Long Beach residents question proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget during community meeting

Sebastian Echeverry | Signal Tribune
Long Beach City Budget Manager Grace Yoon breaks down key aspects of the proposed Fiscal Year 2020 budget with members of the community during a meeting hosted in the 6th council district on Wednesday, Aug. 7.

Long Beach residents from the 6th council district met Wednesday night at the Manazar Gamboa Community Theater to ask questions about the Fiscal Year 2020 budget proposal Mayor Robert Garcia introduced at the end of last month.

The meeting kicked off a series of city-hosted events that will span across all nine council districts in an effort to receive input from the public as to where $2.8 billion dollars of the city’s budget is spent next year.

Sixth District Councilmember Dee Andrews praised the handful of constituents that came out to the meeting, including the AOC7– the Anaheim Orange Cherry and 7th collective of residents, but he lamented the low turn-out.

“This is our taxpayer money,” he said, “and you want to know where it goes. This saddens me.”

Eighth District Councilmember Al Austin also attended the meeting.

The presentation opened up with remarks from City Budget Manager Grace Yoon. She echoed a lot of what Mayor Garcia said during the July 31 budget proposal meeting. The city had been given a double-A rating from third party auditors and the budget was “fiscally responsible.”

Yoon said the 71% general fund portion of the budget, which is collected through sales taxes, is spent on the city’s public safety– police and fire– and called it the city’s “highest priority.”

Yoon shed some light on economic pitfalls the city will be facing. She said 80% of the city’s revenue goes toward employee wages. Revenues are increasing, but employee costs are growing faster, Yoon said.

Pension expenses are also increasing, but Yoon assured the public that the city is taking steps to address that cost.

As Yoon closed out the presentation, Andrews asked residents for their questions.

Rocio Torres, a school councilor for Birney Elementary, vocalized her concern for the city’s Justice Lab, which aims to train first responders to reduce the amount of individuals that are constantly being arrested, according to a city press release.

She questioned the lab’s “reactive” approach to crime. An advocate for parks and recreation, Torres said she hoped for the Justice Lab to take a more proactive approach toward criminals and potential criminals.

“If we invest in our youth now, we won’t have the crime we do,” she said. “My biggest concern is that we are more reactive. When kids get older they are harder to talk to.”

Malcolm Oscarson, city business operations bureau manager for the Long Beach Public Works Department, addressed questions about road construction throughout the city. One attendee asked when construction on the Anaheim corridor would begin. Oscarson responded that his staff would reach out to business owners well before construction would start.

“We know its a big impact,” he said. “We try to work the traffic around.”

He also addressed questions about road repair throughout the city.

A member of the audience asked about district-to-district disparity in city programs. He asked if art programs, such as the recent Pow-Wow! art murals, would ever come to other districts.

Gerardo Mouet, director of parks, recreation and marine, said that he was open to ideas to bring more art programs to underserved communities.

The council will have to make a decision on the budget before Sept. 10, as mandated in the Long Beach City Charter.

The next community budget meeting will take place in the 8th council district on Thursday, Aug. 8 at the EXPO Arts Center from 6:30pm to 8pm.