• Exposing the South LA Blues

    Photo by Phillip Cooke

    By Melina Paris, Contributing Writer and Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

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    This story was updated to include the corrections regarding South Side Slim’s place of birth and a correct information to reflect that his father helped him complete trucking school and employed him in his trucking company.
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    A stage, an open-mic and a willing ear are the most important elements to developing talent — particularly when it comes to the blues.

    It is in these settings that experienced players pass on to younger players what they’ve learned, and younger players pay homage to the ones that preceded them.

    An interview with bluesman South Side Slim is reminiscent of this exchange. During that interview he often referenced the blues artists that mentored, guided and played with him, particularly at the Barnyard Juke Joint and Babe’s and Ricky’s in South Los Angeles.

    He performed at the Seabird Lounge, playing a variety of songs from his discography, including his 2008 album South Side All Stars Doing Barnyard Hits and his 2009 follow-up, Life Under Pressure.

    “I think it’s a historic CD [South Side All Stars] because it’s got all those guys on it that have never been documented,” South Side Slim said. “They are blues legacies. If I’m lucky to live long enough, it would be a miracle if someone could take everything in my head and materialize it.”

    South Side Slim, who has been steadily recording and releasing music since 1999, plays a Chicago-style brand of blues. His electric guitar play is reminiscent of other greats like Guitar Shorty and Bo Diddley. As a vocalist, he’s like Johnny Guitar Watson, only smoother.

    He was a regular at Babe’s and Ricky’s on 53rd and Central, which he calls “Mama Laura’s place” (for Laura May Gross). He called it, “the last real blues club on Central Avenue.”

    “That is where all the blues players came, black and white, to get the real deal,” he said. “It was like a portal because I met everyone through there.”

    South Side Slim has a knack for connecting with people and it has opened doors for him. It’s because of this ability that his fortune as an artist has been trending upward over the past couple of years.

    In 2013, South Side Slim’s friend, Willie McNeil, recommended him to audition to play in Paul McCartney’s music video for Early Days, a single from McCartney’s album New. Slim was ultimately hired, along with other Los Angeles-based artists Roy Gaines, Dale Atkins, Motown Maurice, Lil’ Poochie, Misha Lindes and Al Williams.

    Williams, who is a founder of the Jazz Safari, Birdland West and Long Beach Jazz Festival, hired South Side Slim to perform at the 2014 Long Beach Bayou Festival.

    This past April, Harris performed at the KJazz Indie Blues Showcase with Gary Wagman at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach.

    South Side Slim even published his memoir, called, Sweetback Blues: The Twelve Bar Tale of South Side Slim, with the help of local blues enthusiast Kari Fretham. Written in seven stanzas in a 12-bar musical structure, the book recalls his childhood, his introduction to drugs, both as a consumer and a seller, brushes with love, death and homelessness.

    In addition to the narrative nonfiction, Fretham produced the documentary film, Hot Love on Me So Strong: The Blues of South L.A.

    “South Side Slim impressed me the first time I heard him with the emotional authenticity of his original lyrics, his confident, yet humble, stage presence and his stellar guitar playing,” Fretham said. “I was delighted when he invited me to accompany him to the treasure trove of blues juke joints in South Los Angeles. The result of the documentary on his namesake’s blues culture makes it possible for anyone to experience the heartfelt blues for which South Side Slim dedicates his life.”

    South Side Slim brought Fretham to the blues scene and introduced her to everyone. He had a lot of input on the film and much of Slims’ music is included in it. After his story came out, Slim started gaining recognition and gigs.


    The Beginning

    Born in Mer Rouge, Louisiana and reared in Oakland, California during the 1960s and ‘70s, South Side Slim’s early musical tastes didn’t include the blues. His musical palate ranged from rock to soul music, and from classical music to jazz.

    “I was digging Jeff Beck, John Coltrane, Jon Luc Ponte and Parliament Funkadelic,” South Side Slim said. “It still wasn’t blues yet.

    “Then, I heard Jimmy Hendrix and it just freaked me out, Hendrix inspired me because he was a great guitar player and he was outspoken.”

    South Side Slim got his first guitar when he turned 18, as a gift from his father. Sheer love for music and determination to learn is how he mastered the instrument. He played the chords he found in music books for beginners, and queried musicians in his neighborhood. But never had a teacher or formal lessons yet, after learning a lot of bits and pieces on guitar, he realized he had talent.

    After a while, Slim was able to play the music of his favorite artists. In his memoir, he noted that family and friends didn’t initially take him seriously when he spoke of becoming a serious artist.

    South Side Slim came to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s to pursue his dreams in music. He frequented the blues spots in town playing his guitar. But by 1990, he had gotten completely turned around, with no job or placed to go. His father, who owned a trucking company, helped Slim complete trucking school and hired him to work at his company. Slim, one day experiencing a moment of self-doubt, asked his father if trucking was for him. His father told him no.

    “I told him, ‘Just leave me alone, dad. Let me stay here and just let me practice and I won’t bother anyone,’” Slim said.

    He practiced five hours a day and sought the mentorship of local blues musicians. He credits his perseverance to his faith as a Christian.

