Outgoing 8th District Councilwoman Rae Gabelich
July 03, 2012 - If there’s been one city councilmember over the past several decades who has truly represented a voice for the people, it’s been Rae Gabelich. The two-term councilwoman, whose last meeting is July 10, has never been shy about asking questions and raising objections – no matter the issue, no matter how much time it takes during council meetings and no matter who among her colleagues she might upset.
She claims that only twice has she not read every word of the agenda package given to all councilmembers. “There are many times when things are buried . . .” Her objective, she says, is to make sure everyone is aware of what’s going on, especially those agenda items where details are “buried” among pages and pages of documents.
Born in Utah, she moved to Long Beach in 1968 and got her first taste of local politics because her roommate’s father was one of the city councilmembers. “I remember thinking, wow, what an interesting job. That must be really exciting to be part of that. He brought in the Queen Mary, so I thought that was phenomenal.”
Prior to her 2004 election to represent the 8th District on the city council, Gabelich – a 35-year flight attendant with United Airlines – was the founder and president of Long Beach HUSH2, “a community group formed to ensure that the neighborhoods had a voice in the discussion about the Long Beach Airport.” She served the city on both the recreation commission and the health and human services commission. She was married to the late Gary Gabelich, who in 1970 set the land speed record of 622.407 miles per hour in his Blue Flame vehicle and held the record for nearly 13 years. Rae has one son, Guy.
Is her life as an elected official finis? Maybe not. She’s headed off on an extended vacation to rest and relax, and to think about the future. One possibility she doesn’t deny, is running for mayor in 2014.
LBBJ: What do you consider your number-one achievement during your council years?
Gabelich: The airport, of course – making sure that it was a manageable and affordable size that would serve the community and serve the airlines without allowing the possibility of growth.
LBBJ: So you feel there is no longer an airport issue?
Gabelich: Not at the moment. I think there will always be an airport issue wherever there is an airport. We certainly will hold on to all the paperwork. . . . Maybe technology will make it better. Maybe when that comes along, that will open up more space for more planes, because that's part of the agreement. That might bring up another issue. But that is my greatest achievement. . . . What made me run was the controversy about the airport. I was on a mission.
Another issue was that our retail corridor was terrible. We were really struggling. I'll say that it [the turnaround] really started with Krista Leaders, who now works with the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association. She opened up a glass shop. I thought, this is really good, and we're going to do this piece by piece. When I would visit her, she would be near tears because she was trying everything to bring the business people together. The street was empty. . . . Today, that's not so. We have brought a lot back to the community and energized it. It was Krista Leaders' idea for First Fridays. That came out of the struggle for her small business. She met with a couple of her friends that were artists, and together they decided to look at having a First Fridays, which is what a number of cities had been doing. That's how it started. Today it is great. We are a destination.
LBBJ: What about the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association – are you happy with what its doing?
Gabelich: I couldn't be happier. Blair [Cohn] is phenomenal. The relationship that both [7th and 8th District council] offices have with him goes beyond description. Everything is a team effort. You give Blair a little extra room every now and then, because he is the creative mind. Then sometimes you've got to pull him back in. But it has truly been a blessing to work with him and see it all come together. There's always room for improvement. I would like to see more independent shops open up there and recognize that we have good energy and it's growing. People are looking for more ways to spend their money, so that would be great. Diversity is also very good.
LBBJ: How do you respond to critics who have said you spend a lot of time asking questions during city council meetings?
Gabelich: I spend a lot of time asking questions because I spend a lot of time reading each and every single page in that agenda. I have missed, only twice in eight years, where I have not read that book [background information provided each councilmember by city staff] cover to cover. They tease me about it. I know I ask the questions because I want the answers. There are many times when things are buried or it was the wrong intention. Really, you only get the amount of information that they want you to get. So it's okay.
LBBJ: So you don't think transparency was there at a lot of the meetings?
Gabelich: No, I do not. I think you have to ask the questions to get it out on the floor. There were too many times when the council was a 9-0 vote and there was no discussion. It was like, wow, really? We're doing that well that there's no discussion needed on these issues? That started back in 2001 when we [community members] started going to council over the airport because pretty much everything was a done deal. So no, I think this is the people's government and they have a right to be heard and they have a right to know the questions. Many times, I've asked questions on the record because I want people to notice. I want them to know how you [councilmembers] made this decision, why you made this decision, what influenced the decision. I think too many times there is the gang of five or six.
LBBJ: It seems like it's a little bit more split now, and the mayor . . .
Gabelich: If I were sitting in that seat as the leadership of the council, as the mayor, I would be asking for retreats and better team building because that has not happened. That was a request that a couple of us made, but I kept pushing on it after Mr. [Bob] Foster came into office so that we could be on the same page. It doesn't mean we're going to agree on everything, but if you have the opportunity for you to share what's important to you for your district and why it's important. . . . do you think that Mr. [3rd District Councilman Gary] DeLong has any idea of what's going on in North town? Not a clue. Is it important to him? When they came down on a vote against me on a preschool daycare that wanted to locate on Del Amo, they didn't know what that was or what that meant. That was really about, "She wants that? She's not going to get that." That's the kind of changes I would like to see, and I think the way that you do that is if you know that you can't get the votes to make the change is at least you make it public. That's why I ask all the questions.
