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”

 

The Compliance Business; Long Beach City Council Approves Recreational Cannabis Ordinance; Some are pleased, some not so much

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Graphic by: Kevin Flores / FORTHE media.

 

Author: Joe Brizzolara / July 1, 2018

This article was published in collaboration with FORTHE media

Legal sales of recreational cannabis in Long Beach could begin as early as August 2018. Last month, the Long Beach City Council voted to advance an adult-use ordinance after its first public hearing. On Tuesday, a second vote will take place and, if passed (which is expected), the ordinance will be formally implemented.

The first vote was 7-1 in favor, with Councilmember Stacy Mungo being the lone dissenter.

“Everyone has to pass it tonight,” Mungo remarked, showing frustration. “I’ve heard that at least 40 times in a week.”

She wanted more time to work on the language of the ordinance, possibly placing guarantees that dispensaries hire residents of the districts that the dispensaries are operating in.

“My goal would be that we have adult-use available in the city September 1st,” she said.

Currently, only medical marijuana sales are legal in the city of Long Beach. In order to make a purchase, a customer must have a letter of recommendation from a doctor advising that they would benefit from medicinal cannabis.

Stefan Borst-Censullo is an activist and attorney who represents cannabis businesses in Long Beach. He has also been a city-registered lobbyist for various cannabis businesses since 2015.

“I’m known to be one of the more critical people of the city in general but this ordinance appears to be pretty well-crafted. I was happy to see it pass,” he said. “It’s a far cry from even a couple of years ago. You can really see the progress on this issue.”

Recreational cannabis will be available to all those 21 years or older. Pot shops will be allowed to stay open until 9 p.m. and delivery services can operate until 10 p.m.

Adam Hijazi, co-owner of the Long Beach Green Room, a local dispensary, and a founding member of the Long Beach Collective Association, a trade association consisting of cannabis business owners, was pleased with the vote.

He has some concerns about the ordinance—including a provision that gives the city access to financial records and security footage without a warrant or notice—but ultimately believes that this is a needed step forward.

Hijazi says that the current medical-only policy is creating a nuisance, claiming street dealers often loiter outside of his shop, eager to pick up on customers he is forced turn away because they don’t have a letter of recommendation from a doctor.

He thinks that once cannabis sales become more normalized in the city, regulations will ease up.

“We’re not moving nuclear waste from one place to another. But that’s how it’s being treated,” he said.

Zoning Out

The ordinance will add a designation in the zoning code for adult-use cannabis businesses, which will track with similar businesses depending on their type. For instance, dispensaries will be allowed to locate in commercial areas and cultivators and manufacturers will be allowed to locate in industrial areas. Existing medical marijuana businesses will be allowed 180 days to apply for adult-use licenses regardless of new zoning restrictions.

Buffer zones that restrict adult-use cannabis businesses from operating in certain parts of the city will be the same as those currently being enforced for medical marijuana businesses. Cannabis businesses cannot operate within a 1,000 feet of the beach or a school. They also cannot operate within 600 feet of a library, park, or daycare center.

State law also prohibits cannabis businesses from placing billboards within 1,000 feet of schools, daycare centers, playgrounds, and youth centers. The city’s ordinance removes youth centers and playgrounds from the list but adds public parks.

Businesses will be required to obtain a health permit from the city’s Health and Human Services Department before beginning operation. They will also be required to attend training offered by the department, which will cover topics such as prevention of underage use, risks of driving under the influence of cannabis, and safe storage methods.

The Other Kind of Green

The proposed ordinance will levy an eight percent tax on all recreational sales, which will be in addition to the state-imposed tax cultivators are charged on each ounce of marijuana buds produced. Cannabis purchasers face a state-imposed 15 percent state tax on cannabis purchases on top of the normal sales tax, which in Long Beach is 10.25 percent.

Staff predicts an increase of about $4.5 million in revenue from cannabis sales for the 2019 fiscal year.

But the city’s Cannabis Program Manager, Ajay Kolluri, cautioned the council to not count their chickens before they’ve hatched. With the state’s revenue expectations for cannabis falling short, staff warned the council that the city might also see less than expected revenue.

“Cannabis tax revenues are incredibly difficult to predict,” Kolluri said.

It’s nearly assured that the new regulatory costs of cannabis sales will result in a net loss for the city in the 2018 fiscal year, he said, and new fees may be proposed to offset these costs in the future.

