By Brett Ashley Hawkins
With his “Cup o’ Joe with James” last Saturday at Guadalupe’s Mexican Grill in Wrigley, Seventh District Councilmember James Johnson took the opportunity to conduct a less formal neighborhood meeting in which he’d answer as many questions as he could during the hour and a half.
After 15 minutes of enjoying coffee, making introductions and ordering, Johnson announced that the beginning of the question-and-answer session and community forum would start shortly. “I’m also your neighbor. I live right here on Wardlow [Road],” Johnson said. He then provided the guests with ways they could contact him with their concerns as well as noting that the Seventh District newsletter has been released.
Before the community forum began, Johnson spoke about the changes made in Wrigley recently. “It’s the only neighborhood in the entire city of Long Beach that is going to have two brand-new parks open up,” he said, adding that he canvassed the neighborhood with a survey of what residents would want in their community. The Wrigley Heights neighborhood’s top three choices were a dog park, a passive park, and a community garden or urban farm. “I’m proud to say you’ll be getting all three,” he said. The newly opened Wrigley Heights Dog Park at 3401 Golden Ave. is now the largest dog park in the city of Long Beach. The passive park, Baker Park and the community garden/urban farm will begin development this summer.
Johnson then highlighted his emphasis on improving air quality through activities such as tree planting. “This last week, we planted along Pasadena Avenue and E. 33rd St.,” he said. “Those trees will suck out the pollutants from the [nearby] 405 Freeway to improve the air quality.”
He then noted the importance of street and sidewalk repairs in the area despite there being little to no room for them in the budget. Johnson announced his solution to take half of the budget the City allots for total street replacement and spend it on maintaining streets and sidewalks everywhere to prevent the need to spend several times more funds on refurbishing the entire street years later. “We’re going to save $30 million of money on street work,” he said. “We’re going to spend the money we have smarter and better.”
Johnson credited Zach Sutter’s Eagle Scout project as being a large help to restoring Wardlow Road at Pasadena Avenue’s path into a proper sidewalk by means of adding Americans with Disabilities Act-approved curb ramps and developing a worn-down gravel patch to create a new sidewalk. The sidewalk, located just outside Don and Harold’s Automotive, was worked on by the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, the California Heights Neighborhood Association, and the City of Long Beach, in addition to Sutter and Don and Harold’s Automotive themselves.
Johnson than began answering the attendees’ questions. The first one he responded to was a reported concern regarding the hazards of date palm trees due to falling debris and tree rats running rampant around neighborhoods. Johnson responded that the trees are receiving less and less maintenance as the years go by due to lack of finances within the city’s budget. “We started on a three-year tree cycle, then a five-year cycle, and now a seven-year cycle,” Johnson said. “Right now we owe… $1.2 billion to our pension system. If we spend that, what is going to happen to our tree cycle?” He claimed that the tree cycle would likely endure longer maintenance wait times, perhaps extending to a nine-year cycle to eventually having no cycle system altogether. Johnson promised to advocate for the issue, but he also said the response he’d receive from the City would likely be negative due to insufficient funds within the City’s budget.
Edith Pearl, a resident and mother living on Pacific Avenue, then raised her concerns about the dilapidated and vacant properties and the probability of their directly correlating to an increase in homeless citizens within the district near Christian Life Church & Pre-School at 3400 Pacific Ave. Johnson replied that the City has a responsibility of attending to public property, whereas private properties need to be looked after by their owners. The private property in question, a bank, will have to use its own funds to clean up the property.
Another attendee then offered a solution to the homeless situation with the suggestion of allowing vehicular housing in specific, city-mandated parking areas. The attendee cited that Los Angeles County has a similar process for some of its areas.
Johnson then brought up the transfer of owners of the former Boys Town establishment at 350 W. Wardlow Rd. and said it would become a youth treatment center for eating disorders and substance abuse. “I’ve talked to the owner,” he said. “He’s given me assurance that he’s going to respect the neighborhood and not cause problems [in the neighborhood]… We’ll be having a meeting about this [soon], and we’re going to bring out the owner for a discussion on it.”
Another attendee then brought up the subject of redistricting within the city. Johnson stated that redistricting began as a way to provide equal representation under the law within all the districts. Given the growth within some districts, redistricting became necessary as some districts (eighth and ninth) received population growth whereas other districts (first and sixth) were observing population deficits. Johnson then added that he wants to continue to represent all of the areas in his current district but that the lines of the seventh district’s perimeter are more than likely to change. The seventh district is approximately 1.9-percent underpopulated, according to Johnson.
The councilmember closed out the community forum by thanking the owners of Guadalupe’s Mexican Grill for welcoming him and the attendees into their restaurant. Johnson can be found tonight at First Books at First Fridays at the Dana Branch Library at 3680 Atlantic Ave. from 5:30pm to 6:30pm.