LB City Council halts discussion, vote on merging police with airport security

Stakeholders cite problems with training and staffing if integration moves forward.

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At its May 21 meeting, the Long Beach City Council halted any further discussion on an item introduced by staff that would integrate security personnel at the airport with the police department.
The following are some highlights of Tuesday’s meeting.

Airport security
A month after it had postponed voting on the matter, the council heard a staff report and public comment on an item authorizing the integration of the security department at Long Beach Airport with the Long Beach Police Department.

Alejandrina Basquez, the City’s director of human resources, explained that there has been a nationwide emphasis on increased airport security since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and that Long Beach officials began proposing integration of the two entities in early 2002.

“The rationale for this integration was because post 9/11 federal oversight drastically expanded airport security requirements, and, although state law requires security positions at the airport to be granted peace-officer status, their core duties continue to focus on regulatory compliance,” Basquez said. “Part of the rationale is also to ensure the City addresses inconsistent and non-standardized training and creates a single chain of command with law-enforcement oversight supervision.”

Speakers who addressed the issue during public comment, however, were passionately against the council passing the ordinance.

One speaker, Salvador Vazquez, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers 947, which represents the security officers, said, in using data related to international airports, city officials are misrepresenting figures used to justify the integration. He also stressed that police officers will need to undergo training from airport security and that the police department is already strained because of recent upticks in crime.

“It’s concerning to me that [city officials] would fast-track this, put it in an agenda on Friday, not even give us enough time to have subject-matter experts here to actually properly represent the interests of your constituents– the people that elect and vote for you guys– as well as all those that serve and fly into Long Beach,” Vazquez told the council. “That’s a concern to us.”

Another speaker, Robert Fox, executive director of the Council of Neighborhood Organizations, said he also opposes the merger on practical grounds.

“No. 1, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Fox said. “No. 2, every time we do this kind of a takeover, like we did with the Blue Line, we supposedly added 51 officers to the force, when in fact, they were dedicated only to the Blue Line and we’re still 200 officers short. So, our budget in the city of Long Beach has never been police-specific as it should be. I think that’s a real critical issue here. We’re adding on a responsibility to the police department, which is already understaffed, and all you’re doing is changing out really qualified security people who are specifically trained for the airport with people who are not specifically trained for the airport. And I believe that is a dangerous combination for this city.”

Fox added that there have been no security issues at the airport but there is indeed increased crime on the streets. Like Vazquez, he criticized city officials for the lack of notice on the item.

“I think it’s insulting to the citizens of Long Beach to have such short notice on such an important issue,” he said. “We had to grumble around trying to figure out what this is all about.”

After public comment, City Manager Patrick West remarked that “no one is being replaced.”

Mayor Robert Garcia called for a second on the motion, but no councilmember made one, therefore the item did not move forward for discussion or vote.

Ring
One agenda item included a staff recommendation to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the home-security-system company Ring LLC, for access to its neighborhood-watch platform, Ring Neighbors.

Vice Mayor Dee Andrews made a motion to postpone the item so that the City can look into developing a rebate program for residents, as the company does with other cities.

Fifth District Councilmember Stacy Mungo agreed with Andrews and seconded the motion. She also mentioned, however, that there are other options for getting discounts on the product besides the rebate program.

Hearing
The council and staff conducted a hearing on the property at 4251 Long Beach Blvd., which is zoned for commercial use but includes 25 square feet zoned for residential use.

Christopher Koontz, planning officer in the Bureau for Development Services, explained that the motion was for council to approve making the entire lot commercial, which the seven attending councilmembers did with a unanimous vote.

Drive-throughs
The council voted 7-0 to pass an ordinance imposing interim regulations on the issuance of building permits, conditional-use permits or other entitlements for new drive-through lanes throughout the city.

SLAM event
Also in a 7-0 vote, the council approved an increase in appropriations in the general fund group in the city manager’s department by $9,200, offset by 1st Council District one-time district-priority funds, to the Willmore City Heritage Association for its annual Season of Live Art and Music (SLAM) event.

Public comment
During one public-comment period, three speakers discussed the recent rise in violent crime in the area, particularly concerning a local gang that is targeting black high-school students.
One speaker, Rev. Leon Wood, president of Success In Challenges, a nonprofit grassroots social-service agency, requested that the council immediately take action to address the violence.
“Over the recent months and weeks, there has been an upsurge of violence and shootings in the area of north Long Beach and the surrounding cities,” Wood said. “People have been injured, and some have lost their lives due to the senseless violence that is brought about by unemployment, poverty, depression, racial unrest and cultural ignorance. All of this is threatening the positive advancements that have been accomplished by our city’s leadership over the past 10 years.”

Settlement
City Attorney Charles Parkin announced that, in a closed-session meeting earlier that day, the council had voted 6-0 to approve a settlement against the City for $420,000.

Efficiency program
The council voted 7-0 to adopt a resolution: authorizing the City to join the CaliforniaFirst energy-efficiency program; authorizing the California Statewide Communities Development Authority to accept applications from residential-property owners, conduct contractual assessment proceedings and levy contractual assessments within the City’s jurisdiction; and authorizing related actions.

Contracts
The city council also voted 7-0 to award contracts to 51 vendors for as-needed on-call public health and human services, in an annual aggregate amount of $14,100,000, with a 15-percent contingency in the amount of $615,000, for a total annual aggregate amount not to exceed $4,715,000, for a period of two years.

Jazz festival
Also in a 7-0 vote, the council approved an increase in appropriations in the general fund group in the city manager’s department by $70,000 for the Uptown Jazz Festival, to be offset by budgeted funds for community concerts in the amount of $2,222 in the Special Advertising and Promotions fund group monies from the Department of Parks, Recreation & Marine, as well as a contribution from Partners of Parks for $35,278 and one-time priority funds of $5,000 each from the 9th and 1st Districts and $2,500 from the 2nd District.

Streaming and downloadable videos of the entire meeting are available at tinyurl.com/2gkzwv. The next Long Beach City Council meeting will be at 5pm on Tuesday, June 4, in the council chamber, 333 W. Ocean Blvd.