Al Austin, 51, is a labor representative who has lived in the district for 19 years. He is a registered Democrat.
Why are you running to be the 8th District council person?
As a two term city council member I have had a great experience serving District 8 and would like to continue serving in this capacity. Since my youth I have been active and involved in improving and serving my community. I have had a lot of success working with others within my community on many social, economic and educational issues. I believe that my skill set has enabled me to bring a vast and diverse number of interests together for the common good and I hope to continue doing that.
What do you see as the biggest problem facing the district, and how do you propose solving it?
Housing and Homelessness: Addressing the housing crisis and homelessness continues to be a top priority. Long Beach is implementing many of the 29 points in the affordable and workforce housing plan adopted by the Council in 2017, and we are continuing to invest in the production and preservation of affordable housing units, while also providing a multi-pronged approach of services and housing to address our homeless and at-risk populations. While addressing homelessness remains a top priority for the City, the proactive and comprehensive approach Long Beach has taken makes us a leader among cities across California.
Long Beach has utilized nearly $27 million in federal, state and county funding in the past year to provide prevention services, permanent supportive housing, transitional housing, rapid rehousing, homeless veteran specific services, Multi-Service Center support, and a new year-round 125-bed shelter, scheduled to open this summer.
Long Beach has also pioneered innovative tools, such as a multi-jurisdictional task force to coordinate efforts with other agencies, such as Los Angeles County, Caltrans and Union Pacific Railroad, and Quality of Life police officers and Fire Department HEART teams dedicated to addressing challenges related to homelessness.
Create jobs and improve economic development: We must continue to provide opportunities for the creation of well-paying jobs in the City and support the development and continued success of local small businesses. Long Beach also should continue to ensure that our residents benefit from significant public investments, such as the local hire requirements that I co-authored as part of our project labor agreement.
Livability of our community: I will continue to work to ensure the Eighth District is the most livable community in the City, as evidenced by more than 40 acres of new parks and open space, thriving business districts, and engaged neighborhoods.
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?
I supported an inclusionary housing policy in 2017 as a critical piece of the 29 policy recommendations the Council approved to support the production of affordable and workforce housing.
The economic feasibility analysis that was completed last year shows that inclusionary housing is a viable and important tool that will still encourage developers to build new housing in the City, while making sure that there are incentives and programs in place to address our need for more affordable housing.
City staff has been working on analyzing the different options for this policy and engaging with all of the stakeholders, and I look forward to the City Council moving forward on this issue within the next few months.
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 the Land Use Element, as I pushed for an approach that allowed for a moderate increase in density along our main corridors in the Eighth District, while protecting the integrity of our established neighborhoods.
When I approved the new Riverdale housing development in the Eighth District a few years ago that created 131 new homes, I pushed for community benefits as part of the development agreement. This included building the new Molina Park, repairing several streets and sidewalks in the neighborhood, and adding a new traffic signal at Del Amo and Oregon to make it safer for kids to get to school and for residents to access the park and neighborhood. This was a win-win solution that added new housing while making sure the entire community benefitted.
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?
We have seen significant momentum in economic development throughout the district during the past eight years, including in Bixby Knolls, as well as Virginia Village on Long Beach Blvd., and in the Uptown Business Improvement District on North Atlantic Avenue. There are several projects in the works that are certain to continue that momentum, including The Lab’s “The Beat” project to create new retail and housing in the North Village on Atlantic Avenue, and a new public parking lot that is under construction at Long Beach Blvd. and 53rd Street.
I do not forsee a diminished role for the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement District in the future. While the contract for Redevelopment funds to the BKBIA expires in the fall of 2021, I have been working closely with the BKBIA staff and board on identifying new revenue sources to support the activities of the business district, and we have already implemented several measures that are bringing in new revenues and reducing costs to help offset the Redevelopment funds. Bixby Knolls is and will continue to be a thriving family-friendly business district that draws visitors from throughout the region.
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?
Through the policies that I have fought for on the City Council, the Long Beach Airport now has a healthier competitive balance of airlines utilizing the airport, while protecting the airport noise ordinance and the quality of life of neighborhoods under the flight path. I led the fight on the Council to defeat the proposal for a Federal Inspection Service facility at LGB to allow international flights, which did not make economic sense for the City.
Through policies adopted by the Council, there are now also fewer late night flights, and we have reduced “slot squatting”, where one airline can monopolize the Airport’s limited daily flight slots.
While JetBlue remains an important part of the Airport’s service, we now have Southwest and Hawaiian Airlines providing more options for the traveling public, and the Airport continues to thrive.
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 in your district?
As Long Beach’s homeless count last year showed, while our homeless population has remained relatively stable, we are seeing the persons experiencing homelessness more spread out throughout the City.
While the City’s Multi-Service Center plays a key role in helping people experiencing homelessness with multiple service providers at one location, it is important that outreach and services be available throughout the City.
For the previous two years, I supported having the emergency winter shelter located in the Eighth District at the former North Library site. While homelessness remains one of the most critical challenges facing our city, Long Beach is seen throughout the state as a model for some of our innovative approaches to address this issue that is affecting the entire state.
With our Quality of Life police officers dedicated to addressing public safety issues related to homelessness, our Fire Department’s HEART team, and a multi-jurisdictional task force with Union Pacific Railroad, LA County and other agencies, Long Beach is a leader in being pro-active in coordinating homeless service efforts.