LB City Council rejects $298-million housing-bond ballot measure

Steve Be Cotte, Long Beach Homeless Coalition President, stands with supporters of a proposed bond initiative before the city council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 7. Be Cotte was a speaker at the rally.

After a long and rousing debate Tuesday night, the Long Beach City Council voted 5-4 against a resolution moving toward adding a $298-million housing-bond measure to the November 2020 ballot.

Spearheaded by 9th District Councilmember Rex Richardson, the bond measure that he said was three years in the making would have funded affordable workforce-housing, shelters, homeless-service facilities and motel conversions, all designed to reduce homelessness.

The rejected resolution also directed the City manager to report to the council within 90 days on the city’s affordable-housing needs, a strategy to address homelessness and an estimate of the number of units that could be created with the bond revenue, so that the council could then vote on adding the measure to the November ballot.

“It’s a vote to advance the conversation beyond studies and provide the public and the city council the language and the facts to take action within the next 90 days,” Richardson said in introducing the resolution.

If the measure had gone forward, residents would have voted in November on whether or not to increase property taxes by $25 for every $100,000 of assessed value to fund the measure. With a median assessment of $346,000 for single-family homes in Long Beach in 2019, that tax amounts to $86 per home per year, Richardson said.

“That is $7 a month for every single-family residence,” he said. “Less than your Netflix bill, less than your Disney+ bill.”

Despite an outpouring of public support for the ordinance at the meeting– with many holding placards reading “Are You In?” and chanting “Let us vote”– the council decided against offering voters that chance.

The bond proposal was part of an “ongoing conversation” addressing homelessness, beginning with a 2016 Affordable and Workforce Housing Study, Richardson said.

The planned 125-bed Atlantic Avenue Bridge homeless facility in North Long Beach still leaves a 375-bed gap, Richardson said. He also cited the need for 800 interim housing units and 2,000 low-income units that would cost $217 million.

“It’s clear that we know the issues we’re facing,” Richardson said. “We know which solutions will help address the problem. The funding in tonight’s proposal is adequate to help us meet the needs and close the gap.”

Of the dozens of members of the public who commented on the proposed resolution, most spoke passionately in support of moving forward with the bond to alleviate the plight of homeless people, but a few said that the measure would be limited. The council had also received written statements from residents objecting to a tax.

Resident Matthew Taylor spoke against moving forward with the proposed bond measure because it didn’t address substance-abuse and mental-health issues within the homeless community.

“This catchall proposal would spend $300 million and increase the bureaucracy […] without providing any services to address root causes of much homelessness,” he said.

Jordan Wynne, one of the members of the “Everyone In campaign” that had distributed the placards, said that social and medical services in supportive housing costs half as much as when administered on the street and cited a 96% success rate of the two-year old Century Villages at Cabrillo veteran-housing facility.

“Long Beach is ready to end homelessness,” he said. “The voters are here and they are ready.”

Councilmembers Mary Zendejas of the 1st District, Roberto Uranga of the 7th and Jeannine Pearce of the 2nd expressed support for the resolution.

“We have not once put any money significant enough into building housing,” Pearce said. “Homelessness is the one issue where the answer to the problem is in the name.”

However, other councilmembers objected to the resolution. 3rd-District Councilmember Suzie Price expressed concern at using property taxes to generate funds for housing and said the bond is limited because it cannot be used for services and programs addressing the non-economic root causes of homelessness.

“I do not believe a housing bond alone can solve the issue of homelessness,” she said.

Price proposed a substitute motion that city staff research state and federal funding sources to mitigate the city’s housing needs before resorting to taxing property owners.

Councilmember Daryl Supernaw seconded her motion, noting that his 4th-District constituents overwhelmingly opposed the tax.

Councilmember Al Austin also suggested looking at other revenue sources, saying that residents in his 8th District already feel overburdened with the seven additional taxes imposed over the past four years.

Councilmember Stacy Mungo suggested simply receiving-and-filing the resolution, noting that $150 for seniors in her 5th District represents 17% of their fixed incomes.

Richardson acknowledged the majority lack of support for the resolution and put forward a substitute motion to move forward with the part of the resolution asking for staff research. There was some discussion that this was essentially the same as Price’s substitute motion.

Put to the vote, the original resolution failed, with all but Richardson, Pearce, Uranga and Zendejas voting against.

The council then approved Price’s substitute motion with a 5-4 vote, with the same members voting in reverse.

Acting City Manager Tom Modica said staff would likely complete that research within 120 days rather than 90. Richardson expressed a positive outlook even when it seemed like the resolution would not pass.

“Hope is not lost,” he said. “We will work together.”


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