Cities have power.
We have economic power, the power of diversity and the power to use innovation to foster equitable growth. But while we have multiple ways to support the just inclusion of everyone—that is, assuring that all Long Beach citizens have an economically viable and dignified life—we are not taking enough steps to actually do this in a very real, tangible way, according to a report about Long Beach by the University of Southern California.
Commissioned last year by then-Vice Mayor Rex Richardson as part of his Everyone In initiative, the report’s ultimate goal is to provide all of the city’s support systems—government agencies, elected officials, nonprofits, civic and business leaders—with guidelines that can lead it toward a more equitable future.
Ultimately, it provides “a better understanding of government’s role and responsibility in explicitly advancing equity through our programs, services, and policies,” said Katie Balderas, Equity Officer for the Department of Health & Human Services. “This kind of culture shift requires a long-term commitment and a willingness to co-create with communities in responsive and engaging new ways.”
We’ll get to how we can advance equity in a bit but first that “culture shift” Balderas speaks of. It is one not relegated solely to Long Beach but the entirety of Los Angeles County: While median-income renters spend an average of 28 percent of their income on rent, leaving the other 72 percent to go toward things like food and transportation, lower income folks operate on much tighter margins. Consider that households earning half of the median income or less spend a staggering 71 percent of their income on rent alone.
When it comes to rent burden—that is, spending 50 percent or more of one’s income solely on rent—the numbers are even more alarming: 83 percent of extremely low-income households, 57 percent of very low-income households and 19 percent of low-income households are burdened by rent.
These burdens fall disproportionately on people of color and Long Beach, decades ago, became predominately a city of color.
“An examination of the quality of life for people of color in Long Beach reveals deep and persistent racial and economic inequities, cutting across many arenas,” said Jamila Henderson of PolicyLink. “For example, health disparities, including rates of chronic disease, are greater for people of color than their white counterparts, and people of color are more exposed to the toxins and environmental hazards that contribute to health inequities, largely because they live in lower-cost homes located near polluting industries.”
Long Beach has long been considered one of the worst cities in the nation when it comes to pollution which is largely fueled by the ports, freeways, refineries in Wilmington and corridors filled with particulate-releasing businesses whose pollution falls heavily on the city’s most marginalized neighborhoods.
Take, for example, the area that comprises the 90813 ZIP code, roughly the southern end of West Long Beach and the entirety of Central Long Beach. Home to the mouth of the Port and Anaheim Street, a stretch of auto shops and laundries, the area is not only one of the poorest sectors in the city, with some of its highest unemployment numbers, but it has some of the state’s worst asthma rates, with every single census tract ranking in the 95th percentile or above in asthma. Half of the entirety of 90813 ranks in the 99th percentile in terms of airborne diesel particulate matter. In fact, some of the census tracts in West, Central, and North Long Beach said the areas had 20 times more diesel particulate matter in their air than in the air less than a mile away.
Add onto this that the most affordable spaces in Long Beach are homes and apartments that buttress these pollution centers, and the picture of just inclusion in Long Beach is a disparaging one.
Perhaps most importantly is noting that we are losing when we are not equitable. Literally losing:
Given all that, what are the opportunities Long Beach has to become more inclusive? According to the report there are many, and they are not pie-in-the-sky ideas but, rather, implementable policies.
We can create housing for people without displacing the ones that invested in a place that, at least a decade ago, wasn’t really being invested in. We can focus on creating jobs here and, with that, deter folks from the cost of commuting heavily in cars. We can invest in public mass transit rather than expanding freeways. We can create a police force that is compassionate, reasonable, and engaged with communities of color rather than being perceived as their overlords. We can create green spaces in places where there aren’t any—did you know West Long Beach has less than a football field of park space for every 1,000 residents?
These aren’t crazy things. They’re doable. They’re respectable. And if we want to keep Long Beach, well, Long Beach, we have to actually start implementing them.
The report was was produced by the National Equity Atlas, a partnership between PolicyLink and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity. For the report, click here.
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