Garcia's Transit Board Appointments Markedly Progressive, While Rail Interests Dominate Planning Commission Choices

Photo by Brian Addison.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia has announced thirteen people he proposes to appoint to various commissions and boards throughout the City, including four new members for the Planning Commission (PC) and four for the Long Beach Transit (LBT) Board of Directors.

These two boards are arguably the most influential in the City; the PC provides “advice, insight and leadership to the Mayor and City Council on all matters affecting development throughout our City,” while the LBT Board guides the entirety of our city’s transit system, including how it will partner with outside resources to expand services beyond buses.

Garcia’s choices for the PC include Mike Logrande, Long Beach resident and Director of Planning for the City of Los Angeles; Jane Templin, Vice President of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11 (IBEW); Erick Verduzco-Vega, president and CEO of the South Bay Latino Chamber of Commerce and South Bay Latino Community Development Corporation; and Andy Perez, a public affairs employee at Union Pacific Railroad.

Garcia asserted that his choices were based upon given strengths with their direct associations: Templin represents labor—an "essential for Planning" while she has worked "tirelessly as an electrician while training the future"—while Verduzco-Vega, owner of the The Stache Bar, "has long been a supporter of Latino-led businesses as well as small business overall." As for Logrande, Garcia was succinct: "When you have the planner for the City of Los Angeles living in Long Beach, he needs to be on the Planning Commission."

However, there are other connections that raise questions, considering that the aforementioned three come from organizations which have supported the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) project, the contentious rail yard project bordering West Long Beach which is being proposed by rail giant BNSF and has pushed the City of Long Beach into litigation with the City of Los Angeles

Former Mayor Bob Foster was adamantly against the project, citing fears that the air pollution on the already-polluted Westside will skyrocket with the building of SCIG, adding to the health concerns of the already-marginalized residents of West Long Beach. 

Long Beach Unified School District is also suing the City of Los Angeles in protest against SCIG.

Garcia has recently remained mum about his position on SCIG, as he and Long Beach's councilmembers are legally barred from discussing the project since the City is in litigation; however, it should be noted that he did vote to pursue litigation against Los Angeles while he was a councilmember for the 1st District.

Garcia's proposal to appoint representatives from two organizations—the ILWU and the Hispanic Chamber—that have openly supported SCIG, while also selecting the Director of Planning for the city supporting and leading the SCIG project raises red flags. Though Logrande is far more benign than the other two given that SCIG's property sits entirely on LA Harbor land, it is the perception that is most perturbing. 

Perhaps the most alarming is Perez, the fourth proposed appointment to the PC, who is currently a Public Affairs representative for the nation's largest rail company, Union Pacific (UP). UP is responsible for hauling uncovered, coal-filled trains through Long Beach neighborhoods, and—in reaction to BNSF’s proposed SCIG project—is looking to massively expand its Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF) just west of the 710 in Long Beach, another project which those fighting for environmental justice are opposing.

On the other side of the coin, Garcia’s proposed appointments to the LBT Board remain markedly progressive, as he chose four women—April Economides, Sumire “Sumi” Gant, Nancy Pfeffer, and Mary Zendejas—who are outspoken and active advocates for public transit, bicycling, rights and access for those with disabilities, and public policy/infrastructure in regard to public transit.

Garcia's choices reflect his stated hope to encourage “LBT to move from a bus company to a people-moving organization," saying that in order to do so "we need car share, more bike lanes, and a more pedestrian-friendly city.”

Economides, a Long Beach native and one of the City’s most adamant bicycling advocates, has lived car-free in six cities—while raising a daughter—including Long Beach. Economides described walking, biking, and using public transit as “[living] a multi-modal lifestyle," which she says is "mostly for environmental reasons, but also because it’s a very happy way to live.”

Multi-modal is massive factor in pushing LBT into the future, as is figuring out how that is going to work. For example, fact that its entire fleet is wheelchair accessible is both commendable and admirable; however, if the streets do not adhere to ADA guidelines, making it dangerous or impossible for someone to access the buses, such a benefit loses its power. There’s a reason five Long Beach residents who are using wheelchairs are suing the City (and it isn’t to gain money).

This is where Zendejas, former Ms. Wheelchair California, comes in: with her vast knowledge, Zendejas gets the disabled side of disability-friendly design and infrastructure. 

“I am thrilled to be selected to be appointed as a Long Beach Transit Board of Directors,” said Zendejas. “LBT has a special place in my heart… I am proud to be part of an innovating company which is working hard towards elevating their company towards being a world-class organization.”

Pair all this with Gant, the former transportation planner for the City of Long Beach and the woman who single-handedly scored millions of dollars in grants because she had the foresight to see the importance of biking and pedestrian infrastructure, and Pfeffer, the public policy guru and City Fabrick board member, and, well… You have a powerhouse of a board that moves beyond the constrictions previously in place.

Other more neutral appointments that Garcia has proposed include real estate guru Jeff Anderson for the Airport Advisory Commission; Gerald Avila, Elected Health Benefits Officer for the International Longshore Workers’ Union Local 13 and Peter Schnack, the Director of IT at Molina Healthcare for the Marine Advisory Commission; and Russ Doyle, an Associate Vice President and Investment Officer at Wells Fargo Advisers and Morgan Stanley and Sabrina Sanders, an employee at the California State University Office of the Chancellor, for the Long Beach Community Investment Company.

Garcia's recommendations must be approved by City Council on October 21.



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