At its April 16 meeting at the Veterans Park community center, the Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance (WANA) heard from Long Beach Transit about “mobile ticketing” and plans for new electric buses.
In the wake of recent flooding in other parts of the state, residents also learned about flood insurance and an impending ballot initiative to fund rainwater capture.
Long Beach 7th District Councilmember Robert Uranga updated Wrigley residents on local street repairs and upcoming events.
Sixth District political analyst Connor Lock also updated residents on that district, including openings of a new marijuana dispensary, new restaurants, a new barber shop and alley and pavement improvements.
Lock encouraged residents to attend upcoming Long Beach City Council meetings on a small-cell ordinance, a drop-off program for expired prescription drugs and a polystyrene-container ban.
He added that the City is also considering how to regulate short-term rentals, such as through Airbnb, and that representatives and a hired consultant will meet with residents in different parts of the city from May to August.
“Who knows how it’s going to shake out,” he said. “The City doesn’t have a written plan of how they want to do this yet. They’re actually going to the residents first before they put a plan together.”
Paul Gonzales, external affairs manager and public information officer for Long Beach Transit (LBT), said that his agency offered mobile ticketing– transit tickets appearing on mobile devices rather than physically– for the very first time during the recent Long Beach Grand Prix.
“We sold a lot of them,” he said. “It’s remarkable how much faster it is to get on [transit] if you’ve got a mobile ticket. We could take eight or 10 people on in the time that it would take to sell somebody cash fare on the AquaLink.”
Gonzales also said that LBT has been conducting a full study of their entire transit system for the past year and a half.
“People told us that they wanted more frequent bus service,” he said. “We’ll start talking about [transit changes] with the public within a month or so.”
To help meet public needs, Gonzales said LBT is moving toward running smaller, electric buses and will be adding 89 such vehicles in the next three to four years to supplement the 10 they already have.
“A 40-foot bus takes up a lot of space,” he said. “In an effort to try to bring transit services closer to where people are living, we are probably going to be buying anywhere from 30- to 35-foot buses– much smaller, all electric.”
Gonzales estimated that the new buses would completely replace diesel-fueled buses by 2023.
“Battery electric technology is advancing rapidly,” he said. “It provides zero emissions for the people of Long Beach. There’s a startling statistic that 15 percent of children in Long Beach suffer from asthma. Countywide, the average is 8 percent. Why is that?”
He said that LBT is thus leading the way in helping to better the environment.
“The port complex is looking at us and what we’re doing,” he said. “In the last 20 years, the port has become a lot cleaner, but it’s becoming a lot cleaner because we in Transit are proving that we can make zero-emissions technology on a big scale.”
However, Gonzales noted that though LBT registered 26 million rides last year, overall ridership has been decreasing and the City has formed a regional ridership-improvement task force with other local governments to help figure out why and what to do. He hoped to have assessment results by the end of this year.
“As people rise up from economically depressed conditions, they want to buy cars; they don’t want to ride the bus,” he said. “They go from [being] transit users to car users. […] Those people are probably never going to back to being 100-percent transit users. So that’s why it’s so important for us to look at students. If we can get students– high school students, college students– comfortable with the idea of using transit, then they will feel comfortable taking it [in the future].”
Gonzales said that Cal State University Long Beach students already have Transit Access Pass (TAP) cards built into their student ID cards.
“When they pay their student parking fee every year, a portion of that goes to fund this program,” he said. “We’re exploring it now with Long Beach City College.”
Gonzales also noted that LBT is considering offering mobile ticketing to high school students.
“They tell us that they do everything on their phones,” he said. “We’d like to have young people get used to using transit.”
In the wake of recent flooding in other parts of the state, Ken Houp of UHS Insurance gave information to attendees on flood and earthquake insurance, which he said are usually excluded from California homeowner-insurance policies.
“Flood insurance covers inflow of inland or tidal waters and unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source,” Houp read from his information. “Everybody is eligible for flood insurance. Whether you feel you need it or not, that’s your choice.”
He explained that local flood insurance premiums typically cost about $450 annually. He also noted that only a small percentage of his clients carry earthquake insurance and that the annual premiums run from about $1,000 to $1,500, depending on the size of the deductible and type of coverage.
WANA officer Joan Greenwood added that local residents may be more vulnerable to such natural disasters than those in other parts of the city.
“Where we live in Wrigley, most of us are in an area which is subject to liquefaction, which means you’re going to have more damage in an earthquake than some other places,” she said. “[If] we have a big earthquake, that can damage the levy system, and if it rains, we could be flooded at the same time.”
Houp said that there is no “umbrella” insurance that would cover everything but residents could choose both flood and earthquake insurance.
“Basically, where we live, we have to have both,” Greenwood added. “If you really wanted to protect yourself.”
Also warning about potential flooding, Andrew Mandujano-Nieto of the nonprofit organization Long Beach Forward told residents about a county-wide program to collect rainwater.
Sponsored by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, the Safe, Clean Water Program, he said, needs to be approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this summer before an initiative to fund it appears on the November 2018 election ballot.
“The object of this program is to capture more rainwater and reduce the negative effects of flooding and severe storms,” he said.
Mandujano-Nieto noted that California lost 107 billion gallons of water during last year’s storms that could have met the needs of 2.5 million people.
“We are so reliant on other sources of water– like Northern California, the Central Valley,” he said. “If anything happens to those supplies of water, our water and utility rates rise. This disproportionately affects seniors, renters and homeowners who are living on fixed incomes.”
He also noted that stormwater runoff leads to additional pollution washed into the ocean and that the Safe, Clean Water Program would incentivize homeowners to capture that rainwater and motivate the City to create urban gardens and greenspaces, including green alleyways.
“We can actually use greenspaces to capture this rainwater,” Mandujano-Nieto said. “There’s a park in Lakewood with an aquifer underneath it. That can come to a neighborhood like this.”
One resident asked about the tax ramifications of the initiative.
“Is this another attempt to get in the wallets of retired senior citizens attempting to live on fixed incomes?” the resident asked.
“Through the ballot initiative, there will be a parcel tax,” Mandujano-Nieto replied. “But one of the things we will realize is savings throughout everything else. We won’t see our water utility rates rise.”
However, Greenwood added that there is a cost to maintaining greenspaces, which become contaminated with silt over time. She gave the example of Hamilton Bowl and how the Public Works department had underestimated the cost its maintenance by two to three times.
“The big problem is, people forget how much it costs you to maintain those greenspaces,” she said. “Because they do fill up with silt and the silt is contaminated and then you have to get rid of it.”
Mandujano-Nieto encouraged the public to attend an education session about the Safe, Clean Water Program on May 10, from 6 to 8pm, at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Long Beach.
The next WANA meeting will take place Monday, May 21, at 6:45pm at the Veterans Memorial Park Community Center, 101 E. 28th Street.