“For next fiscal year (2019) we’re expecting to break even,” he said.

Additionally, medical sales in Long Beach are producing significantly less revenue in 2018 than was expected. The city predicted it would rake in about $5.2 million in new revenue but, according to the staff report, is expecting less than half that by the end of the 2018. This partly has to do with a slower rate of business creation and licensing than originally anticipated. It is also likely a result of cannabis consumers not being able to purchase in Long Beach without a medical card while there are nearby options where only an I.D. is required.

“The city’s not making the tax money and the legal dispensaries are not able to compete,” Hijazi said of the current situation.

Currently, adult-use dispensaries are allowed to operate in the cities of Santa Ana and Bellflower.

Equity Hire

The Equity Hire program is an element in the proposed ordinance that seeks to mitigate and recompense the ravaging effects that the war on drugs has had on low-income communities and communities of color, which have experienced the highest rates of low-level arrests for possession and use of marijuana.

First developed in Oakland (though they’ve been hitting a snag as of late), the program offers both mandates and incentives with the goal of hiring from low-income communities, as well as individuals who have marijuana convictions on their backgrounds. These convictions often prevent them from gaining employment in other fields.

Long Beach’s program was devised by the Offices of Equity and the Office of Cannabis Management. To qualify, an individual must come from a family whose annual income is less than 80 percent of the median income in the area, have a net worth below $250,000, and have either a marijuana conviction in Long Beach before Nov. 8, 2016 that under current law would be considered a misdemeanor or infraction. If a person doesn’t have a weed conviction, they can still qualify if they’ve lived in a census tract for the past three years where at least 51 percent of the population lives at 80 percent or below of the area median income. Below is a map that shows which areas qualify:

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Source: June 19, 2018 city staff report on proposed adult-use cannabis ordinance.

An amendment was attached to the ordinance that would require cannabis businesses to guarantee that 40 percent of work hours are performed by individuals who meet these criteria. A “good faith” effort to meet this requirement must be proved by employers, otherwise warning and citations may be handed out by the city. If an employer can prove that there are insufficient numbers of people in their labor pool that meet this criteria, delays and lessening of requirements may be issued.

For those who meet the criteria and want to start their own cannabis business (other than a storefront, which has been capped), fee waivers, tax deferrals, expedited plan checks, application reviews, and application workshops will be offered.

The Equity Hire fee is expected to be around $2,000 per cannabis business and will help pay for the initial cost of the program, which will be $266,000. The program will be administered by Pacific Gateway, an employment agency already contracted by the city for other workforce services.

Peace, Labor, and Understanding

Continuing a standard already put in place by the medical marijuana ordinance, all cannabis businesses will be required to sign a labor peace agreement upon approval of their application. The agreement prohibits cannabis businesses from interfering in employees unionizing. Matt Bell, Executive Vice President of UFCW Local 324, which represents a little over 100 cannabis employees in Long Beach, spoke at the city council meeting two weeks ago before the vote.

“[Around] 70 percent of the people that go into the dispensaries today think it’s recreational and therefore leave [when they discover it is only medical]. And so, without passing this tonight, it really is a death sentence for these businesses and for good union jobs in the city,” Bell said. “Some of these young folks in these shops have actually turned to us and said, ‘I’m so excited, I can go home and I have the same benefits [as other union workers]. I have a great living wage. I can tell my parents. I can move out. I can have insurance. I have a pension. I have all the things that a good job requires.’”

Attorney Borst-Censullo says that the UFCW was instrumental in getting adult-use passed in Long Beach.

“There would be no legal weed in this city without UFCW. UFCW kept this issue alive when no one thought the advocates had a chance in hell.”

First Come, First Delivered?

While licensed cannabis businesses are enthused about their new customer base, some feel excluded, even going so far as to say that the city has given a monopoly to the companies already established in Long Beach.

This sentiment stems from a controversial aspect of the new ordinance, which states that in order to open a recreational cannabis shop, a business must co-locate with an existing medical cannabis business. This means that all recreational shops will be owned by medical dispensaries.

Measure MM is the Long Beach voter initiative that removed a city council ban on medical marijuana sales. It passed in 2016—the same day a statewide proposition passed legalizing recreational use—and was drafted by the Long Beach Collective Association (which some feel is a form of regulatory capture). It limits the number of medical cannabis dispensaries that can operate in the city to 32. No new recreational shops will be created unless the city decides to alter the ordinance and allow recreational shops to open without also being licensed medical shops.

