Juan E. Ovalle, 54, is a small business owner who has lived in the district for 20 years. He is a registered independent.
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Former 8th District councilmembers Rae Gabelich and Jeff Kellogg
Why are you running to be the 8th District council person?
I’m running because of the failure of our current career politicians who prefer to represent out-of-town corporate developer and special interests rather than the interests of residents and small businesses. The latter are what make Long Beach what it is. I grew up in this city, attending Long Beach schools from elementary through Cal State LB, and even worked for the Water Department for 15 years before starting my rental housing business.
I’ve watched city governance change quite a bit over the years. We used to have many council members who came out of their neighborhood associations and community activism. Now we just seem to have politicians, and we see the system getting more and more corrupt. They keep encouraging bigger and bigger money to infect our elections, while removing guardrails against the power of those special interests, like term limits and limits on officeholder accounts. Even commission appointments are used to corrupt now, as I myself was once on the receiving end of such an enticement in order to quiet me (suffice to say, I refused the offer). As a result of these changes, I was compelled to go beyond the life of an ordinary resident and get involved in activism. As a candidate, I have signed the Long Beach Reform Pledge, promising if elected to fight for government transparency, accountability, and campaign finance reform.
Here in the 8th District, our council member treats residents with disdain, telling them that if they didn’t vote for him then he doesn’t represent them. I’m running to represent every resident of our district, whether they will have voted for me or not. Recognizing that the most important decisions made by council members affect the entire city, I will represent all the residents of Long Beach as their fiduciary, as well.
What do you see as the biggest problem facing the district, and how do you propose solving it?
Public safety. We lost over 200 sworn officer positions during the recessionary budget cuts during the previous mayor’s administration, and on the current mayor’s and councilmember’s watch, we lost our Field Anti-Gang Unit and no longer have a specific unit devoted to gathering intelligence and information to fight organized crime. The current councilmember supported the original Measure A with the implicit promise that the money would be used to restore our force, and yet we’ve seen accounting tricks to inflate numbers (using officers contracted out to Metro for the Blue Line, now the A Line, for example) rather than a restoration. The true number of sworn officers added, with the $50-$60 million dollars per year in additional Measure A revenue, has only been 19 (accounted for as 22, but three of those positions are only on paper and used to pay for additional overtime). The rule of thumb is that, all in, each additional officer costs the City about $200k per year. That means we’ve spent less than $4 million per year of our Measure A money on growing our force.
And we’ve seen the results in the 8th District, where property crimes have taken off. Even in areas like Bixby Knolls we now see home invasions and car break-ins far more frequently than in the past. The personal stories related to me in my neighborhood or while I’ve been out knocking on doors and those on Nextdoor.com are never-ending. Of course the police chief, whose department many believe does everything possible to minimize the stats, attacks neighbors for sharing their stories and making comments on Nextdoor.com. He came to a townhall last summer about the closure of Fire Station 9 and had the gall to call neighbors sharing news with each other social media “misinformation.” That was really an insult to all the residents of our district who are busy looking out for each other.
Of course public safety also means restoring Fire Station 9, without a doubt the single most urgent 8th District-specific issue. The closure of our community fire station with incomplete and incomprehensible information was an outrage, and the outrage was palpable at last summer’s townhall meeting on this matter. Despite the city minimizing the impact, various examples recently have demonstrated that not having Fire Station 9 has doubled or more the response time for many medical emergencies.
