• Advice to Long Beach Leaders from Those Who Preceded Them

    Institutional memory is hard to come by in Long Beach government. With the mayor and nine city councilmembers termed out after eight years in office, the greatest possible stability would be seeing the same 10 faces behind the dais for six years running. And when change inevitably comes, it can be sweeping.

    No year better epitomizes that fact than 2014, in which five new councilmembers and a new mayor have taken office. And with five of the six of the newbies under 40—and holdovers Suja Lowenthal and Al Austin not far beyond that line—it may be more valuable than ever for the city’s sitting government to draw upon the experience of the past.

    Who better than those recently off the front lines of Long Beach governement to offer these young’uns some advice on how to make their short time in office as productive as possible? It was with such a thought in mind the week before the most recent changing of the guard that I touched base with outgoing Councilmembers Gary DeLong and James Johnson, as well as with former Councilmember Rae Gabelich (who was termed out in 2012), to find out what advice they have for their successors, their main concerns for Long Beach’s immediate future, and how they think the city council might function more effectively.

    Although now-former Mayor Bob Foster did not respond to an invitation to participate in this article,* shortly before he left office he did make clear his greatest concern for the City of Long Beach in the near term: finances.

    “While we have weathered a great storm with the financial crisis, there’s another very large storm brewing,” Foster said earlier this month when he announced his FY2015 budget recommendations, made in light of what Foster called a “freight train” of future costs the City must bear related to California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) expenses, which will increase by 87% over the next seven years. “You’ll be told, and we’ll hear it again, that we’re ‘balancing the budget on the backs of employees.’ [But n]early 75% of our budget costs are on salaries and employee-related expenses. Where else are you going to look?”

    DeLong and Johnson agree with Foster’s stormy economic forecast. DeLong names general financial issues, along the related upcoming labor negotiations, as the biggest challenge facing the new council and urges them to “balance the budget without any gimmicks, continue to make capital investments in our community, and don’t let the operating expenses increase.” He names the council’s biggest failing during his term as “not taking on pension reform sooner, and not doing enough. […] We also could have made more improvements in the existing labor contracts.”

    For his part, Johnson is concerned about the temptation to sacrifice long-term good for short-term political gain. “I believe the biggest challenge in our times for government—not just local government, but [also] state and federal government—is how short-term political institutions make the right long-term decision,” he says. “And that’s hard. There’s always going to be the pressure to make things look good today at the expense of tomorrow—to not put money in reserves, to not worry about maintenance, the benefit of which you may not see for five or ten years. […] If we don’t get the money right, everything else—police services, fire services, parks, libraries—will suffer.”

    Gabelich’s view of the greatest challenge facing the new council encompasses the difficult financial reality the City is facing, but follows more along the general lines of George Santayana’s famous maxim: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

    “In my opinion, the greatest challenge will be [for the council] to educate themselves on how we got to where we are today,” she says. “There is much to be said about institutional memory and how it can help to not reinvent the wheel. Only three members have been [on the council] over two years, soon to be two [a reference to Patrick O’Donnell’s likely move to the State Assembly]. It takes a couple of years to wrap your arms around policy, staff responsibilities, and options available to you as a councilmember.”

    Johnson concurs with Gabelich about the need to draw upon institutional memory so as to avoid expending time and energy on efforts that have proven ineffective. And he offers a stratagem for making the most of one’s early years on the council: immediately get involved with regional governmental bodies such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the Air Quality Management District (AQMD).

    “These are all regional governmental bodies that have tremendous impact on people’s quality of life every day,” he says. “And all too often Long Beach has been not well represented—or even not represented—on those bodies. […] We’re the second-biggest city in L.A. County, yet there’s no-one from Long Beach City Council on the MTA, even though the Blue Line is incredibly important for the entire city’s growth and development. Los Angeles has multiple councilmembers on the MTA, and Mayor Eric Garcetti is the vice-chair. The City of Long Beach currently has no representative on the AQMD, even though with the Port of Long Beach air-quality issues are vital to people’s quality of life. It’s one of our main problems in the city. We have the lowest air quality in America. This [kind of thing] is important for new councilmembers to remember. You’re sworn in on Tuesday—I’d start immediately looking at those kinds of opportunity.”