    “No one was looking for me; no one gave a damn about me,” Slim said. “I practiced and was able to let the spirit come and do that work with my life. My inspiration was the fact God gave me a gift and I loved music. I was never able to get that [gift] nourished. It was all these years later before I came around. I was 40 by the time I started getting recognition.

    “It was hard, but it was kind of the best time. You would think it was depressing, but no, I wasn’t really homeless. I was living on my dad’s property which was basically mine and I loved it.

    “My biggest inspiration was belief in myself and that the spirit had a different reason for me to be there,” he said. “I didn’t consider myself as this great guitar player. I had an idea that was nourished by my belief and hope that eventually I end up in the right places and here I am.”

    South Side Slim will perform June 26 at the Seabird Lounge in Long Beach.

    Details: www.southsideslim.com/

     

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  • MADE in Long Beach: What Can Happen When a Landlord Cuts the Community a Break

    For a city supposedly on the rise for the last decade, Long Beach has consistently been full of prime property that sits vacant for months or even years. While there may be many factors in play, the most common theme is a landlord more interested in the idea of getting the rent a particular spot is “supposed” to generate than in keeping the space active and helping the community to grow.

    Dev Mavi, owner of the Pine Avenue building housing the Starbucks south of 3rd Street, is an exception, and not because of the Starbucks, a store that does brisk business for a corporation that can afford to pay “fair market value.” But what’s happening next door is a model for what can happen when capitalism is applied with a long view.

    Walk into 236 Pine Ave., a large space that was a Crate & Barrel Outlet at the turn of millennium and went through a couple of iterations as a discount bookstore between extended periods of vacancy, and you are greeted by a quiet spectacle that is unique to and uniquely of Long Beach: MADE in Long Beach, a consignment store selling a redoubtable variety of goods—jewelry, ceramics, books*, records, clothing, cold-brew coffee, kombucha, balsamic vinegar, food, soap, furniture—all of which are made by (you guessed it) Long Beach residents.

    This wasn’t the original idea. Originally Mavi and Scott Hamilton of DOMA Properties looked into subdividing the 12,500 sq. ft. space into parcels of a few hundred square feet to be rented as independent stall spaces. But the more they investigated that possibility, the more unwieldy it seemed.

    Enter DW Ferrell, whose Localism has for the last three years been on a mission to “enable a more connected community, influence people to choose locally owned merchants, local growers, and other local organizations.” Hamilton met Ferrell four years ago when Ferrell wandered into DOMA Properties from an office next door. As Ferrell tells it, “I couldn’t find a printer, and I asked [Hamilton] whether I could use his printer. And he took a look at [what would become Localism’s] business plan, and we started a conversation from there. [Localism] wasn’t even called anything at that point; it was called the ‘Here’s what I want do’ business plan.”

    Hamilton had already been looking to create pipelines between downtown Long Beach residents and all the local goods, services, and events available just outside their front doors, so the two connected over their overlapping visions. Fast-forward to 2014, and it was natural for Hamilton to see about bringing Ferrell into the Mavi mix. The timing was perfect, because by then Ferrell was on the hunt for a permanent physical space to reify his concept.

    “When I founded Localism, I was just thinking about encouraging people to think about where things are made,” Ferrell says. “Separately I was talking about doing a space for Localism. Then those ideas lined up, and I started looking for property owners who would be interested in doing something like this. So I was ready go, and then [Hamilton] called me. […] Localism had already built up a network of makers and merchants, so we were able to get [MADE in Long Beach] going right away. […] This kind of pulls together all that we’ve been doing behind the scenes the whole time.”

    MADE in Long Beach, which opened its doors on Black Friday 2014, never could have happened if Mavi had not been willing to forsake doing business as usual in the real-estate game, because there was zero chance that a consignment store of any sort—never mind one whose raison d’être is to hock the wares of local, independent artists and artisans for no up-front costs—could have come up with the rent typically expected for a storefront in the very heart of downtown, which Mavi says is between $1.50 and $1.60 per square foot.

    Mavi accepted was what Ferrell labels a “very gracious stair-step leasing agreement,” which has Mavi getting only a fraction of fair market value, with the understanding that rent will increase with the growth of the business.

    “We want to make sure we get to a point where he’s able to get market value for the lease, so I’ve been transparent with him about what we’re making and how we’ll get there, and bringing on partners to help us get there,” Ferrell says. “His upside is going to be down the road. When it’s flourishing, he’ll be able to get full market value for the rent. He’s hasn’t reached that yet, so he’s still taking a risk.”

    There is, of course, some present-tense upside for Mavi, as right now he’s setting something in the way of rent rather than the nothing that would be coming in were the space sitting idle waiting for a renter who might not materialize for years, an unfortunate condition that has plagued local real estate for decades.

    Why Long Beach landlords have persisted in such behavior is a mystery even to Hamilton, whose business is the business of downtown real estate.

