First district forum

Folks running for Long Beach's District 1 special election gather at a candidates forum Oct. 21 hosted by the Press-Telegram and Grunion Gazette at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Seven of the eight candidates attended. Pictured, from left to right, is Shelbyrae Black, Joe Ganem, Elliot Gonzales, Ray Morquecho, Mariela Salgado, Misi Tagaloa and Mary Zendejas. 

During last week’s forum hosted by the Press-Telegram and Grunion Gazette for folks vying to fill the Long Beach City Council’s First District seat, candidates touched on a range of topics: climate change, public safety, housing and parking, among others.

But readers and audience members submitted dozens more questions — many more than the moderators could squeeze into a 90-minute discussion among seven candidates. So we followed up with each of them, posing a few of the queries that members of the public posed. (Candidate Shirley Huling did not respond.)

Here’s what they had to say. (Responses have been edited for length and clarity.)

What can you accomplish in your first 30 days in office?

Shelbyrae Black: In the first 30 days, I will focus on creating, rebuilding, and strengthening communications and outreach to all residents in the First District. Some actions I will take include calling for an evaluation to determine where residential permit parking will have the most impact and how quickly we can implement it, fighting for a moratorium on parking tickets until the city has created solutions for residents, partnering with the Downtown Long Beach Association to establish additional cleaning crews that reach further north into our district, and create a District 1 specific sub-advisory board to address homelessness in our district.

Joe Ganem: I will file motions to modify the city’s Officeholder Account rules, so funds are limited to $10,000 and used strictly for council-related events and district purposes. I will file a motion to examine the feasibility of expanding the Villages of Cabrillo to house and care for 4,000 residents, including about 2,000 currently homeless and call for a citywide summit on homelessness. I will also propose a modification of the contract with the police officers to include a stipend for their mandatory participation in a local nonprofit to get officers acquainted with the public they serve.

Elliot Gonzales: The first thing I hope to accomplish is begin the process of establishing a public bank for Long Beach. With a public bank we can create a bank to finance our infrastructure needs including adapting and preparing for climate change as well as investing in public and affordable housing. A public bank can also create a trustworthy institution of savings and loans for our residents.

Ray Morquecho: I believe I can hit the ground running and use my connections to good people to staff my office immediately. Chief of Staff and District Representative will be crucial in a speedy transition. In the first 30 days, I will also have my Small Business Liaison in place and the framework for the remaining term in office in place to maximize my time.

Mariela Salgado: Accomplish is the key word as it’s 30 days — hire staff, implement a communications strategy for the First District including scheduling a town-hall meeting (separately for businesses and residents). Our district has been ignored for months, so the first order of business is to get a handle on resident concerns, enforcement issues and the status on all of the capital project funds that were approved by the council in June: landscaping, parking and business corridor improvements on Pine Avenue, 14th Street Park improvements and the realignment of fencing around the Cesar Chavez amphitheater.

Misi Tagaloa: I will call for a $250 million bond to build affordable housing and meet with stakeholders to get the bond rolling. I will also meet with existing stakeholders who are working on placing people who are homeless into shelters to fast-track expanding transitional housing beds. I will schedule and hold town hall meetings in District 1, followed by community circles hosted by community leaders.

Mary Zendejas: I’ll continue my positive message about putting our residents first. I look forward to holding a Unity Town Hall in the district within the first 30 days to bring residents and former candidates together to start addressing the long-term issues we have in the district as a team. Additionally, I look forward to introducing items related to the affordability crisis our district is facing, creating a strategic plan for our business corridors, and creating a strategic plan to fund and finalize the Drake/Chavez Masterplan.

Many residents are upset about Broadway’s bike lane and how it has impacted drivers. Would you support a similar road diet in the First District? Why or why not?

Shelbyrae Black: At this time I would not support additional bike lanes in the First District. I like the idea of bike lanes and they absolutely add to a community. However, parking is at such a premium right now that I do not intend to do anything that will take away even a single parking space from the residents. The current situation on Broadway, which numerous residents have suggested has caused an increase in car accidents, shows that the road diet as currently proposed is not working. We need to further research alternative solutions and look at adding bike lanes to quieter streets.

Joe Ganem: In my opinion, the city should have undertaken more outreach to the residents and businesses and crafted a plan with the buy-in of the community impacted. Many of the issues pointed out by those who oppose the final construction would likely have been inexpensively fixed on paper before any concrete was poured. If a similar plan was proposed for the First District, I would ensure the final design was fully known through a series of open meetings and there were opportunities for public comment. The plan should be vetted and supported by the community through consensus before any work started.

