Most political observers agree that the city council race where the incumbent is facing the toughest challenge and a possible June runoff is for the 5th District seat in Northeast Long Beach.
Councilmember Stacy Mungo is up against former Long Beach Harbor Commissioner Rich Dines and community activist Corliss Lee, both of whom are knowledgeable about district and citywide issues.
The district includes the highest percentage of homeowners in the city and, with relatively few renters, experiences less turnover of residents. It is considered the most conservative, anti-tax area of the city, and was the only district to vote against the 2016 sales tax increase known as Measure A. In the 2014 mayoral election runoff, Mayor Robert Garcia – who recently endorsed Mungo – was supported by fewer than 44% of district voters.
The 5th District also includes major business activities. It is home to the Long Beach Airport, two major office parks (Kilroy Airport Center and the Long Beach Airport Business Park), the city’s largest retail complex (Long Beach Towne Center), two of the city’s major auto dealerships (Worthington Ford and West Coast Toyota), numerous hotel properties, the largest green space in the city with El Dorado Park, three of the city’s four municipal 18-hole golf courses, and much more.
But the biggest business impact is Douglas Park located north of the Long Beach Airport on former Boeing property. The 261-acre, mixed-use facility has attracted several dozen companies, created thousands of new jobs and will soon have one of the city’s largest retail destinations with the opening of the Long Beach Exchange.
The Business Journal interviewed the candidates on March 14 and 15, speaking with Mungo last to provide her the opportunity to respond to criticism from her challengers. Following are their responses, in a Q&A format, to several questions about themselves, the district and the city.
LBBJ: Was there a particular issue or event that made you run for office?
Dines: The Land Use Element and the outrage on the Nextdoor app. That really is what pushed me over the edge. After I finished my term as harbor commissioner, I went back and forth. For several months, I had been pushed to run. . . . I get a text message from Gerrie Schipske [former 5th District councilmember] saying, “Are you going to run in the 5th [District]? Because I’m running for the state senate.” As an event, I think that opened the door for me. But as an issue, it’s the Land Use Element. My frustration as a 5th District resident is I just don’t see good representation. It’s almost like downtown is running the 5th District right now. And so that’s probably the one issue that pushed me into running.
LBBJ: In the end with the Land Use Element vote for your district, what did you think?
Dines: I don’t see a victory. I think that this is a political victory before an election. . . . I have an issue with programmatic EIRs [environmental impact reports] in city development. That’s how we got into this mess with the civic plaza. There was a programmatic EIR, the Downtown Plan. We have a Midtown Plan. I looked at the LUE as the East Side Plan. And having a programmatic EIR, which is what we’re going to move forward on, it takes away local control and you give developers the right to build. You are probably going to see more mitigated negative declarations because you won’t need an EIR. There is a blanket EIR. . . . We’re not through this yet. This is a political victory for the incumbents to show that they pulled back on the density, but the fight really I think has just begun.
LBBJ: What’s your number one criticism of the incumbent in your district?
Dines: The number one is that she doesn’t listen to the community. That she doesn’t take community input before making decisions. I think it has been very consistent, whether you talk about an international customs facility, whether you talk about renaming a library, whether you talk about the Land Use Element, whether you talk about putting bicycle bollards on Studebaker. Those decisions are made without community input. And the community doesn’t like those decisions, so the community fights back. We are not being a productive government because we are spending our time fighting city hall. That’s my number one criticism. And I think that’s the contrast between the incumbent and myself, is those decisions should have never been made without community input.
LBBJ: Was that her doing or was that the city?
Dines: It’s the city in the bikability plan. But it’s part of the plan, so she voted for it. . . . And money was spent. To add insult to injury, they put these bicycle bollards on Studebaker, which is a nice wide street that already had a bike lane, and the street sweeper wouldn’t fit between the bollards. So we had to go spend money to buy a narrow street sweeper. I’ll tell you, that bicycle bollard [issue] is not as big as the LUE, but it’s up there. And the library is too. That’s where I think the contrast is. That’s my criticism of her. She hasn’t listened to the community.
