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

Author: Joe Brizzolara / July 1, 2018

Legal sales of recreational cannabis in Long Beach could begin as early as August of 2018. On June 19th, the Long Beach City Council voted in favor of passing the ordinance after city staff presented their findings in a public hearing. On July 10th a second vote will take place and if passed (which is expected) the ordinance will be formally implemented.

The 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 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.”

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 that represents cannabis businesses in Long Beach.

“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”

“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. Dispensaries (retail shops) can be open until 9 pm and Delivery Services can operate until 10 pm.

Adam Hijazi is 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.

“We were pleased with the vote. We were happy.”

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. He claims street dealers often loiter outside of his shop, eager to pick up on customers he is forced turn away because they don’t have letters of recommendation.

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.”

For some, the future doesn’t seem so bright…

Zoning Out

This ordinance will add a designation in the zoning code for adult-use cannabis businesses.  Properties will receive land use designations of similar businesses. 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.

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

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

The ordinance grants the City authority to enforce the ordinance through various means including civil and criminal penalties, declarations of public nuisance, and holds on cannabis products.

Buffer zones will be created which restrict cannabis businesses from operating in certain parts of the city. These are the same buffer zones 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.

that green (the other kind)

An 8% tax would be charged on all recreational sales.

Staff predicts an increase of $4,447,748 in revenue from cannabis 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.”

It’s possible that the new regulatory costs of cannabis sales might result in a net loss for the city in the 2018 fiscal year.

“For [this fiscal year], our costs for the cannabis program will exceed the revenue we take in,” says Kolluri.

New fees may be proposed to offset these costs.

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

Medical sales in Long Beach are producing significantly less revenue in 2018 than was expected. The city predicted they’d get about 5.2 million in new revenue but is expecting to only get around 2 million by the end of the year. Staff says this has to do with a slower rate of business creation and licensing than predicted. It is also likely a result of cannabis consumers not being able to purchase in the city without a medical card when there are nearby options where only an I.D. is required.

Hijazi: “The city’s not making the tax money and the legal dispensaries are not able to compete.”

Equity Hire

The Equity Hire program is a new social justice motivated model that seeks to mitigate the ravaging effects the war on drugs has had on low-income communities. These communities 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 Cannabis Management. To qualify, an individual must come from a family whose annual income is less than 80% of the median income in the area; have a net worth below 250,000; and have either a marijuana conviction in Long Beach before November 8, 2016 that would now be considered a misdemeanor or infraction under current law or lived in a census tract for the past 3 years where at least 51% of the population lives  at 80% or below of the area median income.

A requirement is being proposed which would require cannabis businesses to guarantee that 40% of work hours are performed by individuals who meet this criteria. A “good faith” effort to meet this requirement must be proved by employers otherwise warning and citations may be given by the city. If an employer can prove that there is 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, fee waivers, tax deferrals, expedited plan checks and application reviews, and application workshops will be provided.

The Equity Hire fee is expected to be around $2,000 per cannabis business. The initial cost of the program will be $266,000. The program will be administered by Pacific Gateway, an employment agency, who will be contracted by the City.

Peace, Labor, and Understanding

Continuing a standard already put in place by the medical marijuana ordinance, 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:

“[Around] 70% of the people that go into the dispensaries today think it’s recreational and therefore leave. And so, without passing this tonight, it really is a death sentence for these businesses and for good union jobs in the city. 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 just given a monopoly to the companies already established in Long Beach.

This stems from a controversial aspect of the new ordinance which states that in order to open a recreational cannabis shop, the 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 the removed a city council ban on medical marijuana sales. It passed in 2016 (the same day as a state-wide legalization proposition) and was drafted by the Long Beach Collective Association. 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.

This restriction only applies to retail shops. New cultivation centers and manufacturers will be allowed to open in long beach after their application has been approved.

Medical marijuana licenses were distributed through a lottery system that required a thorough application process in order to be entered, along with substantial fees and background checks.

