What should the city do when confronted with homeless individuals who refuse to go into a shelter or temporary housing?
Homelessness is absolutely the most complex problem we face here in Long Beach. But, the situation is something we can absolutely tackle with the right strategy. We have about 2,000 homeless people in Long Beach, but only a limited number of outreach teams and hours of operation. This is an issue. We need to emphasize our service-first enforcement model by increasing our capacity through creating additional street outreach teams (whether through the city or a contracted nonprofit) for each district so that they can target specific problem areas and repeatedly and consistently offer services to the same individuals. Every single district needs help now! The data is clear that this type of directed outreach works. We just don’t currently have the capacity for it in Long Beach. And while there are many things that can be improved upon in terms of the services we offer, and the hours we offer them, your question is very specific to what should happen when people refuse services.
We have a municipal code that makes sleeping in public spaces illegal during certain hours. If individuals do not accept services and they are given ample time to do so, the option cannot be to sleep in public spaces. Residents need to be able to use our parks, beaches and public restrooms and if people are living in those areas, it renders them closed, in large part, to residents, including our youth, who need safe open spaces to be able to engage in programming and outdoor settings. For those who refuse services, enforcement of the municipal code or referrals to future programs, like CARE Court, can be a critical piece to addressing issues of homelessness. One of the reasons this can be so useful is due to our in-jail clinician, collaborative court options and nonprofit rehabilitation programs that begin to engage as part of the justice system. Intervention through the justice system is a last resort but there is no other way to keep parks, beaches and public walkways accessible for all residents in the city without using the municipal code to keep these public spaces clean, safe and usable for all.
How would you address crime in the city?
Keeping people safe is a core responsibility that every city has. We reduce crime by making it a priority, not by making it a political football. I believe we need both preventative and traditional public safety systems. What that looks like is a balance of youth programming and engagement and more police department resources. We need officers who are able to respond to calls for service, as well as follow up on investigations, and do the essential police work of deterring crime, and solving crimes after they have occured. We should support our police officers, who do the work that is often very challenging and dangerous, but should also expect the department to continue the work of building public trust, increasing transparency, updating our training to include bystander liability and ensuring accountability.
In recent years we have asked police officers to do more and more work, much of which is unrelated to addressing crime, so giving our police department the ability to focus more specifically on stopping crime and responding to crime is critical at this time. We also need to be a leader in updating our public safety policies. For example, I was a lead advocate in incorporating body worn cameras for all officers, updating our use of force police practices and cracking down on gun violence.
We need new ordinances in place that support the work of our officers and give them the tools they need to keep us safe. We also need to move past these conversations about defunding our police department, and into the discussion of how we make sure we are getting the best public safety service we can get. Rarely do you pay less for something and get a better product, so I support more investment in our police officers specifically. This means more targeted responsibilities like bike patrols, and walking beats, it means more police presence and faster responses on emergency calls.
With oil revenue dropping, and the city facing the possibility that Measure M revenue could disappear, what will you do to balance the budget in coming years?
The role of mayor means making tough choices. In recent years we have seen recessions, a pandemic, and now the impacts of inflation hitting the city hard, leading to many years of discussion about department cuts, furloughs and service reductions. However, during this time the city continues to create new programs and specialty projects that may have good intentions, but ultimately exist at the expense of the city efficiently providing foundational responsibilities Long Beach residents depend on the city exclusively to provide. I will recommit the city to focusing on the work of running a city and doing it with greater effectiveness. Too many departments have continually taken on more and more responsibilities or been given new unfunded mandates to manage that are beyond the department’s core necessary responsibilities.
We have all heard the difficult position many police departments have been put in over the past few years where issues outside of policing have been added to their plate. Well, the same is true across many other city departments as well, leading to a limited, and in many cases reduced, number of staff being given more and more things to do with fewer resources. Look at the numbers of planners we have in our Development Services Department for example. We ranked ninth out of 12 in terms of the number of planners we have working to approve new projects. Santa Monica, Pasadena, LA and LA County are all better staffed than us. That is not acceptable for a city of our size.
As a city we have bitten off more than we can chew, with the desire to be everything for everyone, but as a consequence we are struggling to do anything well, and often struggling to do it at all. As mayor, I will lead the reprioritization of city responsibilities and help develop a budget that is realistic about what our city staff can do. I have infinite faith in our Long Beach employees, they are dedicated and hard-working everyday, but they are only human, and asking them to do the job of four other employees sets them up for failure and residents not getting the services they deserve.
