In his inaugural address Tuesday and in a letter to the city manager on Wednesday, Mayor Rex Richardson said he would push to declare a state of emergency over homelessness, which has risen dramatically over the past two years.
What exactly does that mean? Here’s what we know so far.
How will it work?
Long Beach is following Los Angeles in declaring a state of emergency on homelessness, but how it will work here will be different from LA, where the city structure gives the mayor more power, like the ability to vote on policies.
There, Mayor Karen Bass has the authority to dispense funds, approve master leases and speed up permitting processes. Certain purchases would not have to go out to bid and would not require council approval.
Because of Long Beach’s charter structure, those new powers would largely rest with City Manager Tom Modica, who was given similar leeway during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Modica said the declaration would allow the city to do things like move city employees into different roles to help the city’s efforts to combat homelessness as well as allow his office and other departments to enter into contracts under certain thresholds before council approval.
For the city manager’s office, that limit is $1 million and for other departments, which would have to be approved by Modica’s office, the limit is $500,000. Those contracts would still be retroactively approved by the council but would allow work to begin before being put on a council agenda.
The declaration could allow the city to move faster on two planned projects, the conversion of the Luxury Inn in North Long Beach and a tiny home development at the Multi-Service Center.
“If you bid that in a normal process, it’s going to take several months,” Modica said of the roughly three dozen tiny homes it hopes to build. “We’ll be looking for ways to accelerate that.”
Modica said the city’s focus would be on interim housing, but it could also look to acquiring land for permanent housing. However, unlike Los Angeles, the city isn’t granted the ability to commandeer land under the order but Modica said it does want to work with landlords who have open units that can be rented to the roughly 300 unhoused people who have housing vouchers.
“Now we need apartments, the city doesn’t create apartments,” Modica said. “That’s where we need extra partnership.”
Modica said the city would also look internally and outside the city for additional sources of money to fund programs and projects to help the city’s unhoused.
The city’s plans could include new plans for safe parking areas, where people living in their cars can park at night and be connected to services, and other interim shelters. The city recently opened its winter shelter in East Long Beach, which will operate through March with an 81-bed capacity.
When will this happen?
The City Council is expected to vote Jan. 10 on declaring a state of emergency in the city for homelessness.
If adopted, the emergency declaration would require a periodic re-approval by the City Council, which Modica said could be biannually but the language of the declaration has not been finalized.
Why is this happening?
Richardson and District 1 Councilmember Mary Zendejas, who represents Downtown, both signed the letter sent to city management Wednesday.
Homelessness in the city rose by 62% over the last point-in-time count conducted in 2020, and the issue has roiled business owners and residents who say the conditions have made city streets less safe.
Last month, Zendejas said she was in the early stages of drafting an emergency declaration but declined to share details about the draft.
Wednesday’s letter called on all departments and geographic regions in Long Beach to pitch in.
“To be successful, we need our City to be more nimble, bringing more resources faster to those who need it the most,” the letter said. “We need every area of the City to be ‘all in’, with a specific commitment from each of the 9 Councilmembers to do their part to welcome services that bring relief to those suffering on our streets.”
The letter called for property owners, educational institutions and even the Port of Long Beach and the city’s Water Department to help, possibly by offering land for temporary or permanent housing construction, or to help in administering other services to help the city fight homelessness.
It also called for the county to bring more mental health resources to the city, and for the city to increase its speed in hiring, contracting and procuring homeless service providers.