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Community Coalition Calls for Greater Transparency and Community Input in Development Approval Process

December 11, 2009

Media Contact:
Nick Sifuentes (310) 866-1692

Community Coalition Calls for Greater Transparency and Community Input in Development Approval Process

In Light of Murchison Lobbying Affair, Coalition Delivered Long Beach City Council a List of Demands for Reform

LONG BEACH, CA – The Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community delivered a list of demands to the City Council Friday afternoon, calling on the council to increase transparency and means for community input in the development project approval process.

The coalition also called for Community Benefits Agreements to be attached to projects that benefit from taxpayer subsidies. A study by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy found that the City of Long Beach has invested $750 million public dollars into its downtown tourism industry since the early 1980s.

“We need a great shift in the way business is done in Long Beach,” said Kristine Zentgraph, a coalition member and California State University Lon Beach professor. “Development, particularly that which benefits from taxpayer dollars, needs to work for our entire community.”

The announcement came about a week-and-a-half after the Press-Telegram revealed that Long Beach Director of Development Services Craig Beck has vacationed with a hotel lobbyist with business before the council. On one such trip, Beck received a significantly discounted hotel room.

Beck and the lobbyist, Mike Murchison, who represents LodgeWorks, were staying at a LodgeWorks hotel in Napa. LodgeWorks received City Council and California Coastal Commission approval to build a new hotel called the Sierra Suites on the Long Beach coast.

The coalition re-iterated its call for a moratorium on tourism development projects until there is a thorough investigation into the Beck-Murchison matter. Coalition members said they do not believe this is the only incident of back-room deal making, but emblematic of a broader problem of insider influence that has plagued Long Beach for years.

“During Council meetings, Mr. Murchison and other developers walk in and out of City Council Chambers, chatting in secret about deals that greatly affect us all,” said Casey Terrazas, a Long Beach resident and coalition member, who spoke at the Long Beach City Council meeting last week.

On Friday, the Coalition also urged the City Council to hold a public hearing on the matter and adopt a policy calling for full disclosure of communication between city officials and company representatives with business before the council.

The Coalition also stressed the importance of allowing community input in development decisions.

“The Coalition has asked the City Council and project developers, such as LodgeWorks, to come to the table and talk with residents,” Zentgraph said. “By attaching specific community benefits to projects that receive public subsidies, we can ensure that residents get a positive return on their investments.”

Community Benefits Agreements ensure that future development is responsive to the affected communities and that taxpayers’ money is spent on projects that are accountable to the city. Examples are ensuring that jobs created by the development provide a liveable wage and affordable health benefits, committing to local hiring and putting aside money for worker training programs.

“The point is, if taxpayers are asked to put up the money to help developers build multi-million dollar projects in our city, then we deserve to get something in return,” Zentgraph said.