LBBJ: What do you consider to be the number one issue facing Long Beach?
Dines: The budget. Everything comes back to the budget, whether it’s why our parks aren’t being maintained, why we don’t have enough police patrols, why the infrastructure is not being repaired. It all comes down to the budget. You asked me earlier what one event or issue drove me to jump in [to the race]. But two that pushed me hard, hands down, are the giveaway of the Queen Mary and surrounding property and of course the $1.4 billion civic plaza. Those two have more than aggravated me. I was on the harbor commission when both of those happened. I was saddened and in disbelief.
LBBJ: You said the number one issue in Long Beach is the budget. What experience do you have in dealing with budgets?
Dines: The city claims they have a $2.2 billion budget, but the city council actually governs a $460 million General Fund. The port has a budget twice the size of the General Fund. So [my experience is overseeing] $800 million to $1 billion a year in a governance role. . . . The executive director of the port is very similar to the position the city manager has for the city. The staff will present a budget to the board [of harbor commissioners], and the board will approve the budget, make adjustments as needed, and allocate any funding throughout the year and approve any increases.
LBBJ: Did you ever challenge the port staff on their budget?
Dines: Yes. There were a lot of things that were still hidden when I first got to the port. But I think it’s very transparent today. Port staff is top notch. If there is one thing I miss at the port, it’s the people. They’re fabulous. . . . But yes, we did make a lot of changes on the budgets. A couple of years ago, we made a lot of changes, but mostly in personnel. There was always a struggle because the port has the financial ability to pay to compensate and hire more people, but there was this shared pain that we went through with the city with furloughs. And furloughs weren’t really necessary at the port, but we had to go through that, unfortunately.
LBBJ: Having been on the inside as a harbor commissioner, if you were on the city council, is there some policy that the city has with the port that you would change?
Dines: That’s a great question. I would like to see the city council protect the port instead of try and take from the port. Being on the inside, [we were] constantly getting pressure, probably more from the mayor’s office than anyone else to sponsor events. I mean, pride [parade and festival] used to get $5,000 back in the day, and today it’s like $25,000 with an ask of $50,000. I mean, it’s endless. And I’ll just say it. Forcing the port into the civic plaza deal – because we were forced into that. That was more than just a little arm twisting. . . . The city gets so much value out of the port. If there’s one thing that I would do, I would push back on the city council and the mayor’s office [to] be nice to the port. I never had any issue at all for a $5,000 sponsorship for this or that. There is always value there. The opportunity to engage the community, there is a lot of good will. But we’re not talking about $5,000 here and $10,000 there. We’re talking about $230 million that could have gone into cleaning the air. But it had to go into building a new building. $230 million that we could have invested in technology to get to zero emissions. . . .
LBBJ: Do you consider Long Beach to be a business-friendly city?
Dines: No. I don’t think that Long Beach loses business; I think we chase it away. And people say, “How come Lakewood has all their streets paved?” Well, the Lakewood City Council didn’t pave the streets. Costco did. So did Home Depot. And Long Beach has done a horrible job losing every big revenue producing business around, whether it’s all of our car dealerships. I mean, you have three Home Depots surrounding Long Beach: two are in Signal Hill, one is in Lakewood. You have two Costcos: one in Signal Hill, one in Lakewood. Obviously, it’s not that difficult to look and see what Signal Hill and Lakewood are doing to attract business that generates lots of sales tax revenue, but we failed to do that. We failed to consider that if I get one cent of the sales tax and I give half of it back to Costco to make them come here, I still get half of it. And that’s a lot more than nothing. I just talked to somebody Sunday about this. He said, “I have two businesses – one in Long Beach with one employee, and one in Signal Hill with nine employees. My business license is $128 in Signal Hill. I spend $400 in Long Beach for one employee.” So, we are not business friendly. We chase business away. . . .