LBBJ: Are you leaving office with any frustrations? In other words, lack of information from staff, issues with other councilmembers, etc.
Gabelich: Of course. I wish that we had the opportunity to have had better, more respectful relationships with each other. There is no camaraderie unless you are in closed session or sitting behind the dais on a Tuesday night. There really isn't any interaction with each other. I think that same thing is happening in Washington, isn't it? So, if you don't get to know the people as individuals, how can you expect to really. . .
LBBJ: Let's take that daycare issue on Del Amo, or something similar to that. Do you go to councilmembers before the meeting, say a week or two before, and talk about it? Does that happen among councilmembers.
Gabelich: You can only talk to a limited number of people.
LBBJ: What do you mean?
Gabelich: Well, four [due to the Brown Act].
LBBJ: But four is four. Plus one is five.
Gabelich: No. You talk about it that day. Again, you don't see each other. I won't say that I didn't do it. Most of it was probably on the telephone. When it was something related to my district, again, the animosity that was building up and has been building up for the last six years, really doesn't build the trust. People will say, "Why don't you put this on the agenda." I'll say, "Don't ask me to put it on. You know that I support it, but if I put it on it's going to get nixed."
LBBJ: What is your opinion of Gov. Jerry Brown's decision to eliminate redevelopment agencies statewide?
Gabelich: Outrageous. I think that is a reason for recall. There are 400 cities that were part of that. Yes, some of them abused it, like everything else. Human beings take advantage of things that sometimes they shouldn't. But what we have done, at least 98 percent of it, has been right on the money. The biggest changes were right on the cusp of happening in North Long Beach. Because of him taking that back, everything stopped. We've got soccer fields that were planned, the Davenport Park that is right across from a neighborhood that is in dire need of help, the corridors where we purchased so many properties. We had people that were interested in cooking schools that would have created jobs. Thank god we finished Long Beach Boulevard so at least we have the infrastructure piece done there. But really, what that did to us as a city set us back significantly.
LBBJ: Did you ever pick up the phone and call the Lowenthals, Bonnie or Alan? They voted for eliminating redevelopment.
Gabelich: I most certainly did. Actually, I talk to them a lot. And with [Assemblymember Warren] Furutani. They said they understood. They said they knew. Then they took the vote in the other direction. I like Alan. I think he's done a lot of good things, especially the environmental positions that he's taken. But what he said to me, and what Bonnie said to me, was that they had no choice. They'll say it was this or education. Well, it didn't have to be. Even if they knew that it couldn't go that way, even if they knew the votes weren't there, they did not stand up for their city.
LBBJ: Do you think the City of Long Beach is business friendly? Do you feel businesses have been welcome to come here, that they have been treated well, that there are people here to work with them?
Gabelich: I think we do a fair job, but I don't think we do the best job that we could. The COBA (Council of Business Associations) survey that has been sent out – thank you to Blair, again – is trying to reach the businesses. We have small businesses that try to open and it takes them forever. . . . We have no economic development in this city. That has been a thorn in my side since the very beginning. . . . That's is probably the thing we are missing the most. If we do have it, their focus was on the red teams to bring in the C-17. That's where their economic development went. It wasn't to bring in or strengthen the small business community. That's my same gripe with the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce. What do they do for the small guy? They don't. They go up to Sacramento and lobby against the position that the city takes. I have a big problem with that.
LBBJ: You recently expressed your concern over the involvement of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce in hosting a public forum for business. Why?
Gabelich: Every year when they bring in a new chair, they make their rounds on the 14th Floor at City Hall. You'll get introduced and they will say, "We should work together. I will come to your district. We can do blah blah blah." You never see them again, until they bring in the next person the next year. It's a joke. I think that they don't do the right job. I was told that years ago many of the small businesses backed out of the chamber.
LBBJ: We understand that you have been introducing Councilman-elect Al Austin to the 8th District community. Is there any particular advice you have given him?
Gabelich: Yes. Do his homework to make sure he understands the subject. . . . We had a community coffee for him and we had almost 100 people attend. . . . He is going to have his own agenda. In fact, the other day he said to me, "Look, you can't get mad at me. I'm not going to do everything the way you did." And I told him, "I don't expect you to. You are your own man and I know you've got your own design in what you want to do. Just make sure you take care of the community."
I gave him a list of the projects we've been working on that aren't going to be completed [before I leave] and a list of contacts that are out of the norm that I think are important. Hopefully he uses them.
LBBJ: Let's talk about city revenue. Do you feel a tax increase is the only way to resolve our current situation before we cut more services to the public, or is there something else?
