Perspective / Opinion

Amid Neighborhood Uprising Over Neighborhood Crime, Councilwoman Price Agendizes Item Re "Comprehensive Strategy" To Address Homelessness/Quality of Life Issues...With No Commitment To Restore Police Or Park Rangers For Taxpayers In FY18

See City Mgm't memo quietly sent to Mayor and all Councilmembers in March re "State of Homelessness In Long Beach" is reader and advertiser supported. Support independent news in LB similar to the way people support NPR and PBS stations. We're not non-profit so it's not tax deductible but $49.95 (less than an annual dollar a week) helps keep us online.
(May 20, 2017. 6:50 p.m.) -- A little over three years ago, then-candidate Suzie Price cited her background as an OC prosecutor to win election to the LB City Council, pledging to prioritize quality of life and public safety. Today, incumbent Councilmember Price, seeking re-election in April 2018, faces an uprising by (at last count) over 1,260 of her constituents and others nearby who've signed an online petition at this link Titled "The homeless, mentally ill, transient, drug addicted and petty thieves inundating our neighborhood." The petitioning residents say:

[Scroll down for further.]

We, the tax paying, voting citizens of Belmont Shore, Alamitos Heights, Naples, Belmont Heights, The Peninsula, Park Estates and surroundings are compassionate, caring people. We give of our time and money to help those down on their luck or struggling with mental health or addiction issues. However, we feel that our kindness has been mistaken for weakness. We feel threatened in our own neighborhoods now. Neighbors complain that they can't go to the parks, joggers take pepper spray with them, businesses are robbed, our garages are ransacked, our belongings are stolen, our cars are broken into. We are on high alert and are unable to enjoy our own neighborhood because we feel it has been taken over. .We are sensitive to the politics of the situation but think that the bad guys know that the police have tied hands. We are sitting ducks. We feel that the Mayor and Chief of Police, along with our elected officials, don't care or don't know what to do. .We are sick of having community forums on the topic. We are sick of meetings that produce a lot of wishy washy rhetoric. Please help us get tougher. It feels like we are being invaded and when we complain, we are told we're insensitive as if we're supposed to cower in fear, clutching our possessions, scared to leave the house rather than say we're sick of it. Mayor, Chief, we're SICK of it...

They're not alone. On Sept. 7, 2016, roughly 100-150 ELB Plaza-area and El Dorado Park South neighborhood residents held a public meeting on a neighborhood street to demand action. ( coverage, here.) About the same time, downtown residents and businesses became vocal over vagrants urinating, defecating and engaging in anti-social nuisance activities. On Sept. 12, 2016 Mayor Garcia issued a press release announcing plans for a Council "study session" on homelessness...but when that happened on October 4, it didn't seriously address (big surprise) public safety and neighborhood crime but did earn the Mayor plaudits from various homeless advocacy groups.

For other LB residents similarly fed up, an item agendized for the May 23, 2017 City Council meeting by Councilwoman Price (joined by Councilmembers Austin and Andrews, safely reelected last year) may disappoint but also motivate residents to say and do things that are due and overdue for saying and doing.

The Price-Austin-Andrews agenda item, titled "Need for Comprehensive Strategy Identifying Opportunities to Address Homelessness and Community Quality of Life Concerns," proposes to do nearly nothing. Prove it yourself. Read its six page agendizing memo which mainly asks management to tell the public about 120 days from now what management is doing now, which has proven inadequate.

Regarding police officers to deal with vagrant/transient attributable crimes and nuisances, the Councilmembers' memo asks non-elected city management to tell elected Councilmembers, in effect, how many "quality of life" police officers the City should provide and when. It seeks "An analysis of the staffing and financial resources that would be needed for the Quality of Life teams to sufficiently address their delineated goals and responsibilities consistently throughout the city" and an "estimate of the time it would take to have sufficient trained and qualified staffing resources for the competent performance of the Quality of Life function."

But Councilmembers are supposed to tell management how many police officers to budget for taxpayers, not the other way around.

