Talks with Tim is a weekly Q&A by Tim Grobaty, who has been a columnist in Long Beach for nearly 50 years. If you’d like to suggest an interesting or influential person in Long Beach for this (unconventional) interview, reach him at [email protected]. For more interviews like this, subscribe here.

Brian Ulaszewski is the executive director/principal of City Fabrik and has over two decades of experience working in the design and planning field dedicated to improving communities. He has extensive experience working with local governments, developers, affordable housing providers, and nonprofit organizations on a wide variety of projects including graphic, environmental, building, landscape and urban design.

Tim Grobaty: What in the hell’s wrong with Long Beach?

Brian Ulaszewski: [Laughs] That’s a loaded question. We work in a lot of other communities, not just Long Beach and there’s a lot of commonality in the issues, and there are things unique to each community. In Long Beach the housing crisis has grown and grown and grown as we’ve fallen behind in renting and ownership. It’s been a crisis for a while and now it’s exacerbated by substance abuse, COVID and mental health. People have been raising red flags for a long time. Also, some new things that have shifted in our user patterns. Remote and flex work had been growing pre-pandemic but that went full speed ahead with COVID. Long Beach saw it, so did Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris. Remote working had big ramifications on central business districts everywhere. I think Long Beach will weather that better, I think we have a better balance of office, residential and hospitality. In many ways I think Long Beach is ahead of the curve on recovering. I tend to have a more rosy view of the future.

Q: But we still can’t have nice things, like we’re seeing at some of the parks and libraries. Gumbiner Park, Lincoln Park, Mark Twain Library…

A: Those places are all so stressed by the peripheral impact of people struggling with homelessness and substance abuse, or just having a mental crisis. Now places like parks and libraries are serving people not in the way they were intended to. So you have librarians and maintenance workers having to be social workers and that’s not what they’re trained for and that’s going to drag on our ability to recover. There are some people who are trained for it, and when they do have an opportunity to engage, the services they can offer are limited. There’s a finite number of beds at the local shelter, a long list of people waiting for affordable housing and we need to get more people and resources working to head some of those problems off at the pass for people who are in danger of losing their homes rather than just putting them on the street. I thought we were going to talk about fun stuff.

Q: OK, let’s switch to what kind of music you listen to.

A: While I’m working it tends to be music that’s dour, thoughtful and pensive, like the conversation we’re having right now.

Q: How about after work, when you’re trying to forget about dour and pensive things?

A: When my wife Gina and my son Carter call it a day and sit out at the patio watching the sun set, we’ve been listening to bossa nova covers lately. We had gone to Florence, Italy and there were three or four groups playing bossa nova covers. They were doing things like “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Wicked Game,” “Fast Car.” I play them on Spotify. You can literally search for “bossa nova covers.” It definitely, for me, brings me back to Florence.

Q: When my wife and I were in Rome all we heard were people playing “The Godfather” and “That’s Amore” on accordion. I’ll have to check out the bossa nova covers. What are your favorite podcasts?

A: We don’t listen to a lot of podcasts, except on road trips which is about the only time we have to pay attention. We listen to Radiolab. On my own, I listen to 99% Invisible.

Q: And TV. What do you watch?

A: Right now we’re watching “The Bear” like many other people, but in constant rotation with our son, watching “Ratatouille” right after that. “The Bear” and “Ratatouille” are similar in a lot of ways. I will challenge you to look at Carmine and Remy and not notice the similarity. It’s all about the kitchen.

Q: Were you born in Long Beach?

A: I was born in Bellevue, Washington. We moved to Long Beach when I went to high school. I went to Wilson.

Q: What part of town do you live in now?

A: Belmont Heights, near Second and Broadway. Here’s something interesting: We actually share a house with another couple, Bill and Tom. We’ve all lived together for 17 years. We used to share a duplex that we lived in for more than 10 years in Alamitos Beach. One unit we used for the living room and the other for its kitchen and when this house came up for sale, we figured we’d just buy it and not have to go back and forth between the apartments in the duplex.

Q: So does homelessness, with all of its attendant problems, remain the biggest problem in terms of making Long Beach a more vibrant city?

A:  There are things that weigh heavily on me. Housing homeless crisis is tough, you see it every day in every part of town. Right now we’re swimming upstream; there’s more people ending up on the street. It’s difficult on a lot of levels. The Multi-Service Center is so isolated, for one. But there’s a greater political will to deal with the problem now, and people are more willing to open their pocketbooks, I think. Still, try to put a beautiful facility in somebody’s neighborhood and the torches and pitchforks come out. That’s something that needs to change. But I’m optimistic. We have to be more open to helping and then a lot of things will be easier. It’s gonna take all hands on deck.


Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.