More money, less problems?

Long Beach activist groups and coalitions host press conference, call upon city leaders for financial endorsements

Photos by Sebastian Echeverry | Signal Tribune
Long Beach community organizations hosted their first ever People’s Budget Proposal press conference on Tuesday, July 17, outside of City Hall. The event allowed community leaders to highlight programs that the City could monetarily support. Jorge Rivera, Long Beach Residents Empowered program director, is pictured above addressing media during the conference.

Located just steps away from the City Hall building, a coalition of Long Beach organizations joined forces on Tuesday, July 17, to host their first-ever People’s Budget Proposal press conference to call upon city officials to financially support underprivileged and low-income residents.

The press conference was purposely hosted in anticipation of the proposed City budget for Fiscal Year 2019 that is slated to be released later this month. The proposal seeks City investments in immigrant-litigation defense, language accessibility, safe housing and opportunities for the youth.

Specifically, the organizations are asking for:

• A $250,000 allocation to establish a universal legal defense fund for immigrant residents facing deportation.
• A $1,028,572 allocation for translation efforts of critical documents to follow through on the commitment of the citywide Language Access Policy.
• A budget that includes initial funding for a well-resourced, publicly-accessible housing-code enforcement and disclosure system.
• A dedicated funding source that supports positive youth development.

The groups that authored the budget proposal were the Sanctuary Long Beach campaign, the Long Beach Language Access Coalition, the Housing Habitability Coalition and the Invest in Youth campaign.

Jorge Rivera, Long Beach Residents Empowered program director, said that all these campaigns and organizations came together to forge the proposal once they realized they were working toward similar goals.

“A lot of those issues entertained some budgetary type of elements,” Rivera said. “It was suggested by one of the community organizations that maybe we should try to come together and address the budget as an overall project to stop fighting our issues like in silos.”

Coming off the heels of a recent protest demanding fair sanctuary-city policies, local immigrant organizations stated in the budget proposal that they seek to hold city officials accountable for $250,000 that was allocated for a fund to cover litigation costs for immigrants in the city.

Gaby Hernandez, Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition program manager, told the Signal Tribune shortly after the conference that the money kept in a fund for the purpose to protect immigrants is an act of “universal representation.”

“It would allow people to access legal counsel if facing deportation,” she said. “We need the city council to push this, to make it happen because they already said that we have $250,000, but we don’t have the funds yet. So, we need to make sure that they have that [allocated budget] in place.”

Hernandez said that when the Long Beach Values act passed– a law voted in on March to protect immigrants– the city council allocated the $250,000 for legal defense as part of the values act.

During a phone interview with the Signal Tribune later that Tuesday, James Suazo, Long Beach Forward associate director, said the city manager had originally proposed $100,000 to be allocated for the legal defense budget, but other city officials later increased it to $250,000.

“They approved it back in March,” Hernandez said. “We just want to make sure they follow through.”

In 2013, the City adopted the Language Access Policy (LAP). It stated that there are people who live, work and pay taxes citywide who are unable to communicate effectively in English because that is not their primary language, according to Long Beach Development Services.

Residents in Long Beach come from numerous backgrounds and ethnicities, however, there are over 20,000 Cambodians in Long Beach, according to The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, making it a large part of the city’s population. Many Cambodians moved to Long Beach to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide in the late 1970s.

During the press conference on Tuesday, Morn Pho, Language Access Coalition member, said that he depends on others to help read his utility bills because some city documents are not translated to Khmer, his native tongue.

Long Beach organizations announce the People’s Budget Proposal– a document highlighting monetary needs for underfunded communities– during a press conference on Tuesday, July 17. During the conference, Better Housing for Long Beach members arrived to protest rent control– a topic that was not mentioned during the press conference. Protesters and conference attendees silently battled as the conference went on, nudging and standing in each other’s way.

The coalition stated in the budget proposal that a $1,028,572 allocation for translation efforts of critical documents would help follow through on the commitment of the LAP.

Of that $1,028,572, $658,112 would be used for multilingual staffing, $20,000 would go to community-outreach efforts, $8,851 would be used to invest in multilingual signage, $90,984 would pay for the translation process of documents, $5,625 would be used to translate City web pages, $160,000 would help support language interpretations at City meetings and $85,000 would pay a Language Access Program coordinator, according to the coalition.

The LAP exceeds the state requirement, under the California Dymally-Alatorre Bilingual Services Act– passed in 2011, according to the California Legislative Information web page– which generally requires state and local public agencies serving a substantial number of limited-English-speaking people to provide services and materials in the languages spoken by the people, to the extent that funding is available, according to Long Beach Development Services.

Although a specific monetary amount was not indicated during the press conference, the Housing Habitability Coalition stated in the proposal that the city council should allocate funds to support publicly accessible housing-code enforcement efforts.

Rivera told the Signal Tribune on Wednesday during a phone interview that the organizations pushing for this budget item are attempting to solve two problems: an understaffed code-enforcement bureau and an outdated data-retrieval system.

He said that there are not enough employees to respond to all the violation codes tenants are filing against their landlords.

“Code-enforcement officers are taking anywhere from three to four weeks to respond to complaints,” he said. “I had a woman that just came in today, and she said that she’s been calling for almost a month, and they still haven’t come out. She’s got bedbugs, roaches, clogged sinks– and these are the kinds of stories we continuously here.”

A press release provided to media during the conference states that four out of five “very low-income” households experience housing problems, such as cost burden, overcrowding or substandard conditions.

Rivera also said that the technology used to track housing-code violations is outdated.

“It’s one of the worst systems that’s out there,” he said. “It can’t generate any type of specific reports.”

He explained that if his organization wanted to see how many code violations there had been on bedbugs this year, for example, he would not be able to find that information.

Rivera said that he is currently collecting various quotes on different data-collecting technologies, but that he still needs to calculate how much it would all cost.

The two youngest speakers approached the podium during the press conference to speak about youth-program funding.

Chelsea Chhem and Randy Loeung, Invest in Youth campaign members, called upon city officials to allocate funding for programs such as wellness centers, career-development resources, after-school programs, community organizations, parks and libraries.

The budget proposal states that the city council should integrate a Long Beach Children and Youth Fund, which general fund and marijuana sales-tax revenues would support, and grant the fund protection from potential budget cuts.

Invest in Youth campaign members recently surveyed the Long Beach community about youth-related issues. Seven out of 10 Long residents surveyed said that public funds should be allocated to invest in youth programs, according to the proposal.

Rent control
The topic of rent control citywide was not mentioned in the People’s Proposed Budget, however, members of Better Housing for Long Beach (BHLB) attended the press conference to protest that issue, carrying large signs that read “no rent control,” which started a silent battle during the conference.

Men and women in the crowd attempted to block the signs the protesters brought, oftentimes standing in front of them and putting their hands in the air to block the lettering. BHLB members attempted to zig-zag through the crowd past the people that were blocking their signs.

City Hall police officers intervened but made no arrests.

Long Beach Forward Assistant Director Suazo said in a phone interview later that Tuesday that the protest was not planned, and that the BHLB members were disrupting the press conference by walking throughout the crowd.

Danje Jackson, BHLB member, told the Signal Tribune shortly after the conference that he was against rent control in the city.

“Slapping rent control on the city is just like God throwing the whole human race in Hell just because of one sin that one man did,” he said. “I like to support the cause of no rent control, so anytime there’s an opportunity to utilize my free speech, amongst people and the press, then I’m up for the cause.”