Absolutely everything in our General Fund is based on how much we can squeeze out of the taxpayer. Look at the fees. Whether it’s a business license or whether it’s a preferential parking permit. I live in a preferential parking neighborhood. I spend $132 a year to park in front of my house. . . . Long Beach is nickling and diming the residents to death. Here is the way our city operates. Revenue is only coming from certain streams. There is a lack of creativity by city management and city council to find revenue streams. You know, Costco is the simplest example. Attracting a professional sports team to come to Long Beach or an event venue that generates a lot more money than we’re getting right now from our convention center. . . . We should be building five or six new hotels right now. We should be getting back to focusing on tourism and having tourist dollars bring revenue to our city.
LBBJ: But they are. We just had a record year.
Dines: And we should continue to push harder and harder. This is probably the worst-managed cruise terminal in the country that I know of.
LBBJ: But it’s the busiest they have for Carnival Cruise Lines in the country.
Dines: With a $9 passenger fee, which is probably the worst negotiated deal ever.
LBBJ: That’s going to fixing the Queen Mary, isn’t it?
Dines: Which is why it should be more. Just put this into perspective. Port Everglades in Florida, they are a cruise port. They have five cruise ships in at all times. They collect a $64 passenger fee. We get $9. . . . Let’s be honest. What’s going to happen is Urban Commons is going to come back to the city and say, ‘Look, we just can’t save the Queen.’ And it won’t take five years. If I’m elected, in my term on city council, they will come, and they will do this. I asked the city when this happened, “Why didn’t you come back to the port?” Because what I would do, and I’m sorry, I know people love the Queen Mary. You’re either going to pour concrete around her and fill it in to protect her from falling upon herself and collapsing, or you’re going to chop it up. Those are your two options. And if you chop it up then I promise, in five minutes Princess Cruise Lines comes to Long Beach. Just like that. Two more hotels. And it won’t be for $9 a passenger.
LBBJ: What kind of feedback are you getting from the Press-Telegram story that accused you of some wrongdoings at the port? Are people bringing it up when they see you?
Dines: No. One person did, and he came out on his front porch and he said, “That was B.S. I’m voting for you because of that.” I think it comes down to this. Those are accusations. I think people see where the smear campaign was. And I think when they read [City Attorney] Charlie Parkin’s comments, that people figured out who’s behind this. And it wasn’t the Press-Telegram, it was the [Long Beach] Post. And then they gave it to [Press-Telegram writer] Andrew Edwards and he wrote a story. It’s plain and simple. I am not a harasser. I was the people’s commissioner. I love the people at the port. We don’t know what I was accused of, by who I was accused. And this is where it gets really great: they lost the file. There is no file of any complaints. . . . . The article was written in a certain way to cast doubt about my candidacy. I ask tough questions. I demand accountability. But you know what, that’s what people in the 5th District are looking for. So does it hurt my campaign? . . . . I had legal counsel two years ago when this happened that told me, “You have a multi-million-dollar lawsuit on your hands for defamation of character.” I said, “I don’t want to sue the city.” I took a pass. I still hold that right. And I don’t want to sue the city. It’s bankrupt enough. I think that’s what the question should be. If we’re the highest taxed city in the state, how come we still have a budget deficit?
LBBJ: Are you on a leave of absence from working?
Dines: No, I’m working every day. In fact, my employer is like, how many days do you have left in this campaign?
LBBJ: So what do you think is going to happen come April 10? A runoff?
Dines: If I keep building the momentum I’m building right now, I think we can avoid a runoff. It’s going to be difficult. Because I think Corliss [Lee] is going to get 300 to 500 votes and I think that that percentage is going to be just high enough to force a runoff.
LBBJ: How is your campaign going with money?
Dines: My campaign is good. Mungo has accepted matching funds. . . . I thought it was interesting considering she has $80,000 in the bank. I actually outraised her but she had a $60,000 head start. I qualified in October for matching funds. So she sent in a form saying she’d accepting matching funds. So to me, she is going to hold back money for a runoff. So I think she is planning for a runoff. But I think that you should be careful doing that because if you are an incumbent and you fail to get to 50%, you’ve already lost the election.
