Mayoral Candidates Speak at Long Beach Faith Community Forum

LA Voice and the Unitarian Universal Church of Long Beach held a mayoral candidate forum on Sunday in which community members were allowed to ask candidates Suzie Price and Rex Richardson questions to hear their responses and solutions.

The four main topics that the candidates addressed were climate change and environmental justice, homelessness, affordable housing, and income security. Both of them had two-minute time frames to speak on how they’d handle the problems or fund certain programs.

 Reverend Lissa Gundlach and Pastor Cedric Nelms were the moderators who kept everything flowing.

The opening of the forum began with a prayer led by Nelms as well as a Puvunga land acknowledgment from Jose Osuna and Herminio Zuniga which featured a tobacco offering to the land and a song. LA Voice is a multi-racial, multi-faith community group that allows people to have their own voice for and about the community.

The issue of climate change was brought forth by Annie Buchanon and her grandson Liam Stewart who are members of the Unitarian Universal Church of Long Beach. They said the four biggest climate stressors for LB were air quality, sea level rises and flooding, drought and extreme heat.

“The effects of climate change are being seen much sooner than we had anticipated when we started the research for the CAP (Community Action Partnership). But in terms of the short-term goals for extreme heat I think they are very doable and they are financially feasible,” said Price. “Things like creating more open space so we can have urban forests with tree canopies, more cooling centers available for people to seek refuge, and making sure that our public transit system is more robust and active and have air conditioning are critical.” 

Her other focus is reevaluating the zoning of the city in order to help create more of these open tree locations throughout LB. She said she has a history of doing this with the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority and created the southeast area-specific plan in which commercial and residential areas were turned into open-space locations.

“We’re right now exploring what it would take and cost to build a pool in North LB and a part of it is because we have kids in North LB and they will jump a fence when it’s hot. And sometimes when they jump a fence to go swimming in a private pool, the police are called. And that would escalate a situation into a whole different circumstance,” said Richardson. He spoke on some of the funding it would take for these additions to take place and said that it starts with the community coming together for the same causes.

Homelessness and affordable housing were two of the other issues brought up by Reverend Jane Gould and James Love. Richardson said that more comprehensive thinking is needed throughout the city. He said he and his colleagues such as Suzie Price stepped up and made sure that project room key and other community assistance programs like that throughout the city. His HOPE plan stands for Housing, Outreach, and Opportunities, Pathways, and Expanding mental health services.

Price was talking a little more about the outreach and expanding the services of certain centers throughout the city. She said robust and consistent street outreach is needed to make organizations work to help solve homelessness. Her biggest idea was decentralizing homeless outreach because some of the council members have even taken matters into their own hands when it comes to homelessness in certain districts.

Reverend Gerald Johnson of The Greater Harvest Church of God in Christ brought up income security and how it has an impact on minority communities. He brought up the possibility of an income program in LB for households earning less than $75,000.

“As much as I’d like to say yes we are going to continue that program. I can’t make that commitment today because we have a $25 million deficit in our general fund which is going to grow to $40 million next year. And I don’t know yet if that’s going to be one of the sources of priorities of the city as a council as to where we want to allocate general fund dollars,” said Price. She said she wants to get the data back first and then be able to possibly have a matching grant to try and do what they can for the community. 

“We have to place an equity lens on how we make budget decisions and how we deal with programs around economic development. All the equity lens is doing is acknowledging that we’re closing gaps instead of widening those gaps,” said Richardson. He was saying that the income programs weren’t going to be something the city funds forever but more of something like a pilot to see what works for helping people.

Both candidates ended with closing statements and said that although they may seem like they have similar stances on certain issues, they have completely different ways of handling them.

By Andrew Ayala