I moved to Long Beach when I was three years old. I went to elementary school, middle school and high school in this town. I recently graduated from CSULB with a bachelor's degree in Chicano/Latino Studies. I’ve worked alongside our local and state elected officials and volunteered for community-based organizations. I work in Long Beach, and I have lived in a rented apartment on the West Side for my entire life. I am Long Beach.
We can all see that Long Beach, like our country, is a changing place. For some, those changes are welcomed and beneficial. For others, those changes jeopardize their place in our country and here in our community. To some those threats come from increased emphasis on being deported by the new president. To others, those threats come in the form of displacement amidst the wave of gentrification that is crashing over Long Beach. Those combined forces, along with the lack of equity we have seen for decades have many in our community questioning their place here.
In the face of real threats to inclusion, the community is stepping forward to assist the most vulnerable. In Long Beach, we have seen a number of forums to discuss the increasing number of homeless residents. Looking at the symptoms and not the cause could be our undoing if we don’t act soon. For example, a significant amount of homeless residents report eviction as being the reason for their homelessness. We are also seeing the community come together to support Long Beach becoming a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants.
Community members and organizations have started making demands that Long Beach be a “Sanctuary City”. While other California cities have stepped up to protect their undocumented residents, Long Beach has taken more indirect steps, with less decisive action. Supporting state legislation was a good first step, but, we can do more locally and should not take a “wait-and-see” approach. Conversely, community members and organizations have called for renter protections in Long Beach. While the issue of building more housing in the future has been lifted up, stabilizing our renter population has not. Long Beach remains the largest population of renters on the West Coast that remains vulnerable with no protections in place to protect against displacement. The community has solutions and we need our City Council and Mayor to listen and lead.
While we have taken some steps forward, local policies and decisions have not yet fully reflected the inclusion we are seeking. Instead, they have promoted further exclusion and disregard for the most vulnerable in our community. The passage of the Downtown Plan in 2012 is prime example of this. As buildings are sold and lives are uprooted, the downtown renaissance has a dirty underbelly as scores of displaced residents either disappear or weave themselves into Long Beach’s growing homeless population. Action is needed now, not later.
We should make no mistake about the situation we’re facing—it is grave. While immigration and displacement are at the forefront of the conversation, the idea of inclusion must go further for it to become a reality. For one, we need to expand the “green zones” conversation and create equitable amounts of jobs and housing for low-income communities and communities of color. We need to improve the efficiency and sustainability of our waste and recycling efforts here in Long Beach and ensure that all residents have access to recycling. Building new affordable housing near transit lines will increase opportunities for residents, who are in the greatest need, to use public transportation to get to jobs and schools, while cutting down on air pollution from packed roads and freeways. The fight for social justice and equity is ultimately about giving all of our residents the opportunity to lead healthy, sustainable and stable lives.
On April 5, the community will come together to discuss issues that are barriers to the full inclusion of all. Housing Long Beach is honored to present at the 2017 People’s State of the City. As an undocumented person, even with DACA status, my place here has suddenly been placed in peril. We need to become a sanctuary city now. Providing sanctuary is not just about undocumented people, but also protecting refugees, Muslims, and black lives. Providing sanctuary also means that our diverse communities need be protected from displacement. Seniors, people with disabilities, immigrant communities, and others who have called Long Beach home for decades should not be forced out of our community.
Solving these problems is complex, but constructive conversations will lead to constructive solutions.
Maria Lopez is a member of Housing Long Beach and the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community—part of the broad coalition that is organizing the 2017 Long Beach People's State of the City, which will take place April 5 at 5:00PM at First Congregational Church, located at 241 Cedar Avenue.