City of Long Beach Announces Innovation Team Members

Mayor Robert Garcia announced today that Long Beach has hired its first Innovation Team (i-team), funded by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, to design and implement solutions that improve the lives of residents. The i-team, led by Mayor Garcia and City Manager Pat West, will function as an in-house research and development unit, moving from one city priority to the next. The i-team will focus first on economic development, advising the City on how best to stimulate growth, create jobs, and leverage City resources, including through online delivery of City services.

“The City of Long Beach is focused on innovative economic development for the 21st Century,” said Mayor Garcia. “We are honored and grateful to Michael Bloomberg and his team at Bloomberg Philanthropies for providing the resources to put this amazing team together.”

The i-team will also help the City develop and implement solutions to improve City services, enhance civic engagement, and improve neighborhoods and business districts, among other efforts.

Implementing Bloomberg Philanthropies’ tested Innovation Delivery approach and its interdisciplinary skill set, the i-team will use a data-driven process to assess problems, generate solutions, and deliver measurable results.

The City of Long Beach will receive $3 million over three years from Bloomberg Philanthropies. The new i-team includes Innovation Team Director John Keisler; Innovation Deputy Ryan Murray; Researcher Holly Okonkwo; Programmer Alex Chavez; Innovation Fellows Alma Castro, Eric Romero and Heidi Wiersma; and Designmatters Fellow Chase Airmet. Below is a summary of the i-team members’ backgrounds, with expertise that ranges from anthropology to industrial design.

Long Beach was one of more than 90 cities invited to apply for this grant in August 2014. Mayor Garcia announced at his State of the City address that the i-team would be a key component of his economic development strategy and would better connect residents to City services through technology.

In addition to the grants, cities receive robust implementation support from Bloomberg Philanthropies and opportunities to exchange lessons learned and best practices with peers in other cities. Innovation team grants will also go to the U.S. cities of Albuquerque, NM; Boston, MA; Centennial, CO; Jersey City, NJ; Los Angeles, CA; Mobile, AL; Minneapolis, MN; Peoria, IL; Rochester, NY; Seattle, WA; and Syracuse, NY; and two international cities: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel.

The innovation team grants are the second round made through Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Government Innovation portfolio, which focuses on promoting public sector innovation. The first round of grants were made to the cities of Atlanta, Chicago, Louisville, Memphis, and New Orleans. Successes include reducing retail vacancies in Memphis, minimizing unnecessary ambulance trips to the emergency room in Louisville, cutting licensing time for new restaurants in Chicago, reducing homelessness in Atlanta, and reducing the murder rate in New Orleans.

i-team Backgrounds

John Keisler, Innovation Team Director: After completing Bachelor Degrees in Philosophy and Religion at St. Olaf College, Mr. Keisler joined Teach For America, teaching middle school English and civics in Newark, NJ. To address the chronic community challenges facing his students, he turned to a career in city management, working with the League of California Cities and completing his Master of Public Administration at the USC Price School of Public Policy.  In 2005, Mr. Keisler was hired as a Management Assistant by the City of Long Beach, and rotated through four departments. Over the next few years, he led multiple change-management projects throughout the City, serving as the Animal Care Services Bureau Manager, Business Operations Manager for the Parks, Recreation & Marine Department, and CFO for the Police Department.  He has lived in Long Beach for the past 12 years.

Ryan Murray, Innovation Deputy: Mr. Murray worked in government and nonprofit settings in New York City for more than fifteen years, after moving from his childhood home of Barbados. His career has focused on building partnerships to address social and economic justice issues and create opportunity for those most vulnerable. Most recently, he worked for the New York City Mayor’s Office. There he oversaw external affairs, and learning and change management for innovation initiatives designed to reduce administrative burdens faced by human services providers, and to improve residents’ access to programs and benefits. Mr. Murray has also served as a direct social service and HIV/AIDS education practitioner, community organizer, and capacity building manager for a City Agency which administered youth, workforce and community development programs.  He holds a Master’s in Public Health Degree from Hunter College, City University of New York.

