Long Beach residents ranked public safety, homelessness, affordable housing production, education and climate resiliency among their top concerns heading into this year’s municipal budget cycle, according to community responses published by the city last week, which it says will help it make funding choices this year.
The city hosted a series of public meetings earlier this year and circulated an online survey to gauge the public’s priorities before it crafts a proposed budget that will be released this summer.
City officials had originally projected a $40 million deficit but said last month that they believe that deficit has shrunk to about $6 million, something that could significantly reduce any cuts that might have to be made before the new fiscal year starts in October.
A total of 577 people filled out the city’s online survey, with the largest share of respondents saying that public safety (238) was their biggest concern, followed by housing and homelessness (145) and education (99).
The community meetings drew a smaller number of people (192) but allowed them to interact with city officials and discuss issues in real-time, producing stark differences in ranked priorities. People who attended the in-person meetings listed housing and homelessness, economic opportunity and climate sustainability as their top three concerns.
There were also the standard calls for the city to focus on staples of public services like fixing potholes, speeding up permitting for businesses and residential projects, and increasing and better maintaining the city’s park space.
Still, others said that the city should invest more in things like protected bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes as an effort to help lessen residents’ carbon footprint. Free or subsidized internet, creating more well-paying jobs and raising the wages of teachers were also listed as priorities.
While respondents’ opinions differed on how best to make Long Beach safer, the general topic of public safety emerged as a high priority for community members.
An analysis of the survey and in-person responses noted that many people said that the city needed to divert funding away from policing and into programs that could help prevent crime like mental health services, after-school programs and spending more on libraries and parks.
“We need more investment in community resources for families and children in low‐income neighborhoods instead of policing,” one respondent wrote.
Included in the public safety category were typical law enforcement issues like “police patrol and response” and “police work focused on property crime.” It also included “animal rescue and rehoming” and “prevention programs to address violence before it happens,” something that advocates for cutting police funding say could be addressed by investing in other city departments.
While not the majority, there were still respondents who said that the city should not take away funding from the police, pointing to persistent issues like traffic violations, property crime and the need for police to show up when there’s an emergency.
“I am adamantly opposed to cutting Police funding and defunding the police,” one person wrote. “That approach will only make Police response to any emergency or trouble less effective than it already is. More education is the solution.”
Housing and homelessness
Homelessness has been a top issue in the city, and the survey responses reflected the communities’ desire for the city to do more to get people off the streets and into housing and mental health services.
Long Beach declared a state of emergency for homelessness in January in an effort to pour more resources into addressing the issue while cutting down the response time by eliminating some bureaucratic red tape.
Respondents said they hoped to see a more comprehensive approach to solving homelessness in the city, including more access to addiction treatment centers and mental health services, but also by creating and preserving affordable housing.
“Getting the unhoused into housing should be a priority, but stopping the precarity that leads to homelessness should also be the goal,” one person wrote. “Rent control and renter protections need to be a consideration as well as building/acquiring public housing that can be made affordable and stable for all.”
Some people expressed concern at the city’s periodic sweeps of homeless encampments, saying that they didn’t agree that it was helpful to perform them. Others offered more hardline stances on how to deal with the issue, including moving the unhoused out of the city’s boundaries.
“Move the homeless out of Long Beach and give the city back to tax‐paying citizens!!!”, one person wrote.
Among the categories that respondents were able to prioritize, emergency shelter, encampment cleanups and increased affordable housing were the top three priorities identified by all respondents. However, those that attended community meetings ranked “provide legal support for renters” as their third priority over encampment cleanups.
Who provided feedback?
The city hosted five community meetings and circulated the online survey for three weeks starting in mid-January, but the demographic makeup of those that participated does not look like the city’s population as a whole.
Of those who knew which council district they lived in, the 3rd District in Southeast Long Beach, one of the city’s most affluent areas, racked up the most participants, with 240. The city’s 6th and 8th Districts, which include Central Long Beach and parts of North Long Beach, had the lowest amount of participation with a total of 41 people combined.
Survey respondents were overwhelmingly white (51%), with Latinos (19%) making up the second largest share of participants followed by Asian and Pacific Islander (7%) and Black residents (4%). Half of the survey respondents were over 50 years old, according to data collected by the city.
Community meeting demographics were a bit different, with white residents making up 35% of the responses followed by Latinos (33%), Black residents (14%) and Asian and Pacific Islanders (6%). Just 40% of meeting attendees said they were over 50 years old.
According to the most recent census data, Long Beach is 44% Latino, 28% white, 13% Asian and 12% Black.
A city report acknowledged that the data collected from the meetings and the survey were not statistically valid and should not be interpreted as such. It’s unclear how much community responses will be factored into the budget that’s expected to be released this summer.