Above, from left to right: Suzie Price, Gordana Kajer and Robert Savin.
In anticipation of the citywide election on Tuesday, April 10, the Post sent out questions to the City Council candidates from each district with seats up for election (districts three, five and seven). In Part I of Getting to Know your candidates, the Post finds out where the candidates stand on issues affecting the Third District.
Note: The Post only received responses from candidates Suzie Price and Gordana Kajer. Candidate Robert Savin chose to provide a link to his website. The following responses have been lightly edited for formatting and clarity.
Long Beach Post: What made you want to run for city council?
Suzie Price: In 2014, I decided to run for my first term as City Council woman for the Third District because I did not believe that any of the candidates running at the time best represented my interests or those of my community.
As a working mom with school-aged children at local public schools, I was always involved in the local community and I knew I could bring a fresh perspective to the Third District. I felt that we were lacking in community engagement and that many residents did not know what was happening to the city from a policy perspective.
Over the past 3 ½ years, I worked hard to engage the community in every decision and project affecting the district and the city. I host and attend countless meetings every month with residents, neighborhood associations, HOAs, etc.
I proactively grow my network of residents from every neighborhood of the district and seek input from stakeholders. I keep an open mind when voting on any item. My community and I have spent countless hours discussing the District’s priorities at community meetings, city council meetings, and even over coffee on Saturday mornings and, through those efforts, we have developed a strong list of priorities for our beautiful district and our great city.
I am running for reelection because there is still more work to be done and I want to continue to work alongside the community and represent the priorities of the beautiful Third District.
Gordana Kajer: I’m running for City Council because it’s been made clear to me as a community advocate that, particularly over the course of the past four years, important concerns and issues being voiced by residents were being ignored by our council representative.
The 3rd District councilwoman has shown no interest in genuine community outreach or obtaining input from residents on important decisions. When there has been public outreach by the councilperson or city staff, it’s been a “check-the-box” effort with no respect for input from residents.
Our leaders continually engage in a practice of promoting predetermined decisions made prior to public hearings, and “selling” the predetermined outcome rather than listening for alternatives. That has to change.
LBP: What is the biggest issue facing your district and how do you intend to address it if elected?
Price: There are a few main issues that impact my community and serve as major
priorities for me:
(1) increasing our Public Safety resources so that we can address quality-of-life issues and crimes that are impacting neighborhoods, (2) staying consistent with our Infrastructure priorities and plans to ensure no deferred maintenance on major facilities improvements for the years ahead, and (3) protecting the Wetlands/Environment through the implementation of projects, such as the Colorado Lagoon Open Channel project.
Today, we have more police officers on the streets of Long Beach than we have had since the recession almost a decade ago! We restored the engine at Fire Station 8, funded numerous training academies for the police and fire departments and brought a Neighborhood Impact Prosecutor to Belmont Shore.
By the end of my first term, we will have repaved 32 miles of new streets, hundreds of blocks of new sidewalks, and improved parking and traffic safety in the congested areas of our community. This all represents a significant increase from what has been invested in the past.
As Chair of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority (LCWA), my main priority has been to preserve and restore the Los Cerritos Wetlands. The LCWA successfully negotiated a momentous land swap deal of Steam Shovel Slough, which protects a key portion of the wetlands. I also lead the charge to pass the Southeast Area Specific Plan, which updated zoning plans in and around the wetlands habitat to protect the Los Cerritos Wetlands from development and ensure its restoration. Since 1977 several developments have been built on the wetlands, because there was no provision to protect them in the old plan. During my tenure, we also opened up a portion of the wetlands for public use and an outdoor classroom.
Kajer: The greatest issue for the 3rd District is the fact that this area of Long Beach is going to be faced with one of the most consequential impacts of climate change—sea-level rise.
Our neighborhoods in Belmont Shore, the Peninsula and Naples Island are the most low-lying geography in Long Beach, with much of the area at sea-level now. We’ve already seen storm flooding in these areas during high tides and weather events.
More importantly, climate change science indicates that we could experience 14-inch to 94-inch in sea-level rise by 2100, along with stronger and more frequent storms that will threaten our communities with ever-higher degrees of flooding in these neighborhoods.
Climate adaptation will be an expensive endeavor in the city, with difficult choices to be made about either protecting properties or moving homes and businesses out of harm’s way.
