April 7, 2011

Transparency and Open Government in Lakewood: Larry Van Nostran does not get it

The only thing that happened to LAAG's transparency pledge we sent to all candidates (including Larry Van Nostran) on 2/17/11 was that they used it for campaign fodder/spin but did not learn anything from it apparently (or heaven forbid agree to take the pledge, with the exception of candidate Marisa Perez). We watched the 3/22/11 city council meeting (first one after the 3/8/11 election) with interest and Larry Van Nostran did not disappoint. Larry’s quote from the 3/22/11 meeting: “Recently transparency has become a great buzzword and well Lakewood has for more than 30 years has communicated with the residents about all aspects of civic life, in the newsletter, on cable TV, through direct mail and public meetings and now on line”. As my third promise to you we will continue to listen to your ideas on improving transparency and we will explore this year [2011] how we can increase your ability to become involved in city government.”

Form this short quote it is obvious that Larry cant see the difference between "spin" and "transparency" (also known as "open government"). Lakewood Living Newsletters, bill stuffers in the water bill, Lakewood Community News (the free Lakewood Chamber “throw away” paper). Those are all examples of spin. This includes the Lakewood web site. Just look at the nonsense on the home page. Nothing revealing or meaty on the entire site. Just happy talk. Spin. The Press Telegram is hardly news. Its mostly regurgitated press releases from the city council. No investigative journalism there. Just a few tidbits of "news" ...just enough to sell ads. All the foregoing "media" always put the city and the council in a positive light (as this is how you get re-elected) Transparency is explained here (interestingly this granicus.com site is the same one that provides Lakewood council meetings on the web!) and here and how to implement it is set out here.

Larry also made a number of other "promises" that night. His promise number 1 was to prevent blight through code enforcement. Oh yeah they have such a great track record on that. So Lets apply the LAAG transparency “buzzword” to that claim/spin and see what we get. For example where is the listing of all actions taken on all properties in Lakewood under the so called code enforcement? What was done? Where are the before and after pictures of the property? What did it cost us in terms of redevelopment money, interest free loans or staff time to get that one property fixed? See Larry that’s transparency and how it differs from your version of it which is “spin”. Spin means you just say it in a soundbite enough times and magically it becomes gospel.

How did transparency become a great buzzword? LAAG made it so before the election. You did not hear it or see it in any Lakewood publications, or Lakewood's website (word never mentioned once on the entire Lakewood website)

Telling residents about "all aspects of civic life" like how and where to vote, or where the parks are is NOT transparency Larry. Sorry. Getting people involved in your crusades based on your spin is not transparency either. So in other words Larry just because you want to pick a fight with the state like every other city over redevelopment money supported by our taxes, and get the residents to help you, that does not equate with transparency. So how do we apply the LAAG transparency “magnifying glass” once again to Larry's spin claims re the redevelopment money he wants? Well for one lets post how much Lakewood received in each of the last 5 years in terms of redevelopment money, where those funds came from (i.e. state taxes, local taxes etc.. be specific) and then how those funds were actually spent…on “studies” or consultants, meetings, trips, bogus organizations, or real shovels in the ground word to fix the blight? Again show us some before and after pictures of the "redeveloped" property so we can see with our own eyes what OUR tax money did (not private developer money). See Larry that’s the difference between transparency and spin. Spin by definition is not backed up by facts as there is no transparency. That’s what makes it spin.

Also note that Larry said that he (and the council apparently) would continue to LISTEN to OUR ideas on transparency. Not that they would implement any. Just listen to them. See how tricky politicians are? You have to parse their words very carefully. That's why Larry was reading from a script. Need to choose your words very carefully.

Also note how Larry said he wants to "increase our ability to become involved" in city government. What he meant by this is he wants to enlist you in fighting Sacramento and Jerry Brown to keep the city's redevelopment slush fund. (which really needs a transparency magnifying glass focused on it from the looks of this report) That was encoded in the rest of his speech. But again that is NOT transparency. Maybe astroturfing but not transparency.

LAAG is betting that its transparency pledge is not implemented. Simply because the more transparency there is the more questions will be raised. The more questions raised the harder it is for incumbents to get re-elected. So the incumbents have no incentive to create transparency. Get it?

Lakewood Accountability Action Group™ LAAG | www.LAAG.us | Lakewood, CA A California Non Profit Association | Demanding action and accountability from local government™ click here to receive LAAG posts by email

Posted Comment:

Transparency is NOT a buzzword it IS a policy of honesty and accessibility to our government. It is what taxpayers deserve and voters expect. Unfortunately, it is lacking in or city along with integrity... Lakewood living "released" a residential survey one month before the election and 6 months after it was taken! The "facts" were spun to favor the council and city management. No where does it state the demographics of the 400 residents (registered voters only) mostly white, elderly, working in our city in the upper income brackets, or how many times the same residents have been surveyed(information collected by phone only!) the "newsletter" left OUT a lot of facts like 2% of those surveyed want a dogpark or how many answers related to traffic! and safety or that residents stated "from neighbors" as their second way of finding info about city issues. in other words gossip. Information that a lot of times has no basis in fact. why? because the city and council will NOT allow residents to bring community issues to agenda. Cameras are turned OFF at council meetings so residents issues are never seen and there is no record of issues. The city also will not post important information residents need on their web site although residents have paid for countless computer upgrades! Questions to lakewood one take far too long to answer (keep in mind that the city staff enjoy 2 three day weekends a month more when monday holidays are connected. (that's why no furloughs are necessary) So city staff works part time anyway! so often several days pass! AND the information given depending on the subject matter is often wrong! Council Members have no email links to the city and no responsibility to residents to respond to problems once elected. Mr Van Nostran claimed "we are a safe city" KNOWING he had a serious home burglary situation going on at least a month prior to his re-election. He sat in on meetings promising to deal with the unenforced trucking issue on clark PRIOR to the opening of costco and has refused to acknowledge or deal with the escalating problem ever since breaking his word! Several neighborhoods are plagued with traffic and parking issues that destroy are safety, peace of mind , quality of life, and family budgets, Residents are forced to pay for and deal with situations and issues city policy has created and council refuses to address. Advocates for this city handled themselves admirably during this past election in the best interests of this city . I was one of them. It was hard to stand by and watch as the lines of religion and politics were so badly crossed. If these are the "values that dont change" I want nothing to do with them! I walk my talk and I have taught my children better by EXAMPLE! We will be ready in 2013 because times DO change!

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