WATCH: District 8 candidates talk homeless encampments, affordable housing and more during Post forum

Three candidates vying to represent the 8th District made their positions clear during the Long Beach Post’s candidate forum Thursday evening, focusing on land use, homelessness, business development and other issues.

The Uptown district seat, which includes Bixby Knolls, is currently held by incumbent Al Austin, 51, a labor representative seeking his third term on the council. He’s running against Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, 44, an economic development director; and Juan Ovalle, 54, a small business owner.

Austin asked voters for another four years to finish his vision for the district, including continued economic investment and development of infrastructures and green space.

Ovalle, a challenger with the Reform Coalition, pointed to his independent voice not marred by special interest money.

Thrash-Ntuk highlighted the need for a change in leadership to properly address the current homelessness crisis and other issues.

When candidates were asked about how they would handle the homeless encampments along the Union Pacific railroad tracks within the district—a problem that residents have complained about over the years—each offered various solutions.

Thrash-Ntuk called an audit of Measure H funding, which is earmarked for homeless services, and for strategies with a level of accountability with the different entities involved, including Union Pacific.

“It’s time for them to help us,” Thrash-Ntuk said of the rail companies.

At the short-term level, Ovalle called for more Quality of Life officers, whose duties include making contact with those experiencing homelessness and directing them to services. In the long-term, Ovalle called for adequate housing with the help of county, state and federal agencies.

He also called for working with the rail companies and “making sure they wholeheartedly take care of their facilities.”

Austin admitted the frustration in dealing with the issue but pointed to a multi-jurisdictional taskforce created to address the encampments, including Union Pacific, the county, Caltrans and Metro.

“Now these partner agencies are together at the table working toward solutions,” Austin said.

With a city report on inclusionary housing expected to be released soon, candidates shared their position on the proposed ordinance and what percentage should be allotted in each district.

Austin said he supported inclusionary housing in order to prevent gentrification and to provide support for low-income residents.

“I want people to be on a pathway to ownership as well,” Austin said.

Austin said he would need to understand the issue better before committing to a certain percentage of affordable housing, but ultimately said he believed there are opportunities in certain areas to do more.

Ovalle criticized city leaders for not working on this issue years ago and not keeping in mind the renters who make up over half of the city at 60%.

“When developers come they make a huge amount of money and then they leave, that means higher rents and lower quality of life,” Ovalle said.

Ovalle said such type of housing should be applied equally.

“It’s an important tool that we need to put in place as soon as possible,” Thrash-Ntuk said.

She envisioned proposing housing developers to earmark 10% to 25% to inclusionary housing, with a focus on “hot markets” in the city that see a lot of money and activity.

Thrash-Ntuk said the character of neighborhoods should also be taken into consideration for more affordable housing, whether its additional-dwelling units known as granny flats or in places near transit.

Both Austin and Thrash-Ntuk said they supported the extension of Measure A to use on infrastructure and public safety, though Thrash-Ntuk criticized the lack of transparency or collaboration with the community to identify priorities.

Austin said he would like to look beyond Measure A to find a dedicated source for infrastructure and “bond against those funds to fast track” and improve work.

Ovalle, a major critic of Measure A, said he won’t support the extension until “the city proves to us that they can use our taxes responsibly” and called for an audit.

To see the candidates’ positions on certain issues check out our Compare Your Candidates guide.

The Post is not endorsing a candidate in the March 3 election.

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Stephanie Rivera is the immigration and diversity reporter for the Long Beach Post. Growing up as one of six kids in the working-class immigrant suburb of South Gate, she was taught the importance of civic engagement and to show compassion for others. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015. An avid Harry Potter fan, Stephanie now lives in Bixby Knolls with her boyfriend and their bearded dragon, Austin.
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