I believe that residents should be very concerned our city leaders are promoting the construction of a $103-million aquatic center on our beach, putting an extremely expensive new structure in harm’s way, rather than using those funds to plan, budget and pay for difficult decisions in the future.
I’m very concerned there has been no dialogue with the community about planning for the future of climate adaptation in our coastal community. I believe our city leaders must start a proactive approach to communicating the challenge that Long Beach will soon face from climate change, and the need to manage infrastructure and property in low-lying areas that will soon be threatened.
LBP: What do you think uniquely qualifies you to represent your district as a council person?
Price: I believe that my time representing the community over the past 3 1⁄2 years as Councilwoman for the Third District has prepared me, in a way that is unique to an incumbent, to continue to hold this position for a second term. In that time, we have made major progress in the district.
My proven record and list of accomplishments demonstrate that I will continue to serve the Third District well. I have dedicated a great deal of time and effort into building relationships and collaborating with my residents. I have worked alongside the community to understand and represent their priorities.
I approach every vote, policy and issue from the perspective of the community and evaluate how the outcome will impact my residents. I think my efforts have earned the respect of the Third District, which will hopefully carry to the polls on April 10th. My professional background and education also make we well suited for the position.
I have been a prosecutor for 18 years. I also had the opportunity to serve as a public entity lawyer representing approximately 17 cities throughout Southern California, which taught me a great deal about drafting legislation and implementing policy changes.
I am running for a second term in City Council because I have a devotion to justice and community service. I want to continue to see my community grow and prosper; I believe that I am the best suited candidate for this position.
Kajer: I’m a community advocate. Through 20 years of service with public interest groups, I’ve seen how successful projects and initiatives can be accomplished to improve the quality of life for residents and the environmental health of our city.
When the community is involved, and when input from residents is valued, the outcome is determined by “thinking outside the box”—resulting in compromise and consensus. When residents and stakeholders are involved in decisions the process is automatically open and transparent, and the results can be trusted.
That’s what I’ve experienced in my volunteer work, and that’s the approach I will bring to City Council.
LBP: In the past four years, what policy steps do you think could have been executed differently and how would you have amended them?
Price: I am a firm believer that there is always room for growth. I am extremely proud of the policy initiatives that we have brought forward as a city, but there are steps that we could have taken to execute some of these policy initiatives differently.
The primary example of this is the engagement and messaging of the LUE. The process should have been more inclusive from the outset and the initial staff proposals should have come after extensive outreach, not before. As a result, the process was hijacked by misinformation and inflamed passions.
We have to think long term and it’s imperative that we make decisions on council with the whole community in mind, not based on political motives. I strive to be diligent, thoughtful and prudent with every vote that I cast at council and I work hard to ensure that my vote is representative of the voice of my district.
At times, my vote isn’t the popular opinion amongst my council colleagues or special interest groups, but it is always what is best for my community.
If re-elected, I will continue to approach every issue with my residents in mind and I will meet with stakeholders to form a perspective that takes the whole community into account. Above all else, I will always put the community above any and all political agendas.
Kajer: The Belmont Plaza Aquatics Center (BBAC) and the Southeast Area Specific Plan (SEASP) are examples of exactly what is wrong with current policies and process at Long Beach City Hall, including our Planning Commission, City staff and City Council.
These projects were presented to the community with so-called outreach efforts that simply “checked the box” titled “outreach.” It was clear to the public that the so-called outreach was no more than a defensive process to support a decision that had already been made. Staff and their consultants ignored input from residents and ignored important issues like sea-level rise (BBAC) and unmitigated traffic impacts (SEASP).
The residents of the 3rd District deserve a council representative who includes their neighborhoods in important decisions involving their community. The outreach process needs to reach the neighborhood organization level—neighborhood groups, homeowner groups, business and other stakeholder groups—at the start not just at the end of the planning process, when projects are unfurled and pushed along with predetermined outcomes.
The City of Long Beach knows how to manage robust and complicated community outreach efforts and has done it in the past—the breakwater and the Army Corps of Engineers ecosystem study for San Pedro Bay is a great example. It takes time, it’s messy and it’s not always easy. Grassroots engagement, compromise and consensus require a dedicated effort. But the result is community involvement that validates the process, and a result that represents valued input from residents.
