Category Archives: Long Beach Politics

The Price Is Wrong

Given the overall national trend towards reforming marijuana policies, and the host of local problems caused by our city’s dependence on the unreliable oil market and our out-of-control public safety spending, many are wondering why Long Beach has not ended our inexcusable ban on commercial cannabis activities. And while it would be wrong to simply assign all the blame for this multi-faceted public policy quandary onto one person, it is obvious by now that Councilwoman Suzie Price’s illogical crusade against this medicine is endangering both the fiscal viability and public health of this city.

Mrs. Price is an Orange County District Attorney and a novice politician who easily won a barely contested seat onto the council last year by running as a nominal Democrat who is “tough on crime” [full disclosure I was asked by mutual friends to help with her campaign but refused to do so because of her support for the death penalty]. Since assuming office she has more or less continued the laissez-faire economic policies of her predecessor, Republican Gary Delong, especially with regards to her efforts to expand the alcohol-fueled nightlife of 2nd Street. In fact despite her oft-cited support for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and her own residents growing concern with the binge-drinking at 2nd street bars, Price has stated on numerous occasions (including on the public record during council meetings) that she believes that alcohol sales aren’t responsible for crime. She went onto recognize the “personal choice” behind someone’s decision to imbibe alcohol and even defended her choice to expand the already overly-saturated bar scene on 2nd street out of fears of reprisals from that specific business community.

But hypocrisy regarding intoxicants isn’t a crime, nor is it even particularly novel for a politician who came from a world where objectivity and nuanced analysis are professional liabilities. However Price’s argument against legally regulated cannabis went a step further into the land of absurdity when she began citing the legal issues of Belmont Natural Care, a now defunct dispensary that operated in her district before she assumed office. Both in public and in private conversations with stakeholders (including in a lobbying meeting with me), Price and her office have shaped a narrative that describes that business at the symbol of everything that was wrong about the quasi-legal world of medical cannabis dispensaries.

Belmont Natural Care (BNC) was a disgrace, and by all accounts it’s owner John Walker and his lawyer, Richard Brizendine, were justifiably prosecuted for failing to abide by either any of the existing state regulations regarding cannabis or federal guidelines for proper banking. However what makes Price’s continued use of BNC in her argument against establishing clear local policies for medical cannabis, is the fact that her own office has a direct connection to BNC’s most notable (yet un-prosecuted) crime: bribery.

In 2012, Suzie Price’s predecessor in the third district, Gary Delong ran unsuccessfully for Congress. As part of the opposition research against Mr. Delong (which I have attached here), the Democratic Party found evidence of what they called a “possible play to play” scheme involving Delong and Brizendine. It seems that BNC’s lawyer donated close to $2000 to Mr. Delong in exchange for the Councilman’s support of favorable regulations regarding buffer zones for BNC. In fact, as the report details, this alleged exchange took place only “two days after Brizendine was accused of money laundering associated with a marijuana dispensary”.

Banking regulations like the ones that Mr. Walker went to prison for are extremely complicated and relatively easy to break even for a responsible operator. However corruption is a far clearer and perhaps even more damaging crime against the social contract. This is why it is extremely disconcerting that Mrs. Price not only failed to properly provide context for the sort of crimes she is wishing to prevent by maintaining the ban, but that she also hired the field deputy from Mr. Delong’s ethically-challenged office and promoted her to the extremely powerful position of Chief of Staff. If the allegations of bribery and improper lobbying in Delong’s office are true, it is quite possible that Price has elevated someone who had direct knowledge of these activities to a position of real influence over public policy in this city.

But the issue of Mrs. Price’s credibility does not end there. On September 30th the New York Times editorial board published an op-ed specifically calling out the unit in which Mrs. Price established her career for engaging in over 30 years of “unconstitutional abuses” regarding a secret system of using paid criminal informants that were used to help secure death penalty convictions in Orange County. The details of these illegal jailhouse convictions were never disclosed to defense attorneys, and the discovery of this system by the OC Public Defender’s Office lead to Price’s unit being kicked off the Seal Beach shooter case via an unprecedented judicial decree. Given Price’s extensive work in this unit, including one high-profile death penalty case in 2013, it is not unreasonable to think that Price either used this database or at least had knowledge of it’s existence.