John (not his real name) owns a delivery service in Long Beach. He says that he would have greatly appreciated the opportunity to go legitimate. According to Kolluri, “dozens” of unlicensed delivery services are currently operating in Long Beach. Weedmaps, an app used by consumers to find nearby shops and other services, shows quite a few. None of the licensed storefront currently have delivery services registered with the City.

Kolluri: “[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.”

“It’s windfall [for existing medical businesses], they’re the only only ones who are legally going to be allowed make money,” says John.

“I would, right now, go down to City [Hall], get licensed, and start paying taxes,” John laments. “But they’re not even giving us the opportunity.”

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

Licenses issued to particular businesses may in fact be sold to other businesses without a new application.

“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 application would not be necessary and the business 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 6 of the 32 licenses according Kolluri. Is it possible that 1 or 2 businesses will buy all the cannabis licenses in the city a few years down the line?

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

Borst-Censullo represents businesses in the Long Beach Collective Association. He believes that licensed businesses are being rightfully rewarded for years of stake holding in long beach, uncertain that Long Beach would ever get behind legal cannabis. He also points out 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 faulty.

“[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.”

“32 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].”

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

“This wasn’t a smoke-filled back-room deal. This was brought out transparently for years.”

Kolluri did clarify that it is not necessary for cannabis businesses to have held on to their original properties for their licenses to still be honored.

“[If a dispensary was a previous lottery winner and] they were identified in the ordinance as one of those that would be given priority to obtain a dispensary license, they would be able to locate at the location they were at previously, but if they couldn’t or didn’t want to locate at the previous location, they could have located anywhere in the city.”

Kolluri also points out though that those medical dispensaries who stayed at their original location were given first priority in the most recent licensing.

Greg Gamet is the Chief Cannabis Officer for GF Distribution LLC, a business that will be opening a dispensary on P.C.H. in the coming months. They won their license in the most recent lottery that took place last year. He is 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 (John). I feel for them. 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.”

“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,” says Gamet. “At the same time there’s a set of rules and regulations”

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

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May 28, 2018 – Lincoln Heights – Campaign volunteers gather for a Meet-and-Greet with their candidate, Kenneth Mejia of the Green Party. Photo: Peter Duran / The Sprawl

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.”

April 10th Long Beach Municipal Election: Andrew Carroll and Kevin Flores Discuss Investigation into Long Beach Campaign Finance

Joe Brizzolara / April 24th, 2018

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Long Beach, California has been known affectionately by locals as a ‘sunny place for shady people’. Kevin Flores and Andrew Carroll want you to know about the shady money driving Long Beach politics.

Their recent piece for Forthe, an art-media collective based in Long Beach that produces watchdog journalism, examined campaign contributions in the most recent Long Beach municipal election, held on April 10th. They found that Mayor Robert Garcia’s largest contributions came from real estate developers, casting suspicion on his stance opposing the rent control movement currently underway in the city. They also found out how donors were able to skirt Long Beach’s restriction on campaign contributions over $400.

Along with the two’s analysis, this episode features an overview of the election results, discussion of the controversial Land Use Element, and the role of independent, multicultural journalism in Long Beach.  

A Contentious Place To Live: Fountain Valley City Council Votes in Favor of Amicus Brief Supporting Federal Government’s Lawsuit Against ‘Sanctuary State’ Laws

Author: Joe Brizzolara / April 6, 2018

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Los Alamitos City Hall. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

On Tuesday night the Fountain Valley City Council voted 3-2 in favor of sending an amicus brief supporting Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Lawsuit against the State of California for the California Values Act, the so called “Sanctuary State” law.

The California Values Act (SB 54) prohibits state and local officials from assisting federal agents enforce immigration law.

Fountain Valley is one of the latest cities to join in Orange County’s backlash against the state government for its immigration policies aimed at directly opposing the Trump Administration.

Across the county Tuesday night, San Juan Capistrano’s City Council voted in favor of a symbolic resolution condemning SB 54 while nearby Fullerton voted against taking action. Conversely, Santa Ana voted to send an amicus brief supporting the State in the lawsuit.

