In anticipation of the Citywide Forum for all Long Beach City Council candidates this Wednesday, the Post took time to chat with the candidates of each district with seats up for election (districts two, six and eight). In Part III of Getting to Know your candidates, Keeley Smith talks to Second District candidates Eric Gray, Joen Garnica and Jeannine Pearce.
The Second District
Representing the city’s downtown core, Retro Row, Port of Long Beach (POLB) and The Queen Mary, Long Beach’s Second District has a lot riding on its selection of its new City Council representative. When current Second District seat holder and Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal announced she would not be running for council as a write-in candidate (a requirement of third term election contenders), the three current candidates readily seized the opening for a new leader.
While the downtown has experienced something of a renaissance of late, it and the surrounding area composing the district continue to face pressing issues. Homelessness, parking, cuts in public safety and economic development all ranked high on the candidates’ lists, as well as how to best assist the port in retaining its economic prosperity while cutting back on pollution. The following is a brief background on each candidate, and how they plan to address the aforementioned issues.
Gray’s platform has been clear-cut since announcing his candidacy last June—the first of the three candidates to do so. Public safety, quality of life/economic development, and bringing back core services are the New York Native, Towson-educated Gray’s self-professed priorities.
As for public safety, Gray, who has lived in Long Beach since 2007, said re-hiring at least some of the 700 fire and police employees laid off over the years is a firm goal of his, as is bringing jobs to the downtown core.
Gray owns his own technology company, situated in Signal Hill, and says his experience as a small business owner will inform his approach to attracting and retaining businesses in Long Beach—something he says is crucial for bringing higher paying jobs to the city.
“I don’t know why there aren’t more tech companies here,” he said.
Gray acknowledged Retro Row, Seventh Street and Broadway as other locations perfectly primed to grow, in terms of business capacity and customer base. Specifically, he envisions “partnering with the economic development department, community and community real estate brokers” to create a marketing plan that will build Long Beach’s business base. He added that looking at start-up costs for small businesses would also be a good idea, including looking at how the funding generated could be better invested into the city.
Gray is quick to list his involvement on various community organizations: founder of the Historic Pine Avenue Business Association, co-founder of the Long Beach Music Council, board member of the Friends of Bixby Park, founder of Culinary Long Beach, class of 2014 Leadership Long Beach and president of the Downtown Residential Council. He hopes to continue creating attractive corridors throughout the Second District, much like the First District’s La Reina Way.
To improve the quality of life in Long Beach, Gray said he believes studying the best-practices of other cities combating homelessness, such as using the housing first model—which provides housing and wraparound services for those with substance abuse issues or mental illness—is essential for the city, as is partnering with organizations at the state and federal level. He said the knowledge gained while chair of the Homelessness Council Task Force will be valuable if he is elected to the city council.
In terms of fully addressing public safety issues and bringing back core services, Gray said he plans of ensuring just compensation for fire and police officials—individuals who are underpaid in comparison to other Southern California cities.
“We need more police officers, especially due to the rise in property crime that came most likely as a result of Prop 47,” said Gray.
One last priority, among many, is Gray’s passion for improving the parking situation downtown. He hopes to create a parking task force that would create better parking, especially in Alamitos Beach, Rose Park, East Village and Bluff Heights, be it through a new parking garage or other innovative ideas. It’s on his radar.
“I think I have the heart and mind for the role of Second District city councilmember,” said Gray.
Gray has been endorsed by Assemblymember (and former councilmember) Patrick O’Donnell, former Long Beach mayors Val Lerch and Bob Foster, as well as the Long Beach Police Officers Association. He’s garnered a few labor endorsements as well, notably the Heat and Frost Insulators Union, Local 5, and United Association Local 250. For a complete list of endorsements, click here.
When Suja Lowenthal announced she would not be running for city council this year, Joen Garnica got to thinking. Despite having twins around nine months ago, she decided it was time to run, and for the issues she saw as most pressing to find their way into the spotlight.
“I started thinking about it six months before my announcement,” she said. “My children added a deeper layer of responsibility to not just the community, but to stay healthy and make everything better.”
Garnica is a true Long Beacher, born and raised with by a single mother in a working-class family in the city, calling different districts home at different points in her life. She said though her family was poor, her mother never let them think they were of a lower class.
After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise in Los Angeles, Garnica has lived in the Second District since 2003, in close proximity to the downtown location of her business, Garnica Interiors.
