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City leaders unpack West Long Beach Promise proposal ahead of budget vote

Release Date: 2023-08-04


Long Beach recently unveiled its ambitions to pursue a new plan dubbed the West Side Promise — a 10-year community investment plan for that portion of the city, which has been historically under-resourced — as part of its proposed $3.2 billion budget for the 2024 fiscal year.

But before that proposal and the budget in its entirety heads to the City Council for approval in September, ahead of the new fiscal year’s Oct. 1 start date, Mayor Rex Richardson convened leaders from various Long Beach industries to unpack the premise of the West Side Promise and potential partnerships that could develop under the plan.

The community event took place Friday, Aug. 4, at the 27-acre Century Villages at Cabrillo campus, with Port of Long Beach CEO Mario Cordero, Rep. Robert Garcia, Long Beach Unified School District and Long Beach City College representatives, and various nonprofit leaders among those in attendance.

West Long Beach, which is home to the port, has historically lacked significant city investments and suffered undue health impacts as a result of pollution from the massive shipping hub — along with other environmental injustices related to nearby freeways and refineries.

The area is also largely occupied by people of color, who have disproportionately worse health outcomes than residents in other parts of Long Beach because of the higher pollution rates — with west-side residents’ life expectancy 14 years shorter than the average citywide.

The west side is also somewhat isolated from greater Long Beach by the Los Angeles River and freeways, which have posed challenges in attracting businesses and other investments to the area, according to Seventh District Councilmember Roberto Uranga.

Some have dubbed the situation a “tale of two cities,” — though the West Long Beach Promise plan hopes to, eventually, start undoing the decades of damage caused by environmental racism and the lack of city investment in the area.

“How is it that the backbone of our American economy and our region — how does an area of the city that’s responsible for creating the most jobs in our state not enjoy the same quality of life standards of the rest of the city?” Richardson said at the Friday event. “It’s a contradiction that truly cannot stand — that’s why we’re here today.”

Council memeber Robert Uranga speaks at an event with Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson and community leaders to discuss the recently unveiled West Long Beach Promise that in Long Beach on Friday, August 4, 2023. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

The idea of “Promise Zones” were originally implemented at the federal level by former President Barack Obama during his first term in office — and they intended to prioritize funding, expand social services, create new job pathways and address other needs in historically underserved areas throughout the country by leveraging cross-governmental and private sector partnerships.

Richardson’s Westside Promise is based on that original initiative, he said, and is rooted in the proposed 2024 fiscal year budget. If approved by the council, the city manager’s office would begin working to develop a 10-year community investment plan for the west side.

The budget proposal also requests $1.8 million for park improvements in the area, $150,000 to establish a business improvement district along Santa Fe Avenue and to study the feasibility of developing a new cultural center in West Long Beach, and another $300,000 to pay for a West Side Promise strategic coordinator over a two-year period. That coordinator would be tasked with implementing programs in the area, and identifying grants and other partnerships to help bolster investment in West Long Beach.

It also has requests for the Port of Long Beach.

Namely, if the proposal is approved, the city would ask the port, which has long acknowledged its role in environmentally harming nearby residents. to match its $150,000 contribution to the Terminal Island Freeway project — which aims to turn a portion of that busy transportation hub into park space for the community. The proposal would also ask the port to sponsor the West Long Beach Festival and to prioritize the area in any future cycles of the port’s community grant fund.

But more than that, Richardson said, the city wants help from private and public industry sectors to help rebuild West Long Beach over the next decade.

Rep. and former Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said at the Friday event that West Long Beach is the perfect candidate for federal dollars through the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, largely because of its proximity to one of the nation’s key economic drivers, its racial diversity, and historic impacts from environmental pollution and racism.

“When you look at the criteria of where the federal government wants to spend its resources, West Long Beach fits every check box,” Garcia said. “In the years ahead, we will do everything we can to ensure those resources are being targeted and supported.”

Many others, including representatives from LBUSD, LBCC, The Nonprofit Partnership, nonprofit group Centro CHA, and the Port of Long Beach, also pledged their support to the West Side Promise plan on Friday, saying they would happily begin working to identify ways they can support its ultimate goal.

Some attendees at Friday’s event, though, said that the city should ensure it gets West Long Beach resident’s feedback about the community’s biggest needs — and a better understanding of the area’s demographic breakdown — while developing policies and programs to benefit the area. Others also cautioned against “promising” more than what can reasonably be achieved.

“What you’re asking residents to do is go through another round of planning, to get not the projects (and priorities) that they’ve already identified,” said Taylor Thomas, with advocacy group East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice on Friday. “What do you say to the residents who have given so much for many years — to not see these investments made?”

Richardson, though, said Long Beach has better opportunities to actually secure funding now — particularly through recently adopted federal funding plans, including the Inflation Reduction Act — that didn’t exist when the city made plans to reinvest and and rebuild West Long Beach years ago.

“There can be differences of opinion about how well the city can execute, but what I can tell you is, let’s put the money on the table and start building projects,” Richardson said. “There is a 10-year plan right now on the Inflation Reduction Act. If we don’t coordinate as a city, we will miss the opportunity to maximize impact now.”

The City Council, meanwhile, will hear an initial round of budget presentations on Tuesday, Aug. 8. That presentation will include funding requests from various city departments.

Residents can also still give feedback on the proposed budget. Several community meetings are planned throughout August — with the next one scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9, at the Recreation Park Community Center, 4900 E. Seventh St.

A full list of upcoming meetings and the full 2024 fiscal year budget proposal is available on the city’s website.