Austin, Thrash-Ntuk

Al Austin, Tunua Thrash-Ntuk

Candidates hoping to represent Long Beach’s Eighth District shared their plans on a variety of local issues, including how they would address homelessness, police reform and economic recovery in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, in a Thursday, Oct. 8 debate.

Incumbent Al Austin, who said he wants to build on his eight years on the council for a third term, squared off with nonprofit director Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, who said she believes the district needs a different leader with new ideas. The district represents parts of North Long Beach, whose voters on Nov. 3 will choose between the two candidates who shared their thoughts at the debate co-sponsored by the Press-Telegram, Grunion Gazette, Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.

Both candidates shared similar sentiments in regard to bringing in more jobs for Long Beach residents and grants to small businesses to aid in strengthening the local economy, as many struggle with unemployment during the pandemic. However, candidates did differ in how they would address the city’s budget deficits as elected officials will have to juggle essential services going forward.

Austin said he stood by the City Council’s decisions on where to cut the budget, which is beset by a $30 million deficit for this fiscal year. Some city staffers were asked to take furlough days. And a 5% cut was made in the police budget.

“There is a shared sacrifice from everyone at City Hall,” he said, adding that the next two to three years likely will also see significant budget cuts due to the pandemic.

Thrash-Ntuk said she wasn’t opposed to trimming some services, as long as they didn’t solely impact parts of the city that she felt were underserved, such as the Eighth District. She also said that there could be additional cuts to the police department, which could go toward social and housing services.

For instance, more calls for people experiencing homelessness and mental issues could be taken by workers in other fields, who she said are more “medically appropriate.”

Austin, however, said that the police budget should not bear the brunt of budget cuts, which would be “irresponsible” unless crime is significantly reduced in the city.

“The reality is that we have shootings just about every night,” he said. “We have stabbings, we have violent crime, human trafficking, drugs being trafficked and property crimes on the rise.”

Regarding homelessness, Austin said that during his time on the council, he has worked to bring more beds for people experiencing homelessness in the city and is working to build more affordable housing. Going forward, he said that there should be an increase in outreach to people experiencing homelessness, possibly using trained volunteers as an avenue to connect to those people.

Thrash-Ntuk said that she wants to take building affordable housing and homeless services a step further, including creating a new “command center” with a new executive in charge of housing services and directly connecting with people experiencing homelessness.

“Not only is it critical to have that command center so we can coordinate with the county and other local cities and within our own departments,” she said, “but so we know exactly what our goals are here.”

To watch a replay of Thursday’s debate, and of debates for City Council districts 2 and 6 staged earlier this week, visit presstelegram.com/debates.

Here’s the rest of the Long Beach debate schedule for next week:

Monday, Oct. 12: LBUSD Board of Education District 2 candidates Erik Miller and Tonia Reyes Uranga; and

Wednesday, Oct. 14: Long Beach City College District Area 4 trustee candidates Herlinda Chico, Dick Gaylord and Lee Loveridge.

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