    “It’s a good question,” Hamilton laughs. “I wouldn’t do it. In the Walker Building [i.e., the Pine Ave. building where DOMA is located], we just lowered our rent [for prospective tenants], and we sucked it up. We had the ability to do that. Some landlords really don’t—like, if they don’t get the rent they’re asking, they won’t be able to service their debt. But I don’t think that was really the case for most of the stuff on Pine and in Long Beach. At one time I think there was 60,000 square feet of vacant space [on Pine Ave.], and it was very difficult to get landlords to understand that they couldn’t get the rents that they were asking. And it honestly doesn’t make any sense to me why they wouldn’t just lower their price and get some rent as opposed to no rent. But some landlords are like that. They figure they’re just not going to lower their price, and they’ll just wait it out. They’d rather not deal with a tenant, and they’ll have it vacant. It does not make sense, so….” He laughs again. “If you’re looking for me to make sense out of it, I can’t.”

    Obviously, Mavi is a different breed of landlord, although he labels MADE in Long Beach an experiment and that eventually he will need to get rent that’s in line with fair market value. So far, so good, he says, partly because of MADE’s own progress, and partly because he likes the way the city’s business climate is trending.

    “If I see that there is something happening, I’m interested to keep [MADE in Long Beach] going,” he says. “[…] The City may be [being] a bit more proactive about bringing people into the city, more residents and making the city a little more lively. In the past people were here, but they went [outside of Long Beach] for shopping, to the malls and things like that. There was hardly anything here.”

    Ferrell is even more optimistic.

    “We started with 20 local makers and merchants, and now we have over a hundred, which is kind of crazy,” he reports. “I think what’s remarkable is that we didn’t take out a loan to start, and we’ve been in the black from Day 1, and we keep reinvesting in our capacity.”

    Jessica Reyes has seen that growth first-hand from behind the counter, where she has worked since MADE opened its doors. Community members regularly patronize the space, she says, as do visitors staying at nearby hotels, including a steady stream of flight attendants.

    “The community’s always here,” she says. “We get a lot of support from locals. A lot of people want to see [MADE] succeed. It’s good to see the focus on locally=made products. Long Beach needed something like this.”

    The upside of MADE’s success for the city as a whole is self-evident, as not only does downtown’s main drag have one more draw—not to mention one of the few retail spaces amid a cluster of restaurants—but it’s got one fewer empty storefront, which helps with the perception of downtown Long Beach as a place where things are happening.

    And that perception is a reality, with MADE additionally activating the area as an event space. In December, for example, MADE hosted the 6th Annual Secret Santa Toy Drive, which featured four bands local bands and attracted donations of over 150 new toys for needy kids.

    Ferrell says the hope is to grow MADE in Long Beach by adding a “tech incubator” in the currently unused upstairs space, hopefully within nine months. After that, Ferrell foresees adding a “culinary incubator.”

    “Think of [the tech incubator] like a fabrication lab, [with] 3D printing, laser cutting, and other prototyping facilities,” he explains. “For the culinary incubator, specialty food-makers and caterers will be able to rent out full kitchen facilities in four-hour blocks. Maybe a better term is ‘commercial kitchen accelerator.’ It’s for culinary artisans who already know what they’re doing and are trying to scale up.”

    In the meantime, Ferrell says just about everyone who walks in from Pine Ave. is enthusiastic about what she sees—so much so that he is in discussion with at least three developers “who are looking to us to find local makers and merchants to fill up their retail space.” And MADE’s already got a little shelf space in the gift shop at the Renaissance Hotel on Ocean Boulevard.

    “Every day we have somebody coming in who says, ‘I had an idea like this! Wow, you made it happen,'” Ferrell says. “And that’s what tells me that we’ve really hit on something. […] This a community-coming-together kind of thing. […] That’s our true equity. The equity of the incubator concept is community equity, not financial.”

    MADE in Long Beach is located at 236 Pine Ave., Long Beach, CA 90802. Hours: 10-6 Tuesday through Saturday, noon-6 Sunday. But swing by beginning at 8pm Thursday, June 11, for an after-party linked to Renaissance Hotels’ “Global Day of Discovery.”

    (Full disclosure: The author’s novel is among the books for sale, and on July 25 he’s putting on a bitchen event there.)

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  • More Than 100 Show Up to Protest Police Killing of Feras Morad

    Morad Family Supporters Confront Police

    Article and photos by Crystal Niebla, Contributing Reporter

    Armed with signs, megaphones and solidarity, more than 100 protesters marched to the Long Beach Police Department June 4, demanding justice for the killing of 20-year-old  Feras Morad.

    Morad was killed May 27 by 12-year veteran Officer Matthew Hernandez, whose identity had been kept from the public until June 8.

    The Morad family and community members, who also experienced the death of a loved ones at the hands of police, shared their stories.

    “I don’t know how I’m standing up here right now, but I know my brother is giving me power,” said Ghada Morad, Feras Morad’s 16-year-old sister,  said to a crowd in front of the LBPD headquarters. “And, I know we cannot put up with this anymore.”

    LBPD officers responded to a report that a man, who was later identified as Morad, had fallen from a two-story window near an alley on the 4600 block of 15th Street.  Morad was reportedly intoxicated with hallucinogenic mushrooms and acting violently. Police officials said that Morad was bloodily injured but aggressive when police offered medical assistance.

