All five residents seeking to represent Long Beach’s 7th council district were in attendance at the Wrigley Association’s March 5 candidate forum, during which each presented his opinions and ideas on the land-use element, the 710 Freeway, park space, public safety, dedicated bicycle lanes and the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) railyard.
Oscar Delacruz, Jared Milrad, Chris Sereno, Kevin Shin and incumbent Roberto Uranga sat– and two stood during their turns– on the stage at the Veterans Park Community Center before a full-capacity crowd.
Gavin McKiernan, president of the Long Beach Neighborhood Foundation’s board of directors, served as moderator for the event, and he asked the five men questions that attendees had written onto cards prior to the start of the forum.
After pulling numbers to determine the order in which they would proceed, the candidates introduced themselves and their platforms during opening statements.
Milrad spoke first, saying he wishes to use his two decades of “diverse leadership experience” to bring a new generation of leaders to the city. He said that he and his husband live in California Heights and both work in Long Beach. He described himself as an entrepreneur who started a film-production company in the district and works for a nonprofit animal-welfare organization “to help promote healthy food choices and compassionate lifestyles” in the community and nationwide. He also said he founded a nationally recognized nonprofit to help low- and middle-income families afford legal services and that he helped create a technology-based program called the Latino Opportunity Initiative to help empower at-risk youth in Southern California.
Sereno said he left the ship-building industry in 1984 to work for the aerospace company McDonnell Douglas and that he retired last April from Boeing. He said that, after 32 years of working in those industries, he wanted to get involved in an undertaking that would allow him to help people. He added that, despite having no political experience, he has “the aptitude to see through things […] and then to see things through.” Sereno said he has also benefited from attending Boeing’s leadership center several times and has learned that leading entails putting people first.
Shin said he moved to Southern California with his immigrant parents when he was 3 years old, living mostly in Diamond Bar and Torrance. He said that, after attending public school through 12th grade, he attended Claremont McKenna College then George Washington University, where he earned an MBA. He said he then worked for nonprofit organizations, helping them to develop strategies for fundraising, marketing and advocacy to make their missions successful. He added, however, that his true passion is working for his community, and he helped found an organization called Walk-Bike Long Beach, which focuses on walkability, bikeability and disability access, as well as traffic safety and environmental issues. Shin said his vision for the district prioritizes housing affordability, safe and vibrant streets and a healthy environment.
Uranga said that, when he moved to Wrigley 30 years ago, the city was totally different, with more crime and delayed infrastructure. He said that he worked for the City of Long Beach for 28 years before retiring. He also shared some of his accomplishments as councilmember, including reduced crime, a balanced budget, eliminating a “nuisance bar” on Willow Street, securing funding to revitalize Willow Springs Park and helping to open new businesses. He added that he has a 95-percent attendance record for city council meetings but also serves on the California Coastal Commission, the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy and the Gateway Cities Council of Governments. He also claimed to be the only actively engaged resident running for the 7th-district council seat.
Delacruz said he has lived in Long Beach for almost 30 years. He explained that he is running for city council because he wants “to see some changes– which I don’t want to disclose– but I want to see some good changes, with no offense to anybody.” He said there are matters that need attention, but “to discuss those problems or issues at this moment is not practical, because it may offend others.” Delacruz then mentioned that improving safety in the neighborhood, with the help of police, is first on his “agenda.” He also said he would like to introduce clean-up projects where needed, work with teachers to develop programs beneficial to children, keep parks safe and clean, and keep residents in the community informed.
The first question McKiernan posed to the five candidates concerned the land-use element (LUE), the master plan for how future development in the city is managed. He asked them to explain how they think it will affect their district and how they would vote on it, assuming there would be no major changes to it.
Sereno said he is against any developments that exceed two stories and that he wants to avoid additional traffic.
“I think there are other options available that we haven’t really discussed in detail,” he said. “I consider myself not to be conventional or unconventional, but rather non-conventional. […] So, I’m going to push the idea of modular housing. Modular housing is something that I’ve been studying for about 12 years now. It’s something I plan to do for myself one day. It’s very progressive. I think San Francisco earlier this year started an initiative to support the homeless for that.”
Sereno added that veterans could also be housed through modular housing, which is sectional prefabricated homes made up of multiple sections.
Shin said the LUE is only a piece of a much larger puzzle.
“What we really need in this city is stronger long-term planning,” he said. “And we need to focus on the fact that change is coming. So, we have an opportunity here. We need to see the land-use element for what it is, which is an opportunity to focus on the changes that are coming and to be able to guide that change.”
Shin added that there are numerous considerations related to land use, including transportation, parking, retail and restaurants.
“We need to think of the land-use element for what it is and that it’s an opportunity for us to really figure out a proper long-term plan for the city,” he said. “I think a lot of folks have come to think of ‘density’ as a four-letter word, but it doesn’t need to be that, and we can’t just build for the sake of building, because all we’re going to do there is start to displace people.”
Uranga explained that each city has to update its LUE every 20 years because of growth and change.
“What we’ve done– what I’ve done– for the city council, for the 7th District, is to have control of this land-use element,” Uranga said. “I’m the only one here that’s going to be voting on it, and it’s going to come to the city council tomorrow. So, it’s going to be very important that I get your input– that I have your input– and that you come tomorrow and you talk to the city council, you share your ideas, you tell us what you want to see, in terms of development and in terms of what’s going to be happening for the next 20 years.”
Delacruz expressed opposition to the act of constructing buildings without making the public aware of the projects beforehand.
“You need to let the people know what’s going to happen […] explaining to the people carefully, and, if they don’t understand it, you go to their houses one by one and tell them what your project is all about,” he said.
Milrad indicated that there needs to be more community engagement on the LUE in the 7th District and that officials need to focus on reaching residents more effectively.
“We need to have local control, and so I think the good thing about land use is we can prevent what is underway right now in the capital, right? The state level, where they may wrestle local control over our decisions in terms of density in the future,” he said.
Milrad also expressed the need for low- and middle-income housing stock.
“The current land-use element does not require that in clear terms,” he said. “I think we need to require it, because that is, frankly, the housing crisis in our city, and we have supporters and neighbors who have been here for decades who want their kids to be able to live here in the future.”
He also said the district needs more open space.
The Signal Tribune will publish part 2 of this story in next week’s issue.