Sinking City Savior Gets Spot; The John Parkin Pocket Park

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John Parkin Green Space on E 1st St. and Loma Ave. in Bluff Park, Long Beach.

Author: Joe Brizzolara / August 25th, 2018

A pocket park on 1st and Loma was recently named the “John Parkin Green Space”, after an esteemed petroleum engineer for the city and father of City Attorney Charles Parkin. Parkin died in 2015.

The green space, located in a median in the intersection, is pretty small. Previously, it held a sign labeling the neighborhood, Bluff Historic Park, and an assortment of vegetation.

The renaming was supported by the Bluff Park Neighborhood Association who has been “a driving force for it since the inception of the idea about a year-and-a-half ago,” says Vice President for Communications Michelle Murray.

They brought the idea to Bluff Park Councilmember Suzie Price who originally requested this back in April. It was referred to the Parks and Recreation Commission who sent it to Housing and Neighborhood Committee which approved it. Councilmember Dee Andrews chairs that committee and sponsored the proposal before the council.

Parkin is best known for devising a plan that dramatically affected the development of Long Beach. In the late 50s, Long Beach was literally going under. Pieces of land were sinking due to the huge amount of oil pumping that was going on, causing subsidence. Parkin, along with others, came up with the idea of pumping salt water in the land thereby reversing the effects.

We can also thank Parkin for the offshore oil drilling that still marks Long Beach’s coast. Fear of subsidence motivated Long Beach residents to reject a proposal for offshore drilling in 1958. In ‘62, after the subsidence had stopped, voters approved the initiative. It grants the city rights to control the rate of oil production and repressuring to counteract subsidence. The derricks are disguised as islands, with fake palms and waterfalls. By 2011, the islands had produced a billion gallons of oil.

Along with his accomplished career in petroleum (also working for the Signal Hill Oil Company and the Del Amo Energy Company), Parkin served as a member of the Bluff Park Neighborhood Association and lived there 33 years. He had a special fondness for this pocket park and actually wrote about it the BPNA’s Newsletter in September 2010:

“The irregular shaped intersection was at one time a part of the old PE [Pacific Electric]
right-of-way, long since abandoned. At the intersection there is a triangular shaped patch of pavement, approximately 30 feet on each of its sides, in the center of the intersection. It is this area that is scheduled for landscaping. Because of cost considerations there will be no irrigation system installed, which makes the project somewhat unique. After the city has completed the project, the neighborhood will have to step forward and nourish the planting until it is well established.”

The green space is currently tended to solely by residents of the neighborhood, including Parkin himself when he was still alive.

City attorney Charles Parkin delivered heartfelt thanks to the council, mayor, and BPNA for honoring his father.

“This space is actually right out front of where my grandma used to live, he was always tinkering with [the space] so this is kinda fitting,” said the younger Parkin.

“He was seen as an icon in the neighborhood who was admired by everyone,” said Price in her recommendation to the council.

A dedication took place on Saturday, August 18th.

 

Democracy in Cambodia Town; Support for Citizens Redistricting Charter Amendment Pushes Forward in Long Beach

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Marc Coleman (left) and Alex Norman (right) of Equity for Cambodians, along side Khmer translator Sereivuth Prak (middle), discussing Long Beach’s City Council districts. Photo by: Erin Foley.

Author: Joe Brizzolara / August 5th, 2018

It’s Saturday morning in Cambodia Town. Inside a homey community center, long-time civil rights attorney Dr. Marc Coleman gives the crowd a brief history on the structure of Long Beach’s City Council.

When he first got to Long Beach in the 1970s, city council was elected in at-large elections. Largely believed to be undemocratic, at-large elections have entire jurisdictions elect legislative bodies as a single electorate. This gives dominance to the areas of town with the highest voter turnout, typically the most affluent areas. In Long Beach, this meant that power was concentrated on the east side.

Long Beach Area Citizens Involved fought to successfully transition the city from at-large to district elections in the 1980s. This allowed less represented sections of the city to elect council members from their own communities. Now they want to take the next step and have district maps determined by the citizens rather than the elected officials whose constituency is determined by these very maps.

Coleman’s civic history lesson is being translated into Khmer by Sereivuth Prak. It was here at the MAYE Center, where about 30 people were listening attendly to the speakers, that Equity for Cambodians first blossomed. The center serves as a self-healing space whose members include elders from the Cambodian community and over time their yoga and urban farming classes were eventually joined by civics classes.

This is what democracy looks like in Cambodia Town, a community originally formed largely by refugees fleeing the brutal Khmer Rouge regime whose government carried out a genocide that killed millions. Many, especially the elders, are unfamiliar with a system where political power is acquired through organizing and petitioning the government.

City leadership often lauds Long Beach’s large population of people of Cambodian descent, the largest outside of Cambodia. But after over half a century of residence in Long Beach, this community of roughly 50,000 (according to the L.A. Times) would like to see a Cambodian-American elected to the city council for the first time.

