C.A.A.P. Recap; Long Beach hosts panel featuring planner, architect, and environmental scientist to discuss preparation for rising sea-levels

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Dr. Jerry Schubel, President and CEO of Aquarium of the Pacific, discusses climate change and its local impacts — near Marina Pacifica, Long Beach, CA

Author: Joe Brizzolara / January 21, 2018

With gathering storm clouds outside, stakeholders and environmental activists gathered in a ballroom at the Best Western Golden Sails Hotel near the Marina Pacifica to discuss rising sea-levels which, unabated, are threatening the livability of large sections of the city. The event, held this past Monday by the city of Long Beach, was focused on preparing for rising sea-levels and is part of the city’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (C.A.A.P.).

According to data that was presented, the sea-level in Long Beach is anticipated to rise eleven inches by 2030. By 2050, it will be almost two feet. And by 2100, sea-level could be anywhere from three to five and a half feet higher than what it is today. This is if nothing is done to address the problem. Coastal neighborhoods such as Belmont Shores, Naples, Belmont Park, and the Peninsula will be especially hit hard. The lower Westside is also expected to be heavily impacted.

Jerry Schubel, an environmental scientist and president of the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, was not being coy about how he thinks residents in vulnerable areas close to the coast should consider preparing for rising sea-levels within the coming decades.

“Over the next couple of decades you need to be thinking about moving,” said Schubel, “and that’s not a very pleasant thought.”

Jeff Jeannette, an architect who services coastal communities, while echoing Schubel’s sentiment about inevitable sea-level rise, offered short term solutions for homeowners in vulnerable areas to deal with flooding events.

“The tides are coming, there’s no way to prevent that,” said Jeannette. “We can only, at this point, do quick mitigation considerations.”

“Climate change is real. It is not some fictions of our imaginations,” said Linda Tatum, director of Long Beach Developmental Services. She pointed to research compiled by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health which found that climate change is already affecting our health.

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CO2

Sea-level rise is largely due to an increase in CO2 emissions, explained Schubel. CO2 equals a hotter atmosphere which results in the melting of ice caps and warming up of ocean waters, causing waters to expand. Both result in higher sea-levels.

“Because of the large level of CO2 already in the atmosphere, sea-level rise is baked in. We’ve committed ourselves and our descendants to living in a warmer world with a higher sea-level,” said Schubel. “Now the amount that sea-level will rise will be determined by how rapidly and how much greenhouse gas we reduce in the atmosphere. CO2. And the only way to really do that is to reduce CO2 emissions.”

In the U.S., CO2 makes up the largest percentage of gases which trap heat in the atmosphere, known as ‘greenhouse gases’.

While Schubel acknowledged that a city can only do so much to combat CO2 emissions— “we’re going to have the same atmosphere as China, Indonesia, and India”—one of C.A.A.P.’s objectives is to create a plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the city.

So far, the city has developed an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our largest [contributor to] greenhouse gas emissions in the city of Long Beach is the transportation sector,” said Long Beach City Planner Alison Spindler, the event moderator.

Of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the transportation sector, passenger vehicles and freight trucks make up the largest component at 36 percent. Emissions from freight trucks is a huge environmental concern, hotly debated last year in regards to a proposed expansion of the 710 which ultimately failed. Along with contributing to greenhouse effect, emissions from this vital cargo artery have also had damaging health effects on communities that live alongside it, according to community members and experts that have studied the area.

Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor commissioners approved a plan late last year to get to zero emissions by 2035, though many details (like covering the huge costs of new, cleaner trucks) have yet to be worked out.

Mayor Robert Garcia, in his most recent State of the City Address, touted Long Beach’s commitment to investment in more environmentally friendly transportation infrastructure, evidenced by 16 miles in new bike lanes.

“Let’s recommit to expanding bike lanes, creating dedicated bus ways, expanding sidewalks for pedestrians and looking for new ways to retake public space for people,” Garcia said.

Sand Erosion

Sea-level rise causes sand erosion which is already impacting the Peninsula. City spokesman Kevin Lee told the Long Beach Post that the city spends $550,000 a year to move 165,000 cubic yards of sand to replenish the Peninsula’s cost.