The question, of course, arises as to how we will pay for the much needed additional public safety investment, made even more necessary by the kind of abysmal deferred maintenance which led to issues with Fire Station 9 in the first place. The only solution is to restore fiscal responsibility by addressing the undue influence of special interests (whether city labor unions or corporate developers) choking off revenue from core services. We need a politically independent, outside assessment, like we did with Management Partners in 2012, to review our entire fiscal situation and our budgetary priorities. An impartial third party will demonstrate to the public and the special interests that things have become unsustainable. And uptown especially is getting short-changed, as we waste ungodly sums not just on developer tax giveaways and sweetheart deals to certain favored city bargaining units, but also on outrageous boondoggles, like the seismically unjustified tear-down of city hall and building of a new billion-dollar (with interest) civic center, the bailing out of the corrupt Urban Commons Queen Mary public-private development, and the scandalous purchase of a virtually useless cannabis cultivation warehouse in North Long Beach, supposedly to become a public homeless shelter (despite the site having been long-since abandoned by Rescue Mission, which owned it years ago), on which we have already wasted well over $10 million.
Beyond public safety, my other top priority for the district will be to restore our environmental health and safety. We urgently need to address air quality, as well as our park space and treescape. The dangers posed by the 710 “Diesel Death Zone” and port-related emissions, as well as nearby refineries, as with the controversial MHF tank at the Valero plant, are a major concern to be tackled. Our trees are dying from the magnolia scale epidemic (partly a result of lack of care) and our parks are dying from a lack of maintenance and intentional disinvestment in watering. We need to save and maintain our trees, and then add thousands more, as they both filter toxins from the air and add much needed beautification and shade to our concrete urban heat sink.
The overarching issue is a lack of leadership. There are no problems in the 8th District we cannot fix working together, but we need to replace our absentee council member with a true advocate.
The city council is expected to vote on an inclusionary housing policy this year. What role, if any, do you think developers should play in creating affordable housing?
What often gets forgotten when this topic comes up is that it presumes that the infrastructure and space exists for a great deal of new development in a city which is already built out. If there’s one thing we have learned in recent years in Long Beach, it’s that the residents expect elected officials to serve the residents’ interests first, not the interests of developers. Generally, speaking developers drop into a neighborhood, make a buck, and then depart, leaving residents with the environmental, budgetary, and quality of life impacts of unchecked densification.
To the extent we allow any significant level of new residential development in Long Beach, it should really be redevelopment of depressed areas which does not drastically modify the overall density profile of the neighborhood. In that case, I would consider an inclusionary percentage which is feasible to redevelopers. It would make no sense for the percentage to be something which precludes the redevelopment in the first place by making it economically non-viable.
This entire topic, however, to the extent it’s focused on, obscures the far more important fact of housing affordability which is that it’s small mom and pop property investors and managers like myself and my wife who actually provide the vast majority of the most affordable rental housing. The real enemy is corporate developer-driven gentrification, which is tied to and accelerated by anti-housing policies like the so-called “relocation” ordinance passed last year (which was supported by Councilman Austin). By financially burdening and attacking the management flexibility of the longtime housing providers of our city, who put roofs over the heads of so many thousands of fellow residents, the seeds have been sewn of the destruction of our affordable housing stock (which is relatively far less expensive than LA, OC, and other coastal cities). The most distressing feature of housing in recent years in Long Beach is the acceleration of this process, whereby corporate landlords with new luxury developments, with much higher rents, begin to displace more and more of the community. It’s a bigger problem downtown—some might call it a social justice crisis there—and I certainly don’t want to see it happening uptown in the 8th District.
Unfortunately the corporate developers appear to view our elected officials as just another investment opportunity. They contribute generously to politicians’ campaigns and, like any other investment, expect and almost always receive a handsome return. What we really need to see most in terms of changing our posture toward developers is to make them start paying their fair share rather than receiving tax abatements and passes to avoid the EIR process for determining the impact of their developments. By fair share I mean not just bigger sewer lines and sufficient parking, but contributions to schools, parks and open space, and public safety through higher impact fees.
And the entire community needs to be included in the dialogue for approving any major new development. There’s an old saying, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” Our working class residents and our mom & pop housing providers are tired of being on the menu.
Increased housing density was a divisive topic during the land use element process and could be up for discussion in the near future. How should new housing be distributed across the city and what steps can be taken to lessen the impact of creating more housing in established communities?