The cap on cannabis licenses only applies to retail shops. New cultivation grows and manufacturers will be allowed to open in Long Beach after their application has been approved.

Still, Kolluri said “dozens” of unlicensed delivery services are currently operating in Long Beach, a claim supported by the number of listings for delivery services on Weedmaps, an app used by consumers to find nearby pot shops and other services.

John (who asked not to be identified by his real name) has owned one such unlicensed delivery service that has operated in the city for five years and says that he would have greatly appreciated a pathway to go legitimate. None of the licensed medical storefronts currently have delivery services registered with the city.

Kolluri gives more background: “[Measure MM] allows for storefront dispensaries to deliver, so a delivery service would have needed to go through that process. They didn’t actually have to operate in the storefront, they could have chosen to be delivery only, but because the medical initiative had a hard cap of 32, and the city as well as the state considers delivery services to be dispensaries, they fall under that cap of 32.”

John believes that a small group of businesses have successfully lobbied the city to give them exclusive control over an extremely lucrative and expanding industry and that the promises that small businesses would get new opportunities is not being honored by this ordinance.

“It’s windfall [for existing medical businesses], they’re the only only ones who are legally going to be allowed to make money,” he said. “I would, right now, go down to city [hall], get licensed, and start paying taxes. But they’re not even giving us the opportunity.”

In order to have even entered the medical license lottery—its first round was held in 2010, and a second in 2016—dispensary owners had to pony up a $14,742 non-refundable permit application fee to the city. Winners are charged an additional $10,000 annual permit fee, a high price to go legit for those with less access to large sums of startup capital.

Borst-Censullo, who represents businesses in the Long Beach Collective Association, believes that licensed businesses are being rightfully rewarded for years of stakeholding in Long Beach while uncertainty loomed over whether the city would ever get behind legalizing recreational cannabis. He also notes that a delivery service operating in Long Beach is doing so illegally, and to criticize the new ordinance without ever having demonstrated a willingness to comply with existing law is hypocritical.

“[The ordinance] is specifically designed to exclude people that have no interest in complying with the law. People who have been holding on to property for 4 to 5 years, paying rent on it, with no income in order to establish the good faith with the city and get the medical license process going … This wasn’t a smoke-filled back-room deal,” said Borst-Censullo. “This was brought out transparently for years.”

He also stresses that the 32 cap was approved by voters through Measure MM.

“Thirty-two businesses for the size of the city we’re in… that’s pretty diverse,” Borst-Censullo argues. “I can understand [illegal operators’] frustrations, but they would be better suited to try and open up in a new area. Long Beach is not the [only option].”

Sacramento, which has a similar population to Long Beach, currently has 30 cannabis dispensaries operating, 28 of which can sell both medical and recreational cannabis.

Another comparable city, Oakland, has 16 permitted dispensaries. Its ordinance restricts the number of dispensary permits issued to eight a year, but this cap does not apply to delivery services.

While the Long Beach dispensary cap is similar to what other cities have imposed, it pales in comparison to the 338 active liquor licenses for off-premise consumption issued in the city, according to the most recent data from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Fears that the cannabis industry in Long Beach could eventually be monopolized by a few large companies are exacerbated by the fact that licenses can be easily sold and transferred among businesses.

“There’s not really an administrative process. As far as we’re concerned, it’s a change of ownership process,” Kolluri explains. “They would have to complete a form with the city. We would need to run background checks on the new owners.”

A new cannabis license application would not be necessary and the new business owners could continue to operate while the city processes the change of ownership.

Currently, Show Grow, a cannabis company with dispensaries in Orange County and Las Vegas, owns six of the 32 licenses, according to Kolluri. Is it possible that one or two businesses will buy all the cannabis licenses in the city a few years down the line?

“Hypothetically, yes that’s possible,” said Kolluri.

Greg Gammet, the Chief Cannabis Officer for GF Distribution LLC, a business that won their licence in 2016 and will be opening a dispensary on Seventh Street and Pacific Coast Highway in the coming months, says he’s a firm believer in playing by the book but also sympathizes with illegal operators.

“I’ve been in the cannabis business a long time. I was that guy,” Gammet said, referring to those operating in the shadows. “I feel for them. I don’t want to say anything bad about [illegal operators] because the industry is built on the backs of guys like them and I respect them tremendously. At the same time there’s a set of rules and regulations.”

