North Long Beach leaders hope South Street remains the southern border of its collaborative community

Long Beach’s 9th City Council district is bordered by the cities of Carson to the west, Compton to the north and Lakewood to the east, and those unique circumstances have community leaders trained on South Street as a process to redraw the city’s council districts unfolds.

The potential that district lines could shift again in the coming months has neighborhood leaders concerned that the collegiality that neighborhood associations have developed over the past two decades could be interrupted if their southern boundary, South Street, is moved north.

South has served as the southern border for the district for the last 20 years with the exception of the small neighborhood that includes Davenport Park being lost to the 8th District in 2010. And within those confines neighbors have built a culture of helping one another.

“The collaboration is priceless,” said Renette Mazza, board president of the Hamilton Neighborhood Association. “Not every district has what we have.”

Long Beach, like cities and counties across the state, is undergoing a redistricting process that will determine political lines for the next 10 years.

However, because Census data has not been turned over to the city and its Independent Redistricting Commission, what will happen in the city is still a matter of speculation.

Districts are required to be more or less even in population by law, with a 10% deviation allowed between individual districts.

Preliminary data from the United States Census Bureau showed that the city’s population grew by about 4,500 people, 2,000 more than what was projected in the 2015-2019 American Community Survey. There are also concerns that Los Angeles County could have been undercounted in neighborhoods that are majority renters, Asian, Latino and those with widespread poverty.

Where those population increases and decreases happened could determine what districts shrink and which ones grow larger. The 9th District was already the city’s most populous (53,828 as of 2010) and was projected to grow by another thousand residents, which could mean that its territory could shrink.

A recent city memo showed that the 9th District was one of two districts that likely will have to reduce its population to comply with redistricting rules that require districts’ populations to be as equal as possible.

The city uses a 10% deviation with districts drawn so they are within 5% of the “ideal” population figure that would give every district the exact number of people. The 9th District is currently projected to be 5.3% above that ideal number.

Mazza said that the roughly dozen associations that exist in the district have turned to advocating, and often completing projects, as a unit for things like street cleanups and projects like the Hamilton Loop, a new greenbelt along the 91 Freeway.

But they also come together for much simpler things like promoting one association’s chili cook off or coordinating garage sales. To break that up would be “devastating,” Mazza said.

“Can you imagine having to deal with two different City Council people?” Mazza said. “It’s already hard enough to deal with the city.”

The North Long Beach neighborhood associations aren’t the only ones in the city asking for the commission to consider their communities when drawing lines later this year. The Los Cerritos Neighborhood Association to the south is hoping it can be made whole again after the 2010 redistricting process split its membership in two. In Central Long Beach the city’s Cambodian population is asking the commission to consolidate their voices into one district, instead of the four they’re currently split into.

North Long Beach neighborhoods have taken on a frontier-type approach to solving community issues after decades of being overlooked by the city, a perception that still persists for some.

Jeff Rowe is president of the Nehyam Neighborhood Association, which was formerly known as “Grant,” but was changed to the Tongva word for “friend.” Rowe is also the current head of the North Long Beach Neighborhood Alliance, an umbrella group where associations meet to discuss common interests and how they can move together to act on community consensus.

Rowe said the groups will be meeting to talk about the future of the 9th District and which associations might be lost if the new district line creeps above South.

Neighborhood boundaries are just one of the criteria that the redistricting commission will consider when drawing maps this fall when it tries to reconfigure the city’s districts to account for the roughly 4,000 people the city has added to its population over the past decade. Rowe said that South Street should be treated like a topographic feature, the fourth criteria on that list.

“That’s our river, that’s our mountain range,” Rowe said.

Dan Pressburg has lived in the Deforest Park Neighborhood for over 40 years and his historic home, and the parkway that is soon to be named after him, sit just feet from the 8th District boundary.

In that time the community has come together to collaborate on a number of projects including the Deforest Wetlands and even the Pressburg Parkway. Pressburg recalled the effort that went into clearing the head-high weeds that drew all kinds of wildlife to the neighborhood that included a tractor to clear the area, white fencing from the city’s redevelopment agency, boulders donated from the Port of Long Beach and trees planted by the city.

However, it was the people who had the vision and pushed for it to happen, Pressburg said.

Pressburg said he’d prefer that the line shift farther south, if anything, but if his house shifts into a new district he’ll try to work with associations to the south, but it will take a lot of work to build the kind of culture that already exists in the 9th District.

“It would be like creating a new wheel,” Pressburg said. “It would just take a lot of time.”

Rowe said that the associations plan to meet to discuss contingency plans if it appears that their district could change shape and require all or parts of a neighborhood to be drawn out of the 9th District.

The meeting will provide an opportunity for the different neighborhoods to think over options that it could present to the commission to consider when they do draw maps, something it’s scheduled to start doing in October.

Rowe said the groups would like to keep what they have but they also understand the issues of equity and not watering down the political voices of people in the city. They’ll try to eliminate options they really don’t like and focus on more palatable ones, but whatever decision the groups come to will have to be a consensus

“We’ll overcome,” Rowe said. “That’s what we do.”

Editors note: A previous version of the story said that Rowe was president of the North Long Beach Neighborhood Alliance. The alliance has a rotating leadership and he is currently the head. The story has been updated. 

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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