One way to counteract sand erosion is a “toe jetty,” according to Schubel.

“A toe jetty is a short jetty and you put it down to intercept that sand so that it doesn’t go all the way down and you have to truck it back,” explained Schubel. “If we did that it would keep much of the sand in place and it would improve the quality of life of many of the residents”

Plans to alter the city’s breakwaters, a perennial issue in Long Beach, include options which would add new protections for the Peninsula’s coastline. The project is currently undergoing environmental review after officials rolled out six alternatives developed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last fall.   

“With proper planning and a willingness to be open to a variety of solutions,” Schubel said. “I think residents in these areas can live quite comfortably on the Peninsula or in Naples for several decades as long as your willing to experience occasional flooding.”

A proposed pool complex in Belmont Shore, replacing the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool, is moving forward following a lawsuit brought by community group Citizens About Responsible Planning which alleged, among other criticisms, that the city’s environmental impact report for the project did not adequately address rising sea-levels. The judge ruled in favor of the city, finding that no state environmental rules had been violated. Sand replenishment is one of the tactics being proposed by the city to ensure the pool is not affected by sea-level rise.

Spindler responded to audience questions about the pool complex at the event saying that, while it may be affected by temporary flooding events, the project has been designed for these conditions with structural safeguards such as a deep foundational pile and a plinth around the perimeter.

“Worst case conditions,” Spindler summarized, “It would [still] be unlikely that the ocean would even reach that facility.”

Floodproofing

Jeannette presented several structural alterations that can make a house better able to weather the storm of occasional flooding.

These included elevating a house by installing steel beams underneath and slowly jacking it up above the Base Flood Elevation, or B.F.E. A structure’s B.F.E. is the height that floodwater is anticipated to rise to during a flood. Another option is flood vents, which are installed around the perimeter of a house and allow water to flow through the under-floor areas.

Two solutions were also offered—thought Jeannette acknowledged neither are feasible in Naples or the Peninsula—which included putting a house on stilts (“not easily done” because of earthquakes) and creating a mound, known as ‘dirt berms’, around a house (not feasible due to space).

Jeanette estimates that costs for elevating a house could range between $50,000 and $75,000, depending on the makeup of the house. Physical damages done to the house as a result of elevation, which may require patching and repainting, will produce additional costs.

“Over the next 15 years,” said Jeanette in a follow-up email, “We need to watch the tides and sea levels closely but [I] don’t believe people need to be moving away too soon.  The city is being very proactive in their efforts to mitigate rising tides and if homeowners are willing to raise their homes and take other action soon, they’ll be prepared. Sea Level Rise is real, preparing early is the best line of defense.”

West Side

Along with coastal areas on the eastside of Long Beach like the Peninsula and Naples, Long Beach’s Westside South is most vulnerable to flooding.

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Working in favor of the Westside is its proximity to the port which, according to Spindler, “already has an adaptation plan that could help mitigate [increased sea-levels]”.

Unlike the multi-million dollar properties that populate the Belmont shore area, Long Beach’s West Side is home to largely working-class communities. During the event’s Q&A portion, one attendee asked what plans are being made to aid low-income peoples affected by climate change.

Spindler mentioned several programs geared towards low-income residents that are being considered. These include an old car buy back program run by the South Coast Air Quality Management District which could be expanded with matching funds from the city; cooling down centers during periods of extreme heat; and planting trees, which are more scare in low-income communities.

Shubel added, “Trees are wonderful. They reduce the heat island effect. They remove carbon dioxide from the air (they clean the air). My question is, why are we cutting down so many of our big beautiful trees in Long Beach?”

Closing Thoughts:

Unknown attendee (whispered): you could live on a boat… [sincerity of comment is unverified]

Jeff Jeannette: The worst thing we can do is just sit and stay idle and wait for the flood to come. Everybody’s running to Home Depot, nothing’s there, and then we’re in a world of hurt. The idea of this whole thing is to think proactively.