I supported those opposed to the initial draft of the Land Use Element, which could potentially have spread a great deal of increased density throughout the city. And I was strongly opposed to SB50 and glad that it recently fell short and expired in committee in the Legislature. I also oppose recent state legislation preventing cities from requiring owner residency for ADUs (accessory dwelling units, or “granny flats”). Such policies mean that developers with lots of cash can come into any single family neighborhood, purchase property with all cash offers, and develop triplexes as rentals, at the maximum rent the market will bear.
I do not believe in drastically changing the character of established communities. I believe that when residents invest their lifesavings into a home and invest truly their lives, the lives of their families, into the fabric of a community, they have a right to expect that city government won’t come in and tear that fabric apart. If some call these nimbyism it only happens to be what the vast majority of the residents of Long Beach believe and have earned through decades of sweat equity. The unbridled arrogance of those who wish to appropriate entire communities for their own ideological and often profit-making purposes and agendas is truly objectionable.
Our current city leaders seem to believe “more housing means more of the housing will become affordable because of supply and demand”. This is the debunked trickle-down theory, applied to housing. In fact, the opposite is true. When developers begin their feeding frenzy, costs of housing always spiral upward.
How do you plan to continue the economic momentum in the district with a potentially diminished role by the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement District in the future?
For more than a few residents of the 8th District, this is the number one reason our incumbent councilman has got to go. His utter failure of leadership and inability to prepare for the next phase of the Bixby Knolls PBIA and its association, the BKBIA, is unacceptable. We have known the day would come when redevelopment money for BKBIA would run out for years.
As an owner-operator of both residential income property and commercial property and the previous property owner of one of Los Angeles’ oldest dry cleaners, I know how difficult it is to work in a challenging environment, keeping the lights on and commercial space occupied. So I really understand how important it is to give our Bixby Knolls small businesses all the support possible.
One of my first tasks as a councilmember would be to find funding in our budget to keep BKBIA fully operational. I would also support collaboratively exploring with Bixby Knolls commercial property owners whether they would be interested in establishing a PBID, to supplement our PBIA, which would require those in the proposed district to pass a majority vote. (This question made the common error of assuming that we have a PBID in Bixby Knolls. In fact we have a PBIA, which is a merchant assessment zone with fees collected through business licenses, not a Property Based Improvement District, or PBID, which would entail a property assessment.) Downtown has both a PBIA and a PBID, and while it is worth looking into, it may not necessarily be right for Bixby Knolls.
Certainly, before we consider going the PBID route, we need to show our commercial owners and tenants that we as the City have done our homework and proper planning for urban economic development. That means actually hiring an urban planner to do a needs assessment and create a Business Development Master Plan to address both needs and options for current and potential future businesses. For example, proper infrastructure, including such things as parking and transportation and even power supply are essential to proper business development planning. One thing I have been told in talking to local commercial owners is the possibility of bringing in a 3-phase power supply. The availability of 3-phase connections could attract a potential anchor tenant like Uber, for example. It also means doing a serious assessment, in terms of both the Bixby Knolls and overall 8th District areas, of how much of our tax dollars are flowing out versus flowing back in to serve our needs.
I also feel it is essential to provide support for those of our 8th District businesses outside of the BKBIA zone, especially those often neglected small proprietors north of Del Amo. We need to find out if an extension of BKBIA or a separate business improvement district might make sense.
Beyond BKBIA, we need to recreate the position of City Ombudsman and create Business Recruitment Officer position. The job of the Ombudsman was and needs to be to help new businesses through the process of launching in or moving to Long Beach. And the Recruitment Officer coordinates business recruitment citywide. Furthermore, we need to become a much more small business-friendly city in general, and we need to cut taxes and burdensome regulations which often slow initial approvals to a snail’s pace.
