Author: Erin Foley, Joe Brizzolara, Kevin Flores, Andrew Carroll / June 4, 2018
Long Beach’s City Council District 7 goes to the polls on Tuesday to choose their councilmember. No candidate was able to secure 50 percent or more of the vote in the April 5 primary election, so Tuesday’s runoff will be held between the two top vote earners. They are incumbent Roberto Uranga, who received 49.2 percent of the vote, and Jared Milrad, who got 30.3 percent. We interviewed both of the candidates, took a look at the issues of the race, the mudslinging between the opponents, and their campaign finances. This report is a collaboration between FORTHE Media and The Sprawl.
Uranga has lived in the district for over 35 years and has worked for the city for 29 years. This includes a 14-year stint on the Long Beach Community College District Board. His wife, Tonia Uranga, served two terms as councilmember for District 7. Along with the City Council, Uranga also serves on the California Coastal Commission.
Jared Milrad has lived in the district for a few years. His resume includes interning for former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, organizing for the Service Workers International Union, and doing fundraising for the Obama presidential campaign. He also has a film production company and was featured in a Hillary Clinton campaign video, which garnered him national attention.
Both candidates have referred to themselves as “progressives” and seem to represent two sides of Long Beach. Milrad’s squeaky clean presentation and socially liberal and environmentally focused messaging has echoes of Robert Garcia’s pre-mayoral campaigning days. Uranga’s long standing connection with his district and organized labor has given his campaign a more old-school democrat air.
Uranga has received endorsements from many organizations and individuals that hold serious political weight in Southern California including: the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Association of Long Beach Employees, and California Nurses Association. Some key political endorsements include: Congressman Alan Lowenthal, State Senator Kevin de León, and Assemblymember (and former Long Beach Councilmember) Patrick O’Donnell. He’s also been endorsed by Mayor Robert Garcia. Garcia spoke at a recent Get-Out-The-Vote event at the Uranga Headquarters—nicknamed the “House of Labor”—and gave a glowing endorsement.
Milrad’s resume has been an issue of contention in this race. From a Uranga mailer: “Milrad claims to be a business owner and public interest attorney … Milrad’s ‘business’ just received its license a few weeks ago and he isn’t credentialed to practice law.”
At the time of publication, Milrad refutes this claim on his website: “Jared has never been a licensed or practicing attorney, and he has never claimed that he is. Jared has only used the term ‘lawyer,’ which has colloquially been used to describe an individual with a law degree.”
When we pressed Uranga’s campaign, they did not produce proof that Milrad had called himself a “public-interest attorney,” like they say in their mailer. However, they pointed to language from the Bar Association that frowns upon anyone calling themselves a lawyer if not practicing law.
Mildred apparently refers to himself as an “attorney (non-entertainment)” on a profile that appears to be self-written on a networking site for people in the entertainment business.
On the matter of business ownership, Milrad claims that as sole proprietor of “A Show for Change” he was not required to file with the California Secretary of State. He purports to have filed a “Doing Business As” (DBA) with Los Angeles County in 2016 which was accepted by the Long Beach City Clerk as proof for his ballot designation as “Small Business Owner” in this election. Neither of the campaigns responded to requests to substantiate their claims.
Another sore spot in this election has been Milrad’s hammering of Uranga for his attendance record. He has stated that Uranga is the “second-most absentee councilmember.” Uranga claims that the numbers are off and that he’s actually the fourth-most present Councilmember. The Press-Telegram reviewed Milrad’s data and found that he had accurately counted missed votes when cross-checked with documents provided by the City Clerk. Both claims appear to be accurate. Uranga has missed 4 meetings in the last 8 years, making him fourth most present Councilmember by that standard.
District 7 is composed of stark socioeconomic contrasts. The eastern portions of the neighborhoods include middle- and upper middle-income households. Across the Los Angeles river, is the West Side, a collection of dense, working-class neighborhoods. Neighborhoods in the east part of the district, like Bixby Knolls and Los Cerritos, have a median household income around 40 percent higher than the West Side. Statistics like this have made some question whether the city invests resources equitably throughout the district.