The night before Huntington Beach, swarming with protesters, voted to file its own lawsuit against the state while the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted last week to join the Justice Department’s lawsuit. And on Wednesday night, Aliso Viejo voted to also send an amicus brief opposing the state.

“An amicus brief is essentially a ‘friend of the court’ brief. It is a legal position for the court without actually getting involved in the lawsuit,” explained Fountain Valley City Attorney Colin Burns.

The recent trend began in early March with the City of Los Alamitos. They passed an ordinance that directly exempts itself from SB 54.

Along with the California Values Act, the federal lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of two other Californian laws. The Workplace Raid Law (AB 450) restricts employers from turning over employee records to I.C.E. without a subpoena. The Detention Review Law (AB 103) requires that the California Attorney General review any detention center that holds undocumented immigrants who are awaiting deportation or immigration court.

Councilmember Larry Crandall proposed the legal action and believes that ‘Sanctuary State’ laws are unconstitutional. He took action after receiving feedback from Fountain Valley residents about their frustrations with Sacramento.

“Now that I was on council, and had an opportunity to do something about it, I did it.”

Crandall, commenting on the state legislature’s Democratic supermajority: “They hate our President, and they will do whatever they can to hurt him.”  

Signs carried by those opposing the anti-‘Sanctuary State’ measures read: “F(ountain) V(alley) A Nice Place for Everyone” playing on the city’s official nickname “A Nice Place to Live”. Another reads: “I’m Local I support SB 54.”

Supporters of the anti-‘Sanctuary State’ measures carried American flags and a few wore ‘Make America Great Again’ caps and shirts. One women’s shirt reads “ARREST Gov. Brown [State Senator and author of SB 54 Kevin] De Leon [State Attorney General Xavier] Becerra.”

Longtime Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher was in attendance, pledging his support for action against the state.

“I am here to encourage you to join with other cities in the amicus brief in opposing what is an outrageous policy that is being forced on local governments by establishing a policy that will bring criminals into California, and into our areas where we have given sanctuary to criminals.”  

“Don’t try to get around what your real position on the matter is by saying you can’t do it because of the money. Because I will help you raise that money, or I’ll give it to you out of my personal campaign treasury,” said Rohrabacher, offering to pay for the legal expenses of an amicus brief.

Rohrabacher’s comments were met by roaring applause from his supporters but also led one detractor to verbally confront him as he exited the meeting. Fountain Valley Police escorted the congressman to a neighboring police station.

Councilmember Crandall says he was in contact with Rohrabacher’s staff leading up to the meeting.

“I thought I’d kinda talked them out of coming because it’s a Fountain Valley issue,” says Crandall. “I didn’t want it to become [the] real dog and pony show that it ended up being. But he has a right to come.”

Concerning the offer of funding for a legal challenge: “The council has a budget and we’re gonna see to taking care of this on our own. We don’t want to get involved in political campaigns.”

One man wearing a shirt reading “Make California Great Again” tells someone on the phone jokingly: “I’ll probably get arrested for what I have to say.” Another in a MAGA hat remarks in earnest about politics: “It’s all theater.”

The crowd had to be reminded several times, often to no avail, to remain quiet throughout the hours of public comment.

“We’ll vote you out!” threatens one attendant, if the proposal was voted down.

“We’ll vote you back in!” says an attendant who opposed the proposal.

“Our job at the state level is to create as safe an environment as we can for people to be successful human beings,” says Matt Taylor, Fountain Valley resident and Fullerton College professor. “I feel like putting state and local officials in charge of enforcing immigration reform really confuses the roles and creates an environment, quite frankly, that I not only [don’t] want to work in, but [also] live in.”

“Let the federal government do its a job and when it has probable cause to arrest and detain someone I think we should participate. But if the federal government doesn’t have cause to detain someone, the lack of their documented status is not sufficient reason to turn them over to the federal government.”

Fountain Valley resident Steve Dolberg, who supports legal action against SB 54: “The City of Fountain Valley obviously needs to take a stand one way or the other. It’s the only way Sacramento is going to get feedback [on whether] what they’ve done is acceptable or not.”  