Mrs. Price has established that she doesn’t like providing legal access for cannabis to because of her sincere concern that patients would somehow endanger, rather than patron, ice cream stores on 2nd Street (seriously she said this). In her defense of prohibition, a system that has cost the city millions and ruined the lives of scores of people for no good reason, she has made ambiguous claims without proper statistical data and employed racist dog-whistling terms to describe patients who use cannabis. But while Price is within her right to be hilariously wrong on a public policy issue, she does not get to assume anything resembling the moral and ethical high ground, especially when there are serious questions about her own capacity to exert these values in her own chosen professions.

[Delong]


Why Publicly Funded Athletics Matters

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This is your daily reminder that the two best tennis players in the world came from publicly funded and maintained courts in one of the most economically depressed cities in Southern California. Access to fitness equipment and the tools that someone needs to maintain their health is a basic human right, and one that is in danger in our “new normal” of nonexistent funding for infrastructure and maintenance for public property.

Along that line of thinking it’s worth noting that Suja Lowenthal, whom I’ve been extremely critical of during her time as my city counselor here in Long Beach, single handedly made sure that the new “Camp Bixby” improvements to our park became a reality. This is a huge asset to the city/residents and she deserves credit.


Even in Liberal Seattle

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Access to affordable and safe housing is arguably the most important factor in determining the levels of justice, fairness, and integration within a city. Therefore it should be of no great surprise that large swaths of ostensibly progressive residents are incredibly uncomfortable when their “right” to gentrified urban spaces is threatened by the victims of neoliberalism:

No one, including the few (mostly homeless, formerly homeless, or homeless advocates) who spoke in favor of the encampment, called the opposition “classist”–that, along with “racist,” is the third rail of Seattle’s white progressive politics–but whatever possible conclusion is there when a group of mostly upper-middle-class, mostly white, mostly homeowning residents gang up on a group of disenfranchised people sleeping on park benches or in their cars and say that they, as a class, are shiftless alcoholics and drug addicts (as if addiction was a choice) who contribute nothing to society and instigate crime and the loss of property values?

How else can we describe parents who say they don’t want their children exposed to a less-fortunate class of people, whose basic humanity is suspect because they haven’t pulled themselves up by their bootstraps into the middle-class existence so many of those wealthy homeowners received as their birthright? And what are we supposed to make of people who literally say they can’t be anti-homeless because they once took an individual homeless person into their home, just like your racist friend who says he can’t be racist because he gets along just great with the black people who serve him?

I’ve noticed many of the same themes here in Long Beach from residents and their pusillanimous representatives in city government. Something about residents associations seems to attract white liberals that are fine advocating for policies that are analogous to ethnic cleansing, all while wearing Obama t-shirts.


Great News About The Clap

Publicly subsidized STI testing will soon be available to Long Beach residents (thanks in part to a Catholic Hospital of all things).

Maybe we should give some money to the Health Department so we can address treatment as well…..

 


Super Blows

We already knew that the ownership society in Los Angeles county is totally on board blowing an unfathomable amount of public money and spending an indeterminate number of years getting played by the NFL just to keep the possibility of a new local football stadium alive. However it seems that the NFL itself is also keen on making Los Angeles football happen regardless of the clusterfuck that it causes its own organization in the process:

If the Chargers and Raiders move to a shared stadium in Los Angeles—as currently appears to be the most likely outcome—the NFL will probably not want them continuing to share a division. That’s absolutely no problem, with both teams telling the league they’re willing to be moved if necessary.

“The teams have made clear to the league and NFL owners that “you send us to LA and you’ll make the decision as to who plays in what conference or division,” Policy told reporters after detailing stadium plans for business leaders and a sports group at an event in downtown Los Angeles.”

