By Brett Ashley Hawkins
The Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance (WANA) had its monthly meeting on Monday at Veterans Park Social Hall, 101 E. 28th St., from 7pm to 9pm to discuss upcoming volunteer opportunities, police activity in the West Division, 6th and 7th District council reports, the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) in Long Beach, and several other community-related topics.
Notable attendees at the meeting included Lieutenant Tim Lancaster of the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD), 7th District Councilman James Johnson, Tonya R. Martin of 6th District Councilman Dee Andrew’s office, Redevelopment Agency Board Member John Cross, RDA Assistant Executive Director Robert M. Zur Schmiede, former State Senator Betty Karnette, and Bill Orton of Senator Roderick D. Wright’s office.
WANA President Maria Norvell was absent from the meeting, so WANA Vice President Joan Greenwood presided. Norvell was in Sacramento to be honored as 54th Assembly District’s Woman of the Year.
Greenwood announced that WANA is currently looking for volunteers for their upcoming events. The Easter on the Green event on Saturday, April 23 from 2pm to 4pm needs volunteers to help with early setup, cleanup, the hiding of the eggs for the Easter egg hunt, game facilitators, and monitors for the registration table and baked-goods table. Other volunteer opportunities include Saturday cleanups and landscaping at Cressa Park, Los Angeles River cleanup with the Friends of the LA River (FoLAR) on April 30 from 9am to noon, and the quarterly cleanup on May 14 in West Long Beach.
Lieutenant Lancaster of the LBPD’s West Division gave a report of recent police activity in the area. “There’s more community involvement in the West Division than any other part in Long Beach,” Lancaster said of local residents. “It’s making West Long Beach a better place to live.”
Lancaster recapped the shooting that occurred on Pine Avenue last week, but he couldn’t reveal many details since the case is still ongoing: a police officer and a citizen had been shot, which resulted in the death of the citizen and the police officer’s surviving with major injuries. Lancaster then encouraged the attendees to call the LBPD regarding any suspicious activity. Though the overall crime rate is low, Lancaster cited that auto thefts, car burglaries, and property crimes are on the rise.
The recent proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries became a predominant subject during the meeting. Lancaster started by explaining that a major problem with the situation is the dealing of the substance via “rogue stores”– those without permits and oftentimes without business licenses altogether. Twenty-four dispensaries are currently in the lottery to receive business permits.
“[The LBPD’s] hands are tied right now,” said Lancaster. “The city prosecutor and the city attorney are seeking civil actions…, citing the owners of the rogue marijuana stores. They’re also going after the owners of the buildings.” Lancaster does see hope for the situation though; he cited a police search with warrant at the Positive Vibrations Collective at 2137 Pacific Ave. Money, a shotgun, two handguns, and a large amount of marijuana were confiscated.
Sergeant Melvin McGuire of the LBPD was called up to the podium by Lancaster to explain the progress of the issue of campus security for the Long Beach Unified School District. McGuire explained that security is still present but no longer as heavily staffed because of budget cuts. The number of truancy vans has gone down from two to only one.
Councilmember Johnson was the next to take to the podium, and he started his council report by reminding the meeting’s attendees that 2010 was one of the safest years in Long Beach’s history. He then dove into somewhat controversial territory by expressing his disappointment with the medical marijuana ordinance instilled after being on the losing end of a 5-4 council vote. He described his judgment on the ordinance as “dumping problems on one part of town” when noting that 24 of 26 dispensaries are west of Redondo Avenue.
“I have four dispensaries within a few blocks of my house,” Johnson said in his anecdote about his consistent contact with the city prosecutor. “If we’re going to have an ordinance, even an unjust one, I’ll be damned if we’re not going to enforce that ordinance. It’s outrageous that these places open up, flout all the laws, and just keep making money.”
In her report for the 6th District office, Martin reported that several potholes created as a result of the storm last weekend are currently being repaired. She also announced a 6th District cleanup on Pine Avenue at 20th Street on April 9 and a natural disaster preview on April 26 at King Park with the Long Beach Fire Department and the Red Cross.
On the subject of Long Beach’s RDA, Zur Schmiede began by saying that the RDA is currently focusing on protective actions and maximizing local control of redevelopment resources. He also noted that 20 percent of RDA’s revenue goes to affordable housing. “Redevelopment agencies currently are the single largest sources of affordable housing in the states,” Zur Schmiede said.
After speaking about the history of the RDA in California, Cross talked about recent voting regarding the RDA. “The board voted unanimously, and then we put it to City Council; we voted to protect 1.2 billion dollars worth of assets over the next ten to 20 years by putting them in different funding deals and city control,” Cross said
He then asked the attendees, “What has the RDA done for Wrigley?” When silence filled the room, Cross elaborated that the RDA had a heavy hand in developing Wrigley Marketplace and the new North and West Division police stations. He then followed to say that Atlantic Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard both look “really nice” and were improved by RDA funds. He then encouraged the attendees to contact their state senator or assemblyperson to request that RDA remain intact in Long Beach. “There will not be a new East Division police station if RDA goes away,” Cross said. “The RDA needs to be protected, and you can help us do it.”
“There’s RDAs out there that are doing bad stuff,” Cross said. “Long Beach is not one of them. Long Beach would be the ideal example of how RDAs should be run. In certain cities, the [city council representative] has a ‘city hat’ on but also has an ‘RDA hat’ on, so he controls money both ways.”
Controversy then briefly arose at the meeting when Cross and Orton argued about Cross’s statement concerning money transfers: “You know how ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?’ Well, what goes to Sacramento stays in Sacramento,” Cross joked. Orton objected to the statement, claiming that of every dollar that goes to Sacramento, 70 cents is pushed back to the local area. Orton then described the entire transfer-of-funds process to Cross and the rest of the attendees. “There are no easy answers,” said Orton.
Cross then stepped away from the podium as if to symbolically place himself in the audience as a concerned citizen rather than an RDA board member. He then raised his hand and said, “What I see right now happening in this country and the state of California is that we don’t need a Republican Party. We don’t need a Democratic Party. We need a party that represents the people… the party system has got to go. And you have to start representing the people and not special-interest groups.” Orton also refuted that opinion, but Greenwood halted the discussion by characterizing it as “getting a little too political.”
She then spoke about obtaining security cameras for the pocket park at 21st Street and Hill Street. She noted that there are some logistical difficulties that have come with finding places to mount the cameras so that they are unattainable from being destroyed but also in a visible range for recording. Recently, the pocket park was vandalized with an anti-WANA message with multiple expletives and a central theme of “watch your back. I know where you live.” The message was written with a felt-tip pen.
Greenwood closed the meeting after announcing that the next meeting is scheduled for April 18 at the same location and time.
By Brett Ashley Hawkins