“I’m not one of these people who says ‘they’re all bad, they all have to go’… [but] they have broken the law in order to get here which makes them a criminal… they are not citizens of the United States, they are not entitled to constitutional protections.”

“All [the options involving legal action] have significant costs associated with them,” warns City Attorney Burns. “By passing an ordinance, you do open yourself up to a challenge by the state Attorney General, possibly by other private groups… the intervention into the federal action requires a substantial amount of attorney time, you essentially become a party to that lawsuit.”   

Councilmember Crandall believes that the amicus brief option was the most cost efficient while still taking an active position.

“Filing an amicus brief is not going to expose us to lawsuits.”

Along with Fountain Valley, Yorba Linda and Mission Viejo (which also passed a symbolic resolution supporting Los Alamitos’s ordinance) have submitted amicus briefs.

“What I found very disconcerting is that the state would impose, unilaterally, on cities the status of sanctuary state/city. Without any input from us. We didn’t get a chance to vote, we didn’t have dialogue, it was just imposed. I think that’s fundamentally wrong” says Yorba Linda Mayor Gene Hernandez.

While agreeing with Los Alamitos’s position, Hernandez felt that it would have been the wrong tactic for Yorba Linda.

“Los Alamitos will get sued. They will have to fight the lawsuit. My thinking is, the Feds are already suing the state, let’s support the Feds. They foot the cost of the lawsuit where it’s going to end up anyway. This will go before the Supreme Court to make a ruling on, a couple years down the road I would imagine. That’s the reality of it. So just to do the symbolism of [passing a municipal ordinance] we get the same effect by writing this brief and saying ‘we do not support being a sanctuary city, and here’s the reasons why.’”

Mayor Michael Vo abstained from casting a vote on the amicus brief. He preambled his vote by mentioning Jim Kanno, Fountain Valley’s first mayor and possibly the first ever Japanese-American to be mayor of a U.S. city. He talked about Kano’s history of being held in a Japanese Internment Camp during World War II, an oblique reference to an instance when the federal government’s authority was used to persecute a minority group.  

“His only crime was having Japanese parents,” said Mayor Vo. “Fountain valley is better to not take a stand on this issue.”

“This isn’t about legal or illegal immigration,” argues Councilmember Crandall. “This isn’t about the color of someone’s skin, the language they speak. It’s [about] the rule of law. And the supremacy clause says that federal law supersedes state law”

“I can hang my hat on the rack and go to sleep at night knowing we did the right thing for the right reason”

Los Alamitos: ‘the little cottonwoods’ makes a big statement

From the Los Alamitos Ordiance’s background provided in the City Council agenda: “The California Values Act (SB54) is contrary to the United States Constitution and infringes on the rights of the citizens of the City of Los Alamitos… In view of this contradiction, it is impossible to comply with both the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California. When two governing documents contradict each other, the order of precedence needs to be invoked and followed.”

“It was a very simple theory I had. If the state was arguing that they could be exempt from certain federal laws, then I wanted to pose to my colleagues, why couldn’t we be exempt from certain state laws?” says Mayor Pro Tem Warren Kusumoto who proposed the Los Alamitos Resolution.

Like Fountain Valley’s April 3rd Meeting, the normally muted Los Alamitos City Hall was overflowing with protesters on both sides of the aisle cheering and jeering for hours.

The ordinance was passed on March 19th, shortly after the federal lawsuit was filed on March 7th. Kusumoto claims the timing was unplanned.

Kusumoto says that one of their reasons for passing the ordinance was to make sure that companies contracted by the federal government could comply with E-Verify requirements without fear of being targeted by the state. E-Verify is an electronic database that certifies an individual’s legal status.

“If they obey California law, they might lose their federal contract,” says Kusumoto. “I thought, this is not right, and we ought to put something in place that would at least offer them that protection.”

Niels W. Frenzen, Director of USC’s Immigration Clinic, refutes this concern: “The California Values Act, SB 54, does not have any impact whatsoever on E-Verify”

Frenzen believes that Kusumoto might have been referring to AB 450, the Immigrant Worker Protection Act.