LBBJ: Was there a particular issue or event that made you run for office?
Lee: There were two. I started out with the international airport. And having lived and worked within a mile of LAX for 30 years, I know I don’t want that in my backyard. I watched the steady degradation of the neighborhoods on three sides of LAX going from being really beautiful, like East Long Beach kind of places, to a place that you wouldn’t want to live. They have actually set up the airport now so that you miss seeing it: so that you come down the 105 and you take a big swerve and you never see Century Boulevard. You know they’re hiding it too.
LBBJ: They’re hiding it too? What do you mean? Long Beach is hiding something?
Lee: No. Los Angeles.
LBBJ: I understand that, but you said “they’re hiding it too.”
Lee: What I am opposed to, they are hiding. You know, when you bring in the big hotels, with that comes the sex trade. And I was young when that was first coming up. I knew guys who were working in those hotels who told me about how it works. And eventually, it got so you had topless, bottomless bars with neon signs just a few stores down from the Marriott.
LBBJ: You’re concerned this could happen to Long Beach?
Lee: I am, yes. I think it takes a long time. Over there it took 20 years. But I watched it. I mean I was there for about 30 years, within a mile of it. I watched it steadily degrade. Just the only side that survived it was El Segundo, and they didn’t bring in the big hotels.
LBBJ: And the second thing?
Lee: The second thing was the Land Use Element. Actually, when we finished up with the international airport, they thanked me from the podium that night when they backed off on it. Probably nobody recognized who I was at that point, but I had done a lot of newspaper articles. I had gone to the city auditor. I had worked at debunking their feasibility study, which was pretty ridiculous to spend $300,000 and not have financials for the City of Long Beach and not have a section on risk. I thought it was all very poorly done. And it looked to me like they had paid someone to give them the answer they wanted. So I went to the city auditor as well, and asked her to take a look at their numbers. I am under the impression that she did go after [Long Beach Airport Director] Jess Romo . . . . When I pointed out that there weren’t financials, the next time I went to a meeting he had financials, but he had made them up. So anyway, we got that closed out and they thanked me from the podium and I thought all done, I’m going home now. And the people who are involved in the city that are city activists said, “No, no, no. You were way too effective.” . . . . And so they gave me a set of 10 things I could go look at and I picked the land use plan. I started going to planning commission meetings. And in the beginning, I was OK with it. I am not averse to development or redevelopment. I think it’s pretty healthy in general. But that’s when you have controls. When you have the ability to do an EIR and the neighborhoods can get involved and you’re going to get traffic studies and all the things that keep you from doing something stupid.
LBBJ: So you supported the vote the other night right? Because it was reduced density?
Lee: It was a reduced density. Did I support the vote? I supported the vote for the 5th District. I wouldn’t say I supported the vote for the whole city.
LBBJ: But you’re happy with the changes over the last year?
Lee: How could you not be? . . . . I am the person if you see an orange lawn sign it probably came from my house. I was actually the person who broke that story. I went to the planning commission meetings, saw what they were doing. . . . What I did was go to Stacy Mungo and ask her to do something about it. And she was in a meeting of hers and she shouted me down. She said I was not telling the truth, that I was passing misinformation. This was in May. And that’s actually all on tape. I think Bill Pearl [of LBReport.com] was in the audience and taped the whole thing. . . . Anyway, another city activist stood up and said, “I am in those meetings too, Corliss is telling the truth.” And she said, “I’ll look into it.” And she did nothing until September. In September she’s starting to look at reelection. In the mean time, when I couldn’t get her to do anything, I went to the Council of Neighborhood Organizations and I asked to get on their agenda. And in five minutes, I had 34 neighborhood organizations saying they were against it.
LBBJ: So you feel like you were one of the individuals who really brought this to the forefront for the community?
Lee: I was the town crier.
LBBJ: What is your number one criticism of the incumbent?