Both the BBAC and SEASP projects are now in court, facing expensive litigation for CEQA violations. It’s shameful when residents have no recourse but to engage lawyers to protect their community from bad planning and, worse, the city must defend their actions with outside legal assistance—costs that the city cannot afford. All of this might have been avoided had there been more respect for community involvement and input in planning these projects.
LBP: What do you support/not support about the land use element and how do you see it affecting the neighborhoods that you hope to represent?
Price: When the Land Use Element (LUE) came to City Council, I voted in favor of the item after asking for several specific changes, which reduced height and density at certain locations throughout the Third District. As well as asked for a 5-year review of the plan and annual reports from City Staff regarding population and transportation trends. The LUE will allow for our city to accommodate and plan for population growth. I am in support of updating the LUE because it accomplishes many necessary goals by:
- setting limitations for important variables in terms of what types of buildings and land uses are appropriate for each particular area of the city
- protecting single-family residential neighborhoods in the Third District
- spurring reinvestment in areas that have stagnated and not seen improvements
- giving property owners along major corridors an incentive to reinvest in their dilapidated buildings and rebuild their properties, creating new housing and commercial opportunities
Updating this plan is an important responsibility for local elected officials. It is essential to plan for and accommodate the changes we know are coming in the future. I have worked with my residents for nearly four years holding meetings, taking input, offering solutions, and I believe they have had a great impact on where this plan is going to end up. The current LUE maps will not pose an unnecessary burden on neighborhoods in the district because I personally met with every neighborhood group and took their recommendations into consideration. The final maps were a community effort. This district needs a leader who takes the responsibility of creating a smart plan for the future seriously.
Kajer: I feel very strongly that Long Beach needs long-range planning. But it must be a citywide effort to avoid piecemeal results that push challenges for creating housing with increased density and building heights from one district to another. The challenges are citywide, and so must be the solutions. In my opinion the LUE’s maps are based on artificial council district political borders and simply don’t represent a city-wide approach to resolving difficult density and building height challenges, while adequately planning for a better quality of life for all Long Beach residents and visitors.
Our city needs more affordable housing and must start responding to the impacts of gentrification. I believe, however, that the LUE adopted on 3/6/18 is flawed because of the process and lack of community involvement and outreach—a fact acknowledged in remarks made by Mayor Robert Garcia and many council members.
The LUE does not provide for more affordable housing. Further, it doesn’t reflect the potential for State of California legislative efforts to override local planning if local government fails to help solve California’s housing and transportation needs (e.g., SB35, SB827 and many others). I believe that the LUE process can still be put on “pause” for a few months, even a year, until more information is gained on current and pending state housing and public transportation legislation. And this short postponement would allow time for a comprehensive citywide perspective to fully consider changes being proposed. This complicated process is critical for the well-being of Long Beach’s future. Long Beach should not be in a rush to move along with the LUE when so much is still uncertain at the state level.
LBP: How do you feel about the city’s efforts to combat homelessness, how it’s affecting the Third District and what do you think can be done to improve conditions?
Price: It is imperative that we explore solutions for the challenges that the homeless population faces, as well as the challenges that the communities face. During my first term, I voted in support of increased funding for the Health and Human Services Department, maintaining structural funding for our HEART teams that respond to emergency homelessness needs, and allocating funds for the construction of a year-round homeless shelter. In addition to my commitments during the budget cycle, I have brought a series of items to council which confront homelessness from a number of different angles.
Those items include: the Homeless Work Program where homeless can work for pay with Public Works or Parks Departments on general maintenance jobs on a day-to-day basis; the Opioid Detailing Program where the Health Department works with doctors to reduce the likelihood of patients becoming addicted; median safety for traffic and pedestrian safety at high speed and volume intersections; allow LBPD to carry Naloxone, a chemical nasal spray that saves someone’s life when they are experiencing an overdose; RV parking restrictions to limit on-street parking for oversized vehicles to improve traffic safety where large vehicles create view obstructions; a Neighborhood Impact Prosecutor to better address crime and quality of life issues by working directly with police and judges to have the biggest impact for the community; the Bike Chop Shop Ordinance to give police the ability to cite someone for selling, disassembling, reassembling, or storing MULTIPLE bikes or bike parts in parks, beaches, and other public spaces; and a free online bike registration to stop bike thefts.