    DeLong, Johnson, and Gabelich all spoke of the lack of collegiality on the council—a theme nearly all councilmembers have touched on at some point during the last few years. “The environment doesn’t foster collaboration,” DeLong says. Johnson and Gabelich propose a strategy for improving the environment: some sort of time together beyond the confines of council chambers.

    “I lobbied for council retreats so that each councilmember could share the needs and vision for the communities they represented,” Gabelich says. “[…] It’s difficult to put your arms around situations that you only hear discussed on Tuesday nights. And at that point it is usually when a situation or need has escalated.”

    “Of course, the challenge is, with a city government, there would be Brown Act issues,” says Johnson. “So I don’t know what the answer is. But that kind of social interaction, a time to leave the council, go somewhere and kind of talk about the goals of the city, maybe talk about non-business items having nothing to do with politics, I think it’s helpful because it increases collegiality.”

    Gabelich partly blames Foster for not fostering a collegial environment, labeling what she calls the “Gang of Six mentality”—a reference to the voting bloc of councilmembers that some perceived to be more interested in carrying out Foster’s agenda than in finding common ground across the council—as the most dysfunctional cycle of behavior she’s seen on the council in recent times. She hopes Garcia will set a better tone.

    “Today our mayor begins with a clean slate,” she says. “He can lead from past examples and use the ‘divide and conquer’ methods that created significant dysfunction over the past years, or he can bring the nine councilmembers together to build a new citywide vision. If our new council body can realize the sometimes very different needs that spread from one district to another and that as a body they play a part in serving the entire city, they can become the strongest, most effective council to date. [… But the new council] may be courted to create a new ‘Gang of Six,’ which would only continue the discourse that has been so obvious over the past six or seven years. It is important that each member understands that they set the policy, not the Mayor’s Office.”

    DeLong and Gabelich emphasize the need for the new council to listen to their constituents—something Gabelich warns City staff may not always help them do.

    “[Concilmembers] may be inclined to refer to staff recommendations without asking questions or seeking alternatives,” she says. “These suggestions may not always support the desires of their constituents nor be in the best interest of their district/city vision. […] Being a public servant should not be about doing it my way, but finding common ground within the community you represent.”

    Whatever the council does, Gabelich hopes it will do so with more transparency than it has displayed in the past, especially because such a practice will earn the good faith of Long Beach residents.

    “The unwillingness [on the part of the council] to discuss opportunities for increasing transparency within our government has given the residents of Long Beach even greater reason to criticize local government actions,” Gabelich says, referencing now-former Councilmember Gerrie Schipske’s April 2013 motion to (among other things) force councilmembers to disclose communications about City business emanating from non-City e-mail addresses, a motion that died when no councilmember would second it. “From limited budget information that today does not demonstrate levels of service or needs, to open discussion and options on a new civic center. The reference to our existing city hall’s being dangerous is terribly misleading to the public and of concern to many that work within the building. The study that supposedly determines support for the 3T project versus a rebuild of our current site has yet to be revealed to the public. Watch this one closely. The devil is always in the details!”

    ***

    The Long Beach of today will not be the Long Beach of tomorrow, and many of the decisions made by the new city council will be certain to outlast the tenure of their decision-makers. Johnson talks of the “failure of leadership” that caused West Long Beach to miss out on tens of millions of dollars of redevelopment money while the getting was good. And it’s not just West Long Beach that is haunted by missed opportunities and bad city planning that make Long Beach lesser than it might have been.

    We civilian residents of Long Beach can only hope the new leadership in Long Beach avoids those same errors. But the leadership themselves can do more than hope: they can draw upon the past to forge a better future.

    *Note: Now-former Councilmembers Gerrie Schipske and Steven Neal were also invited to take part in this article, but they did not respond.