Alison Spindler: This issue is accelerating. The data and maps here today are just to give us a starting point… this is just the process where we begin to identify what are the mitigations, what are the adaptations. Whether it’s changes to our regulations. Whether it’s changes to our codes or different kinds of incentives for residents and businesses. It’s gonna take a little bit of everything.   

Jerry Schubel: In the most recent data, it could be 7 to 10 feet by 2100… [Even] a few extra inches makes a huge difference. We might have to look at accelerating [the city’s current sea-level predictions]…

Long Beach is a remarkable city. I like to think of it as the little city that could. We’re small enough to be manageable, you don’t get caught up in all the bureaucracy. We oughta develop a model for how a Southern California coastal city can thrive in the face of a rising sea.

*In attendance: Roberto Uranga, City Councilmember (District 7), California Coastal Commission, South Coast Representative  

Next Climate Action and Adaptation Plan event:

Open House #2
Saturday, January 26, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Michelle Obama Neighborhood Library
5870 Atlantic Ave.
RSVP Link: https://caapopenhouse-2.eventbrite.com

For additional information: http://www.lbds.info/climateactionlb/

 

Legal Defense Fund for Immigrants Could Begin Operating by February

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The U.S.-Mexico Border at International Park in San Diego. Photo by Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

Author: Joe Brizzolara / December 11, 2018

This article was originally published on FORTHE.org with a Spanish translation.  

A fund that will provide access to legal representation to low-income immigrants living in Long Beach who are facing deportation came closer to becoming a reality on Nov. 4. The city council approved a two-year agreement with the Vera Institute of Justice to manage the fund with a 6-3 vote.

Long Beach will be joining Vera’s SAFE Cities Network, a group of cities and counties that have committed to providing legal representation to undocumented individuals. Other California jurisdictions in the network include Sacramento, Oakland/Alameda County, and Santa Ana.

The $250,000 set aside by the city for the Long Beach Justice Fund is part of the People’s Budget that was lobbied for by a coalition of community groups during the city budget hearings earlier this year. Additionally, Vera will match the city’s “seed” funds with up to $100,000 in grant money.

The Office of Equity and City Manager will now team up with Vera to issue a request for proposals and select the organization that will actually provide the legal services. If all goes smoothly, the fund will begin operating early as mid-February, according to Deputy City Manager Kevin Jackson.

In order to be eligible for the legal aid, a person must reside in Long Beach and have a household income below 200 percent of the federal poverty line—about $50,200 for a family of four.

Councilmember Lena Gonzalez (CD-1), who has spearheaded the fund’s implementation, pointed to Vera’s decades of experience and commitment of matching funds, as well as it’s “national perspective” as reasons for entering into the SAFE Cities Network.

Supporters framed the fund as a necessity in light of the Trump Administration’s hard line immigration policies.

Sarah Kim Pak, a fellow at the National Immigration Law Center, said during public testimony that she viewed the fund as correcting the “glaring imbalance” between the legal resources of federal prosecutors and many undocumented individuals, allowing the “anti-immigrant Trump deportation machine to blaze forward.”

Because deportation proceeding are civil, and not criminal, in nature, legal representation is not guaranteed for immigrants facing removal from the U.S. The consequences of deportation have in some cases proven to be dire.

Councilmembers Suzie Price (CD-3) and Stacy Mungo (CD-5) were the most vocal opponents to allowing Vera to manage the fund, ultimately voting against it along with Councilmember Daryl Supernaw (CD-4).

Pulling from her day job as a prosecutor with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, Price said she favored legal support for those convicted of low-level crimes but wanted “limitations” in place for those convicted of more serious crimes.

“If an individual is facing deportation because they were convicted of a qualifying criminal offense … than taxpayer dollars would not be used to assist that individual,” said Price, illustrating her desired restrictions.

Criminal offences cited by Price included: “murder, robbery, assault with a weapon, gang related shootings, and crimes of moral turpitude.”

At the meeting, Tania Karina Sawczuk, a Senior Program Associate with Vera, explained that if an individual is convicted of such crimes — and there was no reason to believe their conviction was mishandled — they would be disqualified from receiving legal defense assistance. Instead, she said, they would likely be given a consultation with an attorney who would inform them that they are without options and should accept the removal order.