Lee: My number one criticism is she doesn’t tend to represent us. You can go to a meeting and have 100 people against the airport, and she is still pushing it. She was pushing [international flights] right up to the night before. I still don’t know what changed her mind. I know it wasn’t us. I mean, we were there, a whole room full of people – people crying. . . . One woman started crying. And then Stacy started crying with her. And she did end up taking off. But when she walked out the door I didn’t see any sign that she was going to turn it around. I was assuming she had the votes and she was going to pass it. There was no one more shocked than I was that she backed off of that.
LBBJ: “Doesn’t tend to represent us.” Can you expound upon that?
Lee: Well she didn’t represent us for months in that airport issue. She kept moving it forward in spite of every meeting I went to, 99% of the people were opposed. You’d get one or two people from the airport who wanted it or from the union that wanted the construction, but the residents sure didn’t want it. Same thing happened with the land use plan. In spite of seeing hundreds of people, every one of them testifying that they did not want it, she did nothing up until last week, that I could see. . . . So right up until the last minute, are you going to be able to count on her?
LBBJ: What do you consider to be the number one issue facing Long Beach?
Lee: Their ability to mismanage a budget is frightening. I was a manager for 20 years in aerospace. And every month, you sit down with your finance people and they run the numbers for you for a five year-plan. And if you’re a millimeter off of that, you’re going to get more help than you ever dreamed of. I look at this situation and all of the sudden it’s one year away and whoopsie, we’re $10 million or $9 million off, whatever it was. That simply doesn’t happen in a business atmosphere. . . . [The city] had a lawsuit coming down the pike that we knew about that we knew in all likelihood we were going to lose. You manage to your risks. I mean, I managed budgets for 20 years.
LBBJ: What did you do?
Lee: I was a manager in the satellite business on the business side. I was in the finance department. I was there for 20 years. In their world, they keep you in a job about four years and then they move you to something else. I managed a lot of different departments.
LBBJ: Before the airport issue, were you involved in any issues at all in the city, or is that the one that sort of got you involved?
Lee: The only one I picked up on, and it was a long time ago, was Save The Parks. I play tennis at El Dorado Park. I have played tennis there for years. . . . So I did take out after the person who had that contract at one point, because they wanted to chop down trees and put in a big building and so I went after that issue and got it stopped.
LBBJ: Do you think there will be a run-off?
Lee: I would think so. There are so many people running. It’s got to split the vote enough ways to make that happen.
LBBJ: Have you done any mailings or anything, or just walking?
Lee: I have done walking. We just finished putting together the mailing a couple days ago. So you’ll see that soon.
LBBJ: Last I looked, Mungo had $78,000.
Lee: Well last I looked she had $60,000, so she’s still gathering. He had like $30,000 or $35,000, [candidate Rich] Dines did. . . . But he started like last summer.
LBBJ: Do you guys get along?
Lee: He scares me to death.
Lee: I think he’s slick. I think he’s far more dangerous than she is. I think he would put in an international airport in a heartbeat. . . . He won’t answer that question when pressed.
LBBJ: We’ll see what he answers to this [questionnaire].
Lee: I have sent the other news sources after him, and I go, “Ask him this question.” What he does is he’ll say, “I’m in favor of a master plan.” So, you know, he ducks it.
LBBJ: If you were elected to the city council are there particular people on the council you see yourself aligning with?
Lee: Well, I would say values-wise probably Daryl Supernaw. People have asked me who am I most like. I am probably most like Suzie [Price]. I do my homework. I think she does her homework. . . . [In regard to the airport noise ordinance], I was looking at the long-range risk. And the long-range risk is they are increasing international flights at the rate of 10% a year.
LBBJ: That doesn’t matter for Long Beach. Maybe at LAX and John Wayne, huge airports. But when you’re under a flight limit like we are, there’s only so much you can do.
