As it does every year, the City of Long Beach has published a “Year in Review.” This year the 16 full-color pages—available both online and in print—document a long list of City accomplishments, ranging from recognitions received (we’re one of the country’s top 10 “Digital Cities” for the third year in a row) to how many citations were issued for illegal garage conversions (42) to the exact number of trees that trimmed (29,276). Also mentioned are more significant happenings, such as the City’s pension-reform agreements with all nine local employee associations.
Based on this “review” you might think there were no setbacks in 2013, nothing to report but good news. There’s no mention of the uptick in homicides or the spike in officer-involved shootings, no mention of the City’s continued inability to activate years-vacant spaces like the Edison Theatre and the former Acres of Books building, no reference to the 600+ marijuana-related arrests or the loss of a dozen woodland acres to a developer.
If it is worthwhile to inform residents of what transpired in their city during the year that was, isn’t a relatively complete picture better than an intentionally one-sided portrayal? Wouldn’t it benefit residents to know that the Environmental Protection Agency once again ranked Long Beach as having some of the worst air pollution in the state, and that just three months ago Heal the Bay noted that Long Beach had more failing grades for water quality than any other city in Los Angeles and Orange Counties? Isn’t that information at least as valuable to pass along as the fact that there were 363,625 searches for library books made using the “Go LBPL” mobile app?
For whatever reason, as with prior years, in reviewing 2013 the City opted for a vanity project, a self-congratulatory combination of minutia and a view of Long Beach through rose-colored lenses. Does such a choice signal a certain Pollyannaism, an inability or unwillingness to be self-critical? There is, after all, obvious pragmatic value in being able to take a hard look at oneself. How else do we seriously confront our own shortcomings? How else do we redress our past failures and find ways forward that are better than the well-worn paths we have trod?
Long Beach’s leaders might consider whether residents would be made to feel more confident about the city’s future by receiving a strong indication that city staff are willing and able not only to praise what happens within city limits, but also to identify the work that still needs to be done, the problems that exist in Long Beach, the areas in which 2014 can be better than the 12 months that came before.
This is not an indictment of the job our government did in 2013. The simple fact is, when considering something as complex as running a city over the course of a year, there will always be failures, and there will always be ways to do better next year.
No doubt every city official in Long Beach would admit as much; we just can’t tell from their “Year in Review.” And so here’s an easy improvement for next year: have “2014: The Year in Review” provide a more complete, more intellectually honest snapshot of what happens during the next 12 months. After all, aren’t we more likely to fix the things that we’re willing to admit are broken or at least can be improved?