Monday, March 13, 2017

Advocating for Health Equity: A #JustGrowth Interview with Councilmember Jeannine Pearce of Long Beach

Note: Header photo was taken by Joe Linton. The Just Growth Champions interview series is a collection of conversations with elected officials, public agency staff, advocates, and community members who embody the values of the “Just Growth” concept — a concept developed by Dr. Chris Benner and Dr. Manuel Pastor, focused on equity, inclusion, and investing in the most economically-challenged neighborhoods first to develop a sustainable regional economy. Just Growth is a central concept for our Equity Opportunity Zones vision in Los Angeles County.

In our second interview, we talked with Councilmember Jeannine Pearce, who is serving her first term in the City of Long Beach. We covered Measure M, views of transparency in city government, and advancing health equity through transportation. See a snippet of our interview here:


Thank you Councilmember for sitting with us today. Can you tell us what motivated you to serve in the Long Beach City Council?

I have always been somebody who has been really active in my community. Whether it was recycling when I was in the 5th grade, and trying to get my mom to take bags of recycling down. Or being involved with where our money was being spent around the war in the 90’s.

I went to college at Cal State Long Beach, and had the opportunity to get involved with the community here. One of the things we were really engaged in was responsible development, ensuring there was transparency with tax dollars and that the community had a process to get involved in that.

As I moved on, I worked at LAANE as a community organizer and a policy director. Then I had my daughter. And then we had an election. It was an opportunity that I did not see myself taking many years before. Raising a family and investing in my neighborhood was something I really wanted the opportunity to do.

Long Beach has a long history of growth and trying to reinvent itself. It was important to me to have a seat at the table where we could invent ourselves with everybody at the table, making sure that every community member from 10th Street to Downtown had a voice in the process, which is something I hadn’t always seen before. That is what drove me to decide to run to be City Councilmember and it’s been a very rewarding 7 months.

What are the top issues in your community?

Most of the time, the top issues are mobility and transparency. My district is one of the most parking-impacted areas, it also is an area that has a downtown, a tourism zone. What I find people are most concerned about is spending time with their families. Transparency and access to transit are things that really impact them.Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 12.06.44 PM

When they’re saying, “I’m upset there’s not enough parking,” they’re upset about parking because they’re spending time trying to find parking instead of spending time with their families.

Another issue is with small businesses trying to open up and have access to local government. And a clean environment to raise our families.

When we talk about how we govern, it’s about government being simplified and transparency. As a community organizer, I always try to have community at the table. It’s been exciting to be a community organizer in office, because what it’s meant is that, when we have a community meeting it’s not 10 people that show up, it’s 100 people because we go door-to-door and say, “We’re having this meeting about the budget, we want you to be a part of it.” Or “we’re having a meeting about parking,” which I had this morning. It’s exciting to see people get involved who have not historically been involved to talk about transportation, mobility, clean air, and business investments in our areas.

What is your vision for better transportation in Long Beach?

My husband and I have always had one car. We’ve always tried to live near a bus or train line. In Long Beach, we’re not only trying to invest to make sure our Long Beach transit is more robust, but we’re also doing things like the bike share program. Looking at instead of building new parking structures, we’re doing something where people can rent out their driveways to people.

We try to think outside the box with mobility and transportation. One of the biggest things that came to my attention — when I was walking the neighborhoods — is that we have two main corridors in my district. We have Ocean Boulevard that connects to a tourism zone, and we have a free bus line in that tourism zone. And, we have 10th Street which goes through the artery of Central Long Beach which has some of the highest poverty in the entire city. We don’t have bus lines on 10th Street on Saturday and Sunday. So you’ll drive, walk, or ride your bike on 10th Street and you’ll see grandmothers with their carts walking blocks from the grocery store because they don’t have public transit on the main thoroughfare.

One of my first meetings with the Director of Long Beach Transit was asking, “What do we have to do to fix this inequality?” We need to make sure that transportation is equitable, that it’s accessible to everybody, and that even though we might not have 500 people on that bus on a Saturday, the people that are on that bus really depend on it.Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 12.06.52 PM.png

It’s a really important issue for me to make sure that equity is there. For my area, we’re making sure we look at all of the bus lines — we had a lot [of buses] that were taken away and we’re trying to get those back. We also have more people that are trying to get on the Blue Line and I think it’s educating our residents and our neighbors about how safe our public transit is.

I’m from Houston and I’ve spent a lot of time in Chicago, we have those other cities where everybody in the neighborhood is on public transit and part of that is educating folks about it. My team has taken the bus and we ride our bikes into the office — we make sure we practice what we preach.

How did you feel about Measure M passing?

Measure M was something we did a lot of research on in the beginning. We had a conversation on Measure R and where resources were going. When it came to City Council, we had a lot of discussion about it, and we decided to support it as a city.

