The line to enter Tuesday night’s city council meeting trickled out the door of city hall, with people arriving in throngs for two controversial agenda items: urban agriculture and immigration reform.
The Long Beach City Council unanimously approved a recommendation requesting the City Attorney’s office draft legislation for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and use language that discourages the separation of families amid the threat of deportation.
Shortly before their vote, the council also unanimously approved a measure that would expand and tweak a portion of Long Beach’s municipal code pertaining to urban agriculture within 30 days.
Each measure was met with eager and divisive public comment, sometimes sparking admonition from council members directed at the audience, calling for respect and courtesy.
“We live in a democracy, and one of the best parts about that is that we have different opinions,” said Mayor Robert Garcia, who called the meeting “vivid” and “lively.”
Officially, the City Council voted to approve the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) as part of Long Beach’s 2015 Federal Legislative Platform. The measure also reaffirms support for the DREAM Act, which was first made part of the 2010 Federal Legislative Platform.
The immigration measure was the main focus of passionate speeches and sign waving from both sides of the isle.
“Your job is to protect us citizens!” a member of America First Latinos, a group opposed to immigration reform, said during public comment. “We expect to have a life of freedom—we don’t want to destroy that.”
Other commenters cited crime and the constitution as reasons against adopting an immigration reform policy. Voices were raised, and a member of the public asked the undocumented immigrants in the room to stand up. Approximately half of the room stood.
Representatives from Rep. Alan Lowenthal, State Sen. Ricardo Lara and Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell’s offices each took a stand at the public comment platform, praising the immigration reform measure.
“As a classroom teacher with over 20 years of experience, Assemblymember O’Donnell understands firsthand the toll a lack of education can take on an undocumented student’s life,” said O’Donnell’s District Director Marisol Barajas. “He understands that empowering California’s dreamers with the knowledge and skills they need to achieve their career goals ultimately benefits us all, as these educational opportunities have far-reaching, positive impacts on every facet of our society, from public safety to economic growth.”
Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez closed the public comment and opened the measure—which she had proposed—to a vote.
“It makes my skin crawl to hear the level of racism, hatred in these comments,” she said. “What’s alien to me is referring to [undocumented immigrants] as aliens.” She called Long Beach an “international city,” calling immigration reform a neighborhood “block by block” issue that affects families.
Councilmembers Roberto Uranga, Suzie Price, Rex Richardson, Al Austin and Dee Andrews strongly vocalized their support for the proposal. Richardson drew a parallel between the opponents’ arguments and the viewpoint of the gunman in South Carolina’s church shooting last week, as well as those who support displaying the Confederate flag.
Immigration reform opposition member Janet West called Richardson’s comments “beyond the pale,” and said he should make an apology.
“I’ve never even seen a Confederate flag in the state of California,” she said. She noted the agenda item wasn’t added until Friday, making opposition organization difficult.
“I’m not opposed to legal immigration,” she said. “They blurred the lines between legal and illegal immigration. If we grant amnesty before the border is secured, it will never be secured.”
Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal said she was “thankful for the passion” on both sides of the issue, as it serves as a “constant reminder that we have so much farther to go.”
She cited Governor Nikki Haley’s removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol that same day.
“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” she said.
All of the councilmembers acknowledged their close relationship with immigrants, either as descendants, friends, or immigrants themselves, in the case of Mayor Robert Garcia. The measure passed 9-0.
The urban agriculture ordinance attracted a large following of pro-urban farming individuals, who cited sustainability and a closer relationship with food as strong reasons for expanding Long Beach’s municipal code policy.
The ordinance outlines land and property requirements for maintaining beehives, goats and chickens within Long Beach city limits. The measure passed 9-0.
Photos by Keeley Smith.
This story was updated on 06/24/15 at 5:42PM, clarifying Marisol Barajas’ statement.