Kajer: I think it’s important to distinguish what homelessness represents to the community—folks who are living on the street because of bad luck should be identified separately from individuals suffering from mental illness, substance abuse or other issues who choose to continue to live on the street and not accept help. And it’s important to note that a recent survey in LA County shows that up to half of the homeless are on the streets because of financial reasons.
I think the city is doing an admirable job through the fire, police and health department services, helping those that choose to accept help and getting them into the social service network. There’s not enough funding to help them all, of course, but Measure H money from the county will hopefully soon have an impact on permanent housing options to serve the homeless population, along with more substance abuse programs.
It’s clear to me that 3rd District residents have seen a rising homeless population affecting their quality of life, translated into increased petty crime and vandalism that goes unreported, or underreported, in official crime statistics for this area. However, it seems that the increased homeless population in the 3rd District may be the result of circumstances outside this district—requiring a comprehensive review of the problem before successful solutions can be implemented.
I don’t view this as a crime issue that our police department should be expected to handle alone. Given their current funding and staffing resources, as well as the complex nature of the homeless community, the police and prosecutors can only do so much.
During one of the “meet and greet” events hosted for me by a neighbor, someone recommended we try recruiting members of the homeless population to help us reach out and better understand the diverse circumstances driving homelessness, and maybe even develop some self-help programs.
While we didn’t discuss any details of how that might work, it was the type of “outside the box” idea that I believe makes open community engagement so valuable in every government effort.
LBP: With the city facing projected budget shortfalls, if those prove to be true, what public services will you defend and which ones do you feel should be subject to trimming to balance the city budget?
Price: As the Vice Chair of the Budget Oversight Committee (BOC), one of my major priorities every year is to pass a balanced budget.
With an eye to the future, there are significant concerns regarding unfunded liabilities and possible changes in revenue based on litigation. I will work prudently to identify the fiscal restraints that are ahead and find creative ways to ensure that we have sufficient resources to achieve the community’s goals.
In addressing my own office budget, I practice that same commitment to efficiency and cost savings.
With the priorities of my community in mind, I will fiercely defend the budgets for our Public Safety and Emergency resources. Before cutting any major public services, I will push to explore potential funding sources to keep all departments fully funded. I will encourage departments to identify what their essential costs are and minimize any non-essential spending.
As a city, we strive to always operate at full capacity with the limited resources that we have, budget shortfalls are not a new challenge. A decade ago, our city saw the effects of the recession and every department throughout the city had to adjust and make sacrifices. In the past four years, however, we have seen immense growth and progress.
This is a testament to our resilience as a community and I am confident that with thoughtful and prudent leadership, we will come out of any budget challenge with a sound solution.
Kajer: There must be clear, transparent and honest communication with Long Beach residents about the financial jeopardy that the city is facing. Our elected leaders and city management must take immediate action and stop “kicking the can” to the next budget cycle. It’s time to stop playing games with “optimistic revenue” projections and “incremental budget cuts” to get to an “estimated budget” that is balanced.
I believe that Long Beach residents should be outraged at the number of city managers that make over $200,000 per year and the notion that Long Beach has to pay premium six-figure salaries in order to attract the most talented management to serve our public.
In my experience in non-profit organizations it has been clear that public service can be its own reward—not a career that compensates more than comparable jobs in the private sector. I’d recommend an immediate salary freeze for management positions, with no new salary increases and no new hires until there is a long-term balanced budget.
Our city auditor should be more involved with more financial reviews and be giving more authority to impose best practices and financial management techniques on city departments. Further, while contracting city services out to private companies may look like a cost-saving effort, it often results in shoddy work with less accountability and oversight.
I also think it’s time for city management to consider a budget process that ends proportional budgeting and moves to budgeting city operations on the basis of resource allocation. The city budget is managed on a proportional basis with budget cuts assigned across the board.
For example, a five percent budget cut is currently assigned equally across all city departments. The process doesn’t take into account whether a particular department activity is properly funded to begin with, whether more or less funding is needed to provide optimal services, or might need to be ended altogether.
City services should be prioritized, some departments might even be cut or eliminated altogether. That doesn’t happen with proportional budgeting process and it’s time that revenue and costs be responsibly handled, in a business-like manner, in Long Beach.
I am convinced that if the city provides quality services at a reasonable cost, and taxpayers better understand those costs and benefits, people will willingly contribute to a better quality of life for everyone. But city hall first needs a reputation of honesty and transparency—no matter how much the truth may hurt.