“The basis of [this fund] is to provide due process and fair legal representation … for immigration [cases],” said Jackson, who had a hand in crafting the agreement.

“There is a reality that our communities face, that our criminal justice system is flawed, and abuse does take place,” said Councilmember Rex Richardson (CD-9).

Deportations have hit both the Latino and Cambodian communities in Long Beach.

Phal Sok, who came to the city as an infant when his family fled the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, was convicted of second-degree robbery as a teen. After serving a lengthy prison sentence, he became an organizer for the Youth Justice Coalition, working with incarcerated juveniles. But his previous conviction led to him receiving a removal order in 2015 and later being detained. During the hearing on Nov. 4, Gonzalez noted that she had penned a letter in support of Sok’s successful bid to receive a pardon by Governor Jerry Brown, which allowed him to stay in the country.

Not as fortunate was Long Beach-resident José Alvarez, a father of six and business owner, who was deported to Mexico in 2016 because of a decades-old drug conviction after being pulled over for a broken headlight.

“This is a perfect example [of] where the deportation fund would have come in and helped him. He was living an exemplary life, paid his dues. Now there’s a broken family,” said Roberto Uranga (CD-7).

Immigrants with past criminal convictions were 74 percent of all arrests made by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in 2017.

According to the Immigration Legal Resource Center, “For people whose convictions effectively close all doors to immigration relief, vacating the conviction in criminal court is the only way to preserve a chance of remaining in the United States.” One common reason that criminal convictions tied to deportations get overturned is that prosecutors in the case did not communicate to a defendant the effect a guilty plea will have on their immigration status.

ICE does not publish city-specific numbers on how many people are deported. However, Andrea Donado, who works within the Latino immigrant community as part of the the Greater Long Beach Interfaith Community Organization, said that in the average month she hears of at least two deportation cases involving local residents.

“We have a strong need for a fund like this .. this [fund] is not a guarantee that they are going to stay in our community, but it’s going to give them a bigger chance,” she said.

Like in the case of Alvarez, often times the person being removed is a family’s breadwinner, leading to their sons or daughters dropping out of school to find work. That continues a cycle of poverty that prevents upward mobility and ripples throughout the community, according to Donado.

Also what happens is that [the family] has to leave Long Beach. Sometimes they end up in San Bernardino, or wherever they can find cheaper housing,” Donado said.

“Deportation is a federal process [but] it does have an impact on local communities therefore it is the business of the city council,” said Richardson.

The legal defense fund is part of a larger strategy to protect the immigrant community in the city laid out in the Long Beach Values Act of 2018, which the council passed in March.

Additional reporting by Kevin Flores.

County and Glendale Freeze rents while both craft alternatives

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Rent Control Advocates Rally Outside of Glendale City Hall, 11/27/18. Photo by: Madison D’Ornellas / FORTHE media. (Glendale City Hall)

Author: Joseph Brizzolara and Andre Coleman / December 6, 2018

This article was originally published by the Pasadena Weekly. 

Despite the defeat of a ballot measure that would have allowed communities to establish their own forms of rent control, rent freezes are being imposed on properties in Glendale, Altadena and other unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County amid a growing tenants’ rights movement in Glendale and Pasadena.

Although Proposition 10 — which would have repealed the Costa-Hawkins Act, a state law preventing multi-unit buildings and single-family homes built after 1995 from being placed under rent control ordinances — lost by 19 percent across the state, the measure was embraced by 54 percent of Pasadena voters, or 29,349 of the 53,502 ballots cast, according to final election tallies released by LA County Registrar-Recorder’s Office.

“We are thankful for all the hard work, dedication and amazing solidarity for supporting ‘Yes on Prop 10 campaign’ to repeal a corporate real estate law, Costa Hawkins,” said Nicole Hodgson of the Pasadena Tenants’ Union (PTU). “The power of tenant voices has just begun to be heard.”

