our own buses and trolley, but don’t promote the service to visitors, post clear schedules and stops or strategically create and support routes that meet the needs of diverse users. If we want to keep people out of their cars or deter them from driving here in the first place, this needs to change.
- B) Increasing the supply of parking is more difficult because it obviously requires significant capital expenditure, but the opportunities are there and need to be explored. The LIRR parking lot is less utilized during the weekend. The City owns the Stop ‘n Shop parcel, but leases the lot. Is there opportunity to re-imagine the property or designate some of the parking spaces for weekend day-trippers? Would creating a parking deck on the West School yard being financial viable or publicly acceptable? We don’t have the answers to these questions, but know the parking situation finally needs to be addressed and pledge to have the difficult conversation with the community that are necessary to at least pursue some potential solutions.
Quality of Life:
There needs to be a comprehensive, line-by-line review of the City’s Charter and Code of Ordinance. Simply put, these are the documents that define how our City operates, looks and behaves and they’ve not been looked at in a holistic fashion in 30 or more years. If we want to be sure our Council has the proper authority over the City Manager, that our Park Avenue storefronts look the way we want or that our employees are paid out in a way that is equitable to both them and tax payers, this needs to be done. Many of the City’s codes are outdated, which results in either lax enforcement or uncertainty in operations. Clear mandates and ground rules need to be established to ensure our businesses thrive and the City looks and operates in accordance with current standards that reflect the desires of our residents. Once the updated codes are in place, they need to be vigorously enforced. Doing so would help the City’s finances and ensure a community we could all be proud of.
Our city faces a continuing structural deficit. We spend more than we take in year after year. There are only a few ways to cut spending and raise income. What exactly do you propose to do to accomplish what is the single greatest challenge: To balance the books and achieve financial stability?
This issue can’t be sugarcoated. Our City’s budget is structurally and fundamentally unbalanced. It is not sustainable. Despite all the tax and fee hikes mentioned above, the Eramo/Diamond administration still had an operating deficit of $5.2 million in 2018. Long Beach has been rated the second most fiscally stressed municipality in the entire state by the NYS Comptroller the past two years and our bond rating has been downgraded by Moody’s to just two steps above “junk bond” status.
As every household in Long Beach knows, there’s only two ways to balance a budget. You need to either increase revenue or decrease expenses. Decreasing expenses comes down to management and oversight. It’s absolutely unacceptable that we’ve been without an experienced, professional City Manager for more than two years and that we just brought in a Comptroller last week. Even with those positions filled though, it must be the City Council’s job to aggressively monitor performance and adherence to the budget. The City ran up more than $2 million in overtime last year. That can’t be allowed to happen.
On the revenue side, this much is clear – we can’t keep increasing fees and taxes on our residents in order to balance the budget. Yes, parking meters would increase revenue to a degree, but it’s not close to being a game changer from a budgetary perspective. The only way to meaningfully increase revenue is to increase the tax base, and that means growing our City through smart growth principals that maintain both affordability and the character of our community.
What would you say are the most important challenges that our city must address that are presently being ignored?
Updating the Comprehensive Plan.
The comprehensive plan is the document that dictates what can be built and where and its been decades since it was last updated in a holistic fashion. Because of this, our building codes don’t take into account things like sea level rise or reduction of storm water runoff, much less chart a path for positive growth in our community. Expanding our tax base, preserving affordability, maintaining the character of our communities and protecting our residents from future storms are all issues that need to be codified through the comprehensive plan. While updating the plan has been an aspiration of the current administration, the flawed process they employed has left them without the support to do so. We’d engage the City in a neighborhood by neighborhood, community-driven process that let our resident’s vision’s of their City dictate what growth should look like in their own back yards.
Why should we vote for you?
First and foremost, thank you Anthony for running this blog. Before Sandy, before Project11561 or any of the other sites, this blog served as the lone voice in the wilderness for residents that wanted to weigh in on issues impacting Long Beach. It’s people like you that make Long Beach unique, so thank you.
As we said in the beginning, the common tie among the three of us is that we’ve all been long-time advocates for positive change in our City. Two years ago, Long Beach spoke loud and clear when it elected John Bendo to the Council by overwhelming margins. Two years before that, they elected Anissa Moore as the top vote getter. Anthony Eramo and Chumi Diamond have blocked the efforts of these two at every turn, resisting even the most basic calls for transparency or sound budgetary principals. On Tuesday, Long Beach’s registered Democrats will have the opportunity to finish the job.
Our next City Council is going to be faced with a host of extremely serious challenges left behind by the failed leadership of Eramo and Diamond. A structurally imbalanced budget. Crumbling infrastructure. Decreasing affordability. Pending multi-million dollar lawsuits. The ongoing threat of climate change. At every turn, Eramo and Diamond have failed to make the tough choices needed to address these challenges.
We’re not politicians, nor do we aspire to ever be. We are residents with long and successful track records of engaging on these difficult issues in our City. We’re the only candidates that can say that. Our only concern is to do what’s right by our City and residents and we think we’ve the collective insight, experiences, skillsets and ethics to get it done. As such, we’d be honored to get your vote on Tuesday the 25th.
Whoever your preferred candidates, please get out and vote. Our democracy dies when residents aren’t engaged. This is true even on the local level. Please, get out and vote. Our City needs you.
Ron, Liz and Karen
Learn more about the NEW WAVE DEMS LB on Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/New-Wave-Dems-LB-837743506573717/
Reminder: The Long Beach Democratic Primary Election is on June 25th.
Hey, do you like this blog? Please consider supporting it for more content like this! www.seabythecity.com/support-the-blog/