By Stephanie Raygoza
Kicking off the first of his quarterly town hall meetings last Wednesday, Seventh District Councilmember James Johnson provided residents and community leaders with updates on future city projects and renovations that are already underway in his district.
Johnson referred to the upcoming meetings as a way of discussing improvements and essentially what’s going on in the city. The town hall meetings will be conducted at family- and community-oriented events over the summer and holidays and in formal settings in the spring and fall.
“It’s a way to come together, not just when times are bad or we have an emergency, but we really need to come together on regularly intervals,” Johnson said.
Johnson opened up the meeting by sharing some the items he’s continuously working on as he approaches his second year of service as a councilmember. Creating a long-term financial plan to prevent future budget crises was at the top of the councilmember’s agenda along with focusing on pension reform.
“I’m interested in not just balancing the budget this year, but balancing the budget in a way that allows us to really pass on a better city for the next generations and years to come,” Johnson said.
He also recalled and shared with the community how a couple years back the council voted unanimously to increase pension benefits and make them retroactive indefinitely. The vote resulted in a $271-million investment that Johnson refers to as money that could’ve helped with the city’s deficit. He has since introduced a statewide bill that would focus on bringing in statewide leadership as well as city leadership.
“I think the solution is something that provides fair pension for our employees who are our number-one resource in the city, but also fair to taxpayers,” Johnson said. “We’re going to make sure that never happens again, and we’re going to move forward with productive solutions.”
Johnson also officially announced the new regional park project to be located on California Avenue and Spring Street. Tentatively named “California Gardens,” the property is currently the site of a former sports park project, on which the City ceased production because of environmental concerns that arose during construction.
“It’s an incredible opportunity. Right now, we own 55 acres of undeveloped property with the environmental documents already done,” Johnson said. “We’re going to make a regional park that is going to be the biggest park in the entire city of Long Beach. It’ll probably take decades, but if we don’t get started on it, it’ll always be decades in the future.”
The original vision for the site was a sports ballpark, however after concluding that the project would cost $55 million to level the mountainous area and in doing so would release harmful toxins into the environment, it has been transitioned into a regional park project.
“So if we keep the property in a relatively natural state and we do things like look at having hiking trails and observation points in the highest point in Long Beach, we can also talk about dog park uses and community gardens,” Johnson said.
Partnering with Signal Hill, Johnson conducted a tour of the site last Saturday so citizens could better appreciate and understand the significance of the project grounds. At least three tons of garbage has been collected as part of several community clean-ups.
Johnson also said he would be utilizing the small pool of money dedicated to street and sidewalk repair for preventative maintenance. The plan is aimed at cutting down the cost of carving out a street and completely having to rebuild it. In turn, minor repair work would be conducted on several streets to avoid replacement three years down the line.
“If we put a little bit of money into maintaining what we have, we’re not going to have to rebuild our city entirely a few years down the road,” Johnson said.
“Long Beach will be one of the first cities in the United States to have a great water pilot program,” Johnson said. The water department will be offering some subsidies as the program looks at ways of reusing water in residents’ properties.
North Division Commander Galen Carroll provided community safety updates and tips and said that burglaries are still a major problem for the district. Locking homes, sealing potential entryways and reporting suspicious activity were a few of the recommendations Carroll gave the residents in attendance. Johnson also announced that last year was the safest year in more than 30 years for the city of Long Beach.
Representatives from the Long Beach Airport were on hand to discuss the progress of the parking garage and announced its completion date of July.
Airport Director Mario Rodriguez presented updates on terminal area improvements and showed a video that illustrated future renovations and a mock-up of what the finished airport will look like. Some of the additions will include free wireless Internet access, greenery and complete sustainability.
“The new concourse arrangement will create about 1,000 jobs,” Rodriguez said.
Several residents voiced concerns with the airport noise ordinance, and Rodriguez responded by saying that airport executives pride themselves in abiding by the Airport Noise and Capacity Act. Rodriguez said the City has signed consent agreements with Jet Blue to avoid late arrivals and departures and that an Airport Noise Insulation Program regulated by the federal government has already been implemented. The program has already sound-insulated 10 homes and is working on additional 17.
Bixby Highlands Neighborhood Association President Jerry Mineghino discussed getting a Bixby Knolls neighborhood association back together. It would encourage city improvements such as replanting areas and create a voice for the different neighborhoods within the district.
Johnson concluded the meeting with the announcement of a new community newsletter that will be published at his own expense and the May 21 opening of the tentatively named “Wrigley Heights Dog Park” on Wardlow Road and Golden Avenue. Measuring at over two acres, the park would be the biggest dog park in the city.