Another step that happened in addition to Measure M passing — and Measure M passed overwhelmingly — was we got a seat at the table on the Metro board. Having our Mayor [Robert Garcia] have a seat at the table is really important to be able to have transparency and a real discussion about the needs in our neighborhood. Everything from the I-710 to main corridors that haven’t been invested in in a long time are things that are on the table that have already been talked about with Measure M.

Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 12.07.03 PM.pngI’m excited [Measure M] passed. With any policy, measure, or tax, the big question is process. We can pass everything, but it’s about the process and having a seat at the table. I feel really good about it. And I feel hopeful about the dollars that will come in and how the city also has Measure A money which was another tax around infrastructure investment. How are we partnering these together?

Recently, we passed our mobility plan. In Long Beach, we have a unique opportunity with dollars coming in with some of the greatest minds working on how we transform our streets from just being cars to all the other modes of transportation. It’s a really exciting time. And in the next 10 years, we’re going to see a real change in not only transportation, but health equity and the way that people live in our city.

Great. Can you tell me more about your vision for health equity?  

Sure. We have several hotels in downtown [Long Beach] and about 90% of the hotel workers live in Long Beach. And Long Beach is half a million people, it’s a large city. How do we ensure that our bike lanes, our bus, and our trains are going to the neighborhoods where people work and where they play? And that they feel comfortable taking those routes and can depend on them?

One of the challenges with transportation is just depending on them. “Is that bus line going to show up when I need it to? Because if I get to work late I’m going to get written up.” Making sure our transportation is really connected with those that would benefit the most from it is really important. For 10th street, we have a lot of density there, and trying to make sure those folks have access to bus lines and trains for that same reason.

Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 12.07.11 PM.pngWhen we talk about equity, having a bus line that is free for a tourist that comes into our city versus someone who works two or three jobs that doesn’t even have a bus line is really important. When you look at a map in Long Beach, you see a gap in the middle.

We really have to make sure that we are now taking a holistic approach instead of a patchwork approach towards transportation. That sometimes is the biggest challenge for cities to take a step back and say, “This might not come forward for 10 or 15 years, but we need to have that plan and we need to have the dollars in place to do that.” When those people have access to that, we’re going to see a decrease in particulate matters in the air and we’re going to see a decrease in asthma rates.

You talk about planning for future events. Sometimes sudden and tragic events do happen. Not too long ago there was a hit-and-run of an elderly woman on the 600 block of Redondo Ave. Can you tell me about how you felt about the incident and what actions you will take?

I’ve been in office for 7 months, and we’ve had 2 instances where someone has been hit and killed unfortunately by a car. It didn’t happen at the busiest thoroughfares or during traffic hours. But it brings up the issue of safety in our communities and how people get around — how people in cars see people. And what we can do to lower fatality rates.

In Los Angeles, they’re working hard on Vision Zero. In Long Beach, we started the conversation on Vision Zero — and it’s a big conversation we need to have and we’re trying to incorporate that into all aspects of the work. Getting to zero fatalities. Getting to zero accidents that impact people’s lives.

On 10th street, we had an elderly gentleman that was hit at 10 o’clock at night. On Redondo, we had an elderly woman across the street. She lived in a senior facility. Grocery store is across the street. 6 o’clock in the morning, she wanted to go to the store. She didn’t make it there.

One of the challenges is trying to look at land-use and think intentionally about that community and neighborhood. Asking “what are the needs here?” If we have a senior facility that has hundreds of people living there, we need to make sure we are creating a safe space outside for them. Everything from crosswalks that are lit up, to education, to slowing down streets in the neighborhood are really important things that not only the city needs to think about — but we need also be working with business owners and neighbors about how we can do that.

It’s jarring. I went to the press conference for that moment. You’re in a space with the family members and her granddaughters. It’s heartbreaking whenever you think about people losing their family because our streets aren’t designed in the safest way.

It’s really important to think outside the box and think long-term and having urgency in a city bureaucracy. Sometimes it’s challenging. When I first got into office, I asked the city to look at 10 different crosswalks in the city. We had these checklists to decide if there’s going to be a crosswalk. It’s frustrating for people whenever they see a need every day. They’re on the streets every day. That’s one of the reasons why I try to walk, I try to ride my bike as much as I can so I also have that experience that I can take back and say, “this is urgent and important for us to prioritize a crosswalk here, because it’s needed.”

Thank you for sharing your time. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I really am excited about the work you all are doing at Investing in Place. With organizations like yours, engaging in communities and with local leaders like myself, the outcome is going to be substantial.

When we talk about transportation, air quality, and investing in place, it’s about transparency and participation. It’s been a key value of mine to engage everybody. We’ve engaged in a participatory budgeting process and we’ve engaged in governing for racial equity — our whole staff is trained on equity.Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 12.07.33 PM.png

We’re taking those core values of transparency, equity, and participation into all aspects of our city government. Doing that with police, with Long Beach Board of Transit, is something that’s never been done in Long Beach before. It’s large part because we’ve had organizations on the outside really pushing and engaging us in a meaningful way. I’m excited about the next 10 years are going to look like in Long Beach with that process. Thank you for all your work.

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