    On June 4, the LBPD released transcripts of the caller who reported Morad intoxicated and injured at around 7:30 p.m. Recorded conversations indicate that a dispatcher warned police that Morad was acting violently, but was unarmed.

    Kareem Morad, cousin of Feras, shared his frustrations with unarmed police shootings and lack of transparency.

    “Long Beach PD killed my cousin Wednesday night,” Morad said. “The family found out Friday morning. I came here Friday morning. I asked them for answers. They had no comment.”

    Among few of the other Long Beach community members that lost a family member to police was Ruben Morejon, brother of 19-year-old Hector Morejon, who was killed by police on April 23.

    “The facts are, he was unarmed,” Ruben said. “Those are the facts, and the police officer shot him. Why? Those are the big questions. We want a transparent investigation.”

    Many of the protestors say that after seeing a trend in unarmed police shootings nationwide and locally, the community is losing its trust in police. Those who attended often chanted, “Who can we trust? Not the cops.”

    Michael Brown, 36, one of the four co-founders of Black Lives Matter in Long Beach and an activist based in North Long Beach who helped organize the demonstration, said his goal was to meet Morad’s family. Brown said he wanted also get them introduced to the family of Hector Morejon and other Long Beach families like them.

    Brown said he believes that self-organization and mobilization by the community is essential to end such police shootings.

    “The transcripts just came out showing that the officer knew he was unarmed,” Brown said. “So, there was no reason to go into that situation to kill him.  This is them acting with impunity again and killing like they’ve always done, and they know that they’re going to get a slap on the wrist or no penalty at all.”

    Morad’s family remembers him as a graduate from El Camino Real Charter High School and a nationally ranked debater who planned to attend Cal State University Long Beach.

    Bernardo Cazarez, 28, a friend of Morad’s debate students, said he joined the demonstration to show support the fight for police transparency and #Justice4Feras.

    “You have the family, and it’s very emotional,” Cazarez said. “They come out, and they’re screaming, and you feel the emotion in their words. It brings you up, and it has an underlining anger because this is not what is should be.”

    Hernandez has been removed from field duty while the case is being reviewed by LBPD Chief Luna and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.

     

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  • Allen Ginsberg, in 3-D

    Long Beach Opera produces an unsettling dark journey into a neon American apocalypse

    Ivan Adame, Contributing Writer

    Hydrogen Jukebox, which closed June 7 after a weeklong run in San Pedro, was staged in the rear of the same space that houses Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles. It was an appropriate setting for the American wistfulness wrought by Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg, who penned the opera. Warehouse 10, with its exposed ceiling and concrete floor, echoes our history of blue-collar working people and mechanical production.

    The composition is the result of a late—1980s collaboration between composer Philip Glass and Ginsberg. It shares a few themes with another of Glass’ operas, Einstein on the Beach; as a contemporary opera, it examines the post-World War II American identity. It also looks ahead to the future and asks moral questions.

    However, Hydrogen Jukebox is heavily darkened by the shadow of Vietnam. It shows the nation in desperate need of soul-searching. It calls us out on present, and questionable, American values that could drag us again onto a destructive path.

    The show is a loud, frightening and colorful 90-minute neon odyssey into Ginsberg’s headspace—a harrowing psychedelic revue of more than a dozen poems, performed as songs with operatic, apocalyptic bravado. It pushes its audience to look at the present conflicts in the Middle East and our current foreign policy failures, as words are projected in large type on a wall.

    As each song closes, the opera becomes more stoned, delving deeper into a vast desert of the poet’s frustrations with sexuality, mortality and spirituality, peaking with an excerpt of Ginsberg’s poetic opus Howl, crying “Moloch!”

    Everything in this play feels retrofitted. There is no real stage; instead, the audience surrounds the flat space in which the characters perform.

    The character of the poet, modeled after Ginsberg, is wheeled around in an aluminum shelf, while the singers and dancers—half of whom are dressed in black uniforms, the others dressed in Eastern robes—jump into and push around a wheeled wooden crate. During the performance, both props looked like something borrowed from inside the warehouse.

    The performers, sometimes acting as crazy, little abstract figures, moved around the stage, sometimes pointing and making weird faces at the audience. They handed audience members tiny sheets of paper, with printed poetry— like a souvenir from a crazy dream.

    While much of it is unsettling, accompanied by Glass’ signature drone of repetitive notes, it’s contrasted with moments of beauty. A transcendent, gospel-like interpretation of “Wichita Vortex Sutra” simultaneously captured the tragedy of the status quo and a hope for future change.

    The effort of interpreting Ginsberg’s poetry in both Glass’ composition and the Long Beach Opera’s production was potent enough to alter perceptions. The grand voices of these performers not only reflected against the wall, but left an impression on them. As the neon shapes ran across the floor, it definitely made one re-think the way Ginsberg’s poetry — with all its madness and destruction — is visualized.

