Houghton Park in North Long Beach is set to have a new community center begin construction but programming at parks is still hitting a fiscal wall.
As city leaders move toward approving Long Beach’s next fiscal year’s budget three departments (public works, development services and parks, recreation and marine) presented overviews and took questions from the city council on their proposed budgets and the challenges they face in the coming year.
The three departments account for about $250 million of the city’s upcoming budget which is scheduled for final approval in September. Public works, which services the city’s streets, infrastructure, tree trimming and a variety of other services, make up about over half that total ($186 million) with development services ($118 million) and the parks and recreation department ($58 million) pacing behind it.
Public Works Director Craig Beck highlighted Measure A’s effect on the department’s ability to expand its street improvement services in the past year, noting that the department had completed 75 lane miles of slurry seal repairs to streets with an additional 15 miles of large arterial streets receiving the same treatment.
Measure A, the voter-approved sales tax increase, will also play a large role in the department’s 2018 budget with some $26 million dollars earmarked for improvements in public facilities, storm water treatment stations, mobility improvements and expanded bike infrastructure.
Some of those improvements will include roof repairs at Stearns Park and phase one of a new community center at Houghton Park in North Long Beach. The department will also add two new clean team crews to assist in picking up the approximately 20,000 illegally dumped items it collected last year.
The proposed budget will also include the installation of a third pothole team to help the city better respond to a growing problem on city streets.
“Many of the council members can attest that we’ve seen an increase in the number of potholes in this city, most of that was caused by the storms we had this past winter,” Beck said. “This third pothole crew will significantly help us increase our services to the community and shorten response times to filling potholes.”
Despite the recent successes, the city still faces an uphill battle in maintaining its roads. Based on figures presented by Beck in June, Long Beach needs to invest half a billion dollars into its streets to shore up a backlog of maintenance and bring the city’s pavement condition index to an average of good/excellent.
The city’s parks are set to see an expanse in numbers as the department’s director, Marie Knight, outlined plans to develop 57 acres of new park space, most of which will be west of the city’s center. It will also embark on dozens of park improvements during the next fiscal year, something that Knight also attributed to the influx of Measure A funds.
These include field turf improvements at Admiral Kidd, Hudson and Veterans Parks, as well as improvements to the 4th Street Senior Center and fully funding additional weeks of the municipal band, an issue that sparked a conversation by the council on park equity last month.
The item that drew the largest criticism from the public was the Long Beach Animal Care Services budget which falls under the parks, recreation and marine umbrella. While the city is currently experiencing a record year for positive outcomes for the animals that end up in the city’s shelter, a handful of rescue operators showed up to beg the council to allocate more funding to those rescues which are volunteer run.
Anna Wong of the Stray Cat Alliance, which partners with the city’s shelter, said that the city should work harder to fall in line with Los Angeles which is on pace to become a no-kill shelter next year.
“The residents cannot handle it anymore,” Wong said. “There are no more new rescues coming into the shelter to help. Our main kitten rescue is so inundated it’s ridiculous. There’s no money for us, we need your help and we’re begging for your help.”
Brandy Gaunt, who founded Jellicle Cats Rescue Foundation in North Long Beach, praised Animal Care Services manager Ted Stevens for his tireless work to promote good outcomes for the animals, but added that the recent numbers have “been pulled out of magic” given that there have been no infrastructure improvements made by the city to the city’s shelter.
“He’s doing as much as he can but we are going to plateau,” Gaunt said. “We need additional resources for that shelter. We need programming, we need funding so we can have foster programs and behavior assessments for the animals in there to increase their chances of getting out of there alive. The rescues can’t keep absorbing the overflow.”
Knight said that the shelter will see a minor expansion this year when it will create a new play area but that the lack of resources is part of the issue, with the footprint of the shelter also constraining the ability for the department to expand it. A park system that has been recognized as one of the 25 best systems in the country this year has been done under a budget in which Knight said it “feels like we’re holding it together with duct tape, bobby pins and bubble gum”.
Development services, which oversees code enforcement, zoning, permitting and development, recapped a year in which it entitled over 1,800 new residential units and provided funding for over 150 affordable housing units.
Development Services Director Amy Bodek said that the department cited 60 illegal garage conversions and closed 80 percent of code enforcement violations within 120 days—after that point they’re referred to the city prosecutor’s office—and also began publishing a public list of landlords that were non-compliant with the city’s recently established proactive rental housing inspection program (PRHIP).
“I think we’ve been working on that for a long time and I think it’s important for renters to have the opportunity to see who the non-compliant landlords are so they can choose not to rent in those locations and also for our communities of apartment associations and landlord associations to apply some peer pressure to those individuals who are not good examples in our city,” said Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo in praising the publication of the list.
Challenges remain for all three departments.
Bodek said that PRHIP has a backlog of approximately 1,000 inspections as well as traditional code enforcement complaints that need to be addressed. The city also needs to increase and preserve its supply of affordable housing as rental vacancies dwindle and property values continue to climb resulting in rising rents and people being displaced from neighborhoods they’ve called home for years.
Knight said that two-thirds of parks facilities were damaged during the storms last winter and need to be addressed. She also noted that the city’s irrigation is insufficient to safely maintain the urban forest—1,000 dead or dying trees were removed last year—and that animal care services would plateau without further investment.
Community expectations for park programming which are beyond the current funding model will be addressed in an upcoming memo to the council which will explore alternative funding options for expanding concerts across the city’s parks.
Beck said that while the last increase in refuse fees came in 2003, current funding is running at a deficit and will require a rate adjustment. The clean team, while adding two crews, may only help mitigate the over 100 percent increase in reported dumped items and the ongoing pavement management program, and its shortfall in funding, will continue to be a budgetary burden for the department.