Democracy is Dead in the City of Torrance – Guest Commentary
The few of us who attended the August 24th Torrance City Council meeting witnessed the worst political thuggery any of us have ever seen in those chambers, as the full force of city staffers, Council Members, and the Mayor ganged up on the few remaining opponents to their fabricated “optimized” street sweeping and ticketing plan.
Councilman Mike Griffiths, the lone opponent on the council, took the brunt of the attack. His mistake – he asked a few questions about the significant revenue being generated by this falsely labeled “optimized” plan. This is a scheme that at least three separate watchdog groups in the city have proven to be nothing more than a money grab, with no real environmental impact. But transparency in the City of Torrance has a different set of rules.
Torrance has an uncanny way of packaging its most unpopular decisions so that the fewest number of people can oppose them. Citizen investigators of the City’s secret refinery additive deal are getting the latest version of this duplicity and misdirection, something the rest of us have experienced with increasing distaste for years now. Change the schedule; combine the staff notes, public discussion, and vote in the same session; make up and hide data — that is what “The Torrance Way” looks like in 2016.
Mr. Griffiths accurately pointed out that this ticketing program in full force will generate over a million dollars a year in revenue. In case anyone has forgotten, this is the same program that has been consistently described as “revenue neutral” by City officials. We won’t even try to explain the fuzzy math that one staffer used to describe a 237% increase in tickets as a decrease.
To his credit, Mr. Griffiths did manage to trap the City Attorney in an embarrassing admission that their dire warnings of street pollution fines were based on a spill in their own City yard. A few of us spoke, but the chamber was essentially empty, and that is where the real problem lies. Is no one else paying attention to the actions of the bureaustocracy that has taken over this city?
This shameful display highlighted a simple fact – the City of Torrance ceased being a democratic institution a long time ago, and is managed as a self-enrichment program by a clique of insiders, elected and unelected. Just check the lopsided 6-1 votes on the council, every time city employee fortunes are at stake.
Still not convinced? Did you know that Torrance’s Police Chief and Fire Chief are paid more than the Director of the FBI, the Director of Homeland Security, the head of Cal Fire, and similar chiefs in New York City and many other major U.S. cities? To put that in perspective, the NYPD has 34,500 personnel, Cal Fire has 4,500, Torrance PD has 347 and Torrance FD has 163. Does it bother anyone that our City Attorney’s base pay is greater than the salary of a Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court? Those are pretty lofty numbers for a city that doesn’t even rank in the top 30 largest cities in its own state.
And this problem isn’t going to go away. We have an astounding 258 employees making (with benefits) more than $200,000 per year, with more than half of the staff (585) exceeding $100,000 annually. Torrance’s pension obligations now top $2.0 billion (ten times the city’s annual budget) and the unfunded liability is an unknown, though we know it spiked to $392 million back in 2012, making it one of the highest per capita in the United States. These are crushing debt levels that may not lead to bankruptcy just yet, but guarantee reduced services for decades to come.
If you wonder what the fallout from this self-enrichment program is, just take a look at our city streets and other facilities, which are in the worst condition in city history, even with the recent flurry of resurfacing and repair. And by the way, some of those improvements came from the one-time $10 million windfall when Torrance sold part of itself to the City of Rolling Hills last year.
This is a frustrated open call to the people of Torrance from the very few of us who have taken the time to act on your behalf. When you look at the 20,000 new signs that will deface our neighborhoods or pay that ticket on your windshield, you can pretend that this was ever about the environment, if you like. But those of us who know the truth will see these signs for what they are – a stealth tax arrogantly planted in the places we live by uncaring officials who no longer represent us.
Democracy isn’t a right, it is earned through vigilance and action, and we need more of both in the City of Torrance. Join us in demanding the truth about this ticketing scam.
Citizens Against Government Waste