Gammet does have one idea for illegal operators looking to get licensed:

“I encourage them, especially if they’re on the up and up, to reach out to businesses like me and see if somehow we can bring them on for being our delivery service when we’re up and running.”

He has a counter-intuitive description of his industry: “We’re not in the marijuana business, we’re in the compliance business.”

#HomesBeforeArenas; Tenants Rights Activists Announce Lawsuit Against City of Inglewood

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Inglewood City Hall

Author: Joe Brizzolara / June 19, 2018

Earlier Today at a press conference outside of Inglewood City Hall, The Uplift Inglewood Coalition announced they will be suing the City of Inglewood for violation of the California Surplus Land Act. The group claims the City violated the state law—which mandates the prioritization of affordable housing in the development of unused city owned land— by entering into an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement with Murphy’s Bowl.

Murphy’s Bowl is a company controlled by the Clippers. They want to purchase three parcels of city land near the intersection of Prairie Avenue and Century Boulevard to build a new basketball arena.

The City Council voted unanimously in favor of the Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (E.N.A.) on June 15th, 2017. The agreement establishes a 36-month period for a potential purchase to be reviewed and includes a 1.5 million non-refundable deposit to cover the city’s costs of exploring the environmental and fiscal impact of the purchase.  

This is not the first lawsuit stemming from this E.N.A. The L.A. Times reported on a suit brought against Inglewood by the Forum, who alleges that Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. fabricated a “fraudulent scheme” which green lighted Murphy’s Bowl rather than facilitating a competitive bidding process.

The Surplus Land Act “requires a local agency disposing of surplus land to give first priority in a purchase or lease to an entity agreeing to use the site for housing for persons of low or moderate income.”

“People are being displaced because of the development that is happening” said Uplift Inglewood organizer Derek Steele.

Uplift Inglewood is being represented by Katie McKeon, a fellow with Public Counsel. Public Counsel is a nation-wide pro bono law firm. They will be joining The Public Interest Law Project and the law firm Cozen O’Connor in litigating this case on behalf of Uplift Inglewood.

“We wholeheartedly support [Uplift Inglewood’s] goal of promoting equitable development in Inglewood. We want all sectors of the community to enjoy the benefits of economic development,” said McKeon.

“The city should be using every tool at its disposal to create safe, stable, affordable housing.”

“The Surplus Land Act requires cities and counties to notify certain governmental agencies and affordable housing developers whenever there is surplus land available,” explained McKeon.

One press conference attendant asked whether there is an Affordable Housing developer already lined up if the courts do decide to invalidate the arena agreement.

“It’s not our job to find the affordable housing developer,” said McKeon. “It’s the job of the city to follow state law and offer it to developers.”

Behind the event’s speakers, group members held signs reading “Save Our Community” and “#HomesBeforeArenas”.

Along with this lawsuit, Uplift Inglewood is currently waging a rent control initiative. Steele says that they have collected the signatures (above the minimum required) which are currently under review by the County. If certified, Inglewood residents will vote on whether to add an amendment to the City’s Charter which would cap rent increases. 65.3% of housing units in the city are rentals according to the 2016 Census.

Last Night @ City Council: Proposed Charter Changes and Watering Woes

Last Night @ City Council is a weekly report on the goings on of Long Beach’s City Council by Forthe.Org. This weeks features contributions from The Sprawl Chief-Editor Joe Brizzolara. Matters discussed include: proposed Charter Amendments that could dramatically alter Long Beach’s electoral process (the creation of a Citizens Commission charged with redistricting and an end to a term limits exemption for write-in candidates) and Water Department; an appropriation of funds to combat homelessness; and debate concerning the browning of the city’s green spaces.

Excerpt:

The Council last night held the first of three special meetings required to get five mayor-proposed amendments of the city charter on the November ballot.

The first amendment proposes to establish a Citizens Redistricting Commission in order to address long-running gerrymandering of council district boundaries. Under the current system, city staff develops new district maps, which then go before the council for approval.

If passed, the new amendment would create a commission of citizens who would be charged with redrawing  districts that would replace the current ones in 2021. The districts would have to be geographically compact, utilize natural boundaries, and keep neighborhoods intact.