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  • RLn NEWS of the Day: July 16, 2014

    June Container Volumes Increase at POLA
    SAN PEDRO — The Port of Los Angeles released its June 2014 containerized cargo volumes.
    In June 2014, overall volumes increased 13.89 percent compared to June 2013. Total cargo for June was 736,438 twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, the largest volume in monthly containers since September 2012.
    Container imports rose 16.55 percent, from 328,324 TEUs in June 2013 to 382,666 TEUs in June 2014. Exports rose 8.51 percent, from 148,203 TEUs in June 2013 to 160,823 TEUs in June 2014.
    Combined, total loaded imports and exports increased 14.05 percent, from 476,528 TEUs in June 2013 to 543,489 TEUs in June 2014. Factoring in empties, which increased 13.4 percent year over year, overall June 2014 volumes (736,438 TEUs) rose 13.89 percent compared to June 2013 (646,650 TEUs).
    For the first six months of calendar year 2014, overall volumes (4,052,227 TEUs) have increased 9.2 percent compared to the same period in 2013. June closed out the port’s 2013-2014 fiscal year with a total increase of 5.55 percent compared to the previous fiscal year.
    Current and past data container counts for the Port of Los Angeles may be found at:
    http://www.portoflosangeles.org/maritime/stats.asp

    Harbor Commission Approves Port Budget
    LONG BEACH — The Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners on Monday, July 14, approved an $858 million budget for the Port of Long Beach in the upcoming fiscal year, with two-thirds of the spending set aside for a robust building and modernization program. (more…)

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  • Four Clowns Take the Bible to the Beach

    By John Farrell

    Can anything be better than a relaxing afternoon at the beach?

    How about a relaxing afternoon at the beach and an intriguing and original play, thrown in for free?

    That’s what Four Clowns, the very successful LA-based acting company, is offering through at the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica. The Annenberg Beach House is an almost perfect place to enjoy the waves, the pool, an attractive beach-front lunch or just a walk along the remarkably deserted boardwalk. The Beach House, built on the property that once hosted William Randolph Hearst’s beach property more than 50 years ago, must be packed on the sunny weekends this summer. But in mid-week the beach is hardly peopled. Hard to believe it is the premier beach of one of the biggest cities in the country.

    Four Clowns uses the front porch of the Marion Davies Guest House (two stories but still a cottage and the only original structure to survive from the 1920s development) to present their visions of the Bible, telling the stories of Noah and Jonah on alternate days at 4:30 p.m. (more…)

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  • RLn ANNOUNCEMENTS: July 15, 2014

    July 17
    Stearns Park Neighborhood Association Meeting
    The Stearns Park Neighborhood Association meets at 6:30 p.m. July 17, at the Stearns Park Community Center in Long Beach.
    The group will have guest speakers discussing street repair and mosquito season, among other issues.
    Details: (562) 716-6829
    Venue: Stearns Park Community Center
    Location: 4520 E. 23rd St., Long Beach

    July 18
    Weekend Closures: Interstate 110/C Street Ramps
    C Street on- and off-ramps on the Northbound Interstate 110 (Harbor Freeway) in will be closed at 7 p.m. July 18, through 6 a.m. July 21 — as part of a major Port of Los Angeles roadway project to perform utility work necessary to improve the northbound C Street off-ramp and nearby surface streets in Wilmington.
    The following alternate routes are suggested during the closures: (more…)

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  • RL NEWS of the Week: July 15, 2014

    Teamsters Agree to Cooling Off Period
    SAN PEDRO — On July 12, Teamsters agreed to pull down their pickets and enter a cooling off period to allow the Harbor Commission time to investigate worker safety, poor working conditions and unfair practices allegations.
    On July 6, the Teamsters union set up pickets against three drayage companies operating at Los Angeles and Long Beach. More than 100 drivers who haul goods from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and their supporters protested.
    The union has been trying to organize port truck drivers. The group of protesters rallied against Green Fleet Systems, Total Transportation Services Inc. and Pacific 9 Transportation Inc. Protestors say the drivers have been misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees, which allows the companies to skirt labor laws and avoid paying fair wages.
    The vast majority of truck drivers at U.S. container ports are owner-operators, who contract with trucking companies to haul containers to and from the ports. Since they are considered independent contractors, federal law bars them from joining unions, but the Teamsters contend that truckers at these companies are in fact employees. Drivers are demanding an end to wage theft and retaliation for trying to form a union.
    The International Longshore and Warehouse Union may choose to honor Teamsters’ pickets. On July 1, The ILWU and PMA announced “cargo will keep moving, and normal operations will continue at the ports until an agreement can be reached.”
    About 400 truckers were unable to drive to the ports fearing, that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which has vowed not to cross picket lines, would have to honor the picket line.
    The pickets come during contract negotiations for a new West Coast longshore agreement. The contract covers nearly 20,000 longshore workers at 29 West Coast ports. Negotiations continued between the ILWU and port employers that Pacific Maritime Association represented to replace the six-year collective bargaining agreement, which expired on July 1. (more…)