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Glendale Tenants Union: City Council Promises 6-Month Rent Freeze

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Glendale, Ca. Source: Wikipedia.org

November 18, 2018

The following is a press release from an organization unaffiliated with The Sprawl. The views expressed here are not those of The Sprawl.

For immediate release. November 14th, 2018

Contact: Mike Van Gorder, (714) 932-6265 or Hayk Makhmuryan, (951) 878-9060. 

info@GlendaleTenants.org

Glendale City Council Promises 6-Month Rent Freeze

In a major victory for Glendale renters, the Glendale City Council requested an emergency rent freeze ordinance that they publicly promised to unanimously pass at the next city council meeting on November 27th. The freeze is intended to protect tenants from reactionary rent increases while city staff draws up both a possible Rent Stabilization Ordinance and a possible “Right to Lease” ordinance.

The Glendale Tenants Union forced last night’s conversation on tenants’ protections after two signature collection campaigns for rent control and five straight months of rallying in large numbers at every city council meeting.

“This is huge. It is a testament to everything that [Glendale Tenants Union] have done that for the first time our City Council is finally actually considering policy that will help tenants,”said GTU founding member Jedidjah de Vries.  “This is not the outcome the landlord and real estate special interest groups wanted. They wanted the City Council to pat us on the head, offer some half-hearted non-solution, and continue ignoring our real needs and concerns”

Mayor Zareh Sinanyan announced his support for rent control in September and directed staff to draft a report on housing, income inequality, and the affordability crisis with dialogue about the potential benefits and drawbacks of a rent control program. Last night’s council meeting was devoted entirely to this grueling nine-hour conversation.

While over 150 Glendale tenants, homeowners and property owners in support of rent control rallied out in front of city hall, dozens of landlords crowded into the lobby, preventing most rent control supporters from getting into the council chambers.

Approximately two-thirds of Glendale rents, and according to the city’s own data, 63% of them are “burdened by housing overpayment,” meaning they pay over 30% of their income on rent (1). This is on top of the 20,000 unit shortfall in affordable units – and a surplus of vacant luxury units (2).

“Unincorporated Los Angeles County just voted 4-1 to create rent stabilization and a majority of Glendale voters chose Yes on Prop Ten. The housing affordability crisis demands immediate action, and this is a good step forward,” said GTU member Hayk Makhmuryan.

The Glendale Tenants Union is an association of Glendale residents that is led by renters, supporting and advocating for our rights together. For more information please visit:

http://www.GlendaleTenants.org or http://www.facebook.com/GlendaleTenants.

1) “Discussion and Direction on the Consideration of and Ordinance Establishing a Program of Residential Rent Control/Rent Stabilization” November 13th, 2018. https://www.ci.glendale.ca.us/government/council_packets/CC_HA_111318/CC_8a_111318.pdf

2) “Discussion of Implementation of an Affordable Housing Strategy”, December 5th, 2017. http://www.ci.glendale.ca.us/government/council_packets/Reports_120517/CC_HA_Item1_120517.pdf

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The Glendale Tenants Union has previously collected signatures for an ordinance establishing Rent Stabilization in the city of Glendale. They were not able to secure enough signatures to have it placed on the November ballot. Glendale is around 64% renters and the median gross rent is $1,355 (according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census). If passed, a temporary rent increase limit of 2.5% would be implemented over a six-month period. Mayor Zareh Sinanyan and Councilmember Vrej Agajanian voted in favor of the rent freeze and Councilmembers Paula Devine and Vartan Gharpetian voted against it. Councilmember Ara Najarian recused himself from the vote, citing the apartment buildings he owns as a conflict of interest.

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The Sprawl posts press releases in order to amplify organizations and facilitate our readers receiving information swiftly and directly. We do not modify press releases and their publication should in no way be inferred as an endorsement of the content contained within.  We encourage readers to contact the author of the release for more information.

To submit a press release email thesprawlpodcast@gmail.com.

