At their Tuesday, March 2 meeting, the Long Beach City Council discussed library access, a return to in-person meetings, a new Latino cultural district, grant proposals for park visioning plans and recent harassment allegations against the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
Council moves to improve access to libraries
Long Beach’s libraries aren’t up to snuff. A recent audit revealed major barriers in access and equity in the City’s library, including a lack of Spanish-language materials, adaptive technology for persons with disabilities and fines that disproportionately impact low-income communities of color.
In response to the audit, the Long Beach City Council moved to address six key areas for improvement at their Tuesday, March 2 meeting.
There are many barriers to adequately serve Long Beach’s diverse populations. In addition to funding constraints that existed before the pandemic, Long Beach residents rely on libraries for a number of services beyond the scope of checking out materials.
- Spanish-speaking residents will find few offerings at their public libraries. Though over 40% of Long Beach’s population is Latinx, 95% of library materials and 97% of programming is offered in English.
- Persons with disabilities also lack access to libraries. Only two of the 12 libraries offer adaptive technology for persons with disabilities.
- Library hours don’t align with preferences of the community. Closures on Sundays and Mondays, as well as traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours, create barriers to accessing library resources.
- Library fines, which are more likely to be a financial burden on low-income families, could impact their ability to use library resources meant to be accessible to all patrons. The city manager was requested to look into a fine-free model.
- Libraries should promote their services using multilingual communications.
- The Library should create a data collection service to track program usage and user feedback.
The city manager will have 90 days to report back on the additional resources needed to implement these changes.
Council meetings to have live video, no plan to return to in-person
After a year of faceless council meetings, the Long Beach City Council is expected to transition to live video calls in the coming weeks.
Given the risks of returning to in-person, especially for unvaccinated City support staff and department directors, the council will not move forward with planning an in-person return to the council chambers.
City Manager Tom Modica said that, if the downward trend in case numbers continues, the city could reach the threshold to resume in-person meetings in a few weeks, which are allowed under the red tier of California’s reopening plan.
After the county reaches seven cases per 100,000 residents, Modica said it would still take two weeks to implement a plan to resume meetings. The City must also meet and confer with unions before implementing such a plan.
City Clerk Monique De La Garza, said that live video council meetings could begin as early as next week, depending on how long it takes to ensure that all councilmembers have access to sufficient internet speeds and equipment. The meetings are planned to take place over Webex.
City to study feasibility of Latino cultural district
Long Beach will look into the feasibility of creating a Latino cultural district in the city similar to the El Mercado de Long Beach proposal supported by the nonprofit Centro CHA.
“This is not new. This hasn’t been discussed overnight,” Executive Director of Centro CHA Jessica Quintana said. “This initiative has been well over 25 years in our community.”
The cultural district would be the first of its kind in the city. Long Beach’s Latino community makes up over 40% of the city’s population.
“The project has equity at its core,” Centro CHA board member David Salazar said. “The creation of ‘place’ is critical at this moment in establishing a center, a hub for Long Beach Latino communities to call home. But it will also serve as a regional economic generator offering residents, visitors and tourists an authentic cultural experience.”
Councilmember Mary Zendejas said the district would not be limited to restaurants, grocery stores, commercial housing and entertainment, but also be home to social services for city residents.
Talks of a Latino cultural district have taken place since the ‘80s, but Councilmember Roberto Uranga said the “stars were not aligned” at that time.
“[Now], we have the right people in the right places,” Uranga said. “[This project is] coming full circle for me.”
Council to draft resolution of support for Metropolitan Water District employees who faced workplace harassment
The council unanimously voted to draft a resolution in support of women, LBGTQIA+ and other employees who have filed complaints of harassment by various employees of the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California.
Gina Chavez, a pump plant mechanic that came forward in the Los Angeles Times article, urged the council to approve the recommendation.
“A state audit is the only way to provide justice for workers like me to ensure this type of abuse never happens again,” Chavez said.
Many are calling for an independent audit by the State’s joint legislative audit committee to investigate the complaints. The council’s resolution will also voice support for the independent audit.
“We stand in support of their asks and their passion for having a fair process in which to voice their story and be able to have some spotlight on what they experienced,” Councilmember Suzie Price said. “And hope that that objective overview will result in a positive impact for these individuals as well as for the organization.”
City submits grant proposal for MacArthur Park and Drake Chavez Park vision plans
The council authorized the city manager to submit a grant application that would fund the first stages of the Drake Chavez Vision Plan Implementation Project and the MacArthur Park Vision Plan Implementation Project.
The grant from the California Department of Parks and Recreation would provide up to $17 million for the vision plans, of which $8.5 million would be allocated to each vision plan.
Parks Recreation and Marine Director Brent Dennis said that the funds would allow the City to add a number of amenities to the parks. The Drake Chavez Park vision plan includes fitness equipment, improved sports courts, landscaping and community gardens. The MacArthur Park vision plan includes expanded playgrounds and walking trails, among other amenities.
Sixth District resident Melissa Williams said that MacArthur Park was in “dire disrepair” though it continues to be the site of important cultural and neighborhood events.
“I really look forward to working with our partners on the ground,” Councilmember Suely Saro, who lives near the park, said. “As well as our city staff to look for funding so that we can make improvements and really improve the quality of life in the area.”
The next city council meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 9 at 5 p.m.