First they have to consolidate themselves into one city council district. Cambodia Town is currently split between Districts 1, 2, 4, and 6, thereby diluting its power as a voting block.

But things are changing.

“I’m proud of my Cambodian community,” said Dr. Song “We’re on the frontline.”

 

The MAYE center partnered with Common Cause, a national good government group, to host the town hall-style event, which featured other community organizations, city officials, and business owners.

This follows successful lobbying on the part of these organizations  to strengthen the citizens redistricting charter amendment originally proposed by Mayor Robert Garcia.

Representatives from 3 of the 4 council districts that Cambodia Town falls into sent representatives to the forum. Only Councilmember Dee Andrew’s office was absent.

“This is a good government item that will inspire public confidence” said Councilmember Al Austin, who spoke at the event.

If passed, this charter amendment would change the way Long Beach determines its city council districts. Every ten years, following the release of the U.S. census, Long Beach (like jurisdictions on all levels of government) redraws the maps of its city council districts. Currently this is performed by the Council itself. Upon approval by the council, Long Beach residents will vote in November on whether to turn the power of the determining these districts from the council to a commission of citizens.

Dan Vicuña, the National Redistricting Manager for Common Cause, spoke at the event, providing background on the process of redistricting which is a central campaign for Common Cause.

“I use to call it the most important issue no one’s heard of,” says Dan Vicuna, national director for redistricting with the organization. “That’s changing.”

Manipulating the redistricting process in order to protect the interests and/or negatively affect a particular party or faction is known as gerrymandering, and it is currently being hotly contested across the country. Groups in Colorado, Missouri and Utah have successfully placed initiatives on the November ballot which would in some way remove lawmakers from the process of drawing district maps.  Last week, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld an independent redistricting commission initiative which was being challenged by a group that was being funded by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Vicuna discussed the ways in which redistricting can be manipulated so as to protect the political interests already within power, thereby limiting the democratizing effect of citizen-led redistricting. While taking the responsibility of redistricting away from lawmakers is an obvious first step, Vicuna pointed out that “not at all citizens redistricting commissions are created equally.” Some ostensibly ‘independent’ redistricting commissions can actually be subservient to the officials they are meant to check.

Vicuna pointed to the City of Los Angeles as an example, laying out several elements that comprise its democratic effectiveness. The redistricting commission is advisory; their district map needs to be approved by the city council before taking effect. They are appointed by the councilmember themselves, presenting a conflict of interest. There are no eligibility requirements such as equal representation of party registration, a background that would establish knowledge of government, or prohibition of recently elected officials from joining the commission. Finally, there are no transparency measures, such as a requirement that map deliberation must be made public.

“All reports indicate that [sic] the city of Los Angeles’s commission did exactly what the council members [wanted them to]” concluded Vicuna.

The originally proposed Long Beach charter amendment possessed many of these same undemocratic features. It was advisory. There were no established qualifications for commissioners. There were no transparency measures. And finally, commissioners were to be appointed by the mayor with confirmation from the council.

After reading the first draft, organizers at the MAYE Center quickly realized that the redistricting commission was a trojan horse.

“It was so flawed” said Laura Som, Director of the MAYE Center. “It’s called Citizen Redistricting, but the power [was] still given to the Mayor.”

Equity for Cambodians, in collaboration with Common Cause, worked with the City to draft a new ordinance that addressed many of their concerns.

Instead of being mayor-appointed and council-confirmed, commissioners will be chosen through a ministerial process.

As the language stands now, the city clerk will be tasked with sending commissioner applications to all registered voters citywide who meet certain qualifications. Applicants will then be pared down to a pool of 20 to 30 people by a screening committee—comprised of the Ethics Commission, should one be established by passing of a concurrent but separate charter amendment—during a public meeting.

During that same meeting, the chair of the screening committee will randomly choose nine commissioners from the pool. Those nine will in turn choose the commission’s four remaining members from the same pool they were picked from, forming a commission of 13.

Language was also added that places restrictions on commissioners (as well as their immediate family) running for office or participating in political activities during and after their tenure. There is a requirement that the applicant pool equally represent each city council district, which was of pressing concern to the Cambodian community.  

Som points to a provision in the current official city criteria for redistricting which discourages “splits in neighborhoods, ethnic communities, and other groups having a clear identity,” which she believes the city is in clear violation of by breaking up Cambodia Town.

Some are still unhappy with the language of the redistricting commission amendment. Carlos and Juan Ovalle of People of Long Beach, a newly formed group, voiced their concerns at the meeting: the current draft gives appointment authority to the ethics commission which will be appointed by the mayor. How then can citizens guarantee that the same subversion that would result from direct appointment by the mayor wouldn’t happen by extension of a mayor-appointed ethics commission? They believe that support for the redistricting commission should be rescinded until this concern is addressed.