Issue 1: LGB Airport
The effects of the Long Beach Airport on noise pollution is a significant issue in this race. Many residents who live in the flight path of the planes complain about the loud noise they are forced to live with. This was one of the concerns that stopped the airport from going international last year. Stacy Mungo (CD-5), whose district encompasses the airport, filed a motion to halt a staff recommendation that the airport add a federal inspection station for customs and immigration. This would have allowed for international flights. Uranga voted in favor of the motion.
Milrad has criticized Uranga for not doing enough to enforce a noise ordinance that fines airliners like Jet Blue for late night flights that cause loud disturbances. He believes that in addition to fines (which he says might need to be raised) the city should also consider penalizing offending airlines with the loss of terminal slots. A proposal currently before the airport advisory commission may do just that, which Milrad says he supports.
Uranga voted in favor of upholding fines leveled against Jet Blue by the City. He stated in an email that he does “not support any changes that may have the possibility of jeopardizing the noise ordinance” and does “support holding airlines accountable for their violations to the noise ordinance, including harsher penalties.”
Issue 2: I-710: Reckless Expansion or Modernization?
Expansion of the 710 Freeway has been a pressing issue in this race. Milrad claims that along with increasing congestion and pollution with more roadways, the 710 Freeway expansion would displace hundred of residents that live along its path. During a forum at the Petroleum Club on May 23, Uranga said that it is not an expansion but rather a “modernization” that will not displace people as Milrad is claiming.
“I have never been in favor a 710 [Freeway] expansion that includes displacement,” said Uranga.
Uranga chaired the I-710 Oversight Committee and voted in favor of Alternative 5C. This proposed expansion was ultimately approved by Metro. Along with adding a new lane, 5C will add dedicated truck lanes, new air quality standards, bikeways, and walkways.
Uranga is proud of his tenure on the Oversight Committee, saying: “I worked with Mayor Garcia, the MTA, the Port of Long Beach, and other entities to ensure that improvements were made to the 710 Freeway that will not displace any residents, that will greatly improve vehicle safety and that will also bring $200 million to fund zero and near zero emission trucks that utilize the I-710 corridor. It will separate trucks from vehicles and make the 710 [Freeway] safer to travel without [the] trucks versus cars scenario we have now.”
However, Milrad doesn’t believe that the freeway is the way to the future.
“In 2018, we shouldn’t be widening freeways anymore,” says Milrad. “It’s a relic of the past. We know that when we widen freeways, every single time, it increases both traffic and pollution.”
Milrad favors investing in public transportation (such as light rail) over expanding the 710. Along with environmental and congestion concerns, Milrad points to a State of California Department of Transportation report on Alternative 5C, which concludes that “at least 400 people will be displaced.”
The report in question states: “Alternative 5C would result in a total of 158 nonresidential relocations and 109 residential relocations. Based on an average of four persons per residential unit, alternatives [would] result in the relocation of approximately 436 residents.”
Ernesto Chavez, Metro’s highway program director, told the Press-Telegram that a majority of affected units would be in the City of Commerce, not in Long Beach. Because Metro has not yet secured funding for the project, the Board of Directors has advised them to focus on smaller upgrades first. This will lower the amount of units affected. Chavez said that any relocation is at least a decade off.
Milrad believes that other improvements need to be made. These include mandated zero-emissions trucks (which is slated for 2035, but which Milrad says should come sooner), heightened barrier walls (which is included under alternative 5C), and a dedicated truck lane (also included in 5C). Other issues not addressed by Metro, Milrad says include an increase of “open space” in District 7 (with more trees resulting in a decrease in carbon emissions) and a build-up of the Atlantic Avenue and Alameda Street corridors.
Taylor Thomas, from East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, believes Metro’s plan, which Uranga supports, doesn’t go far enough to protect the communities around the project.
“[…] When you read the EIR (environmental impact report), even when you read the motion that the Metro Board put forward, it doesn’t bring us the zero emissions that communities asked for and need. It is still missing a lot of the components that would make it a holistic project as well as the components that the Metro Board passed in 2015.”
District 7 includes part of the I-710 corridor known as the “Diesel Death Zone” where pollution from trucks coming and going from the ports and rail yards is rampant, causing the surrounding residents—mostly communities of color—to have the lowest life-expectancy in the city and an increased rate of serious health complications, such as asthma and cancer.