Lee: I’m just saying, if they’re bulging there, I think that’s what would cause them to come and want to challenge our noise ordinance and say, “For the greater good” . . . . At the last airport meeting I went to, they said they talked to the people down in Orange County. And they had had similar problems with their noise ordinance. And they said the only thing that works is taking their flight slots away. That’s the only thing that actually moves them. Money? They’ll just keep shoveling the money at you.
LBBJ: Do you consider Long Beach to be a business-friendly city?
Lee: Well, I don’t think having the highest sales tax in the state is business friendly. I don’t know how much 1% really affects the business. If you had your choice of going to Signal Hill or Lakewood versus Long Beach, would you pick a different city? . . . . I thought Measure A was a bad idea. I didn’t vote for it.
LBBJ: Neither did most of the 5th District.
Lee: Right. But they did a really good job of selling that. That’s a testimony to the police union. . . . Are they going to use it on what they said they’d use it on? I think you asked me that question too. I think to date they have, as far as I can tell. But it looked to me like it was going to get siphoned off into the general fund with all these budget problems that they have. . . . Let’s take a look at how we spend our money here. Did we really need a new civic center?
LBBJ: According to a few seismic reports we did.
Lee: They could have fixed it a whole lot cheaper than rebuilding it. . . . How about that swimming pool? $100 million swimming pool. . . . It’s not that I have an objection to having a competitive swimming pool. Something we can be proud of. But putting it in the sand in the 3rd District where basically the wealthy get to use it, not the whole city.
LBBJ: Back to our business friendly question, do you think the city is doing a good job on that?
LBBJ: What about small businesses? Have you talked to entrepreneurs in your travels in the district?
Lee: I have. One woman was really angry about the sales tax. She felt like she was not being supported by the city. Other than that, you know, the 5th District is not a poor district. You go through the areas and our storefronts are full. . . . We seem to be able to keep businesses in our shops. I don’t know how that’s going to go in the future with everything going electronic. Brick and mortar shops are going by the wayside. People shop on Amazon.
LBBJ: How would you rate the job you have done so far communicating with 5th District residents?
Mungo: The 5th District has many different types of residents. Some residents still don’t use e-mail. I have worked really hard to build a network of individuals that get my e-mail and will print it and hand it off to some of their less techie neighbors. We currently send e-mails at least monthly, and on big issues to an extensive mailing list that we have tripled in size since taking office. I really feel passionate that connecting with the neighbors and providing them accurate, relevant, regular information is a really important part of citizen engagement. I think we, as a city, could do a better job.
LBBJ: Some of the other councilmembers hold regular community meetings. Is that something you have done or considered?
Mungo: Yes. The first year, I really focused on groups that had specific concerns that they wanted addressed immediately. We did meetings related to the speeding on Studebaker, we did meetings related to Heartwell Park issues. We did a first year of issue-based meetings. Year two . . . . We did a series of probably 30 neighborhood meetings in smaller groups throughout the district based on where people lived. We were able to discuss things that were very specific to them: their streets, their sidewalks, their tree trim cycle, their lighting, their alleys, their parks they are adjacent to. At that time was our first homeless count where we were seeing the real impact, so we were able to talk about direct services and opportunities for the community to partner in finding resources for the homeless crisis. And then year three, we took a lot of time to kind of mix between the two. We also did “coffee with the councilwoman,” where you could stop by Grounds on a Saturday and have hot cocoa and talk about anything.
LBBJ: Are you still doing things like this?
Mungo: I do those regularly, yes.
LBBJ: What’s the biggest lesson you have learned since being on the city council?
Mungo: Making change for your residents means uniting their voices and being persistent, providing the data necessary to convince your colleagues that what is in the best interest of the 5th can be in the best interest of the whole city. And it is a lot longer process than I would have initially thought. I have more than a decade of experience in local government, and the bureaucracy of the City of Long Beach was more bureaucratic than I would have initially thought in my experience dealing with them as a government to a government.
LBBJ: Criticisms from your challengers include that you don’t do a good job of representing 5th District constituents, and that you don’t take community input first before making a decision. How would you respond to those criticisms?