All this in order to expand into a market where NFL allegiances are already more or less set, and where a thriving soccer team is steadily becoming a true local favorite. Never mind the the huge swaths of Angelenos who will never be able to afford football tickets or those who grew up watching other sports (again mainly soccer) in their native countries. But despite the insanity of engaging the NFL in this deal, civil leaders seem intent on making this travesty a reality.


Five Proposals Local Activists Should Pursue To End Police Misconduct And Militarization After Ferguson

Darren Wilson's "Fractured Orbital Socket"

Darren Wilson’s “Fractured Orbital Socket”

In 1992 I was a small child watching cartoons when Dan Rather suddenly interrupted to alert the country to the riots in LA. At the time I understandably had no concept about what was going on (I was living in Alabama), nor did I have an ability to comprehend what may have caused the uprising. However even then I felt that the response wasn’t entirely irrational. Today we look over the devastation “caused” by people who supposedly lack the moral clarity to “remain civil” in the face of a system that continues to give a full legal endorsement to killings motivated  by white supremacy. Thus it is time to undeniably and defiantly assert that our political and judicial systems remain throughly infested with the virus of racism. However at the same time, recognizing the reality of this problem is an incomplete political awakening. If we truly do not want Michael Brown to have died in vain, it is time to forcefully push for a dramatic re-envisioning of what we desire our Police Departments to look and act like in the years ahead.

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I used to work in the legislative department with the City of Long Beach, a “majority minority” locale with a political system that is structurally biased in favor of the whiter, higher-income suburbs. As a result of this arrangement (and an insanely powerful Police Union), public safety costs continue to fluctuate anywhere between 50 to 75 percent of the annual budget. This figure also does NOT include special allocations for extra (many times federally subsidized) appropriations for materials that the City Council more or less rubber stamps whenever they are put forth for a vote. Whenever this problem of the metastasizing Police budget comes up, labor groups largely defend the costs, as they are cognizant of the politically tenuous place that all public sector workers face in our Prop 13 strapped city. Meanwhile despite or perhaps because of record low crime rates (which I personally believe are achieved via the tried and true practice of “juking” the stats), the white suburbs of Long Beach are more than content with retaining our garrison state at the expense of any other form of community investment.

What I have described above is not in anyway a unique political reality. In fact across the US despite massive cuts to the public sector as a whole, the Police and other “first responders” retain a special ability to grow and solidify their place as the supreme concern for municipal constituencies. In fact in some places, including Ferguson, the Police are helping to assist cash-strapped local governments in collecting revenue through what are essentially regressive forms of taxation against people with no real means to properly defend themselves against this obvious form of discriminatory theft. Additionally with people of color losing their influence as a political block thanks to voter suppression, corruption amongst their local representatives, felony voting rights laws, and gerrymandered districts (etc), there is little hope for the ballot box to act as the ultimate solution to this problem.

You can see the problem of political regulatory capture locally in Long Beach. For example 9th District (and LBPOA endorsed) Councilman Rex Richardson can write & receive praise for a stirring letter relating his own experiences to Michael Brown, that never once mentions the role that the police had in Brown’s death, nor did Richardson offer any substantive reforms to our own very flawed Police Department. Yet that same councilman probably represents the best hope that activists have towards engendering some change for police policies.

So what do we do? Well being an eternal optimist I do see a few major sources for statutory reform to the police that can also function as very good points for political organizing. None of these proposals will end “steroidal over policing” overnight, but I think that effective and well financed campaigns in support of these goals could advance the overall agenda of disarmament, and a re-balancing of community interests over those of the Police Industrial Complex.

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1. Local Hire Provisions For Police Officers

Essentially a law like this would require that police officers who are employed by a particular locality must also be full-time residents of that same place. In a perfect world I would require that Police Officers patrol the same neighborhoods where they live, but as local hire requirements are only tenuously constitutional I’ll settle for a civil service reform that upends the current idiotic system where Police Officers enter a city each day as essentially an occupying force. Bridging the gap between the community and its sworn protectors requires instilling a congenial familiarity that the present tactics of “cruise around in your patrol car until something happens” inherently avoids.