 

 

 

“Continued Means of Transitory Immediate and Secure Communication”; LBPD Addresses Long Beach City Council Concerning TigerText Debacle

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LBPD Investigations Bureau Deputy Chief Robert Conant and Patrol Bureau Deputy Chief Wally Hebeish discuss the use of TigerText  in a Public Safety Committee meeting on 10/9/18. Photo by: Madison D’Ornellas / FORTHE media. (Long Beach City Hall)

Author: Joe Brizzolara / October 14, 2018

Long Beach Police Department delivers overview concerning TigerText debacle to L.B. City Council Public Safety Committee. Deputy Chief Richard Conant presented a report (Chief Robert Luna did not speak) to Cmmt. Chair Suzie Price (CD 1), Vice Chair Daryl Supernaw, and Councilmember Al Austin (CD6) on Tuesday afternoon.

A full report on use of the encrypted messaging app, which auto deletes texts and leaves them unrecoverable, should be completed on December 1st by the Department. An investigation is underway by the independently commissioned law firm Best Best & Krieger. Activists have said that this not an independent investigation because of a long-standing relationship between the firm and city officials. The A.C.L.U., after the story broke in an expose published by Al Jazeera, called on the city to end use of the app and warned that this revelation could upend many criminal cases. The District Attorney’s office has opened a review.

Police reform advocates believe this app may have been used to destroy exculpatory evidence in officer-involved shootings. An unnamed Long Beach Police Officer told Al Jazeera he had seen the app being used during the investigation into the shooting of Jason Conoscenti in the Alamitos Beach in 2014.

Here are three takeaways from Tuesday’s meeting:

  1. The LBPD is denying reports that TigerText was used in “an inappropriate manner”.

Conant said the “primary purpose” of TigerText was to allow for “continued means of transitory immediate and secure communication regarding operational and personnel matters” meaning quick, secure chat. The “personnel matters” may be an attempt to establish legal protection for the secreted nature of the messaging. Conant did not claim the messages were “notes” (as was stated by Councilmember Price) which are private and can be legally destroyed by officers. The LBPD used TigerText as a “direct messaging application,” not a “data storage system” (meaning there was no assumption these messages needed to or would be saved). Officers “have a duty to report misconduct at any level” Conant assured the Councilmembers.

An order was sent on September 18th to “immediately” stop using the app. LBPD Administration “acknowledged the optics surrounding” TigerText, and felt ending use “was warranted” to maintain public “confidence”. Documents from both the Police and Financial Departments are being pulled for the review. Subscription to TigerText cost the city $9,8880 in 2017.

  1. City official does not want to call this a “scandal”

Al Austin claims he didn’t know TigerText existed until “recent press reports” but he guesses there stock is up as a result of the media exposure.

“They’re the only winners in this scandal so to speak,” blurted Austin before quickly backpedaling, “I don’t know if I even want to call it a scandal but some have made it that.”

Austin doesn’t believe there was “intent” to withhold information from the public, but he also doesn’t believe “there’s a lot transparency within law enforcement anyway,” with self-acknowledged frankness. “To the extent we can be transparent I think we should be transparent.”

Austin asked Conant “What are the legal requirements for communication transparency for law enforcement in the state of California?” Conant responded the the question was “extremely broad” and he was “not prepared to expand on” it. He reiterated that this app was “not used for note taking.” Austin asked if TigerText is “equivalent” to police radio? Deputy Chief Conant said that it “could be compared to that,” which is “captured data on a recorded line,” but that it could also be likened to a “phone call” which is not recorded.

Price, pulling from her background as a prosecutor, commented that “note destruction” by police officers is completely legal, and that messages sent using TigerText were “digital notes basically” that were “being shared in a group format.”

  1. Councilmember Price really supports body cams

Councilmember Price did not feel comfortable “opining” about whether TigerText use was right or wrong this early in the discovery process. She does believes however, that there are examples of technology (with accompanying protocol) that do need to be implemented in order to make law enforcement more efficient.

“I’ve been saying for years now, we need body cameras” said Councilmember Price. She added that this is not meant to imply there is malfeasance currently going undocumented without body camera footage, but that body cams will inspire more public confidence and is good policy. The Department’s body cam program is currently not active as they search for a new brand after having tried two that didn’t work out. The department reported in January that officers with body cams are less likely to use force and have seen a drop in complaints.