    Hydrogen Jukebox operates like one of those black lights: You turn it on and then all the unusual and nasty stuff begins to glow. Suddenly, it becomes a moral choice for you to decide whether or not it was ever there.

     

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  • Demonstration Set for Most Recent Unarmed Man Killed by LBPD: RL NEWS Briefs June 2, 2015

    LONG BEACH — A demonstration is scheduled to demand police transparency after 20-year-old Ferad Morad was killed by a Long Beach Police Department officer.

    The demonstration will take place at 4 p.m. June starting from Lincoln Park and continuing twice  around the Long Peach Police Department.

    Officials said  Morad, who they believe was under the influence of some type of drug, threatened to attack an officer. Officers tried using a Taser, when that didn’t work, they opened fire.

    LBPD officers were dispatched to the 4600 block of East 15th Street at about 7:30 p.m. They were responding reports from the Long Beach Fire Department that Morad, who was acting violently, had jumped through the glass of a second-story window, officials said. The recent release of the 9-1-1 call for the fire department shows that the caller not only indicated that Morad was acting “a little violent” but also was unarmed.

    A 12-year veteran officer found Morad in an alley. He reportedly had a large cut and was covered in blood. The officer then commanded Morad to stop walking so he could be given medical treatment, but Morad advanced toward the officer and threatened to attack him, having used his Taser with no avail, the officer opened fire, officials said.

    Morad was taken into custody and fire personnel began life-saving measures before transporting him to a local hospital. He was later pronounced dead.

    The incident is pending an investigation by the LBPD and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. The officer has not been identified. The officer, whose name has not been released, has been assigned to a non-field position pending the investigation. This is the fourth officer-involved shooting in Long Beach and the second fatal shooting this year.

    Family members, who were notified of Morad’s death on May 29, reportedly have told other media outlets that Morad was planning to attend Cal State Long Beach in the fall. At El Camino Real Charter High School he excelled at speech and debate. A vigil will take place at 8 p.m. June 3 at Warner Center Park in Woodland Hills.

    A crowdfunding page has been set up at GoFundMe  to help cover funeral expenses for those interested in helping.

    Details: www.gofundme.com/vuxmz4, www.facebook.com/events/413130255555995
    Venue: Warner Center Park, 5800 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills

    Suspected Gang Member Charged with Human Trafficking

    LONG BEACH — On May 28, Leevi Matuni Maseuli was charged with human trafficking and causing bodily injury of woman, Long Beach Police Department officials said.

    The suspect is suspected of forcing the woman to have sex for money and causing severe injuries, including traumatic injuries to her face for more than two months. If she did not make $500 a day, she was severely punished.

    Maseuli was arrested May 21. The woman came to the attention of detectives on May 20. She was immediately taken to a local hospital and offered services.

    Maseuli is being at the Men’s Central Jail on $225,000 bail.

    His next court appearance is on June 12.

    Anyone with information regarding this investigation should call: (562) 570-7219.

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  • HCBF Appoints New Executive Director: RL NEWS Briefs June 3, 2015

    HCBF Appoints New Executive Director
    SAN PEDRO — On June 2, the Board of Directors of the Harbor Community Benefit Foundation announced the appointment of Ben Schirmer, a San Pedro resident, as its new executive director.
    Schirmer has worked in San Pedro since 2003. For the past 12 years, he has served as the executive director of Rainbow Services, an agency that provides comprehensive services to victims of domestic violence and also advocates for the issue at state and local levels.
    During his tenure there, he led the agency through several stages of growth including the completion of a new emergency shelter, the addition of a second community center and the renovation of its existing community center.
    Schirmer succeeds Mary Silverstein, the first executive director of the
    The Harbor Community Benefit Foundation was formed through a historic agreement between the Port of Los Angeles and17 environmental and community groups, resolving community concerns about the impacts of the TraPac project approved by the Port in 2008.

    Harbor Commissioners Adopt POLB Budget
    LONG BEACH — On June 2, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners approved an $829 million budget for the Harbor Department’s next fiscal year, including more than a half a billion dollars for capital improvements at the Port of Long Beach.
    The budget, which will be presented to the Long Beach City Council for its consideration, designates $555 million for capital investments including the port’s major terminal redevelopment and bridge replacement projects.
    For the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, 2015, the budget anticipates a 6.1 percent increase in operating revenue over the current fiscal year’s income. The Harbor Department generates revenue from goods movement through the Port of Long Beach, and receives no taxpayer revenue to operate.
    Also, the newly approved budget includes the anticipated transfer of $17.74 million to Long Beach’s Tidelands Operating Fund, which is used for beachfront improvements in Long Beach.
    The biggest pieces of the capital improvement budget are the ongoing Gerald Desmond Bridge Replacement Project and the Middle Harbor Redevelopment, which is building the greenest container terminal in the world. Other improvements include sewer and street projects, dredging and rail improvements.
    The budget also includes funds for planning activities for the port’s “Energy Island” concept of enhancing energy security and sustainability, and for ongoing improvements as part of the critical “supply chain optimization” efforts to boost efficiency at the San Pedro Bay ports.