The city’s Cambodian community has been both a main target of discrimination in redistricting, and a leader in the fight for it, as was acknowledged last night by the mayor and the public… Read More

Not “C”-ing Eye to Eye in Irvine; Voters Overwhelmingly Approve Measure C in Irvine

Irvine Civic Center.jpg

Author: Joe Brizzolara / June 11, 2018

Last Tuesday, the voters of Irvine overwhelmingly passed Measure C. The measure will require a 2/3rds majority on its City Council to place a new tax on a ballot for voter approval. Measure C was the only one of three measures to be approved by voters in Irvine last week, with Measures B and D failing. The final vote count is 76.6% yes and 23.4% no.

The measure was supported by a majority of the Council, the Irvine Taxpayers Association, the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce, and the Orange County Taxpayers Association, which lobbied to have it placed on the ballot.

Measure C was placed on the ballot back in February with a Council vote of 3-5. Councilmembers Jeffrey Lalloway and Melissa Fox voted against placing it on the ballot.

Councilman Lalloway wanted to hold off until November, fearing that its fate might get conflated with Measures B and D which proved unpopular with voters.

Councilmember Fox argued that a 2/3rds requirement could prove difficult during hard fiscal times for the city when new revenue needs to be generated quickly. She also points out that since the taxes need to be approved by voters, a 2/3rds requirement will hinder residents being able to weigh in.

“We will not always be in the same situation that we are in now,” said Fox in her comments before the vote.

“I want to respect the ability of the residents of the future and the councils of the future to vote in a majority [for a new tax].”

Mayor Don Wagner proposed the measure and agrees with Councilmember Fox about one thing.

“Ms. Fox is right, this will make it harder to raise taxes in the future. That is exactly its point. Is that a valid criticism? No, that is the strength of the measure.”

Councilmember Lalloway, a Republican, emphasizes that if the Measure had been placed on the November ballot (when he will be up for re-election) he would have supported it unequivocally: “We should not look to raise the taxes of our residents. Ever. There’s plenty of revenue and when there are tough times the city needs to tighten its belt and not try to raise taxes. We also have a contingency reserve that can be used in tough times. That’s what it’s for.”

Carolyn Cavecche is the C.E.O. of the Orange County Taxpayers Association and was Mayor of the City of Orange during the ‘08 financial collapse. She remembers hard times when the city was hemorrhaging revenue. Ultimately, she believes that if a city is in great enough need for new revenue they should have no problem getting 4 councilmembers to sign off on it.

“If a tax is really needed, than four [councilmembers] are going to be in favor of it.”

Currently, all “general law” cities require a 2/3rds majority for new taxes to be proposed. General law cities run on state laws while “charter cities” have a charter which establishes laws unique to their city. Of the 10 charter cities in Orange County, 4 have now passed charter amendments that establish a 2/3rds requirement. Along with Irvine, these cities include Anaheim, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach.

“We are one of the few cities in California that doesn’t have this protection and it was my thought that we ought to have it,” says Mayor Wagner, who proposed the measure.

The 2/3rds requirement went into effect when voters passed Proposition 62 back in 1986. Orange County overwhelmingly voted yes on 62, with around 67% of votes in favor. The law extended this requirement to General Law cities alone, hence the current push to pass amendments in charter cities.

While the Orange County Register’s assertion that there was no “organized opposition” to this measure seems largely true, the group Irvine for Responsible Growth did oppose the measure. Most of their efforts were focused on successfully defeating Measures B and D, but Janis Morris, an organizer with the group, penned an op-ed for their website arguing against its passing titled “I JUST DON’T ‘C’ IT.”

According to the City Clerk’s office, “No direct argument against the proposed measure was filed.” Morris says that she inquired about submitting a rebuttal to the argument in favor, but was unable to because no argument against (the first step in the process) was submitted before the deadline.

She draws attention to the subtle math of a 2/3rds requirement in a five person legislative body: “We pass everything on a majority of 3 votes out of 5. That’s 60%. “C” in reality will require 4 of 5 votes, or 80%.”

“We can declare war with a smaller percentage,” Morris dryly asserts.

But Cavecche finds this argument facile: “That’s just math.”

“We could have said 4/5ths but the reason we don’t is because one, 2/3rds is the general term you use (at the state level) and [two], we don’t know that Irvine is going to stay at a 5 person council. The city of Anaheim just went from being a 5 person council to a 7 person council.”

“2/3rds is just the standard that is used.”

Cavecche points out that Californians are leaving for other states with lower taxes and this measure is meant to curb that problem.

“The burden to live in California is huge.”

