Legislative, local leaders address public at community event

The event covered homelessness and the statewide teacher shortage

Photos by Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
Seventieth District Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell hosted a community-coffee event at the Expo Arts Center on Sept. 9 to go into detail about legislative and local issues affecting citizens in the region. The event featured 8th District Councilmember Al Austin and Long Beach Unified School District Board President Megan Kerr.

The public had a chance to learn about statewide and city issues and express their own opinions on those topics at a community event last Saturday at the Expo Arts Center.

Seventieth District Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell hosted a community-coffee event on Sept. 9 to discuss questions, concerns and ideas on legislative matters. Eighth District Councilmember Al Austin and Megan Kerr, Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) board president, were on-hand to answer questions about the council district and local education, respectively.

Kerr said construction on an Educare pre-school located at 4840 Lemon Ave., which will focus on child development from birth to 5 years old, will conclude on March 2018.

Kerr said the idea of the school is to develop a better understanding of how to teach kids and translate that information to other officials to see how the State can improve its quality of education.

She said the facility will be the 22nd school in the Educare network.

Measure E is also funding a robust eight-year plan to get all LBUSD schools air-conditioning access. The project timeline prioritizes schools based on funding, availability and immediate necessity.

The full timeline of the plan can be found at lbschoolbonds.net/hvac-modernization-timeline.cfm.

A man asked O’Donnell about Senate Bill (SB) 807, which would exempt teachers with at least five years of experience in the field from paying state income tax. The bill– proposed earlier this year by U.S. Senator Henry Stern, who represents California’s 27th District– would additionally offer tax credits for the expenses used to earn a teaching credential. The bill would be a temporary measure that would end in 2027.

SB 807 is a direct response to a continual teacher shortage in California, a problem that O’Donnell referenced at the beginning of the event. The logic in the proposal is that it would give incentive for people to pursue a teaching credential.

The assemblymember said he was not in favor of the bill, even going so far as to say that the bill risks being a violation of the 14th Amendment.

He added that everybody should pay their taxes, and the bill is not the way to handle the teacher shortage.

“What’s going to happen is that today you’re going to give it to teachers, tomorrow you’re going to give it to cops, then you’re going to give it to firefighters, then you’re going to have to give it to everybody as time goes on,” he said. “I think teachers should be paid decent dollars […] but I think that’s the wrong approach.”

The issue of affordable housing was mentioned, and O’Donnell was asked what the State is doing to decrease the homeless population.

Last year, the State set aside $2 billion to address homelessness. O’Donnell said Long Beach is a model of how California should approach the issue, also praising the city’s multiservice center– the Long Beach Health & Human Services Department– which he described as a “one-stop shop for the homeless.”

“I think, on a per-capita basis, Long Beach does more than any other city to address the issue and [is] committing to improving the homelessness situation,” O’Donnell said.

During a community discussion at the Expo Arts Center on Sept. 9, 8th District Councilmember Al Austin provided some insight as to what the Long Beach City Council is focusing on during its next few meetings. Some of the topics will include the potential banning of Styrofoam, construction improvements on the 710 Freeway and turning Long Beach into a sanctuary city.

He pointed out other bills that are making efforts to address the problem, such as SB 2, a recently passed bill that imposes a $75 fee on real-estate transactions to fund state-housing subsidies. He was lukewarm on SB 35, a bill that seeks to expedite the process for cities to build homes by holding them accountable to a certain volume standard set by the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA). The bill aims to create a plan for cities who are not fulfilling the volume goal.

O’Donnell proposed that states should incentivize the building of workforce homes through tax credits.

“I don’t think we should be taking money to fill homes,” he said. “The State should incentivize others to do that and maximize how we use State dollars to get affordable housing.”

Someone else in the audience suggested utilizing and refurbishing excess containers at the Port of Long Beach into housing units.

Austin said the City is looking into every possible option to solve the problem, including the utilization of containers.

On that note, Austin added that the Long Beach City Council will make future decisions on banning Styrofoam, making Long Beach a sanctuary city and redoing the 710 Freeway.

The councilmember was praised for his stance against the Long Beach Airport becoming an international terminal. He was asked whether he sees JetBlue officials coming back and pushing another effort for that proposal again.

“As a result of us, more or less, defeating the international terminal, it has actually created a situation where our airport is becoming more competitive now,” Austin said. “[…] I don’t think JetBlue has the monopoly that they once did on Long Beach Airport. I do think there is a sense of concern about late-night flights right now with JetBlue […] We just need to be mindful with our airport. Right now, we have a very successful airport. It’s operated at a very high level, and it’s competitive. And that’s something that I think is good for Long Beach.”

Austin also mentioned the City will host community meetings about the City’s land-use planning and development to garner further feedback. The meetings are scheduled for: Sept. 30 at 3pm at Veterans Park Community Center, 101 E. 28th St.; Oct. 4 at 6pm at Whaley Park Community Center, 5620 E. Atherton St.; Oct. 14 at 11am at Best Western Golden Sails Hotel, 6285 Pacific Coast Hwy.; and Oct. 18 at 6pm at the Expo Arts Center, 4321 Atlantic Ave.

Austin announced the open-road Beach Streets event will take place on Oct. 28 from 10am to 4pm along Atlantic Avenue and Wardlow Road.

At the Expo Arts Center last Saturday, Long Beach Unified School District Board President Megan Kerr said the district is planning a robust eight-year plan to provide all Long Beach schools air-conditioning access.

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