For his part, Councilmember Supernaw was “very brief,” staying “within the scope of this agenda item.” He asked Conant if there are encrypted text messaging options for iPhones that don’t auto delete messages. Conant said that he assumes there are and that the review will vet them thoroughly.  

Also in attendance (audience): Councilmembers Lena Gonzalez (CD1), Jeannine Pearce (CD 2), Roberto Uranga (CD 7), Rex Richardson (CD 9).

“Deleting evidence with TigerText, what will Chief Luna think of next?”; Community groups call for termination of City Manager and LBPD Chief

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Press Conference Demanding Firing of LBPD Chief and City Manager Outside of City Hall (Downtown Long Beach)

Author: Joe Brizzolara / October 2, 2018

Black Lives Matter LBC  and the Democratic Socialists of America – Long Beach, as well as other community groups and residents affected by police violence, held a press conference Tuesday afternoon outside of city hall shortly before the weekly city council meeting. They demanded the termination of City Manager Pat West and Long Beach Police Department Chief Robert Luna due to the use of the self-deleting messaging app TigerText by police officers.

“Delete Chief Luna, Delete Pat West. Cut P.D.’s budget, reinvest,” organizers chanted.

Al Jazeera reported two weeks ago that officers had been using the app since 2014, and that department administrators had advised the use of TigerText for conversations between officers—making those conversations undiscoverable during litigation. TigerText, now rebranded TigerConnect, is an encrypted messaging application and has a feature that can automatically delete texts after a set time period.

The LBPD has halted use of the app “pending further review of whether the use is consistent with the city’s record retention policy and administrative regulations for the use of mobile devices,” the department said in a statement.

“From a standard and policy perspective there was no malice here, there was no intent to do anything wrong,” Luna told the Los Angeles Times.

However, coalition organizers on Tuesday said they believe the use of the app represents an intentional effort on the part of the police to destroy public records that could have had a bearing on investigations and prosecutions.

“This is the type of communication that would be used in cases where [Long Beach Police Officers] have shot people, where they have killed people. [People] like Donte Jordan, likeTyler Woods, like Lionel Gibson,” said Dawn Modkins of BLM Long Beach, listing individuals shot by officers.

The coalition demanded a reopening of all cases since 2014, with an emphasis on those involving officer-inflicted injuries and for the LBPD to pay all associated costs. Other demands included that the Long Beach Unified School District end its program of stationing officers on campus for security; they want to create community-based mental health teams to respond to crisis situations involving those with mental health issues, rather than having law enforcement be the first response; and they are also demanding an independent investigation of the LBPD’s usage of the app.

City Attorney Charles Parkin and City Manager Patrick West, have announced that they will be commissioning an investigation to be conducted by the law firm Best Best & Krieger, headed by former public-corruption prosecutor, Gary W. Schons. The law firm most recently represented the city in their legal challenges to two ballot opposition arguments against mayor-backed charter amendments that will be voted on in November.

James Suazo of DSA – Long Beach believes this law firm is too closely connected with city leadership to run an independent investigation.

“There’s been numerous cases where they’ve defended the city in legal cases. As long as the city manager, who is obviously complicit, is overseeing this, it’s not a truly independent investigation. What we’re calling for is [an investigation] that the community oversees,” said Suazo.

The coalition, which also included Standing Up for Racial Justice Long Beach and Stop LAPD Spying, holds Luna and West responsible for the debacle because they represent the direct chain of command overseeing departmental affairs.

“The police chief doesn’t report to the mayor or city council, he reports to the city manager. So it’s the city manager’s responsibility to ensure that all of his subordinates are following the law,” said Suazo.

Preceding the press conference, the city council discussed an evaluation of West’s job performance in a closed session.

Coalition members also pointed to the tens of millions the city has had to payout in lawsuits stemming from officer-involved shootings as proof that the department is not upholding the motto displayed on their police vehicles: “to protect and serve.”

“The trust is gone,” said Modkins, speaking about the police department. “It’s been gone for a lot of us.”

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:

census tract equity hire

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.”