Cavecche couldn’t point to an example of a tax proposed in Orange where the 2/3rds requirement (Orange is a general law City) had a critical effect but she did point to an instance in Westminster in 2016.

Westminster was in hard fiscal times and was relying on cuts and its reserves to stay afloat. Councilmember Margie Rice proposed a new sales tax to place before the voters. Because his vote was critical to secure a 2/3rds majority, Mayor Tri Ta was able to secure a 6-year limit on the tax. Cavecche believes it’s highly likely that with only a 3 member threshold, the Council would have likely sent a tax to the voters that would have been in perpetuity.

“There are councils where it’s hard to get the 2/3rds threshold and I [do not] think that’s a bad thing.”

Mayor Wagner acknowledges that the amendment’s effects are meant to be long term.

“This isn’t to fix a problem, this is to stop a problem from happening in the future.”

Morris has a different reading.

“This is clearly a solution in search of a problem.”

Rhetoric or Reality: Different Shades of Blue Gunning For Long Beach CD-7 Seat

Milrad vs Uranga Cover

On the left, Jared Milrad, from his film “30 to Life”. On the right, Roberto Uranga at a recent City Council meeting. Edited by: Kevin Flores / FORTHE media.

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.

Resumes

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.’”

Campaign Finance

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.

Roberto Uranga Campaign Contributions by Industry 2017-2018

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.

Jared Milrad Campaign Finance Contributions by Industry 2017-2018

Voting Information:

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.

Trying to Turn the Blue Wave a Little Green; A Talk in the Park with Kenneth Mejia, Candidate for CA Congressional District 34

Author: Joe Brizzolara / June 3, 2018

This past Monday, Lincoln Park was alive with people. It was memorial day and families and friends gathered to enjoy a warm day in the park. The sounds of kids playing and the smells of meat grilling were ubiquitous. Under some trees and a canopy along Valley Blvd though, a different sort of socializing was going on.

Vegan enchiladas were being served and hacky sack was being played. But along with the normal small talk of a day in the park, serious political discussion was underway on everything from housing reform to drug legalization to healthcare. This is a candidate meet and greet, green party style.

The candidate is Kenneth Mejia. While usually donning a sharp suit (sometimes with a green bow tie) for interviews and appearances, today Mejia is dressed casual: sunglasses, shorts, and a green baseball cap that reads “Mark America Think Again”.

He’s been getting attention on Left media, such as an interview endorsing him on the Huffington Post and interviews with The Young Turks and Jimmy Dore. Cenk Uygur, drawing a pun from Mejia’s previous employer Ernst & Young, called him “Earnest and Young”. The description fits.

If elected, Mejia will be 27 when he enters office. He says that he was inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign to leave a six-figure job in financial services to get into politics and fight for social justice issues.

“[The green party] is essentially the most progressive party, [taking stances] that Bernie was fighting for X100,” says Mejia.

“Single-payer healthcare. Tuition free college. Cancelling student debt. 100% clean and renewable energy.”

Mejia, along with Libertarian Angela McArdle, is running against incumbent Jimmy Gomez. Gomez first got the seat after then congressman Xavier Becerra stepped down to replace Kamala Harris who left the post when she was elected to the U.S. Senate. Gomez then won out a crowded field in a special election that included Mejia who was, at that point, running as a write-in Democrat.

If Gomez is unable to garner at least 51% of the vote then the top two vote earners will go into a run-off election in November.

Mejia is positive about his chances and excited to be talking about ideas that many established Democrats are not. The district is solidly blue, with only about 9% of the district registering Republican, according to the most recent data provided by the California Secretary of State. This is still significantly higher than Green registration which was around .6%. The last time a Republican was elected in this district was 1980. How does Mejia go about introducing the Green Party to stalwart Democrats?

“I think it’s a matter of people knowing that there are options. A lot of people [in this district] are working class people. 1 out of 4 people live in poverty in this district. They don’t know about 3rd parties. Democrats good. Republicans bad. We’re gonna keep hitting [Democrats] on the issues.”

While most of his messaging is positive, Mejia does point out that Gomez has some unsavory bedfellows, such as pharmaceutical companies, in the way of campaign contributions.

Mejia doesn’t think that Jimmy Gomez is a bad guy, and he votes the right way for the most part. But he questions whether the interests of his constituents will trump his financial backers, especially when it comes to controversial issues like single-payer healthcare. Mejia often notes that almost all his donations come from small donors.