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  • LB Director of Technology, Innovation Appointed: RL NEWS Briefs June 2, 2015

    LB Director of Technology, Innovation Appointed
    LONG BEACH — City Manager Pat West named Bryan M. Sastokas director of technology and innovation. His appointment will be effective June 15.
    The Department of Technology and Innovation plans and develops the technology infrastructure for the city. The department works emphasizes transparency, openness and civic engagement. The department also runs LBTV, the city’s cable channel.
    Mr. Sastokas is replacing Curtis Tani, who retired in September 2014.
    Sastokas earned a master of science in management from Cambridge College. He attended undergraduate school with a focus on computer engineering at Pennsylvania State University, completed graduate studies at Harvard University in software engineering, and earned a graduate certificate in senior executive leadership from Georgetown University.
    Sastokas, a technology executive with 20 years of experience in the public and private sectors, has served as chief information officer for Oakland since 2014, where he is responsible for overseeing technology initiatives and for the delivery of information technology services. Prior to joining the City of Oakland, Sastokas had executive positions with Modesto, Calif, Coral Springs, Fla., and with several private sector companies including: the Universal Service Administrative Company; John Hancock Financial Services; Bay Networks, Inc; and Stream International Inc.
    Under Sastokas’ leadership, his cities have been ranked in the Top 10 by the Center for Digital Government and a recipient of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Professionally, Sastokas has been recognized nationally as one of the “Premier 100 IT Leaders” by Computerworld, named one of Government Technology’s “Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers for 2015”, and has been acknowledged by the San Francisco Business Times & Silicon Valley Business Journal as a “Community Champion” in the 2015 Bay Area CIO Awards.

    Ports Create Supply Chain Working Groups
    LONG BEACH — On May 27, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach announced the creation of working groups focusing on peak operations and terminal optimization to develop ways to strengthen the competitiveness of the San Pedro Bay port complex.
    Participants in the issue-specific working groups will be drawn from goods movement industry stakeholders, including shipping lines, cargo owners, labor, railroads, trucking interests, equipment owners and more.
    The Peak Season 2015 working group will be the first to meet — in early June — kicking off a series of intensive sessions. The job of this first working group will be to drill down on this year’s peak demand needs at the port complex. The mission of the supply chain optimization effort overall is to build upon the economic benefits the port complex provides to the region.
    The seven working groups are Peak Season 2015, Container Terminal Optimization, Chassis, Off-dock Solutions, Key Performance Indicators/Data Solutions, Intermodal Rail, and Drayage.
    The ports’ Supply Chain Optimization effort springs from an agreement approved by the Federal Maritime Commission earlier this year that allows the neighboring ports to discuss new efficiencies and other improvements that would improve the ports’ business competitiveness, environmental sustainability and security.
    The Supply Chain Optimization Steering Committee – comprised of port leaders – is reaching out to stakeholders across the industry for participants for the seven working groups, starting with the Peak Season 2015 working group.
    In addition, the ports will convene advisory groups of additional environmental, industry, community and government stakeholders to be asked for input on proposals put forth by the working groups.

    LACCD, LA Regional Career Pathways Project Wins $15 Million Grant
    LOS ANGELES — On May 29, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the Los Angeles Community College District has received a $15 million California Career Pathways grant to help prepare more Angelenos for jobs in high demand and high growth sectors.
    The funding is secured in part by the Los Angeles Economic and Workforce Development Department.
    The grant will expand on the existing partnership between the City of Los Angeles Workforce Investment Board, the Economic and Workforce Development Department, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles Community College District.
    Funding from this grant will go towards career readiness programming at the City’s YouthSource Centers, a network of 16 organizations that offer intensive education and job training assistance, paid work experience, work readiness career exploration and college preparation for youth ages 14 to 24. The YouthSource System is managed by the Economic and Workforce Development Department.
    This grant is a portion of $244 million awarded by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to 40 programs that blend academic and career technical education, connect employers with schools and train students for jobs in high-growth fields, including: information technology, advanced manufacturing, health care and software development.
    In addition to the $15 million in direct funding, the grant includes more than $1.7 million of in-kind and matched resources that will help further expand Career Pathways Trust funding and enable the partnership to serve more than 6,000 participants in total. The partnership will work with more than 95 employers to offer more than 1,800 internship opportunities that allow students to get first-hand exposure to the world of work and better prepare for post-secondary education.
    The grants are provided through the California Career Pathways Trust, the largest program of its kind in the nation, providing nearly $500 million in career tech grants over a two-year period.

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  • Oldest Harbor Area Synagogue Breaks Ground

    Temple Beth El, which is entering its 93rd year, is getting a significant facelift.  On May 31, the synagogue had a ground breaking ceremony for a remodel that promises to enhance the facility with a building that mirrors warmth and spiritual richness.

    The congregation is led by Rabbi Charles Briskin, Cantor Ilan Davidson and director of education and programs, Debi Rowe, the congregation is affiliated with the Union for Reform.

    Temple Beth El Ground Breaking

    Members of Temple Beth El write good wishes on the lumber for a building. Cantor Ilan Davidson, far right, also participates. Photo by Dr. David Feldman.

