Carlos Ovalle

What should the city do when confronted with homeless individuals who refuse to go into a shelter or temporary housing? 

The first order of business is to understand the reasons why unhoused individuals may not want to go into the type of shelter offered to them. Is there storage to hold their possessions? Are there kennels where they can have their animal companions? Do the living conditions allow couples to stay together? Do the living conditions provide defensible space? Are they allowed the freedom to move around?

Any “no” answer to the above needs to be addressed. Whether emergency shelters, transitional housing, or permanent housing, we cannot lose sight of the humanity of the less fortunate. After all, as the wealth gap widens, as income lags behind inflation, as the cost of health care and housing go through the roof, many of us are a paycheck away from being unhoused.

Unhoused individuals deserve to be treated with full respect. To date I’ve never encountered anyone who, given the right conditions, prefers to live on the streets. Not during the homeless persons count and not in decades of designing homeless shelters.

How would you address crime in the city?

The city of Long Beach spends nearly half of the general fund on policing and this has not yielded a return on the investment. Instead, violent crime is on the rise. We fail to follow the science and to recognize that more policing does not equal safer communities; instead, communities with more resources have less crime.

We have failed to recognize that law enforcement is trained to enforce laws, not to prevent crime. We have failed to provide adequate training to our police department from the top down evidenced by our standing as the lowest-ranked police department in California. We rely heavily on overtime policing that results in undue stress to an already stressful occupation. Our police department is costly beyond salaries and benefits; the city ends up paying hefty settlements to victims of police abuse plus the cost to defend the police officers in court.

From a socially and fiscally responsible point of view, I support spending our limited funding on programs that have a direct positive impact on crime reduction and prevention, such as:

  • Housing Security – (see my answers to the next two questions)
  • Invest in Youth – After school programs, parks with youth-oriented sports activities and community centers, youth job opportunities in meaningful career-oriented apprenticeships
  • Jobs – Career counseling, job training, broader and more stringent local hire programs.
  • Food Security – including promotion of healthy food alternatives to fast-food, community-based grocers, food distribution.

The state is requiring Long Beach to make room for 26,502 new housing units by 2029. How should the 7th District be a part of that plan?

As an architect the focus of my 40-year career has centered on affordable housing, homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, special needs housing and seniors housing. I am a former member of SCANPH (Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing) and I’ve worked with for profit and nonprofit affordable housing developers.

Our state and local leaders continuously speak about “the housing crisis,” conspicuously avoiding the word “affordable.” Thus in Long Beach they provide incentives to real estate developers that create high-end housing, while seemingly avoiding the real issue at hand, housing affordability. This has resulted in an apparent glut of high-end housing, and the city along with the developers of said housing are working on deals that essentially result in bailouts for the developers.

Community activists who are advocates of a free market economy are aligned with those who espouse more progressive ideas: End bailouts for poor decisions by the developers because all of us taxpayers end up paying for them in the end. Instead I propose a multi-pronged approach: 

  • A jobs training / apprenticeship program for the creation of manufactured housing which is less expensive, less wasteful, more precise, and more environmentally responsible than traditional construction practices, potentially creating a home-grown industry.
  • Conversion of existing high-vacancy rate office buildings into housing.
  • Revisit the existing inclusionary housing ordinance to ensure strict compliance, and require new developments to replace housing that is demolished on the site at the same rate of affordability as the housing it replaces, with priority to the tenants who were displaced.

What would you do about the high cost of housing in Long Beach? 

There are various ways to look at the issue of housing affordability. One is that we consider wages as fixed at a set level, therefore we must figure out how to bring the cost of housing down to the level that our residents can afford it.

The other is that we raise wages to help residents pay the rent. Los Angeles has a minimum wage of $16 per hour, 15% higher than Long Beach. Those extra $4,000 per year surely would come in handy to address housing affordability.

What else can we do? The city plays a part in facilitating the building of affordable housing. But each new unit of affordable housing costs a minimum of $500,000 per unit, some much more. If the life expectancy of a residential building is 50 years before requiring major renovation, then it could be said those housing units cost $10,000 per year. Perhaps the city can have a system to give each household earning below median wage a $4,000 rental voucher.

There is also the issue of for sale homes. If achieving housing affordability is the key to just barely keeping one’s nose above water, home ownership is the only means of financial security. We’ve all seen the rapid rise of home prices, but we’ve also seen how corporate investors have muscled into the single-family home market. 

Ironically, Redfin and Zillow have been some of the biggest culprits but there are many others. Many of these homes end up off market and strictly as rentals, while others are “flipped” at a substantial profit. One way to help prevent this is to study ways to cap these practices, which other cities are attempting. I would look at a regional approach to this issue, for example a joint Los Angeles County / Orange County effort.

There’s been a historical lack of investment in open space and recreational opportunities in your district. How would you secure more resources for open space?

There is land, there are funds, but there’s no will.

Last week the City Council passed a resolution in support of the formation of the Lower LA River Recreation and Park District. The cover letter states the health benefits of parks in overburdened communities and that those areas are the most park-poor areas of the county. This inequity, recognized by the parks department two decades ago, is an issue many of us have raised for years.

The national parkland average is 9.5 acres per 1,000 residents. The 7th District, with the worst pollution in the country, high asthma, cancer, poverty, overcrowding and crime rates, has 1.2 acres.

With regard to funding sources, the resolution mentions: 

“But these resources are strictly limited to acquisition and development of facilities and cannot be used for operations or maintenance of park facilities.”

In light of the recent city manager’s study for parks funding, the message is clear that the city won’t acquire parkland because if it did, it wouldn’t have the money to develop or maintain it.

Yet if the city acquired land, it would in the future have the funds to develop it. There will always be a way to maintain a park, but once the land is gone, it’s gone.

Some of us are fighting to revive the city’s plans to abandon and convert the northern segment of the 103 Freeway into a park, which would eliminate this significant source of pollution. We are fighting for parkland at the 3701 Pacific (RV storage) and the Baker Street (gated community) projects. And we hope to convert a 1-mile stretch of SCE right of way into a Westside park.

Funding is available from federal infrastructure sources and the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy; after all, parks are considered essential infrastructure.

Do you believe the city is doing enough to alleviate climate change and the effect it’s having on the city? If not, what additional actions should be taken? 

Our elected officials aren’t doing enough; quite the contrary. Our communities of color in western Long Beach have a life span that is shorter by over a decade in comparison with the eastern half of the city, yet we have no voice about matters that affect our quality of life.

Here are some examples: 

In 2014, our City Council voted to renew the contract to export coal and petcoke from the port. Both of these dirty fuels are exported as fuel to countries with more lax environmental regulations, thus resulting in greater damage to our environment.

In 2018 our City Council voted for a deal with Synergy Oil to allow the drilling of 120 oil wells and to construct a 2,000 feet above ground pipeline in perhaps our most environmentally sensitive area, our coastal wetlands.

In 2020 our City Council voted to approve a mitigated negative declaration for the construction of an 18-acre asphalt parking lot for the storage of gas-guzzling recreational vehicles, in lieu of much needed park space that had been promised to the residents of western Long Beach for decades.

All of these events were overwhelmingly opposed by community and environmental groups, yet were approved by city council. Their words of climate change and equity ring hollow.

For meaningful change to happen, we must ensure that overburdened communities are given a seat at the table. This way, when we have high-level meetings with state and federal officials about congestion at the port, or cancellation of the SERFF incinerator, or expansion of the 710 Freeway, or the CAAP, the communities most impacted by the above have an opportunity to address these bodies with the level of priority due residents over polluters.