Mungo: Well, in my first three years, despite many communications to my challengers through knocking on doors and leaving mailers and putting information in local papers about community meetings, none of them had attended a community meeting. I think the first time I met one of my challengers was when the airport issue arose. And while big issues are always important, the council last year voted on I want to say 1,000 different agenda items. So it’s important to ensure that you’re getting information out regularly and consistently. I do a lot through neighborhood association leadership. And none of my challengers, until they became candidates, were really involved in their neighborhood associations.
LBBJ: How would you respond to the bit about not taking community input before making decisions?
Mungo: The executive director of the Council of Neighborhood Organizations [Robert Fox] actually just came out publicly and stated that of councilmembers I am the most engaged, most in tune with my residents. He could not believe the detail and level of information that I had absorbed from listening to my neighbors. I know every corridor, most business owners [and] the vibe of the district because I really do at any time listen to residents.
LBBJ: One of them, referring to the airport, said that you had initially favored [international flights] and then changed your mind after you talked to more residents.
Mungo: With relation to the international terminal, I did dozens and dozens of community meetings in people’s backyards, at community centers. Anywhere that anyone had a question. We hosted multiple meetings at the airport. We brought city staff. Any neighborhood or neighbor that asked, we would have a meeting, whether it was in your living room, on your front yard, wherever. And at those meetings, I have always been clear that it was really important as a city that, before we come out for or against [something], we have all the information. . . . You can’t say yes at the beginning of a process. But what you can say is, “I am always open to the process and let’s see where it goes. And let’s see what will come of it and let’s hear where the ideas are.”
LBBJ: Is there a vote you’ve made since joining the council that you regret?
Mungo: I think there are a lot of things that we as a council can learn from. And I try generally not to have regret in my life and take everything as a learning opportunity. With over 1,000 votes a year, it’s hard to pinpoint and identify just one. What I would say is that I wish I did a better job articulating how the voices of my residents and their comments and engagement led to the vote that I ended up taking. I think that many don’t realize the volume of communication that a 5th District councilperson gets, especially me, who sends out a newsletter where anyone can just click reply and have instant access. We try our best to gather the opinions of many and talk with individuals, see where they get their ideas, see what things we can do differently. I think that often times a yes or a no vote isn’t the whole story. And I sometimes wish we were voting on something slightly different than what’s before the council at the time.
LBBJ: What do you consider to be the number one issue facing Long Beach?
Mungo: Homelessness. I feel like homelessness is a regional issue that cannot be solved by any one city alone. I appreciate the united approach that we’re using between public safety and the health department. . . . I am curious to see if year over year we can sustain the kind of progress we did in the first two-year measurement. It’s a complex issue that has no simple answers. And I believe it will be the issue facing our city for the next several years.
LBBJ: How would you rate your work with fellow councilmembers?
Mungo: I would say that we have worked together and respect each other’s differences of opinions. I have a very different focus and priority list than my colleagues. I think that was evident in the types of items I bring to council – job focused, public safety focused, neighborhood focused. I choose to focus my leadership on the council on local issues that I believe are important to neighbors. I think that that is where my colleagues and I differ in how involved we should be in statewide and national issues. I think that the process that was originally set up for advocacy has broken down a bit in the last two years. We continue to advocate for a united legislative agenda that allows us to more aggressively attack multiple bills instead of focusing the council on one bill at a time because the legislature, similar to our council, is hearing more legislation than they have ever heard before.
LBBJ: Is there a particular councilperson you lean on more as far as sharing ideas than any other, or is it sort of across the board with everybody?
Mungo: I think that Suzie [Price] and I are most united in our priorities in terms of public safety and pro-business and pro-job creation in the city. And so I would say that typically, Al [Austin], Rex [Richardson] and Lena [Gonzalez] all reach out when an item is being headed up by a different value base. But I am very fortunate that every councilmember calls me.
LBBJ: What about the mayor? Do you communicate with the mayor or does he communicate with you on a regular basis? Or is it at the council meetings, primarily?