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  • Boxcar 7 Puts A Jump in the Blues

    By Andrea Serna, Art and Culture Writer

    Blues is a strong tradition in Long Beach.

    On Labor Day weekend the blues returns to Long Beach with the New Blues Festival at POA Park. Long Beach band Boxcar 7 is on the lineup.

    Lay out your path towards the dance floor cuz it’s going to be hard to sit still when Boxcar 7 is on the stage. They are a good-time band and they are not afraid to let the world know.

    The big-band sound of the seven-piece group has caught on in Long Beach. They are a familiar presence in the local music scene. They first started to catch the attention of blues junkies about five years ago. Now, they have developed a hard core following in town.

    The band combines the classic sound of 60s soul music with the 40s style of jump blues. Popular in the 1940s, the movement was a precursor to the arrival of rhythm and blues and rock ’n’ roll. Prominent figures included Louis Jordan, Lionel Hampton, Big Joe Turner, Helen Humes and T-Bone Walker. More recently, there was renewed interest in jump blues in the 1990s, as part of the swing revival. The band professes an admiration for the big-band blues style. Their band performs with characteristic classic style old-school bandstands. Singer Scott Griffith performs with a vintage chrome plated microphone that fits his immense physical presence.

    “We don’t treat our music like most of the other bands in Long Beach do,” ax player Mark Sample said. “Most bands [performing locally] are four-piece or five piece. Most of the venues in town have stages that are too small for our band. We just decided we aren’t going to do it like that. We are going to do it like how it was in the old days, when the bands were really big.”

    Another major influence on the band was the 1991 movie, The Commitments. The film tells the story of the travails of a music promoter to form the “World’s Hardest Working Band,” The Commitments, and bring soul music to the people of Dublin, Ireland. Sample says the band patterned their own style based on the film.

    Boxcar 7 has not performed in Dublin, but they have worked hard to bring soul music to Long Beach and beyond. Recently, the band played at the prestigious NAMM show in Anaheim, the biggest music industry convention in the country. The band had the hard core rock fans swing dancing in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel.

    The members of the band all have deep credentials in the music biz. Gerry Tschetter plays piano and organ, and Johnny V plays trumpet and flugelhorn. Johnny V has worked with Slash, Eric Clapton and Percy Sledge. Saxophonist Mark Sample completes their horn section. Robert Lopez plays lead guitar and the rhythm section consists of bassist Jim Keena and Andrew Shreve on drums. Recently, they added another member, John Earvin on trombone. Earvin toured for 20 years with Rick James when he was younger.

    Griffith has been around the Long Beach music scene for many years. He got his start in the punk scene. Burned out on the blusterings of Biaffra, Ving and Rollins, he found solace with Otis Redding, Ray Charles and Al Green. Along the way back to humanity, Scott encountered Muddy Waters and a Howlin’ Wolf, who set him down that path to meet ol’ Robert at the crossroads and set a spell. Griffith likes to feel the root emotion behind each piece and tries like hell to convey that to everyone within earshot.

    “Our main thing is that we want our music to be a fun party” Sample says. “We don’t turn our noses up at fun. We are just out there to have fun and have a really good time. We are not really blues purists. We are more of a good time soul band. That’s our style.”

    The roots of soul music traces back to artists such as Little Richard, who was the inspiration for Otis Redding. Fats Domino and James Brown were equally influential. Fats Domino originally called himself a rock ’n’ roll performer, while James Brown was known as the “Godfather of Soul.” Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett echo throughout the music of this group. You don’t have to listen too hard to hear all these voices in the music of Boxcar 7.