Dr. Coleman acknowledged that PoLB raised a “good point” but that judgement should be reserved until the design of the Ethics Commission, which is still being formulated, is made clear. Equity for Cambodians and Common Cause point to the qualifications for commissioners as a strong safeguard against political influence, even if they are selected by a mayor-appointed commission. Coleman and Norman assured the crowd that they will be diligent in monitoring the situation.

“We’ll be at the meeting on Tuesday to ensure that the independent status of this commission is superior because that’s what we’re all about” said Dr. Alex Norman with Equity for Cambodians.

That meeting is Today at 3 p.m. at the City Council chambers. It will be the last public hearing for the newly proposed Charter Amendments. Any member of the community that would like an opportunity to voice their thoughts on the amendments is encouraged to attend.

‘Skylines’ and Deadlines; Signature Deadline for Rent Control Initiative Approaches As Tenants Union Rallies in Glendale

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Mike Van Gorder, founding member of the Glendale Tenants Union, outside of City Hall. Photo by: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Author: Joe Brizzolara / August 5th, 2018

The Glendale Tenants Union held yet another rally outside of Tuesday’s City Council meeting this past week.

After signature gathering and speeches (translated into both Armenian and Spanish), the red-shirt donning group of rent control advocates entered the chambers. Union members delivered fiery speeches, calling out councilmembers during public comment as those on the dais responded with sober silence.

“We look forward to working with you one day when you decide to invest your time and care into the residents of Glendale and not the shape of its skyline,” said Mike Van Gorder, a founding member of the G.T.U. “It’s not that this council lacks political courage, [because] they don’t. But this council’s political courage is tied exclusively to the enrichment of mega developers like Rick Caruso.”

Rick Caruso is one of the wealthiest developers in the Greater Los Angeles area. His company, Caruso, is privately held and its portfolio includes the Americana at Brand, a mixed residential-commercial property with 242 apartments and 100 condos in Downtown Glendale. Rent for currently listed units at the Americana begins at $3,050 per month for a one bedroom.

A review of campaign finance records shows that Councilmembers Paula Devine, Ara Najarian and Mayor Sinanyan have all received contributions from the powerful California Association of Realtors Political Action Committee. The California Real Estate PAC contributed around $4.2 million in local and state races in the first six months of this year alone. They strongly oppose rent control.

Councilmember Vartan Gharpetian has received significant campaign contributions from real estate interests, comprising close to 12 percent of total contributions from January 1st, 2017 thru June 30, 2018. Gharpetian is also CEO of Glendale Commercial Inc., a real estate agency.

Hayk Makhmuryan is a member of the G.T.U. and he directed much of his comments to Glendale’s large Armenian community, of which he is a member. He spoke in both Armenian and English and made reference to a resolution involving the Armenian American Museum in Glendale which was discussed that evening. The hat he was wearing was also bilingual. In Armenian it read: ‘with courage’, a popular rally cry during the Armenian Velvet Revolution this past year. In English: ‘Rent Control Now’.

“We talk about cultural preservation and we allow half of our cultural core, the folks that actually make up the diasporic gem that [is] the Armenian community in Glendale [to] be pushed out [by increased rents],” said Makhmuryan.

After delivering comments, the group exited the chambers and continued rallying outside City Hall.

An Aug. 6th deadline approaches and if the G.T.U. is able to submit 10,000 verifiable signatures to the city clerk than their rent control initiative will make it to the November ballot.

“We’re hustling, we’re doing as much as we can,” said Van Gorder about signature gathering. “We’re trying to not look at it in terms of ‘this is it’… this is a really long campaign.”

If passed, the new ordinance will cap rent increases at 4.5 percent annually and will establish a rent board. Read a detailed summary of the ordinance here.

The G.T.U. believes this is much needed for a community that is 61.9 percent renters, according to the 2010 census, and is facing dramatic rent increases fueled by real estate speculation and high-end development.

Karim Sidi, a 20-year resident of Glendale, got involved with the G.T.U. in response to dramatic rent increases, of which he has been personally affected. Last year his rent went up $200 a month. This past month, he claims it’s increased another $200 a month.

“Plus the building got sold, so that means that most likely the rents are going to be increased by the new landlords because that’s what’s going on around Glendale,” said Sidi.

The G.T.U. has had some setbacks. Last year, they were they involved with another rent control initiative which fell short of verifiable signatures. This initiative was led by community members with minimal political organizing experience, not the G.T.U. which formed 3 months after signature gathering had already begun.

They say they learned a lot from this first attempt though, and have sought legal aid this time around. State election law mandates that if the signature threshold is not met, organizers have to start from scratch if they want to submit new signatures.

Similar rent control initiatives launched in Long Beach, Inglewood, and neighboring Pasadena were unsuccessful in making it to the ballot.

“A lot of people [have said] ‘Ah I already signed this. Why didn’t it work?’ and they get frustrated with the whole process. But this is a multiple-campaign type [process] and it has to be,” said Van Gorder. “We don’t know how we’re going to win. We just know that eventually we will”