Mungo: Well, if you watched the council of yesteryear, the mayor used to sit with his back to the 5th District. And you don’t see that anymore. That was before my time. I get along with the mayor. He attends my community events and meetings and really appreciates the voice of the 5th District.
LBBJ: Do you consider Long Beach to be a business-friendly city?
Mungo: I think that there is much more that we can do. I think we have made strides. And I think that that helps people identify us as business-friendly if they have been a part of the new processes. But too many businesses, for too long, felt that city hall was a bunch of red-tape. We have a lot of work to do to expose businesses to the new and innovative ways that we are being supportive. It will take a long time. . . . We did an opportunity for any business who started in Long Beach or grew in Long Beach in the last two years to have their business license refunded. And so, the people who took advantage of that would say yes, it is business friendly. However, there are still many more things we could do. I was talking to a hairdresser the other day who said you know, “I don’t think it’s friendly that if I work in two shops that I need two different business licenses. Why can’t I have one business license with two addresses?” . . . . And we want to continue to do those things.
LBBJ: The city is facing some fiscal challenges. . . . The bottom line is, the city says we could be anywhere from what, $8 million to $19 million [budget deficit] in fiscal year 2019?
Mungo: We’ve cut it down to under $10 million.
LBBJ: And that doesn’t count unfunded liabilities. With your budget background, plus you run the budget committee, if the charter amendment does not pass, do you see the potential for cuts in services or staff?
Mungo: We have worked really hard to restore some of the services cut under previous councils. We were on a six-year tree trimming cycle. The previous council chose to just stop watering our parks, which resulted in a third of our trees being dead. I think that this council will take a better long-range view of the decisions we make and the implications of those decisions, because a good number of us are under 45. We have already started a process to tighten our belts. . . . Every single year that I have been on the budget committee, we have come in under budget. Every year we come in under budget, we continually put additional funds into our rainy-day fund and our reserves so that we’re in a better position to address these issues, should they come.
I hope that we are able to balance with some of the new revenue that we’re receiving. We have done an excellent job building up sales tax revenue. We have seen additional housing downtown contribute to increases in revenue and property taxes. . . . We also have had a lot of discussions about subvention rates. A subvention rate is, if renting a soccer field for an hour costs $100 and you rent that field for $20, you’re subventing that program by 80%. If renting a pool costs $1,000 an hour and you’re renting it for $100 an hour, you’re subventing the swim program by 90%. And so, one of the things I did when I became chair of budget oversight committee was I asked financial services [staff] to start showing us costs versus charges so we know what we are subventing [and] where we are choosing to not collect what things cost.
LBBJ: Do you feel comfortable with where we’re at when it comes to fiscal challenges, or are you going to be a little concerned if the charter amendment doesn’t pass? That’s going to be a lot of money.
Mungo: The reason the charter amendment is such an important question is that it is a question for a generation. It’s not a one-year adjustment. It’s restoring to what people are already comfortable with to maintain the services that they expect.
LBBJ: Is there going to be a runoff in your district? I’m sure you’ve surveyed.
Mungo: I hope not. I have not surveyed. I think the best kind of survey is the kind of survey I do every day when I’m knocking on doors and talking to voters. I’ve knocked on half the doors in the district already. More than that by now. . . . So far, it is a very small group of individuals who have said that they will not be supporting me.
LBBJ: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Mungo: I hope the voters will consider that being a councilperson is quite a learning process. The first year is like drinking water out of a firehose. And while I continue to try my best, I’m not perfect. I do the best I can with the information I have available, and I appreciate residents who are willing to provide me with their feedback and opinions and can help me along the way. I am very fortunate to have mentors in almost every one of our neighborhoods to help guide both communications strategies to ensure that the most number of residents will get engaged on an issue. The number one thing we can do to protect our quality of life as a family, as a community and as a district is to stay engaged and get to know your neighbors and be kind to them. I hope that over the next four years we’ll continue to grow together and improve the 5th District even more.