Garnica said her focus will be raising the quality of life for all residents within the Second District, making sure there are family-friendly opportunities for those with children and fostering a good business environment for all employers, while balancing the city’s budget, with its looming deficits.
She hopes to streamline the process of starting a small business in the city, doing away with antiquated practices that, for example, forced her to re-register her business after moving from the top floor to the bottom floor.
“Small business owners, we are working a lot, and we have to address these issues,” she said.
Another quality of life issue she discussed centered around parking. Describing the current situation in the East Village, where she lives, Garnica said “there are solutions to be had.” She suggested partnering with businesses in the area, allowing residents to park in the spots outside of business hours. She referenced her role as president of the East Village Association, as a current director at Downtown Long Beach Associates, governor of the Long Beach City College foundation, Second District arts delegate to the Arts Council of Long Beach and more as evidence she can bring people together to find solutions. She also pointed to her push to create a playground for families living downtown on the Promenade, which she says will come to fruition in the next year or so.
Garnica sees safety and homelessness as another issue, recalling her time as a member of the homelessness task force downtown in finding partnerships that decreased the litter and commotion caused by homeless people in downtown Long Beach’s promenade.
“It’s not a one-size-fits all solution for mental health and substance abuse issues that lead to chronic homelessness,” said Garnica. She said public safety agencies should partner with the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services in alleviating homelessness. “How do we come together to provide services to those most in need?”
Other issues Garnica is focused on are attracting new employees for small businesses and improving the quality of Long Beach’s school system. “Every neighborhood should have great schools,” she said.
Garnica has been endorsed by a number of small businesses in the Second District, including a bulk of Retro Row businesses such as Lola’s Mexican Cuisine and The Pike Bar, former U.S. Representative Steve Kuykendall, former president of the Promenade Area Residents Association and founding member of the Downtown Residential Council Eric Carr, MADE in Long Beach’s DW Ferrell and Long Beach artist Emily Tanaka, among others. For a complete list of endorsements, click here.
Born and raised in Texas, Jeannine Pearce saw her fair share of struggles in the journey that led her to Long Beach, which she has wholeheartedly embraced as her home.
“I know struggle from my childhood,” she told the Post in an interview last month. “I lost my grandmother to gun violence.” Add in witnessing domestic violence and losing her adopted mom to suicide at the age of 14, and it can be agreed that Pearce knows hardship.
“But despite the struggles my mom had, she always instilled in me the need to be compassionate,” said Pearce. “We rescued every animal in every neighborhood. It was tough... I had to be pragmatic. I had to be a fighter.”
Pearce moved seven times in three years and had started college in Texas before moving to Long Beach with her husband. She quickly began attending classes at Cal State Long Beach, and, upon graduation—10 years after beginning school, while working two jobs—became heavily involved in community organizing for Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). The accomplishment that she touts as her chief achievement was the 2012 passage of Measure N, a ballot measure that ensured hotel workers’ right to unionize and lobby for higher pay within Long Beach.
“My skill is in organizing,” she said. “There’s a solution that doesn’t leave everyone out.”
As a councilwoman, Pearce said her main concerns will be finding a way to work with service providers to decrease the issues of chronic homelessness plaguing the city, facilitating economic development in the district’s “booming downtown” and ensuring the city’s public safety workers have the resources they need to do their job. Pearce sees these priorities as being deeply connected to each other, particularly concerning homelessness and public safety.
“I did a ride along with the Long Beach Fire Department,” said Pearce. “Seventy percent of their calls involve the homeless community.”
She went on to elaborate that the Eastside is short a fire engine, and that she thinks it would be most efficient for social service workers to accompany firefighters in their emergency calls in the neighborhood. She said the city needs to be an “innovator,” look at other city best practices, and really consider implementing a housing first model in curbing chronic homelessness.
As for another universally acknowledged issue of the Second District—parking—Pearce says overdevelopment needs to be curbed, and residential parking should be protected with permits, while encouraging businesses to open their lots for overnight parking. In addition, Pearce said she’d prioritize investing in bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly walkways, adding bus routes for increased public transit opportunities—she’s a bus-rider herself—and creating a citywide bike rental program.
As for economic development, Pearce emphasized strengthening tourism in Long Beach and how assisting the low-income and homeless residents in the community would be a boon for Long Beach’s customer base.
Pearce has been endorsed by Congresswoman Janice Hahn, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, councilmembers Rex Richardson and Roberto Uranga, the Sierra Club and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. For a complete list of endorsements, click here.
This article was updated on 03/03/16 at 10:38AM with the correct year Eric Gray moved to Long Beach.