Photos by Brian Addison.
Long Beach held its first mayoral forum on livability, an achievement that should not be understated. Bicycling, pedestrian accessibility, urban infrastructure and design, park space, and active living are now tantamount to urban culture surviving.
Five of the ten candidates running for mayor—Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal, LBCC Trustee Doug Otto, 4th District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske, self-described bicyclist Richard Camp, and Vice Mayor Robert Garcia—attended the event much to the gratitude of organizers. Damon Dunn, who hasn’t appeared at the vast majority of mayoral forums and debates, declined due to a previous engagement.
Each candidate told a different story despite similar subjects—and their stories defined themselves as individual leaders that would lead Long Beach in different directions are they to be elected.
Assemblymember and former Long Beach City Councilmember Bonnie Lowenthal comes from a rich political background—and that background was reflected heavily in her responses.
Lowenthal largely revolved around her own achievements throughout her own career, making sure to note things she’s already cleared: her part in the creation of the bike path on the upcoming Gerald Desmond, her part in fostering healthy living through the creation of biking infrastructure, her support of The California Endowment’s programs which focuses on healthy lunches for LBUSD students…
Even her solutions revolved around classical political tactics that have, for the most part, proved fruitful for Democrats: the creation of citizen task forces, pursuing volunteers, creating PSAs and additional signage…
Lowenthal, in other terms, was largely old-school in her approach to new-school concepts—even to the point of noting that our city should amount itself to a brand like the classic metropolises of the States.
“Long Beach has to become a brand and we’re not there yet,” Lowenthal said. “We have to create a [more prominent] Bike Long Beach brand where messages and PSAs are in other parts of the country—not just Long Beach.”
“Somewhere out there is the next Bille Jean King—and we need to keep our parks open, active, and safe.”
Her plans for parks probably presented her most progressive side, hinting at the possibility of keeping parks open practically 24/7.
“We should be investing in solar power to keep our parks lit at night,” Lowenthal said. “We need to bring back midnight basketball… Somewhere out there is the next Bille Jean King—and we need to keep our parks open, active, and safe.”
Unquestionably, Otto does his homework.
Each of the candidates were provided the questions beforehand and Otto did not skimp on skimming through Longbeachize, Streetsblog LA, Bike Long Beach, or local non-profit City Fabrick’s arsenal of literature.
Largely eschewing the idea that we should aim for what provides instantaneous comfort or harkens towards comforts of the past, Otto is downright progressive in his idea that we must “change the whole culture” for the future.
“In order to stay ahead of the curve, we have to look at cities like Portland and New York,” Otto said. “We have to provide a place that is more attractive—and that means proving we can provide the Millenials and Gen-Xers what they want.”
For him, that included providing the tech community with more resources and providing more space for bikes and pedestrians.
A self-described avid back packer—he’s hiked everything from the Sierras to Machu Picchu—Otto’s responses lacked the robotic-character of many of his comrades (minus his closing statement: clearly a rehearsed piece, but the man had to insert his credits somewhere along the line) and held a certainty that only Garcia matched otherwise.
Otto knows what he wants to do: he wants to tear down the Terminal Island Freeway, he wants to bring bike share despite our current contract’s questionability, he wants to bring technology. He wants—a lot—and he believes that is ultimately his responsibility should he become mayor.
“We have to provide a place that is more attractive—and that means proving we can provide the Millenials and Gen-Xers what they want.”
“Should a mayor be responsible for the health of our city’s citizens? Absolutely—that is what a mayor quintessentially does,” Otto said. “The Mobility Element is fantastic. The Housing Element is… Pretty good. But we’re losing out on changing the culture: we need bike share—not because we need to brag about it but because there are people who don’t have a choice but to ride a bike and their whole family doesn’t own one individually.”
Otto—the first candidate to bring biking out of the scope of recreational and into the focus of necessity—drew applause for his continual mention of those who need accessibility when they don’t have it. Even more, his driving hammer—“change the culture”—was paired with harmonious living.
“We can’t put aside enough land for parks to make an actual difference,” Otto said, “but we can learn to live with nature.”
Schipske, who at a previous meeting hosted by the Sierra Club at The Aquarium of the Pacific noted that Long Beach must regard their senior community without focusing entirely on biking infrastructure, altered her tone immensely to make sure it is unquestionable that she is bike-friendly—and immensely humorous when hitting the right notes.
“People who don’t like bikes? I represent those people,” she quipped to both laughs and jeers.
Continuing to push forward her mantra of governmental transparency and pragmatism, Schipske was not afraid to drop her own accomplishments—similar to Lowenthal—but also note that a lot of work needs to be done.
