Acorn assaults, dusty leaves and other problems vexing the 5th District

Over the years I’ve written about how easy it is to run Long Beach’s fightin’ 5th District. Easier than pulling a kid in a wagon, easier than running a lemonade stand, easier than telling time on a digital clock, easier than pouring water out of a boot with the instructions on the heel.

I exaggerate at times. There are moments when it gets a bit more troublesome running Long Beach’s Far East, and that’s when it comes to dealing with the problems of its 48,000 or so residents. And they are legion.

The phones ring in 5th District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo’s office.

A woman has a tree with dusty leaves and would like the fire department to come and hose it off, please. The fire department doesn’t really do that, she was told.

Another resident was hit on the head by an acorn falling from what I’m guessing was a mighty oak. The acorn, complained the complainant, “nearly knocked me out.” He wanted the tree removed. The city doesn’t really do that, either. Oaks are enigmatic trees, as cunning and random in their assault on humans as they are beautiful, and neither arboreal assault nor a blooming of messiness (see: jacarandas) warrants a city tree removal.

A woman wondered why a couple of lanes were closed on Bellflower even though there were no workers around to warrant their closure. She said, “WTF,” and then launched into a bit of a rant with non-abbreviated swear words. The workers would soon come.

Mungo invited me to come work the phones in her field office in Wardlow Park with her staff, and it’s a crack staff, expert in civic matters and the knowledge of where to send people with various problems. And patience.

Working on a recent Tuesday were her chief of staff Summer Smith, her field deputy Kyle Henneberque and communications coordinator Ellie Jones.

The 5th District has its own set of problems, such as they are. Its residents are, as the saying goes, not getting any younger; there’s a large percentage of homeowners compared to renters; and the fact that a large portion of the district was built in a brief span of just a few years in the 1950s means that now a large portion of the district is, after about 65 years of easy suburban living, falling apart all at once.


Kyle Henneberque uses Google Street View to track a caller’s complaint. Photo by Tim Grobaty.

And many of its residents are at that get-off-my-lawn age, which includes a strong component of what-the-hell-am-I-paying-taxes-for attitude when complaining to Mungo’s office.

“We get calls about gophers kicking up dirt onto Spring Street from the medians,” said Jones.

I don’t know how to field that one. Streets? Public works? Vector control? Is a gopher a vector?

“If a problem becomes enough of a problem, the 5th District office will hold what they call a front-yard forum with interested parties, meeting with representatives from the appropriate departments to see what, if anything, can be done to handle the problem.

Could there be a gopher front-yard forum? “If enough people complain about it, yes, we could do a gopher forum,” said Smith.

A caller wants Gov. Gavin Newsom impeached and wants to know how to hurry up and get that done. Well, it’s explained to her, what she really wants is to recall Newsom. The caller says, “Your  phone must be ringing off the hook with people wanting to get rid of Newsom.” No, actually, this caller is unique in that regard and she’s directed to call Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, but the caller has already tried that, she says, “and they don’t want to have anything to do with me.”

Complaints come in waves, says Henneberque, who is handling most of the calls on this day, talking patiently and sometimes at an unreasonable length with some of the callers, especially, on this day, with a man who was having a dispute with a neighbor over property lines. The caller was losing the fight, because a surveyor ruled in favor of the neighbor who was planning on building a fence that would, thanks to the surveyor’s findings, make it impossible for the caller to open his gate to his garage. Further, one of the callers’ classic cars is parked in his driveway and might find itself illegally parked partially on his neighbors’ property and if anyone touches his classic car, that person would be finding himself involved with a totally different department, “if you get where I’m coming from.”

There’s more. “We’ll get a lot of calls about tree trimming, and removal, and those will die down and the calls will be about sidewalks and potholes,” Henneberque says.

Sometimes the complaints are about your marquee subjects, like immigration—but specifically how that issue relates to potholes. Another caller at another time, called about a pothole in front of her house and wondered, “do we need a sinkhole before it gets fixed? How about we quit giving illegals money?” which would, supposedly, free up enough money to buy a bucket of asphalt for the pothole in front of her house.

“People always want things fixed that are in front of their house,” said Smith.

A resident who lived on Studebaker Road called to say that there’s been a lot of car break-ins ever since the new streetlights were put in. “It’s too dark,” she said. “They only light up houses right next to them. Out of every three houses, two are in the dark.”

The staff does its best to earnestly handle constituent problems, though it usually involves aiming them at the correct department.

And not all problems are solvable, like the Studebaker Road woman’s problem with the insufficient lighting on her street.

“When those lights were first installed, we got a lot of complaints that they were too bright,” said Henneberque. “So we turned them down a bit, so now we’re getting calls like this.”

So, perhaps my proclamation regarding how easy it is to run the 5th needs to be amended: I still think a caveman could do it, as long as he has a good staff to work the phones.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.