He doesn’t have an exact plan for how single-payer (which would eliminate all insurance companies) would be implemented but he supports any measure (such as California’s SB 562) which would push it closer to reality. He does have a clear answer for why it failed though.

“If you think about it, we’re supposed to be leading the way. We have a blue everything. Why didn’t we pass [SB 562]?” questions Mejia.

“The reason why is because health insurance companies and big pharma have a stranglehold on government.”  

Men and women of all ethnicities and varying backgrounds, college educated and not, make up Mejia’s grassroots team.

Ana Antuna is a 19 year old student activist and resident of Los Angeles. She saw Mejia speak at a pro-DACA rally in October of 2017. After signing receiving a voicemail from Mejia himself, she began volunteering in February of this year.

“I thought wow this guy is really committed,” remembers Ana. “I never had a candidate personally call my phone number and invite me to one of their meetings.”

“Green candidates run grassroots campaigns and accept no corporate money.”

She cites immigration reform and rent control as her most important political causes.

Nathan Duran is also a student volunteer. He canvases in City Terrace and has found support for Mejia’s message in all age groups, but especially young people. He was a Bernie Sanders supporter and became disillusioned with the Democrat Party after the 2016 primary. He cites affordable housing and healthcare as two of his most important issues.

Mateo Nagassi is a homeless advocate and citizen journalist. He became politically active for the first time after the 2016 election. He cites mass incarceration as one of his primary causes, having two brothers that are in prison. His activism has bled into all facets of his life. He works in television and is now focused on generating socially aware content.

“Now, I guess you could say, I’ve become woke.”

While only having lived in the district for 4 years, Mejia says he began working in District 34 back in 2010. He is a member of the L.A. Tenants Union and a board member of the Wilshire — Neighborhood Council. While the power of neighborhood councils is largely representational (“a liaison between the community and the city”), Mejia touts their endorsement of the repeal of Costa-Hawkins. Costa-Hawkins is a state law that limits local governments’ ability to institute rent control. He believes rent control is necessary to protect low-income families from being displaced by dramatic rent increases. Along with Rent Control, Mejia supports large investments in new public housing.

Voting Information:

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 5th. Congressional District 34 includes the following neighborhoods: Boyle Heights, Chinatown, City Terrace, Cypress Park, Downtown Los Angeles, Eagle Rock, El Sereno, Garvanza, Glassell Park, Highland Park, Koreatown, Little Bangladesh, Little Tokyo, Lincoln Heights, Montecito Heights, Monterey Hills, Mount Washington, and Westlake. You can find your polling place at VotersChoice.sos.ca.gov.

 

Day 41 – Kaleb Havens

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March 27, 2018 – Skid Row – Kaleb Havens, sits in a lawn chair, five days shy from the end of his 46 day hunger strike. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Author: Joe Brizzolara / May 2, 2018

Near the corner of 5th and Central on Skid Row’s eastern border, a sanitation worker asks Kaleb Havens if he’s accomplished what he set out to.

“The first steps of accomplishing something. Communication. Lines opening up.”

Kaleb Havens works at the Hippie Kitchen, a soup kitchen run by the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, down the street and was on Day 41 of a 46 day hunger strike. The strike was done to bring awareness to the plight of the homeless in Los Angeles and to put pressure on the City to provide more permanent supportive housing.

Communication is something Kaleb excels at. Even after days of minimal calories, consisting of chicken broth and pedialyte, he attacks subjects earnestly, and with passion. He’s a man on a mission.  

“Through inaction, we let unregulated capitalism create these conditions. And I’m not one of these people who says we need to get rid of capitalism. I will just say it’s worked a lot better before than this. Like in the 50s and 60s when we had great social programs and a safety net and college was immensely more affordable and job training was a lot more accessible.”

Read our first discussion with Kaleb here.

Kaleb Havens on Christianity as a source for Social justice:

“I think it can be. I think it should be. I think when the Roman Empire [co-opted Christianity] and made it its own, that was more to Rome’s benefit than the mission of Christ. I think that the message of Christ has gotten watered down a lot over the years. I think at its core, it’s very much about social justice. And about standing up for people that don’t have a voice, for neighbors that go without.”

Kaleb Havens on the experience of being homeless:

[In dialogue with the reporter]

“How much your phone charged right now? Percentage wise? 88%? You charged it this morning right? You’re going to charge it tonight? What if that, in itself, was a homeric journey, to find a place where you can sit and keep your phone charged, without being hassled or told to leave.”