“Long Beach is part of the Better Cities Coalition because we understand health is important,” Schipske said. “I’m a registered nurse: my life is health. These pandemic problems are not unsolvable but they are complex—and we can begin solving them by encouraging things like community gardens, grocery stores which provide healthier food in marginalized areas…”
Noting that “a tired kid is a good kid” and having grown up on a bike, Schipske lamented the days when kids were encouraged to use bike as their own form of access.
“People who don’t like bikes? I represent those people.”
“We instilled a culture of fear in permitting our children to ride their bikes to school and created the bus system,” Schipske noted. “LBUSD can’t afford buses anymore so we have to encourage kids to bike to school by working with the schools and parents.”
Exactly how do we get to this booming culture of bikes, technology and active living?
“Tourism,” Schipske said, harkening back to beloved Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill’s mantra that tourism was the key to Long Beach’s success overall. “If we focus on tourism, then trade and technology and innovation will naturally come.”
Certainly the odd man out in the group of established political veterans, Richard Camp has no Facebook, no Twitter, no website—really no connection to technology on any level, a stance he took quite staunchly throughout the forum.
“I rode my bike to file my [candidacy papers] at City Hall and I rode my bike here tonight,” Camp said.
Camp encouraged to find a difference between “commuter bicyclists” and “recreational bicyclists,” attempting to provide the former with more structured routes that lack interference with both cars and casual riders. Additionally, Camp wanted to see more accessibility for bikes: more bike racks on buses, more bike racks on the streets, more bikes and more bikes.
“The West Side? I have no shame in being blasphemous, but the West Long Beach is an unlivable hellhole. The residents should leave and we should turn the entire area into an industrial zone.”
Though not entirely off base, Camp lacked the knowledge of civic infrastructure. Surely, more bike racks on buses would be great; that, however, extends their lengths and thereby alters their turn limits. Surely, having open obstacles throughout for skaters might encourage them to stick to specific routes; that, however, opens the City for liability for pedestrians happening to wander in their way.
Camp’s second most prominent stance was that of affordable housing, something he said we need to “flat out be more innovative about.”
“The West Side? I have no shame in being blasphemous,” Camp said, “but the West Long Beach is an unlivable hellhole. The residents should leave and we should turn the entire area into an industrial zone.”
His comment—followed by the idea that we can provide the outcast residents with “deals” on homes east of the 710—drew its fair amount of shock from the audience.
Additionally, Camp proclaimed his mass distrust of the FDA and the “turbo fuel” that is high fructose corn syrup, noting that humans need to “get back to fundamentals” in order to create a more healthy lifestyle.
Garcia—like Otto—knows what he wants and how to get it. While he typically aims for broad, macro-like responses that don’t directly engage answers in how to solve issues, Garcia was on top of his notes and his rhetoric.
One of two candidates to have rode his bike to the forum—the other being Camp—Garcia was not hesitant in showcasing much of what Long Beach has already achieved and how this acts as a springboard to achieve even more by looking at what we haven’t fully followed through with.
“If you look at what we’ve done as a city, we’ve made incredible progress,” Garcia said. “Mark Bixby was a huge influence on biking in Long Beach—and he had a plan that we haven’t finished yet. He wanted Long Beach to be the best and it is our duty to lead by example: we have to finish his plan, finish the bike lanes, finish the infrastructure.”
In regard to maintaining a health standard throughout the city, Garcia not only noted his Let’s Move LB program, but the idea of creating an urban agriculture policy and encouraging locals to grow their own food.
“We need to come to grips with the fact that we have given most our public space to cars—and we need to find out how to take that space back.”
This immediately tied into one of Garcia’s strengths: his stance on parks and his avid stance against cars overwhelming taking over real estate.
“We need to come to grips with the fact that we have given most our public space to cars—and we need to find out how to take that space back,” Garcia said. “Taking our city’s most dangerous intersection [at 7th & Alamitos] and turning it into a park is awesome… Activating lights at night in parks during the summer needs to continue [after our successful program last summer].”
Drawing applause, Garcia’s two biggest mentions—his idea of turning the Shoemaker Bridge into a Highline-like park and activating the LA River—were both promising and arduous.
“The LA River is one our most promising opportunities,” Garcia said. “[Los Angeles] Mayor Eric Garcetti has already taken his own measures to make it a living, breathing entity for the community—and we should join him in that effort. With a restoration, the LA River can become an environmental wonder for Long Beach.”
Overall it was a good evening of discussion of Long Beach’s future related to livability and active living. All candidates respectfully shared their thoughts, ideas, opinions, and an occasional bone headed scheme. All were supportive of the general direction the City has taken on this agenda recently and they are, to varying degrees, willing (and able) to champion for more resources on these strategies.
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