Frenzen points to a specific exemption for E-Verify written into AB 450: “In accordance with state and federal law, nothing in this chapter shall be interpreted, construed, or applied to restrict or limit an employer’s compliance with a memorandum of understanding governing the use of the federal E-Verify system.”

Jessica Levinson, law professor at Loyola Law School, believes the Los Alamitos ordinance is illegal.

“There is discretion for localities to make laws that differ from state laws,” Levinson explains, “but not laws that specifically say, we will not abide by state law.”

“When there’s a direct conflict, the state will win.”

Councilmember Kusumoto acknowledges that he was not entirely sure of the ordinance’s impact when he proposed and voted for it.

“10 days after [the ordinance is implemented] they’re gonna sue us. For what? I don’t know. So we’ll see”

On April 16th, the Los Alamitos City Council will reconvene and vote to officially implement the ordinance now that it has been passed.  

Sameer Ahmed, staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, voiced their opposition in a statement: “City council members claim they want to uphold the U.S. Constitution, but their vote does the exact opposite. The state of California has every right under the Constitution to protect the safety and well-being of all of its residents, and ensure that its resources are not being used to enforce federal immigration laws that fuel mass deportations, separate families and spread fear through immigrant communities.”

Policy director and senior staff attorney Angela Chan of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an immigrants rights group in Orange County, echoes this opposition: “Los Alamitos is seeking to violate state law and the rights of its own immigrant residents.  If Los Alamitos passes this wrong-headed ordinance, it will be signaling to its residents that it is more interested in tearing families apart, violating due process rights, and engaging in racial profiling than in respecting and protecting its residents.”

Orange County Responds to Homelessness Pt. 1: Anaheim Mayor Pro Tem, Jose F. Moreno

Author: Joe Brizzolara / March 22, 2018

Anaheim Homeless Encampment Eviction

A homeless encampment near Angel Stadium. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

On January 22nd, Orange County officials started the eviction of a homeless encampment on the Santa Ana Riverbed. Seven days later, homeless advocates sued the County claiming the order violated the civil rights of the homeless living in the riverbed. They had no other viable housing option, advocates argued, and would be criminalized by nearby cities’ anti-camping laws. Federal District Judge David Carter responded to the lawsuit by temporarily stopping evictions of those living in the riverbed. Carter walked several miles down the encampment to get a closer look at living conditions. The judge demanded that Orange County officials find a housing solution. A deal was brokered. The county would provide 30-day motel and meals vouchers to the homeless and the riverbed would be vacated. On February 20th, 244 homeless men and women traded their camps for vouchers.

The Sprawl got a chance to speak with Dr. Jose Moreno, Mayor Pro Tem of Anaheim. Dr. Moreno is Chair of the Department of Chicano & Latino Studies at California State University, Long Beach. In April of last year, Moreno requested the creation of the homeless working group.

The group was comprised of city and county officials as well as homeless advocates and non-profit service providers. Its purpose was to review the city’s policies regarding homeless and to develop framework for tackling homelessness that was both efficient and compassion to those affected. The homeless working group proposed a set of recommendations and guiding principles for dealing with homelessness which the city council ultimately approved on January 30th.

Dr. Moreno was elected to the Anaheim City Council in November 2016, the first city election done by district. Moreno was one of the plaintiffs in an ACLU suit brought against the city which successfully argued that at-large elections disenfranchised Latino voters. Up until this point, much of city’s representation was concentrated in the affluent Anaheim Hills. Along with Denise Barnes, Moreno’s victory shifted the power balance of the council creating a majority headed by Mayor Tom Tait. They represent a new opposition to generous tax subsidies offered to Anaheim’s resort industry, which includes Disneyland. Dr. Moreno is the Councilmember for District 3, which has a heavy Latino majority. In January, he was elected Mayor Pro Tem by the Council.

Dr. Moreno discusses the riverbed, obstacles to a housing-first model, and funding possibilities for low-income housing.