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Signal Hill councilmember leaves dais after 21 years of service

In interview, Forester reflects on his accomplishments and discusses the future of the city council.

Larry+Forester+in+a+Long+Beach+Pride+Parade+about+10+years+ago
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Signal Hill councilmember leaves dais after 21 years of service

Larry Forester in a Long Beach Pride Parade about 10 years ago

Larry Forester in a Long Beach Pride Parade about 10 years ago

Courtesy Larry Forester

Larry Forester in a Long Beach Pride Parade about 10 years ago

Courtesy Larry Forester

Courtesy Larry Forester

Larry Forester in a Long Beach Pride Parade about 10 years ago

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It may be an esoteric topic, but if you ever want to chat about the management of the urban runoff of rainwater, Larry Forester is your guy.

Forester, who, until recently, served 21 years on the Signal Hill City Council– including four terms as mayor– has two engineering degrees– including a master’s in ocean engineering– and he has been a key figure in efforts to improve the county’s stormwater-capture processes.

In 1999, Forester, who was then on the Planning Commission, was appointed to replace a city councilmember who was moving and had a year left in his term. Since then, Forester, who has publicly acknowledged that he is gay and living with HIV/AIDS, ran for and garnered a seat on the council each election cycle– albeit winning by a single vote in one early race.

Now, he says he lacks the energy necessary to continue as a councilmember. (Last week, he celebrated his 72nd birthday.)

However, he also indicated in an interview with the Signal Tribune Wednesday that the following day he would be seeing his doctor and asking her how he can muster more energy; he plans on applying to once again serve on the City’s Planning Commission.

Courtesy City of Signal Hill
Larry Forester pictured during a recent community event

You mentioned in an interview recently that you had achieved everything you’d wanted to do and that it’s time for you to move on. Of what accomplishment as councilmember are you most proud?

Stormwater urban runoff. I’m most proud of it because nobody had done anything on it, and I got started into it in 1999. It’s actually come to the County and gotten funding. Measure W passed, and that was an accomplishment. It’s nowhere near the funding [needed]; it’s $300 million a year, divided amongst 88 cities. Estimates are that it’s going to cost us $10 billion over the next 10 years. So, we’re nowhere near, but it’s a start. At least we’re all talking together. At least Measure W got everybody on the same page.

Initially, you were reluctant to serve on the city council, when you were asked to replace a councilmember who moved. What made you change your mind?

Probably stormwater urban runoff. I realized I had the capability of doing something that nobody else had. I’ve got two engineering degrees– one in civil engineering, one in ocean engineering, a master’s. And I realized: “Larry, if you don’t step up to the plate, nobody is.” So, I said OK, if people help me run– and they did– I’ll go for it, and was successful, over 21 years.

How would you say your engineering background has helped you on the city council, particularly concerning the Los Cerritos Channel Stormwater-Capture Project?

It’s guided me on easy projects. When I say “easy,” [I mean] ones that could be done, that we had the land for or could negotiate for the land. That was a major concern of mine– where do we get land? Where do we get this quantity that’s going to be built on? I mean, Long Beach is going to work on the MUST (Municipal Urban Stormwater Treatment) project, which is the one off the L.A. River, because they have the land. They can control that piece of land. That was a major concern for everybody. The other major concern in this whole package– and it is a package– is you can’t work in silos. How do we put them all together? That was when the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) came in, in ‘84, and said, “OK. We’ll get you all together.” Twenty-six of us at one table. And that included Hyperion [Water Reclamation Plant]. It included L.A. County Sanitation District. It included all the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that were active at the time. [ASCE] said, “OK. You want this, you want this, you want this, but you ain’t all going to get it.” So, how do you get it? That’s when the terminology “integrated regional water-management plan” came.

At the last council meeting, [outgoing Mayor] Tina Hansen remarked that you have emphasized inclusivity. How has your openness about your sexual orientation– and your health status– benefited the city?

Letting people know who I am, I think, just gave me an open field. It didn’t hold anything back. [Forester then mentioned an online article published in 1998 by a local resident and former city council candidate who protested his candidacy on the grounds that his HIV-positive status would cost the City financially. Forester also said the resident called him an expletive related to homosexuality.] To me, it is who I am. I’m not going to say I’m not. I’m not going to deny it. If you like it, fine. If you don’t, that’s your problem. Let me do what I’m best at– which is engineering, structuring things together– and go from there.

Tell me about your efforts in ensuring public agencies statewide are informed about transgender rights.

That really started with the Caucus. I’m a member of the LGBT Caucus for the League of California Cities, and, when I got on the board and took over as president, I said, “I’m going to ask you one favor, and that favor is we’ve got to educate people on transgender.” “Transgender” is where “gay” was in the ‘60s. […] And out of the Caucus basically came statements about transgender and what we can do. They’re normal! They’re people. They just realize that dear God put their brain in a body that it doesn’t belong in.

Courtesy Larry Forester
A recent photo shows then Signal Hill Vice Mayor Larry Forester during his last weeks serving on the city council. This month, Forester finished a 21-year tenure as a councilmember/mayor for Signal Hill.

How difficult was the process of converting vacant land on the hill into an area that now has million-dollar homes?

Extremely difficult because the then council basically had this general plan that said the hilltop should be developed to– I believe it was– [about 1,200] units but wouldn’t do anything. Just stymied. And I said, “That’s stupid. You’ve got this gorgeous piece of land to be developed.” [They said,] “We don’t want to ruin the atmosphere.” [I asked,] “What atmosphere?” But it’s where we [had] to go. We [had] to put something in that upper-middle-class [would] want.

How would you describe the direction the city council and City are heading?

I like it. I think it’s very direct. […] I have no doubt that what I’ve done with the council– with the council’s help and with [Hansen] and the group– we’ve done a good job. When you look at the hilltop right now, I’ll take credit for it. Literally, I’ll take credit for it, because directing the council– telling them why we should go this way, telling them why this makes sense– made sense.

1 Comment

One Response to “Signal Hill councilmember leaves dais after 21 years of service”

  1. Larry Andre on April 13th, 2019 7:32 pm

    Larry Forrester has truly been good for the City of Signal Hill. His love of the city and leadership has helped to bring an oil city that had a rough and tumble past and helped to modernize and make Signal Hill a safe beautiful place.

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Serving Bixby Knolls, California Heights, Los Cerritos, Wrigley and Signal Hill
Signal Hill councilmember leaves dais after 21 years of service