Long Beach councilman hopes to claim seat on powerful air regulation board

Councilman Rex Richardson is seeking a seat on the powerful South Coast Air Quality Management District board, which monitors and regulates air quality for the region—but rather than court voters, he will have to solicit support from leaders of the 51 cities he would represent.

The 13-member board helps to set standards, policies and fines to help combat pollution in four counties that have some of the nation’s worst pollution: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino. Despite being one of largest cities in the region, Long Beach has lacked a voice on the board since 2010.

Richardson was the lone member of the council to apply for the city’s nomination earlier this month. Rolling Hills Estates Councilwoman Judith Mitchell, who currently holds the seat Richardson is hoping to fill, is not running for re-election.

Long Beach is now in the middle of a campaign to whip votes for him.

Among those running to replace Mitchell as the representative of SCAQMD’s LA County Western Region seat is Elizabeth Alcantar, the current mayor of Cudahy; and Justin Massey, mayor pro tem of Hermosa Beach. The two cities have a combined population of about 43,000, while Long Beach is home to roughly 470,000 residents.

The Western Region seat includes cities that run along the 710 Corridor (Long Beach, South Gate, Downey, Compton) but also beach cities like Manhattan and Hermosa Beach and cities that sit in the LAX flight path like Inglewood and Culver City.

Last year, Long Beach and Los Angeles combined for the worst air quality score in the nation.

The last time that Long Beach had a representative on the board was in 2010 when then-Councilwoman Tonia Reyes-Uranga served as a member. She held that position from 2006 to 2010 before losing a re-election bid to Mitchell.

Winning the seat will require claiming both a majority of 51 cities’ votes as well as over 50% of the cumulative population of those cities. While the vote is not expected to take place until November, Richardson said that he’s well positioned to gain the necessary support, but he doesn’t want to take it for granted.

Long Beach alone makes up about 17% of the district’s population and Richardson is expected to get that vote. Each city in the district gets one vote, with the mayor or a designated delegate casting it for their preferred candidate.

Richardson said he’s uniquely qualified for the job having most recently served as the president of Southern California Association of Governments, where he represented 191 cities across six counties, but also because Long Beach has many of the industries that the SCAQMD regulates.

“Some of these smaller cities…they don’t have railroads,” Richardson said. “My community has all that and we’ve had some successes in turning some of these things around.”

Richardson also noted the importance of having a Long Beach voice on the board before it works on an update to its air quality management plan in 2022, which will focus on ports, airports, railroads and warehouse operations.

He said if he were to win he would focus on clean air and equity, something he has championed as a City Council member in the city—making sure that everyone had the same standard of clean air, Richardson said.

He pointed to the disparity in life expectancy in Long Beach tied to geography, where residents in poorer, more industry-impacted neighborhoods live about seven years less than those in East Long Beach.

“The whole region’s economy benefits from health inequities in communities like mine and that’s not fair,” Richardson said.

The winner of the election will begin their term as member of the SCAQMD board in January.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.