Most of all, we need an energetic leader in the council office who will him- or herself truly be the main business recruitment officer of the 8th District and make sure that potential new entrepreneurs coming to our community—adding to its vitality and creating local jobs—understand that they have a real advocate in their councilmember.
With JetBlue’s continued moves to diminish its presence at Long Beach Airport, would you be open to drawing in other airlines to Long Beach in order to keep the airport thriving?
While we may have no choice, we have to be extraordinarily careful about bringing new carriers into Long Beach. This is where leadership from the 8th District council office is absolutely crucial. The 8th and 4th districts lie at either end of the flight path and have the communities most affected, along with the 5th District and 7th District to a lesser extent. All these council offices must work closely with City Hall and the Airport to vet and onboard any new carriers. Carriers do have a right to fill the slots allotted by our Noise Ordinance, but the danger comes from new carriers who may come in and quickly lose patience with it and challenge it in court. The ordinance, unfortunately, is in a legally precarious position, given the history of litigation and the fact that its status is grandfathered in. Should some greedy corporate carrier come in with the desire to fully let loose its litigation cannons at us, we could end up losing the ordinance altogether. That would leave our adjacent neighborhoods forever at the mercy of FAA bureaucrats three thousand miles away and would truly be a community catastrophe.
We have long-established agreements and relationships with our current carriers, and I would work to make sure that we forge a positive, productive relationship, with mutual respect, with any new carriers at LGB.
As the city and region continue to invest in homeless services, how do you feel they should be distributed across the city and would you welcome a homeless facility to your district?
I’ve lived in this city for over 50 years and have seen a very slow increase in the homeless population up until fairly recently, probably the last dozen years. As a volunteer with the homeless count, neighborhood trash cleanups, and feeding the homeless with my church, and Kiwanis, I see firsthand the consequences of homelessness.
During Mayor Garcia’s State of the City address he mentioned the first municipal shelter opening later this year. That shelter was supported by the entire city council, at an initial acquisition cost of about $10 million. Since then the Council has devoted millions more. And what are we getting for this major investment? We’re getting one of the great embarrassments in the history of Long Beach, a project which is wrong in so many ways it’s astounding.
Of course most striking is the complete lack of the most basic due diligence, before we bought the property. The idea that we did not know that there was a preexisting cannabis cultivation lease—which could either prevent us from fully utilizing the site or could serve as massive negotiation leverage to get millions more, given the potential political embarrassment of abandoning the site and admitting failure—is really an outrage. But frankly it only compounds the tragedy of this project.
For the mere 125 beds this project is supposed to produce, the amount of money flushed away is truly breathtaking, and how many homeless could have actually been helped with better uses of that money?
We need to tackle the homelessness crisis head on, both by not wasting money on scandalous boondoggles and by adding investment in the right places. We need to pair an increase in the number of shelter beds with added service providers who help the homeless gradually get back on their feet. Experts I’ve met with say not only do we not do an honest homeless count in Long Beach, but we go it alone for political purposes rather than partnering with all stakeholders and regional resources.
This is tragic and dangerous for the 8th District, where not so many years ago the idea of homelessness issues in our backyard just didn’t exist. Now we see homeless throughout the district, even starting bonfires on the Union Pacific tracks and squatting in empty houses. This is truly a crisis now, both of mental health and drug addiction for the homeless themselves, as well as public safety. And where has our councilman been on this issue?
Regarding whether there should be a shelter in the 8th District specifically, as with all development, it depends on the appropriateness of the location. First and foremost we need a shelter downtown, where the homeless population is centered. And we need to work with LAHSA, the county homeless agency, and potentially in a multi-county collaboration to plan out the best locations of shelters regionally. While I would not support any shelter which negatively impacted 8th District residents or businesses in any way (the point of tackling this issue is to improve quality of life both for the homeless and residents), we should be creative, thoughtful, and practical about possible sites. Right now most of our 8th District homeless individuals seem to be transiting from the LA River and that should be an important consideration.