LBP: What outcome of the United States Army Corps of Engineers breakwater study would you be most supportive of? Is there a way to balance improving wave circulation and residents’ concerns of coastal erosion?
Price: I look forward to seeing the results of the study. While I am open to hearing their thoughts on Breakwater reconfiguration and restoration of the ecosystem, I cannot and will not support any alternative that puts the homes, the port and other existing infrastructure at risk.
Sea Level Rise is real and we already have some communities that are very vulnerable to the impacts, we need to make sure any plan for the Breakwater protects homes and infrastructure from any danger.
When it comes to the homes and protections of our residents along the coast, I support a very cautious and prudent approach to taking risks.
Kajer: I’m proud of the fact that I’m a founding member of the Long Beach Chapter, Surfrider Foundation. We started the conversation 20 years ago about the breakwater, the horrible water quality along our shore and bringing waves back to the beach.
Back in 1998 we were viewed as a bunch of crazy surfers. Today the city is partnering with the Army Corps on the “East San Pedro Bay Eco-System Restoration Study”. They’re using science to study the effects of sand erosion on the peninsula, the impacts of the LA River on our water quality, habitat restoration, and options to reconfigure the breakwater to bring waves back to our shore for recreational values to residents and tourists alike.
The scope of the Army Corps study is beyond what any of us could have hoped for when starting this discussion so long ago. And, yes, I believe that if there is any way to balance improving wave circulation and residents’ concern of sand erosion that includes reconfiguring the breakwater, it will be comprehensively identified in the Army Corps’ eco-system study. And then the tough questions start.
The city will ultimately have to determine how to fund any solutions identified in the study, in partnership with the Army Corps, and calculated against the economic and financial benefits of increased tourism and recreation for Long Beach.
LBP: Rent control may be on the ballot this year, and the only mayoral candidate challenging Mayor Garcia has a pro-rent control platform. Could rent control work in Long Beach, if not, how do you propose stabilizing housing costs to slow the displacement of residents who are being priced out of the city?
Price: I am opposed to rent control in Long Beach. It is important to find affordable housing solutions in our communities in Long Beach to provide housing options for our local workforce, recent college graduates and senior citizens.
I do not believe that rent control is the solution to the housing shortage in Long Beach. This is the perfect example of planning responsibly and finding a responsible way to ensure that the growing community has access to affordable housing.
Rent Control has not been proven to be a solution to the affordable housing crisis in California. Rent control leads to disengaged landlords who have no interest in investing in their properties or the community.
There is no evidence to show that rent control has caused any increase to the affordable housing stock anywhere in the state.
I will work with experts in the city and throughout the community to find projects and ordinances that will bring about economic development and affordable housing in the district and the city.
I will continue to explore and support innovative ways of increase the affordable housing stock such as providing building incentives and a streamlined building process to those seeking to build affordable housing units.
Kajer: It’s clear to me that when over 60 percent of the city’s residents are renters, and when these voters view rent control as a solution to affordable housing—and vote accordingly—rent control may become a reality in Long Beach in 2018.
However, if the program results in the experience of other cities like New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco, rent control alone will not be a “silver bullet” to protect renters and slow the rental rates that are driving folks out of Long Beach.
In my view, economic studies and affordable housing statistics just don’t support the argument that rent control protects renters over time nor does it promote long-term affordable housing.
I manage a small rental property. I’ve seen how rents have increased in Long Beach. My own philosophy over 20 years has been to maintain below-market rates in order to retain good neighbors and tenants.
So while rent control will have no impact on my property management, I value the business relationship with my tenants. But I’m afraid that philosophy is not shared by most “corporate-style” property management firms and landlords in Long Beach.
While I cannot personally endorse rent control, I applaud the work of housing advocates in Long Beach and their signature campaign to bring this issue to the ballot for voters in November 2018. I support their efforts to educate and inform renters of their rights, to highlight the health and safety abuses by slum landlords and their management companies and to hold landlords accountable for unlawful behavior.
I believe that California is facing a housing crisis—and that safe housing is a right. So I endorse “just-cause eviction” to stop landlords from displacing tenants and contributing to gentrification in our neighborhoods.
And I strongly believe that the City of Long Beach must step up their efforts to create developer incentives for not only more housing, but more affordable housing.
Stephanie Rivera covers immigration and the north, west and central parts of Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephRivera88.
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