North Long Beach native and recent Lakewood High School graduate Janice Mendez didn’t become aware of the inequities in her community until she went to middle school in Bixby Knolls.

While other students had access to tutoring or sports, her family wondered if they were going to be able to afford school supplies. While other students were picked up in fancy cars, she endured hour-long bus rides to and from school on her own.

“My parents worked hard, but didn’t always have the money to meet all of our needs,” said Mendez, who has three siblings. “I thought this was normal, until I attended Hughes Middle School.”

On Tuesday morning, the 17-year-old who is a youth leader with the Invest In Youth Coalition and Californians for Justice, spoke about the lack of resources she faced during a press conference organized by various community groups calling for more funding in the city’s budget that prioritizes low-income, disadvantaged residents.

The “People’s Budget Proposal,” unveiled in front of the Homeland Cultural Center in Cambodia Town, found success in its first iteration last summer during which community groups lobbied for a legal defense fund and more funding for youth.

This year’s recommendations for the 2020 fiscal year budget calls for $1.03 million to be earmarked for the following proposals:

  • $530,000 to fund and implement a language access policy (similar to last year’s request) with the following breakdown: $180,000 for a full-time coordinator, $100,000 to pay bilingual employees for their skills, $200,000 for interpretation and translation work and $50,000 to award stipends to community groups for resident outreach and communication efforts.
  • $500,000 in one-time funds to community-based organizations to conduct education and outreach efforts regarding the 2020 Census in hard-to-count communities, such as north, west and central Long Beach.

James Suazo, associate director of Long Beach Forward which is leading local Census efforts, says there are 73 very high and 82 high hard-to-count Census block groups, out of a total of 339 block groups in the city.

These are communities with low-income families, seniors, LGBTQ people, renters and non-English speaking immigrants.

Motivating millions to participate will require robust outreach efforts from “trusted messengers,” Suazo said. It’s especially important because of the fear and anxiety caused by the Trump administration, which has called for an increase in ICE raids.

“These organizations have deep relationships and knowledge of the community,” Suazo said.

Community organizations unveiled a “People’s Budget Proposal” on Tuesday, July 23, 2019 at the Homeland Cultural Center in Cambodia Town. Photo by Stephanie Rivera.

The Budget Advocacy Workgroup, which authored the proposal, also called on city leaders to create a more equitable decision-making process.

Specifically, the group pointed to the Budget Oversight Committee, a city council committee that oversees the annual budget and makes spending recommendations to the full council.

Since it was established in 2003 there has never been a council member from the 1st or 9th District on the committee, while council members from the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Districts have had the most representation.

Currently, the committee is made up of 8th District Councilman Al Austin, 3rd District Councilwoman Suzie Price and 5th District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo.

“When it comes to making decisions on where and how to spend the city’s money, wealthier and whiter communities have been over-represented, while lower-income communities of color have been underrepresented—which has helped perpetuate inequality based on race and class,” Mendez said.

Mendez and others called for the city to rethink its appointment process and consider the values of representation, diversity and equity.

Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson, who said he raised that exact issue when he initially took office, agrees, adding that the oversight committee acts more like an appropriations committee.

“While I think they’ve [committee members] tried to keep a citywide lens you naturally try to create advantages for your agenda,” Richardson said.

Richardson said he has seen deeper and deeper inequality in certain communities, noting that lack of district representation on the Budget Oversight Committee can mean lack of investment in those districts.

He believes the city council needs to rethink how committees or the council itself is formed, citing examples from neighboring cities such as Los Angeles which has a council president.

“All committee assignments will be reviewed and adjusted after a new councilmember is elected to represent the 1st District,” said Mayor Robert Garcia’s chief of staff Mark Taylor.

Richardson pointed to the last rounds of Measure A funding as an example of funding disparities across districts. In North Long Beach, which has the largest portion of the city with a population of 93,000, he had to choose between an overhaul of a blighted Houghton Park for seniors and more playgrounds for youth.

“That’s an unfair choice,” Richardson said.

On the other hand, projects involving the Colorado Lagoon and Belmont Pool have access to funding from other areas like the Tidelands funds, he noted.

“We can only count on Measure A and we’re grateful,” Richardson said.

Richardson said while he will still have to review the requests made by the community groups he supports these issues, adding that a city budget should always reflect a community’s needs and a council member’s priorities.

Taylor stated that the 2020 budget is complete and will be presented to the City Council next Wednesday.

“The budget includes significant funding for Census outreach and additional support for the city’s Language Access Program,” Taylor stated.

Suazo said community groups plan to attend the Budget Oversight Committee meetings, the full city council budget hearings, and the council district community budget meetings expected to take place in the upcoming weeks. The most recent budget oversight committee meeting took place today but future meetings can be found here.

City Hall is now located at 411 W. Ocean Blvd.

Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor. Reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephRivera88.