Elliot Gonzales: I think what went wrong with the road diet and these e-scooters is that these projects were decided at the top and then imposed on the public. I think any good transportation plan, especially one seeking to include alternative transportation methods, would require public input before implementation.

Ray Morquecho: I do not support the Broadway Road Diet. I understand the idea behind it, to keep people safe, but I think it was ill-conceived and is a perfect example of the government acting in haste and wasting time and money having to repair problems they created. Good solutions are not always the quickest ones.

Mariela Salgado: No, the priority lies in quality-of-life issues for our residents, such as fixing our alleyways, making streets safer and improving street infrastructure. Our children, seniors and our growing population of those with disabilities need more safety measures and obstacle-free sidewalks. We have a broken system in which low-income communities lack representation that matters and the political will to acknowledge and prioritize the needs of our communities.

Misi Tagaloa: In general, I support multiple uses of the city’s streets to include different forms of transportation such as bikes, e-scooters, wheelchairs and micro-mobility devices. It increases neighborhood safety and promotes community engagement. I would support similar road diets in the First District if it increases neighborhood engagement and safety.

Mary Zendejas: I believe strongly in creating “Complete Streets” that are a vision for the future of transportation, which includes several modes of transportation. However, the current configuration should be adjusted. As a woman who uses a powered wheelchair with a ramped wheelchair-accessible van, I can no longer access the sidewalk from my van along Broadway in downtown Long Beach or even in front of my apartment complex on Third Street due to the configuration of the bike lane. Moving forward, I think there are design changes that will need to be made to accommodate residents of all abilities and transportation needs.

Candidates in Long Beach City Council District 1 race discuss housing, other issues at first public forum.

How would you try to attract small businesses that may be currently based in other cities like Signal Hill?

Shelbyrae Black: All of the issues we keep discussing — parking, reducing homelessness, cleaning our streets, improving public safety — these are the exact things that will help the economic development of Long Beach the most directly. New businesses need to have confidence that people can frequent their shop, bar or restaurant, which means people need to feel safe when they are walking around. By creating solutions for these issues that impact all of us, we will make Long Beach a more desirable place for businesses to move to, residents will need more places to frequent, and they will feel safe doing so.

Joe Ganem: First, I would address some of the most common complaints that small businesses have about Long Beach: homelessness, public safety, permitting and parking. We also need to use technology and good community policing techniques to rebuild trust and enlist the citizens in working with the police department to restore the area’s safety. Simultaneously, we can work with city departments to streamline the labyrinthine approval processes to make it easier to start a business.

Elliot Gonzales: I plan on attracting small businesses to West Long Beach by promoting the economic incentive zone that was recently created to bring businesses to the industrial parts of the Westside. I’d like to adapt the incentive zone to attract eco-friendly businesses, including clean energy manufacturing and biodegradable plastics to Long Beach. Council members are ambassadors of the city and I plan on representing Long Beach as a city that is here to be a part of the necessary transition to a green economy.

Ray Morquecho: First and foremost, we have to have law enforcement that works in our business districts. We have to address the homelessness and crime that is plaguing our business community and is going widely unnoticed. Secondly, I will have a small business liaison in the council office to help guide people through the process of opening a business in Long Beach and then report back where the roadblocks are in the process. “That’s how we’ve always done it,” will no longer be an acceptable answer to how we approach business or governing in Long Beach.

Mariela Salgado: We need to address the issues that plague our businesses, homeless encampments, lighting, trash and code enforcement issues. We have an untapped industrial area, Magnolia Industrial Group, that would be of great interest to business owners if we addressed those issues while providing tax incentives. Separately, as a business owner, I know we need to streamline and shorten the permitting process for a business to open its doors or to renew a permit, like for outdoor seating.

Misi Tagaloa: We need to improve our brand by delivering for small businesses. Meet with decision makers, and they will tell you what it would take to relocate their business to Long Beach. We need to grow and incentivize our own small businesses to vertically integrate with outside targets. In many cases, unless there is a community tie-in, it’s about the value proposition. I remember when many of those small businesses in Signal Hill were in Long Beach. Long Beach did not have leaders who took those businesses and their needs seriously, so they left.

Mary Zendejas: My business plan includes supporting existing business and property improvement districts, like the Downtown Long Beach Alliance and the Magnolia Industrial Group, and help to create more districts like that in other areas like the Westside. I will also have a business liaison within the First District Council Office to assist new business owners and provide resources to local entrepreneurs, support shop local programs and ensure that Long Beach small businesses are prioritized in city contracts and filming services.

The special election for the District 1 seat is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 5. For a full list of questions and the candidates’ unedited responses, visit bit.ly/322XVY3.

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