And now displacement could be on the horizon for some of them, Taylor said.
“People’s homes are absolutely still in danger. The way that the Metro Board and even some of our City Council framed it was, ‘There’s not going to be any displacement in the early action projects,’ but that is not the entire project. When you look at what’s codified and actually what’s going to happen and you look at the Metro motion, there’s no directive to completely eliminate displacement.”
Milrad points to Uranga’s vote on Alternative 5C as proof of his bias favoring oil companies that have donated to his campaign.
“I think we need someone who’s going to serve our community, not outside special interests,” says Milrad.
Uranga sees it differently: “Some folks are content to do nothing about the 710 Freeway, including my opponent, but I know that we can improve the freeway without displacing residents.”
That is yet to be seen.
Issue 3: Homelessness
Milrad believes Long Beach should follow the the City of Los Angeles’s lead and build more supportive housing, along with assigning caseworkers to every homeless individual.
He points out that this system has worked in other cities such as Salt Lake City and will save money in the long run when accounting for a reduction in public safety costs such as arrests and emergency room visits. A study done in Los Angeles County supports this conclusion. Milrad considers homelessness a “human rights issue.”
Uranga says he shares his opponent’s compassion for homeless people and points to his record as proof that he is willing to take unpopular stances in order to provide them with services. This includes the opening of a mental health center in District 7 that he says was met with criticism by residents but which he ultimately supported.
Another accomplishment Uranga cites is the creation of additional beds for homeless veterans at Villages at Cabrillo, a residential community in District 7 that offers permanent and transitional housing for those affected by homelessness. He also touts a homeless task force recently created by Mayor Garcia, which teams city officials with service providers to consider new tactics for battling homelessness, however, he did not specify his role in it’s creation and is not himself on it. He also says he supports the creation of transitional housing and the use of housing vouchers.
Rene Castro, with the Villages at Cabrillo, says that of the 75 units that Uranga is referring to, most are “straight affordable.” This means that those who have successfully applied for the program are only required to pay 30 percent of their income to rent. Other units have “intensive case management” meaning the applicants have a disability that requires an individually assigned case worker. The facility is modern-looking, more akin to a building on a college campus than public housing.
Castro says that Uranga is a familiar face on the 27-acre campus, having recently attended the dedication of a mural. Castro also says that he is often in contact with Uranga’s office, having just recently contacted his chief of staff about agendizing an item for a future City Council meeting..
“I’m proud that we have over 1,100 affordable housing units in the Seventh District and am willing to meet with any group or agency that would like to build additional units,” Uranga said.
According to a 2017 homeless count released by the City, homelessness is down 21 percent from 2015. Between 2013 and 2017, Districts 7, 8 and 9 saw an increase of 7 percent in the percentage of the city’s homeless residing within those districts. In 2017, Districts 7, 8 and 9 contained 30 percent of the city’s homeless population.
“Many in the community believe that homelessness is increasing in the City, when, in reality, what is occurring is a broader dispersion across the city,” the homeless count report states.
Issue 4: Rent Control
With some question remaining as to whether affordable housing advocates will be able to get a rent control initiative on the ballot in Long Beach, residents all over the city are discussing (sometimes heatedly) rent control. Milrad, despite his progressive messaging, has opposed rent control outright. Uranga has taken a middle path, saying he is personally opposed to rent control, but supports a ballot measure that will allow voters to decide.
“I have my own opinion, I am not a rent control supporter. But it’s not my decision,” said Uranga at the forum earlier this month.
Milrad says that his reasons for not supporting rent control are two-fold: it lowers the amount of market-rate units which drives up prices, and it is tied to the unit, not the renter.
The first reason is a standard economic argument often made against rent control. The supply of market-rate units lowers, thereby increasing demand and inflating the price. Milrad points out that this is compounded by the fact that many owners of rent-controlled units convert their units to non-rental units thereby evading the profit reduction of rent control.
The second argument he makes is that, in accordance with existing law that restricts rent control, the economic protections focus on the unit and not the renter.
“The problem with rent control is [that] it’s tied to the rental unit. In a highly mobile society, especially with young people like myself who move around frequently for new job opportunities or school, it just doesn’t make sense.”