2. Independent And Empowered Civilian Police Review Boards

An elected official whom I used to work with once gave this assessment of Long Beach’s beleaguered citizen review board; “it is toothless and useless”. In my city the Police Department and City Manager cynically use the CPCC process, which according to the City Charter itself has no real punitive power over the cases it examines, to essentially whitewash any investigation into Police misconduct. Every local police authority must have a separate, independently appointed and overseen entity, with actual demonstrative and statutorily defined ways of punishing officers who are found to have abused their power or acted negligently in the field. If Michael Brown’s death has shown us anything it is that the current judicial system makes it next to impossible to even obtain an indictment for an officer because of the way in which the district attorney office and police department rely on each other to work.

3. Statutory Caps On Police Armaments

I saw a tweet (but sadly didn’t screenshot it) from Long Beach Councilman Roberto Uranga in August that expressed some concern over “police militarization”. Frankly I don’t know why every politician in the country, regardless of their ethnic or political background, isn’t jumping on this growing resentment over the Police and their toys. If you are a public cost-cutting   Republican or a Progressive Socialist mad at decreased resources to the poor this is an easy issue to address. Black, brown, and white folks all have their own reasons for getting uncomfortable when we start seeing tanks rolling around in our neighborhoods. That said there is a powerful economic lobby behind this arms race, and the insidious way in which these expenses creep into local budgets rely on continued fear and/or complacency amongst average voters.

So if we are to reverse this trend we need to re-imagine what purpose our Police Departments serve. Are the Police essentially the local military wing of the state, serving the interests of whomever is in charge at the time with some varying degree of restraints depending on the circumstances? That description of our current reality might make people feel uncomfortable to acknowledge, but to blindly assert that people dressed for fighting ISIS exist to “protect and serve” is patently absurd.

Instead let’s take a cue from Firefighters, entities with a shared purpose that has radically changed from their original mission (fighting fires), to a more general raison d’être of responding to medical emergencies. Perhaps our we can require our Police to think less of their job revolving around their weapon, and focus more on their secondary role of being the first responders to incidents of domestic violence, the overuse of drugs and alcohol, and quality of life crimes. Police who see their jobs as “social workers with a badge” are far less likely to kill unarmed civilians, and we can engender this sort of conceptualization for their job ONLY IF their is a political will to do so.

4. Citizen Participation In City Attorney Races

The City of Long Beach has paid millions of dollars to families whom our Police Department improperly killed in the line of duty. We could have paid far less money, but our City Attorney (possibly at the behest of the LBPOA who endorsed him for re-election) decided to litigate instead of settling and admitting liability. And despite a record amount of money spent on this race in 2014, not that many people really seemed to care about who filled this incredibly important position. The result of this complacency should serve as a reminder that community activists, especially those who seek to influence public policy at the local level, of the need to bring a broad awareness of ALL positions of power to the voters in every cycle.

5. Body Cameras

This is the short-term, but potentially very powerful policy solution to this problem of officer-involved violence. Body cameras can be expensive and there is a legitimate privacy concern about creating yet another facet of our surveillance state, but like the effort to tape all police interrogations I can’t see a particularly powerful argument against using technology to force a new degree of openness and transparency between the police and the people they serve. Additionally the Police themselves are protected by these cameras when their actions are being unfairly misconstrued by an understandably upset criminal, and given the free-wheeling way in which Police Departments accept public money for new toys it could be relatively easy to make receiving more funds for men and materials conditional on adopting these devices at large.

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These five proposals are just a sample of the major reforms that are necessary at the local level to prevent another tragic altercation like those between the Police and Mike Brown or Douglas Zerby. None of these proposals will immediately undo the “occupation” mindset of our Police, or stem the racially based fear that allows the political system to uphold this sort of violence against people of color. However with effective, well financed campaigns that address specific fixes like these, we can start the long overdue process of deescalating this war on the poor that has claimed way too many people in the last few years.