And the Price-Austin-Andrews May 23 agenda item doesn't disclose what all Councilmembers and the Mayor were told over two months ago. On March 9, 2017, LB's Director of Health and Human Services, Kelly Callopy, sent a memo titled "State of Homelessness in Long Beach" to City Manager Pat West for all Councilmembers and the Mayor. She cc'd it to (among others) LB's City Prosecutor, City Auditor, Chief of Police and Parks & Rec Director who also haven't breathed a word of it publicly. To our knowledge, is the only LB outlet to report it and publish it here. In a key section, it states:

[Text from March 9, 2017 memo to Mayor/Councilmembers, pp. 5-6]

...The Police Department has operated a Quality of Life (QOL) team over the past several years. This team was created by re-allocating patrol officers responsible for 911-response and has been funded by the use of the City's General Fund. Historically, the QOL team was made up of two officers and a Department of Mental Health Clinician. Due to recent staffing shortages, one of the two officers previously assigned to this team was reassigned back to general Patrol Duties. As of February 14, 2017, there is one police officer and one Clinician dedicated to QOL outreach efforts and one Police Resource Officer.

The QOL team provides outreach services to persons experiencing homelessness in partnership with the Outreach Network that proactively coordinates outreach efforts throughout the City....

In addition to the QOL team, the Police Department operates Mental Evaluation Teams (MET), comprise of six police officers who are paired with clinicians from the County Department of Mental Health. Working in pairs, these teams respond to calls for service where mental illness may be a factor and, therefore, have considerable crossover with calls for service where individuals experiencing homelessness need assistance...

Instead of candidly disclosing this, the Price-Austin-Andrews May 23 agenda item doesn't mention it and disingenuously asks city management to provide in 120 days:

(a) Data on the effectiveness of the current Quality of Life officers including; the number of current officers in this position} their duties} the number of contacts they make on a typical workday and information regarding placement of homeless individual in city sponsored services or programs.
(b) An analysis of the staffing and financial resources that would be needed for the Quality of Life teams to sufficiently address their delineated goals and responsibilities consistently throughout the city.
(c) An estimate of the time it would take to have sufficient trained and qualified staffing resources for the competent performance of the Quality of Life function.
(d) An overview of common law enforcement responses to quality of life issues and the related ordinance or penal code violations. This summary should include an overview of the legal law enforcement options and common methods of addressing violations. An overview of why one method might be selected over another should be included in this analysis.
(e) A summary of useful policing tools and tactics that have resulted in homeless people accepting and being placed into long-term services.

Councilmembers Price, Austin, Andrews or any of their colleagues could ask management to answer those questions on Tuesday. The 120 day delay is meant to ensure management's "report" doesn't surface until after the FY18 budget is already prepared for management/Mayor release with likely enactment with only a few tweaks. It's up to riled residents whether they'll let Council incumbents get away with this...with 191 officers remaining unrestored to deal with gangs, shootings, violent crimes, residential burglaries and homeless-related crimes. Some taxpayers might also want Councilmembers to restore Long Beach Park Rangers, which City Hall also previously provided and no long does; they might be very useful in dealing with homeless issues.

LB consumers are now paying over $45 million dollars a year more each year that City Hall is collecting from the Measure A "blank check" sales tax increase that LB's Mayor and Council marketed to voters in large part as a public safety measure.

But in terms of quality of life, the Price-Austin-Andrews memo relegates to a "perception" by many residents that the issue is one of enforcement. It effectively belittles this "perception," declaring that "the reality is that enforcement of existing laws is only one aspect of the issue" and continues: "[O]thers would argue this is a Health Department issue, which is also insufficient, as the topic includes issues well beyond only Health Department programs and services. As is also the case with it being related to housing, economics, mental health, and other areas. The truth is they are all right as this is a complex multidimensional issue spanning national trends, societal shifts, cultural ideology, state law, education, and countless other topics."

It concludes: "[F]ocused and creative solutions for those experiencing homelessness or threatened with homelessness must be addressed in addition to the quality of life issues that residents experience every day should be included in the strategy and analysis. Thus, the spirit of this item is to engage in a holistic approach to the issue of homelessness and residential quality of life."

In our view, one can't credibly claim to support a "holistic" approach to homelessness, public safety and quality of life while shortchanging the public on public safety. LB residents and businesses currently endure a thin blue line so thin that to experience LB's per capita citywide deployable police level, L.A. would have to erase roughly 30% of LAPD's budgeted officers. (If L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed this, he'd soon be flipping burgers at "Tommy's," if he was lucky.)

Former 5th district LB Councilman (1988-1998) Les Robbins once remarked during a Council budget discussion: "There are very few serious problems in the City of Long Beach that aren't in some way related to public safety." He was (as we used to say back in the day) "right on."

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