The state is requiring Long Beach to make room for 26,502 new housing units by 2029. How should those housing units be distributed throughout the city?
We have already started making a dent in that number and I think at this point, we have about 23,000 to go in order to be in compliance with the state. Housing is absolutely an important topic here in Long Beach as well as up and down the state, and it will continue to be a priority for me as mayor. Long Beach does not have enough housing for our existing population. So, building more housing means that a family of three can move out of their one bedroom apartment and into something bigger, it means a new graduate can move out of their parents house and into a studio apartment on their own for the first time, and it means empty nest seniors can downsize their large house and move into a condo or a senior community. These are the needs of Long Beach residents that are living here today, but none of those needs can be met without more housing.
As mayor, I will do what I have done for years as a councilmember and that has been to confront problems head on to solve them with real and pragmatic solutions. On the topic of housing, I have been a leader time and time again as we passed updated Land Use Element policies that make more housing possible throughout the city, and I worked closely with community groups and residents for years to find a good and workable policy that made positive impacts for the city. Specifically, in my district, I led the update of the Southeast Area Specific Plan (SEASP) that set updated development standards for retail as well as inclusionary residential developments in the southeast part of the city, and this was historic as it created the opportunity for thousands of new units to be developed. In fact we have already seen a number of properties sold and are beginning the process of making them into residential buildings, that include low income affordable units, that will benefit Long Beach residents as well as faculty and students.
The Queen Mary will require at least tens of millions in repairs to just remain in the state that it’s in currently. Is this a wise investment for the city, or should something else be done with the ship?
The question states that the QM will require “tens of millions” in repairs. I wish that were the case. It’s actually hundreds of millions!
I believe that before we make a decision about spending significant amounts of money on the ship, we need the residents to weigh in. This has to be a practical, not emotional decision. The financial stakes are just too high. Ask any resident where they think hundreds of millions of dollars should be prioritized and you’ll hear answers focused on crime, on homelessness, on affordability, on street and road investment, in sustainability, in youth programming, and dozens of other pressing topics for everyday residents. The ship has suffered as a result of leaseholder mismanagement, and fraud as the $23 million in Tidelands funds for the operators to perform emergency repairs, a vote that I was the only person to oppose, resulted in the misappropriation of money and lack of clarity about whether the city really got the true value of its investment.
The future of the shop will have to be a creative one. In my opinion, it needs to be taken out of the water, because remaining in the water is contributing to its rapid deterioration. The Harbor Commission is currently reviewing their interest in taking the Queen Mary as part of the Pier H transfer. If this were to happen, perhaps they can find a creative way to monetize Pier H, while at the same time using all (or parts) of the Queen Mary as a tourist attraction. Whether it’s this idea or another, it is my hope that the experts at the Harbor Department can best understand the full potential of a broader Pier H acquisition and incorporate that into a proposal for the City to consider.
The city never imposed a vaccine mandate on its employees, and recently lifted its indoor mask mandate. What should the city do if there’s a new surge of COVID-19 infections?
Long Beach city employees have been incredibly dedicated and working hard throughout the pandemic. During stressful, difficult, times Long Beach employees were working daily to keep our city moving forward. We will continue to do that if there is a new surge of COVID-19.
As a city we sought to protect employees and the public by following best practices in the state, while also following the science. I appreciated having our own Health Department during the pandemic and will always encourage us making independent decisions that are best for our city, its residents and the businesses that are operating here.
At this juncture, it appears the risks to many residents and employees is waning with the increased number of vaccinations, and boosters, and understanding of how to keep yourself and others safe in public, but I put my ultimate trust in our Health Department to provide the expert analysis and policy direction as we slowly move out of the COVID-19 crisis and hopefully prevent another surge. If we were to have another surge, however, I would hope that decisions about closures of businesses, schools, services, and programming are made in an independent, mindful and consistent manner. As a mom of two school-aged kids and a local business owner, I can tell you that building back and reintegrating after a pandemic has been an uphill battle and something many people just like me are struggling with. I am optimistic that we have learned some important lessons if ever faced with the same realities.