Civically Speaking is a weekly newsletter on the latest local government news from the lens of the Long Beach Post’s City Hall reporter, who sits through so many city meetings for us.
Taking a ‘stand’
If you tuned into the City Council meeting Tuesday night, you may have noticed that some council members were taking a stand against criminalizing the unhoused. A worthy cause, because living on the streets is punishment enough.
The reason for these comments was a request from Councilmember Kristina Duggan to have the city look outward to other municipalities to see what they’ve done to improve public safety in the face of their growing homeless populations.
When I spoke to Duggan about this a few weeks ago, she was clear that her main priority was protecting children. The policy that she was most interested in was a buffer between encampments and well-traveled walking routes to schools.
Her request came just weeks after a father holding his child was stabbed by an unhoused man in her Belmont Shore district.
Some of her counterparts on the council pounced on the opportunity to criticize the request, saying it was a slippery slope toward criminalizing the unhoused and treating homelessness differently in different parts of the city.
What struck me most about the conversation was that amid all the calls to prevent a policy that would criminalize being homeless in Long Beach was the fact that this council has done just that several times over the past decade.
Councilmember Cindy Allen, who said Tuesday she couldn’t support any policy options that might come out of Duggan’s request, was a co-author of a policy the city adopted in May 2022 that bars adults from city playgrounds unless they have children.
During the discussion, councilmembers made comments about people using drugs in parks and “ongoing loitering issues” that made it clear what the intent was.
“We have to take steps to protect these children so they can also enjoy the parks and the playgrounds,” Allen said in September 2021, when she requested the “Kid Zone” ordinance.
A ban on oversized vehicles in residential areas—which has complaint-based enforcement—was adopted in 2017. Despite council members at the time saying it was not a homelessness item, it effectively pushed anyone living out of a large vehicle out of neighborhoods and into commercial and industrial areas.
If you happened to walk past an industrial park in the aftermath of the ordinance you could see the effect the ban had: A lot more people living out of RVs appeared near businesses.
Also in 2017, the City Council discussed banning panhandling on city medians. It was couched as a public safety issue, but improving public safety would have also removed people begging for money out of the view of motorists under that failed proposal.
Those blue fences you see on the medians near the VA Hospital that make it more difficult to stand there were erected after the panhandling ordinance failed to advance.
Councilmember Roberto Uranga, who joined Allen in trying to block Duggan’s request, was a supporter of the panhandling item in 2017 as well as the “Kid Zone” item last year.
Going back even further, in 2011, the council banned “aggressive solicitation,” with conduct that would “cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety” being one of the triggers for the law.
The city is also currently in the process of updating its code of conduct for libraries, which could allow for the banning of people who are too smelly, loud or otherwise disruptive.
If this council is truly invested in not wanting to criminalize the unhoused, they could take a look at laws already in municipal code that they’ve already passed.
As members often say, laws can change on any given Tuesday.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS WEEK:
Water rate increases will finally be decided Monday (I think). The Long Beach Utilities Commission abruptly called for a special meeting during its Thursday morning meeting where it was scheduled to adopt next year’s budget and the anticipated rate increases. Commissioners said the delay was due to a last-minute request for funding for the city’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, which was not budgeted for. They’ll have the weekend to figure things out, but Monday morning should be the end of the department’s budget process. Will it be a 10% or 9% increase? What about 9.5%? We’ll find out Monday, but you can bet on your water bill going up by at least $5 per month in the coming year.
PAY ATTENTION TO THIS NEXT WEEK:
Remember the Belmont Pool? It was torn down about a decade ago and the city has been working to build its replacement basically since it was demolished. There have been a handful of iterations presented to the public, with large changes being made due to budget and for compliance with California Coastal Commission rules. On Tuesday, the city is hosting a meeting at Will Rogers Middle School to update the public on the project. In December, city management said the pool design could once again have to be trimmed down because of the possibility of a statewide law going into effect and tanking the city’s oil production numbers, which could hinder funding for the pool. Want to know more about the pool project? Go to the meeting Tuesday night. The meeting at Rogers Middle School is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m.