I applauded just three times during the Long Beach Development Forum hosted by Mayor Robert Garcia: Once for construction workers who make our homes, once for beer which make our lives godly, and once for the abolishment of parking craters that decrease our quality of life in urban centers.
This lack of applause wasn’t out of jadedness; I typically don’t applaud at any public meetings—but my lack of participation in pointless niceties was mostly due to the fact that Garcia inundated his crowd with information.
With a whirlwind of emotions that was hard to focus on after the fact—Garcia talked about 75 proposed, entitled, or in-construction projects, all in the span of about 40 minutes—I had initially gone in with the idea that my original headline would be, “The many, many issues with the Development Forum.”
And despite the trolls who claim Garcia and I sit in a secret underground room with a wall-to-wall map of Long Beach rolled out on a table made of the belongings of displaced poor folks, smoking cigars and burning holes in the map while laughing maniacally, I am being sincere: I had every intention of going in with a critical eye and coming out even more critical of the way our city is being developed.
This isn’t to say it wasn’t a dog’n’pony show: it was a spectacular showcase of constant optimism but Garcia’s optimism doesn’t change the fact that many of these projects are going through. Despite Garcia’s optimism, there are facts.
And we best adapt to these facts outside the showmanship of public forums.
While most of the crowd consisted of city folks, developers, gadflies, and others who blindly contribute toward self interests—you know you’re in a contentious room when Garcia’s call for more affordable housing and cheering on Mental Health America’s incredible development in Long Beach is met with imaginary question marks floating above heads: “Are we supposed to applaud for that?”—the main reason it was hard to walk away upset is because Garcia is supporting largely good things.
More housing, including multiple calls for more affordable housing, is a good thing.
A more dense downtown—which is beneficial for the environment, traffic congestion, economy and more—is a good thing.
An influx of investment, one that has been practically begged for from every sector of the city, is a good thing.
Turning the city’s largest hellhole crater of unused land into something for the city is a good thing. (This isn’t to mention that the lot in discussion, the massive “elephant lot” along Shoreline Drive in DTLB, is mainly empty to host the Grand Prix. Yup: we keep a parcel of land that could accommodate the entirety of L.A. Live empty for a car race instead of, oh, I don’t know… A park? More housing? Something?)
In fact, that last point? It’s a great thing—but was everything good at the forum? No. Hell to the no.
A development forum for a major city shouldn’t be applauding single-family home development, of which there were many championed at the forum including the Irvine-like disaster that is the Riverwalk. (But let us not forget that Long Beach is home to a huge contingency of folks who honestly believe we should never have any form of change. Empty parking lots are all we want, Long Beach.)
Is the city really pursuing affordable housing construction on the level it should be? It’s been a valiant effort but one ultimately undermined by a lack of an inclusionary housing ordinance, a lack of jobs that are local, and a lack of instituting measures and policies that promote investment while preserving the dignity of existing populations.
But even these more nuanced, pejorative points are moot because, well, Garcia is The Optimism Mayor. His role, at least in this forum, was to be a champion for the change, one that he directly supports, much to the chagrin of his most outspoken critics.
However, the most important thing to realize is that, whether he supports it or not—and, intriguingly, there are many out there who mistakenly think he has unilateral power in attracting development when, in fact, if he did, Long Beach would be way more developed—this is all happening because it’s all determined not by things a City Council does but because the city of Long Beach has changed. And it will continue to do so.
That, for many who have been here for a while, induces a bit of bittersweetness. After all, many of the complaints, particularly post-riots, revolved around the lack of investment and increased violence the city was seeing, the fact that media and outsiders viewed the city as an unworthy recipient of quality investment, the fact that we just couldn’t seem to get there.
Well, we’re there and now we are faced with anxiety at the fact that, in less than a decade, the Long Beach we physically know now won’t be here. Garcia, though he may claim some stake in having brought it, didn’t bring it; the culture of Long Beach brought it. Developers are, as it goes, compulsive and greedy and what they didn’t see before is now attractive to them; this is something no amount of progressive policy or political smarminess can attract or shoot down on its own.
And the question of whether this is all happening too fast is one that I have not only asked myself—I did so many times at this forum—but am also afraid of asking too loudly because I don’t want to be stuck in the situation again where disinvestment and NIMBYism and xenophobia and other forms of devolution turns us into a land of no opportunity, a place without enough housing, a place that isn’t evolving.
It is ultimately up to us as to whether we adapt with it, not letting a culture we despise take ownership of it, while continuing to infuse the culture we love, and standing up for what we think is right. That is the only thing that will cement whether we meet ourselves with future regret or feel like we are finally part of a city that evolved like every great city does.
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