On the other hand If we are unwilling to pursue this new course of action, the alternative is to become comfortable with “Fergesons” occurring with an increased regularity and tenacity.


In Which The LB Post Lauds Sunny Zia For Not Knowing How To Do Her Job

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Amongst the various governmental institutions in the City of Long Beach there is a commonly understood problem with transparency. Former City Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske made “Open Long Beach” the central tenant of her time in public service, as has perennial nutbag Bill Pearl of LB Report. Since re-locating to Long Beach, former LAPD Deputy Chief Steve Downing has carried on an incredibly important effort to force some accountability within our local police force through public records request. And most recently the city worker’s union, IAM 947, won a huge multi-million dollar victory against the City for unilaterally imposing a furlough (without proper negotiations or disclosures) in 2009.

Given this obvious problem with our public sector telling the complete truth to non-governmental stakeholders, you would think that our local news services would be all over this issue with the precision and tenacity of the post-Watergate press corps. Unfortunately you would be horribly mistaken in this assumption:

Last night—for the fourth month in a row—Long Beach City College (LBCC) Trustee Sunny Zia put forth a motion: to have a breakdown of all the expenditures that the board is approving.

Oh my is the LBCC board trying to pull a fast one on the public by hiding spending allocations? Umm not exactly…

Under LBCC’s Board of Trustees’ bylaws, purchase orders that are under $25K do not need to be itemized or elaborated upon; instead, they are grouped together and approved as a single line item. Zia’s issue is the fact that every month, these small purchase orders account for the vast majority of LBCC’s expenditures.

Of this month’s $1.9M in expenditures—which the Board approved last night, with Zia abstaining—$1.6M were unitemized purchase orders—about 80% of the expenditures for the month.

“None of this is itemized,” Zia said at the meeting. “For the past four months, I’ve been asking for this information and these appropriations are being spent. This is something that nobody on this board knows what they are, who this money goes to, what the sources of funds are and what items are being approved. I’ve abstained from voting on it because, frankly put, I need to know what I’m approving. Again, I’ve repeatedly asked for this information and for some reason, it is being kept from us.”

Removing the subtext of this entire article (which is: “Sunny Zia positions herself as a reformer in the hopes of running for city council soon”), the real issue here is that Ms. Zia doesn’t truly understand her position as a part-time trustee.

Simply put, a college trustee at any level is specifically NOT supposed to be making decisions regarding the individual appropriations of how much an institution spends on mechanical pencils or what not. Those sorts of minor judgements are delegated to the management and bureaucracy. This division of power is based on the accepted public interest in having our trustees devoted mainly to making determinations regarding the macro-economic issues and mission of the college. We do NOT want trustees wasting their time on becoming part-time micromanagers. If this sort of limited responsibility doesn’t suite Ms. Zia, she should have sought a different position before deciding to run last year.

Making matters worse in this clusterfuck of a story is the LB Post’s apparent (continued) comfort in re-printing press releases from the people they cover without much in the way of objective critical analysis. Where are the rather obvious questions regarding Zia’s reasons for pursing this particular issue? Where is Zia’s specific evidence of wrongdoing by the board?

To be fair the author did print this quote from Board Chair Jeff Kellogg:

“I gotta tell you, Trustee Zia, when you make an allegation toward me personally as a member of this board in conducting in unethical behavior, I take that very seriously,” Kellogg said. “I am insulted by that kind of comment […]. It is the policy of this board [to not itemize purchase orders under $25K]; it is how we do things. You have said you wanted to do this repeatedly and no other member of the board agrees with you. I gotta tell you, to make allegations of unethical behavior against this board is unfounded, it is inappropriate, and it is absolutely insulting […].”

This should have been the main point of the article. Zia is accusing her colleagues of unethical behavior in an incredibly reckless fashion. She has taken no time to understand either the purpose of her job or the mechanisms available to her to position, and she’s doing seemingly for personal political gain. It would be nice if our local press corps highlighted this obvious fact.