Holly Okonkwo, Researcher: Ms. Okonkwo is a cultural anthropologist specializing in issues of diversity and change in the United States. Her work and research focus on the broad question of the origins of social inequity and ways to systemically better the lives of others through the use of mixed methods and developing innovative research projects. She has explored gender and class disparities in science education, labor and technological innovation in Southern California, Atlanta, Georgia, and Washington, D.C.  Ms. Okonkwo completed her Doctorate in Cultural Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside. She also has a Master’s in Education Policy, serves on the Committee for Gender Equity in Anthropology, and volunteers on a number of committees and mentorship programs in her local community.

Alex Chavez, Programmer: Mr. Chavez is a software developer who graduated locally from Cabrillo High School and California State University, Long Beach with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science in 2013. Previously, he worked as a Programmer Analyst at Kaiser Permanente solving problems in IT infrastructure and implementing innovative solutions for displaying and analyzing data.  Using a customer-centered approach, he has demonstrated the ability to work with a variety of systems and stakeholders, and to use technology to simplify complex processes. Upon realizing that his experience and skills in technology can help address community challenges, he has joined the City of Long Beach to make his hometown a more connected place.

Alma Castro, Innovation Fellow: Ms. Castro’s passion for public service has provided her with a diverse set of skills and experiences. She received her double Bachelor’s in Political Science and Women’s Studies from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her dedication to her profession led her to complete her Master’s Degree in Public Administration in 2011 from the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University. She has worked as a HIV prevention coordinator in Los Angeles, engaged young women in global advocacy at Girl Scouts of the USA, and has recently lived abroad in Guatemala. While abroad, she had the unique privilege of being an observer during the genocide trial in 2013 and was part of a consultant team at UN Women. There, she helped complete a two-part diagnostic examining the quality of care and services to victims of crimes and on gender equality within Guatemala’s prosecution offices. She currently lives in Long Beach.

Eric Romero, Innovation Fellow: Mr. Romero became passionate about studying social issues and actively engaging in local community development efforts addressing issues of poverty, housing, and immigrant integration while an undergraduate student at California State University, Long Beach.  After completing a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology, Mr. Romero pursued a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, with a focus on economic development.  Furthermore, he worked as a Project Manager for Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin, a school-wide initiative focused on preparing graduate students for careers in global governance, where he oversaw operations and program development.   He lives in Long Beach and seeks to bring innovative solutions to difficult problems.

Heidi Wiersma, Innovation Fellow: Ms. Wiersma earned her Bachelor’s in Community Health from Western Washington University before beginning her career in chronic disease prevention for a county health department. It was while co-facilitating a community health improvement process that she began to understand the influence local government policies can have on enhancing people’s lives. From May 2011 to June 2013 Heidi served as a Community Health and Development Peace Corps Volunteer in Rwanda where she helped increase program awareness by facilitating regional life skills camps for youth. In her host community, Ms. Wiersma mobilized community partners to obtain a USAID grant to address child malnutrition and its primary contributing factor, poverty, through an income generating project.  In August 2013 she began the Master of Public Administration program at the USC Price School of Public Policy. She currently lives in Long Beach.

Chase Airmet, Designmatters Fellow: Mr. Airmet completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Utah in Design Theory & Practice. While in Utah he worked as a research fellow for the Spark Health Innovation Lab, as a draftsmen for a number of architectural firms and as a junior product designer for Espiritu Design. Currently, Mr. Airmet is a graduate Industrial Design candidate at the Art Center College of Design. He has a drive and passion to create objects, services and experiences that excite and delight users. Inspired by nature and simple clean designs, he seeks to design new growth and value for companies through a trend and research based iterative design process considering all aspects of the product from the end use to the manufacturing and business opportunities.

About Bloomberg Philanthropies
Bloomberg Philanthropies’ mission is to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: Public Health, Environment, Education, Government Innovation and the Arts. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s charitable activities, including his foundation and his personal giving. In 2013, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $452 million. For more information on the philanthropy, please visit or follow us on Facebook, Instagram and