The City of Long Beach was recognized this week by the League of California Cities for its work in the areas of equity and advancing diverse community initiatives over the past year.
Long Beach City Manager Pat West was given the award by the California City Managers on behalf of the 480 plus member cities that make up the league. The city’s recent efforts like the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), My Sister’s Keeper (MSK) and designating an office of equity were all policies cited by the league in awarding Long Beach this year.
Vice Mayor Rex Richardson who has championed many of those causes said that the culture in the city has undergone a shift from his time as chief of staff for his predecessor in the Ninth District, until now. He noted the city’s monicker of being the “Tale of Two Cities” in terms of socioeconomics and parts of the cities that have suffered greater environmental inequalities.
His district, which is the northernmost part of the city, has about 1.7 acres of open space per 10,000 people while other parts of Long Beach enjoy a far smaller disparity when it comes to the gap between people-to-park space gap. Studies have also shown that residents of West Long Beach live about seven years less than their neighbors in the east.
What helped bring this award home, Richardson said, is that city staff has embraced the new direction policies. He pointed to an item he sponsored last year that placed violence prevention into the city’s health department as proof that city staff is more willing to take on more progressive ideas and put them into action.
“That was a really significant moment, to move violence prevention into the health department, that was huge,” Richardson said. “Now, violence prevention is in direct alignment with the new office of equity, with My Brother’s Keeper, with all of these system change efforts. Not many cities have restructured their government to make a real intentional effort to address equity. It’s a big deal.”
The push to establish an office of equity at the city level began in July when Richardson cast it as the “next logical step” to combine the city’s efforts to combat violence, public safety and language access services under one umbrella. The MBK and MSK and other city initiatives aimed at violence prevention and even police implicit bias training could be administered through the office.
Though the office has yet to officially open, he said the groundwork and policy making has been completed. Next comes implementation. The fact that the city even has one puts it in a small group of those in California that have made that logical next step.
“We began by identifying resources to increase mobility and transit opportunities and economic drivers, and then focused on youth empowerment and violence reduction efforts,” West said in a statement this week. “We are now one of the first cities in California to open an Office of Equity.”
Equity, and addressing it through policy, has the potential to touch lives citywide. From quality of schools to housing and environmental issues, the votes cast on Tuesday nights at City Hall carry that power. Richardson says that if the city continues its focus on making those decisions with equity in mind, they should provide opportunities for everyone to have a real chance at thriving in Long Beach.
An annual event hosted by community organizers, the People’s State of the City centers on the obstacles that have yet to be addressed. Focusing on the struggles faced by minorities, especially those on the West Side of town, the content of the program suggests that there is still quite a bit of work to do in regards to equity, and possibly more awards if the city can continue to work to close those gaps.
“If we put an equity lens on every decision we make for the city I think ultimately we will make the best decision for our residents,” Richardson said.