    Samples said they like to stay close to Long Beach because their fans are so supportive here. After The Blues Festival you may want to find yourself searching for their next gig. The band says that they built much of their following at the El Dorado in Long Beach They are also regulars at Harvelle’s on the Promenade downtown, the Gaslamp on Pacific Coast Highway and Kobe’s Steakhouse in Los Alamitos.

    You can keep up with the band on Facebook, or visit their website at Boxcar7.com.

    Details: newbluesfestival.com
    Venue: LBPOA Park
    Location: 2865 Temple Ave., Long Beach

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  • Bucket of Blood

    Remembering Liberty Hill and the Irony of it all

    James Preston Allen, Publisher

    Each year, on the morning of July 4th at an often overlooked stone monument a few hundred feet off Harbor Boulevard on Fifth Street in San Pedro, a handful of citizens gather to commemorate the 1923 incident at Liberty Hill.  You see, it was 91 years ago during a waterfront strike that the notorious International Workers of the World, or Wobblies as they were generally known, called for a maritime strike in San Pedro.

    It was effective in that 90 ships were backed up at anchor as far as you could see. The shipping bosses called on the Los Angeles Police Department to help break the strike. The department willingly complied, rounding up and jailing union activists for violating “criminal syndicalism” laws or for simply holding an International Workers of the World union book.

    In those times, it was a criminal offense to organize for better working conditions or publicly promote an eight hour work day, advocate for child labor laws and many more ideals once labeled “radical” in an ardently anti-union city. These basic labor laws are now considered commonplace.

    The incident that perhaps became better known than the strike that precipitated it involved progressive activist and noted American author of “The Jungle,” Upton Sinclair came to San Pedro in support of the striking dock workers. Los Angeles Mayor George Cryer threatened Sinclaire with arrest if he spoke at the well publicized rally atop a small hill near Beacon Street. (more…)

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  • RLn NEWS of Week

    New Board Officers and Committee Chairs Appointed!

    SAN PEDRO — At the July 8, 2014 board and stakeholder meeting the new Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council Board was seated and took the oath of office.  The following officers and committee chairs were appointed:

    Executive Board 

    • President – James Preston Allen
    • Vice President – Debbie Rouser
    • Secretary – Khixaan Obioma-Sakhu
    • Treasurer – Danielle Sandoval
    • Outreach and Communications Officer – Donald Galaz

    Committee Chairs

    • Port Relations Committee – Frank Anderson
    • Land Use Planning & Public Works – Sue Castillo
    • Bylaws Committee – Not yet appointed
    • CD15 Issues Committee – Not yet appointed
    • Finance Committee – Chaired by the new Treasurer
    • Homelessness Ad Hoc Committee – Not yet appointed

    (more…)

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  • Woody Guthrie is Still Singin’

    By John Farrell

    The Hollywood Fringe Festival is over for a year and no one could see everything.

    But there were moments, and the best, from our point of view, was Hard Travelin’ with Woody Guthrie, a one-man show written and directed by Randy Noojin that was intimate, as simple as the music of American icon Guthrie and a moving tribute to his vital concern with the American working man, a concern that was built during the Dust Bowl, 80 years before the erstwhile revolution of the 99 percent.

    (more…)

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  • How Meeting Susan Anspach Completed The Circle

    Goodnight moon.

    Goodnight room.
    Goodnight Lionel in the room.

    —Susan Anspach

     

    I met her at a Thanksgiving party in 2012. Karen Kaye, the sister of avant garde filmmaker Stanton Kaye, had been throwing the parties for years at her Echo Park home.

    Back in 1971, Stan made a film called Brandy in the Wilderness, which created a large stir among bohemians in the Hollywood area. The bohemian scene was particularly vibrant around Los Angeles City College and a lot of us who gathered at Karen’s were the core of Hollywood bohemianism. Sometimes new faces would appear. I liked going to Karen’s parties because many of the people who went there were some of the greatest eccentrics of the era.

    That’s how I met Susan Anspach. (more…)

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