    The much-needed renovations will address safety (e.g., handicap access, sprinklers) and security (funded by a Homeland Security grant).  The project will also address maintenance concerns (e.g., bathroom, social hall upgrades).  The facility will enjoy new functionality (e.g., new technology, front entrance ramp) as well.

    The roots of Temple Beth El were planted in 1922 when the first organized Jewish religious services held in San Pedro took place at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Leven. There were 25 known Jewish families living in San Pedro at the time.

    Prior to 1922, a group of Jewish men had formed a social club that met in a photographer’s studio on Beacon Street. In 1923, their wives established the San Pedro Jewish Sisterhood, dedicated to supporting a Jewish community and giving aid to the poor and needy in our community. These women donated the synagogue’s first Torah scroll in 1928 and became, in time, the primary force in raising funds for the growth of the community.

    As services and activities continued and grew, the “founding” men and women raised the money to build a Jewish Center. The San Pedro Jewish Sisterhood held the grant deed for the center.  In 1935 the San Pedro Jewish Community Center was dedicated at the corner of 19th and Cabrillo streets (now currently the home of the Italian American Club).

    By 1938, about 75 Jewish families lived in San Pedro and the name “Congregation Beth El” was adopted.

    It soon became clear that the Jewish community would outgrow the original facility and in 1942, several lots on Seventh Street were purchased for future development, though that was not to happen until 1955, when the San Pedro Jewish Sisterhood sold the building at 19th and Cabrillo Streets and donated the proceeds to the construction of the current facility on Seventh Street.

    In 1956, the Torah Scrolls were brought to the new location, which comprised classrooms, offices, a kitchen and the combination Social Hall-Sanctuary.  In 1959, the charter was changed one last time and the congregation became Temple Beth El, a Reform congregation affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now known as the Union for Reform Judaism).

    As the community grew into the 1980’s, the Seventh Street facility was enlarged and on November 10, 1985 the congregation consecrated the location.

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  • Community Groups Host People’s State Of The City

    LONG BEACH– People from 15 community-based organizations gathered Long Beach residents together for the fourth annual People’s State of the City on May 27, at Stephens Middle School in Long Beach. The free event attracted individuals from across the city to dialogue on issues affecting residents including jobs, housing, education, immigration, environmental justice and neighborhood safety.

    The program promotes civic participation, voter engagement and community organizing among historically underrepresented communities.

    Member organizations of Long Beach Rising! include Anakbayan Long Beach, Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach, California Faculty Association Long Beach Chapter, Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice, EndOil, Filipino Migrant Center, Housing Long Beach, Khmer Girls in Action, Long Beach Area Peace Network, Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs & a Healthy Community, Long Beach Latinos in Action, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, The Long Beach Time Exchange, The LGBTQ Center of Long Beach and Unite Here Local 11.

    “It is a special time where we can look to our neighbors and say, ‘We live in a great city, but there is work to be done to transform it into a great and equitable city,” said Ernesto Rocha, an organizer with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy’s Clean and Safe Ports project.

    This year’s event included musical performances, a theatrical skit titled, A Day in the Life of a Hotel Worker, a video featuring local residents and a presentation on the state of the city. Throughout the presentation, audience members were polled on issues such as their support for higher wages and protections for renters in Long Beach.

    Nikole Cababa, an organizer with the Filipino Migrant Center called on audience members to get involved with local campaigns that promote equity in Long Beach and sign a “progressive pledge” to support living wages, election reform, environmental justice, and affordable housing.

    “We can learn and accomplish so much more together through collective action, and this event is one example of the unity emerging from our neighborhoods,” Cababa said.

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  • Despite Talk, Long Beach Nowhere Close to Bringing Medpot Back

    We do owe the public a resolution on this issue, with a responsible timeline.
    –Mayor Robert Garcia, February 2015

    The cannabis landscape in the United States has gotten a whole lot greener since September 10, 2013, the night the Long Beach City Council unanimously voted to draft a new ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to return to the city. Four states have legalized marijuana for recreational use. The California Democratic Party has inserted into its platform a plank calling for “the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol.” The police chief of Washington, D.C. has publicly stated that “[a]lcohol is a much bigger problem [than marijuana],” and that “[a]ll those [marijuana-related] arrests do is make people hate us,” while generating unnecessary paperwork and court appearances. Congress has even prohibited the Drug Enforcement Administration from conducting any more raids on retail operations sanctioned in states like California that allow medpot.

    Nonetheless, nearly two years later cancer patients who cannot fend for themselves must induce providers to break the law in order to get medpot within city limits. And it’s looking increasingly likely that nothing will change before California jumps on the legalization bandwagon.

    Seem unlikely in a city whose residents look so favorably on cannabis that over four years ago they voted in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use? Read on to get a lay of the land.

    After the September 2013 city council meeting that started the current process, it was more than four months before the Planning Commission began work on a new medpot ordinance. Eight months later, the commission finally provided the city council with its draft ordinance, which proposed allowing 18 dispensaries citywide under tight restrictions.