“When was the last time you used the bathroom? An hour ago? At your place, at the office? At your place? What if that was its own journey everyday? It’s own new problem. ‘Ok so today, where am I gonna s**t where I won’t get arrested?’ And that becomes its own project. That’s your whole morning. Just figuring out where you can use the bathroom. Or your whole evening, cause there’s only about 6 restrooms, 9 or 6 public restrooms overnight between 5,000 people who live on the streets.”

“How many gallons of possessions would you guess you own? Everybody down here limits it to 60 gallons of possessions. There’s a reason. Because if you have more than that, anything in excess of that, technically, can be thrown away at any time on the streets. Cause they can come by and do a sweep and say you have to much s**t here and you have to pick 60 gallons and we’re gonna throw away everything else. Nobody owns more than they can move by themselves every 2 weeks because of street sweeps, cause you can’t ask for help cause everyone else is moving their shit on your block.”

“I have the umbrella, not so much for the sun. I do use it for the sun, sometimes. What I use it for most is at night, when these blue lights are buzzing. Bzzz. At night.”

“You can look at a lot of studies that show blue light is the worst thing to submit someone to, especially if they’re suffering from substance abuse or a mental illness. It’s not peaceful. It’s not natural. Bzzz. I do the umbrella, just so I don’t have to look at it. That’s why a lot of people get under their tents, people who stay out here cover their face or put their hood up, cause even at night, you can’t, it’s not peaceful. There’s no rest.”

“My skin ages. I just cleaned my nails, and an hour later I look like a coal miner cause of all the debris that’s coming off the street.”     

“Your life expectancy is 75 in this country as a normal adult. It’s about 48 if you’re experiencing chronic homelessness.”

City Hall

While on his Hunger Strike, Kaleb was contacted by the office of Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is currently being talked about as a potential candidate for president in 2020. Garcetti recently announced in his State of the City address that districts in Los Angeles that open themselves to emergency homeless shelters will get the benefit of sanitation teams dedicated to cleaning up areas where encampments were once located.

“Homelessness can’t be swept away — we must give people a place to stay,” said Garcetti. “We’re not going to wash down sidewalks only to see an encampment return a few days later. That doesn’t help a single person get off the street and it doesn’t help clean up a neighborhood for good.”

Operation Healthy Streets is a cleanup program in Skid Row, first started in 2012. City officials notify homeless residents of the date of cleanup and, with the L.A.P.D. in tow, evict those who do not leave by that date.

Kaleb was himself in danger of being forced to move for a scheduled sweep, something he was unwilling to do.

“People are sometimes arrested, or have their things thrown away, when they fail to move for the operation healthy street sweeps. So when they told me I’d have to move, that was something on the table, but they just swept around me all three times. They didn’t end up arresting me. We had a big protest the first time. The sargent told me by order of the Mayor they were told to just sweep around me and do an optional cleaning on the street, so it didn’t end up going that way.  I think that’s good. I think that means our leaders are listening to what the most vocal members of our community are saying our needs are. But there is a lot of space between listening and hearing and taking action. So we’re working on that journey.”

Along with making sure the strike was uninterrupted by the sweeps, Garcetti contacted Kaleb personally. The mayor shared that he himself had participated in a hunger strike in the past and that he was committed to improving the lot of Los Angeles’s homeless population.

While Kaleb appreciated the outreach by Garcetti, he seemed unconvinced that the mayor was willing to put his full weight behind eradicating homelessness.

“His job is to seem receptive.”

Kaleb on Misconceptions of Homelessness and Skid Row:

Fears of violence and theft in Skid Row are largely unfounded according to Havens.

“I walk down the street here a lot. I’ve never been shot. I’m not saying there’s not gun violence down here, everyone i know down here’s who’s died from violence was engaged in the drug trade. And i’m not casting blame. I’m just saying if you’re trying to help down here, and you didn’t snatch somebody’s stash like last week, i wouldn’t be worried about getting shot.”

“I’ve been out here for 41 days, everything I own is in full view of everybody and not a single possession has walked off.”

And the people living in Skid Row are not so foreign as many might perceive them to be.

“No matter how much difference you think might exist between you and someone who is experiencing homelessness, you are one bad day away from being that person in a tent who you cross the street to avoid.”