Gabelich: This year you are going to see more services cut. We're cutting into the bone. People are going to really feel it, and it is going to be to the detriment of the city. I remember sitting across from [former city manager] Jerry Miller – every week I met with him – and he said, "Just be patient, Rae. In four years, there's going to be money. You are going to be able to do the things you want to do." That never happened.
LBBJ: What about the additional revenue from oil money?
Gabelich: There's always a battle over oil money, isn't there? I know that the mayor and Mr. DeLong like to call it one-time monies, but it isn't. The value fluctuates, but it's not one-time money. It comes in every year. There is something that I am working on right now that I hope I can get on the agenda before I leave – which is cutting it really close.
LBBJ: A ballot measure?
Gabelich: It is. That's to try to rework Proposition H that went before the voters [passed by Long Beach voters in May 2007, it added 25¢ per barrel for oil produced in the City of Long Beach and it created a permanent special fund, the "Police and Fire Public Safety Oil Production Act Fund" for the new special tax proceeds] . . . When Prop H went to the voters it was to add 25 cents to the oil tax to generate money for a fire engine and 14 motorcycle cops and whatever else. It was supposed to generate X number of dollars. Well, it did generate the money but it didn't grow. It was flat. One of the problems with it was that it was attached to the CPI [Consumer Price Index] instead of the PPI [Producer Price Index]. The mayor thinks that's better because the other is too volatile, yet Signal Hill does that. We realize 43 cents a barrel and they realize 88 cents a barrel. The other part that didn't happen was that instead of blending the [existing] 15 cents and the [new] 25 cents, they left the 15 alone and the 25 is the only thing that's raised on it. . . . What we're thinking about doing is eliminating the CPI and do $1 a barrel or 2 percent, whichever is greater.
LBBJ: How much would this raise?
Gabelich: Depending on the formula, it would be anywhere from $9 million to $18 million.
LBBJ: So it's not enough to plug the deficit.
Gabelich: It's not enough, but it's a huge piece. . . . To me, it's all about the quality of life and all of the work that has been done by redevelopment that is going to start sliding backward. . . . The thing that you have to prove to the voters is that this is not going to make the price of gasoline go up. This is crude oil, and that has nothing to do with it.
LBBJ: Has there been an increase or decrease in the crime rate since you took office, or has it fluctuated?
Gabelich: I don't think I could say since I've been in office because we went through a period where crime was at an all-time low across the country. Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking to the commander. I asked him to tell me what's going on with the crime rate because the media are saying it's up 10 percent. He said that we [the 8th District] are doing better than any other area citywide. It is up. I'm concerned about that. But we are doing a good job. The gang injunction helps. We're doing a decent job.
LBBJ: Why don't we have a police academy?
Gabelich: Every year we have put it in the budget. Usually the reason is because of this proportional share thing [each city department takes the same percentage cut]. I get the idea, but then what happens is the chief has to say, this is what I got, and that's more important than an academy right now, in this minute. We need an academy.
LBBJ: Can we bring in laterals [officers from another city]?
Gabelich: I was told that we had a list. We were going to do it. We didn't even do that. You can only put that out there so many times because those guys [potential laterals] are putting their neck out to apply and then Long Beach, after they've taken the applications, don't acknowledge it? What does their employer think about that? You can't keep doing that.
LBBJ: Are you going to run for mayor?
Gabelich: Maybe. A lot of people have asked me if I would think about it. I don't even know some of these people, but I know they have money and they have told me they will finance my campaign if I run. I tell them, "Great, I'll look you up if I ever make a decision." Really, I think it is a great compliment that people even suggest or ask me that question. I take that as an honorable thing. I also think that I have ignored my family for eight years. Being in public office, even though you may not see it, creates a lot of stress on you as an individual. I certainly have experienced that over the last year. I think the animosity and arguing every week is wrong. I think I would be a better leader, or more positive leader, than what we have. Certainly, it's an ego-thing – I could be mayor of Long Beach, the city that I love! But I'm going to think about it.
I'm going away for two months and I'm not going to say yes to anything else. I'm going to Hawaii. Both of my sisters are there now. I rented my own place. I'm going to the big island. I just put the rent in the mail and kissed it goodbye. I'm going to do that and really evaluate what I want my life to look like. I can't imagine not being part of something that has some meaning in the city. I love the city and have been involved since 1985. I just don't know where you go from here except to that position.
LBBJ: Would your depend on whether Mayor Foster decides to run for a third term as a write-in?
Gabelich: No. It's really about if I think I can do the job that a mayor should do.
LBBJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Gabelich: I hope that the council body can recognize the decisions that they make during these hard budget situations. That they think into the future and think about the cuts, especially to public safety and what the impact is going to be on our neighborhoods that are already on the edge. That will be my biggest concern. Otherwise, it's been great. I've got tears in my eyes. I loved it. I loved almost all of it.
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