    However, the city council did not pick up the matter until a February 10, 2015, study session, where it created a Medical Cannabis Task Force of two citizen representatives from each council district to report to the city council in April with input concerning what the eventual ordinance should look like.

    The one councilmember who voted against this action was Suzie Price. Price says her “nay” vote was not because she opposes dispensaries or the task force, but because the plan as outlined was unrealistic.

    “Frankly, it seemed to me like it [i.e., the timeline] was a little more for show than it was real,” she says. “It was more about trying to send a message to people who wanted to move this along than realistic […] We voted on this timeline that was absolutely insane considering what we were asking [the task force] to do […] That gives people a false expectation.”

    Price was right, as the task force did not hold even its first meeting until April 1. Moreover, the five meetings since then have be decidedly unproductive—a fact of which many task force members seem keenly aware. During the May 13 meeting, for example, Member Greg Leifan wondered aloud when the task force would take any action—and whether they even had in place the mechanics for such.

    That question was on full display when the task force spent 45 minutes attempting to hammer out how they could compile a list of “tentative suggestions” to bring back at the end of the task force’s life so as to decide whether they want to recommend any or all of them to the city council.

    “We’ve had three meetings, and we really haven’t done anything,” said Member Adam Hijazi during the discussion. Member Joe Sopo concurred: “Going for three-and-a-half hours and doing nothing I feel is non-productive.”

    But two weeks later things were no better, with the task force still struggling with the logistics of compiling those tentative suggestions. Member Adam Herzberg called the process a “circus of absurdity,” adding, “This committee has been absolutely useless to this point.”

    For all this, the Medical Cannabis Task Force is purely advisory, and the city council is under no obligation to pay heed to any of its recommendations.

    One organization with no desire to see the process move forward is the Long Beach Police Department. Since the city council’s September 2013 signal of intent to reintroduce dispensaries, the LBPD has remained active on the cannabis front, arresting 780 people for marijuana offenses, issuing 683 citations, and serving 70 search warrants.

    According to Deputy Chief David Hendricks, a guest speaker at the May 27 Medical Cannabis Task Force meeting (the first from whom the task force has heard), the LBPD regards the distribution of marijuana—including for medicinal purposes—as a felony. When questioned by a task force member as to whether it would be better for the city to have licensed dispensaries in place of unlicensed delivery services—of which over 50 can be found locally via listings such as WeedMaps—Hendricks acknowledged no distinction. “I don’t think either one is good for the city of Long Beach,” he said. “[…] It’s illegal, pure and simple.” When asked whether the department has a mechanism to allocate its drug-related resources based on the relative harm of respective drugs, Hendricks demurred: “I don’t feel the need to address whether one [drug] is worse than another.”

    Hendricks acknowledged that in the past the department’s resource allocation toward dispensaries—including the full-time work of eight detectives and one supervisor—has come at the expense of the department’s ability to address not only other drug-related crime but also property crime and even violent crime. And he says this will again be the case if the City allows dispensaries.

    The LBPD’s willingness to prioritize its resource expenditure in such a manner is nothing new. Former Chief Jim McDonnell repeatedly inveighed upon the city council to ban dispensaries by claiming their presence “negatively impacts our ability to be able to address [crimes such as] human trafficking, prohibited possessors of guns, gang crime, and violent crime.” (McDonnell, who is now sheriff of Los Angeles County, is slated to address the task force on June 3.)

    City Manager Pat West supports the LBPD’s contention that other areas of law enforcement must suffer if dispensaries come back to town. “[T]he Police Department would need to decide which current enforcement operations would be reduced to provide a marijuana enforcement detail,” he wrote in a memo dated March 24, 2015.

    Nonetheless, the LBPD is pushing for any ordinance to include “seed to sale” tracking and the mandate that all cannabis be cultivated within city limits, unusual requirements (absent, for example, from L.A.’s medpot ordinance) that would increase the LBPD’s resource commitment, as opposed to minimizing it.

    According to West, “[E]ven if additional resources were found, there would need to be a minimum of a one-year preparation period” to get an approved ordinance up and running. So with the Medical Cannabis Task Force virtually certain to extend past its current June 17 deadline (city staff have speculated that an August conclusion is more realistic), it is looking like marijuana could be legal for recreational use statewide before Long Beach is again home to a single medicinal dispensary.

    Does that pace fit with Mayor Robert Garcia’s February 10 assertion that the city council “owe[s] the public a resolution on this issue, with a responsible timeline”? Garcia declined to comment.

    “It’s time for all of us to step up and step in and lead once again in California, just as we did in 1996,” said Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom at the 2014 California Democratic Party Convention. “We did just that with medical marijuana. But for almost 20 years now, we’ve sat back admiring our accomplishment while the world, the nation, and states like Colorado and Washington have passed us by. ”

    Just as other states have left California behind on the cannabis question, locally Long Beach has been left behind by Los Angeles, San Pedro, and most recently Santa Ana. Exactly why Long Beach is lagging may—or may not—be a complicated question. But the simple truth is that this city whose residents heavily favor allowing dispensaries to come back to town won’t be getting them anytime soon.

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