This argument rings as particularly tone deaf to Jordan Wynne, a community organizer with Housing Long Beach, which the group behind the current rent control initiative.
“[When he uses] this metaphor [of young mobile renters] he’s speaking about, not only himself, but about gentrifiers in general. He’s talking about the people who are young, educated, typically white, who move into neighborhoods that have predominantly working class and people of color [as residents] and displace them. He’s saying we have to be accomodating to those [new tenants].”
Wynne points out that their rent control ordinance does in fact have renter-tied protections in the form of just-cause eviction. This part of the proposed law lays out specific reasons for a landlord to evict their tenant thereby protecting them from being evicted for purely economic reasons.
If instituted “a tenant cannot be evicted without a valid reason,” Wynne explains. “We are literally working with buildings right now who are facing mass evictions, that’s 10 and 20 families getting evicted at a single time.”
Wynne says that he is unsurprised by Milrad’s lack of awareness of the needs of low-income renters in the district. He believes that Milrad’s connections to the community are lacking and that he’s simply mastered the optics of a community-oriented progressive.
Kevin Shin, a candidate for the seat who failed to make it into the run-off, and Roberto Uranga both made overtures to Housing Long Beach but they received no similar outreach from Milrad, Wynne said. Along with being a community activist, Wynne is a resident of District 7 and says that he has never seen Milrad at an event that was not directly related to the election.
“He’s flaunting a lot of the qualities of being a progressive, of being someone who is a voice forward for change,” Wynne critiques. “But when it gets down to it he’s not actually on the ground, he’s not talking to the people who are doing this progressive work.”
Wynne’s take on Uranga is a leveled one. He appreciates the support the councilmember has given to their initiative (even attending an event and signing the petition), but is also troubled by his opposition to the policy itself. He believes that while Uranga does have connections with the community and personally recognizes the significance of the rent control movement, he is also likely beholden to real estate interests with deep pockets and a vehement opposition to rent control. He views this election as a continued push to get more action from the council on renter protections.
“I have consistently met with both Housing Advocates and Apartment Association members to address this and other issues” says Uranga. “While we couldn’t find [a] consensus, I support the signature gathering initiative led by the housing advocate groups”
And even with his reservations, Wynne said he’ll vote for Uranga.
“Just because I vote for him doesn’t mean I won’t be in his office the very next day saying ‘We need renter protections in Long Beach.’”
Through May 19, Uranga’s campaign raised $155,081 and spent $131,261. This excludes independent expenditures from Political Action Committees (PACs) and officeholder account funds.
In that same period, Milrad’s campaign raised $43,446 and spent $70,920, accruing over $26,000 in debt. He did not benefit from any independent expenditures from PACs.
Unions have been Roberto Uranga’s biggest bankrollers. The AFL-CIO dropped over $150,000 in independent expenditures on their door-to-door field program in support of Uranga. The Long Beach Firefighters PAC, Local 372 also threw down just over $7,000 to send out mailers in the district in favor of Uranga.
Though Milrad has accused Uranga of being in the pocket of oil companies, the amount he received from the energy sector, $13,849, is the sixth most before other special interests such as real estate; communications, consulting, and media; and labor.
Milrad received a plurality of his contributions, $12,025, from the 90807 zip code, which includes the affluent Los Cerritos and Bixby Knolls neighborhoods, of which only a sliver resides in District 7. For comparison he received 11 contributions totaling only $1,350 from 90806 and 90810 combined. Those include the West Side, Poly, and Wrigley neighborhoods.
Milrad also pulled $7,500 from donors in Beverly Hills.
The West Side—one of the most poverty stricken areas in Long Beach—didn’t contribute much to Uranga either with only two donations accounting for $1,000 coming from the 90810. Though the difference between contributions from 90806 ($15,600) and 90807 ($10,800) were not as one-sided as with Milrad.
The “Other” category makes up the largest portion of Milrad’s contributors, with most reporting to be either retired or not employed. He also received significant contributions from the real estate sector, including $3,200 from donors connected to Phoenix-based Ensemble Investments.
These numbers do not reflect unitemized donations under $100.
Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 5th. District 7 includes the neighborhoods of Bixby Knolls, Bixby Terrace, California Heights, Memorial Heights, the Westside, and Wrigley. You can find your polling location here.