The Long Beach mayoral race, which voters will decide in November, is down to two candidates: 9th District Councilmember Rex Richardson and 3rd District Councilmember Suzie Price, each with their own views and approach on how to tackle the various issues in the city, including development.
The Business Journal spoke with both Richardson and Price to get a better understanding of their thoughts on property development in Long Beach. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.
What are your thoughts on how Long Beach has and should approach development?
RR: When I first started, it was very difficult to attract investment to our community to provide the basic needs and services and amenities that neighbors want. We had to do the hard work of addressing zoning to make it easier for our city to attract the types of uses that the community wants.
Coming out of the pandemic, you see vacant storefronts and vacant buildings in almost every council district. Well, that’s all we knew when I started. So I have a unique perspective, because if we were able to turn around the economic circumstances and attract investment in North Long Beach, we can do it anywhere, right?
Now, you need that perspective on Second Street and Belmont Shore. You’ve got closed down grocery stores on Los Coyotes in East Long Beach and North Long Beach, so we are in discussions to bring two new grocers to North Long Beach right now. From that standpoint, I have the hands-on experience of working together with the community on development that helps bring it up.
I also think that there needs to be balance. It’s important that we develop with and for local residents. If we don’t make sure that there are protections in place to keep people from being forced out of their neighborhoods, then we’re a part of the problem, not the solution.
Life support like protections for tenants, no net loss policies, inclusionary housing, these are policies and I’ve helped champion in the city that helped make sure that as we invest and as we grow as a city, we do so in a way that doesn’t leave low-wage workers and working families behind.
SP: I think we’ve done a great job over the last eight years in terms of seizing development opportunities that makes sense for the city, but I think we have a lot more potential.
I see the city, especially our waterfront area, as having so much untapped potential. There are opportunities for us to showcase everything that Long Beach has to offer and really focus on our waterfront areas in a way that we have not been, and certainly have the potential to.
I think the focus of the city moving forward really should be in two places. One is our waterfront, figuring out how to have development there that makes sense and brings people to the waterfront.
Whether that is investing in things like museums, public art, a remote campus for either LBCC or CSULB, sports or concert venues, we should have amenities that bring people to the waterfront.
The second area where our focus should be is on more mixed use developments that offer housing. Revitalizing our commercial corridors and large shopping centers that are no longer serving a purpose of attracting retail into mixed use developments is something that we need to focus on.
As we think about that, you look at where we need a lot of housing right now. We need more senior housing and middle income workforce housing for sure. You look at the Senior Arts Colony that we built in Long Beach, it’s a great concept and allows for a lot more engagement and housing for seniors.
What are your thoughts on the Elephant Lot and how it should be used?
RR: I think the Elephant Lot presents an opportunity to meet some of the city’s biggest challenges. In the years ahead, we need to figure out how to grow our revenues as a city.
The first thing I would do is engage directly with the stakeholders from the adjacent residents on Ocean, then talk to the Convention and Visitors Bureau to figure out what their vision is. Although there hasn’t been a meaningful conversation with the Angels, if that opportunity presents itself, we need to make sure that whatever we negotiate protects the interests of our residents.
Personally, I would like to see some combination with entertainment, since that is the Downtown entertainment district. If there’s an opportunity to make sure that there’s local good jobs that pay a living wage and housing, it would be great if there’s an opportunity to integrate those things into that site.
We certainly need to be smart about the way it is planned, but I’ve seen some really creative things in other cities with the way that development has taken place. I think it’s a real opportunity to add something that will really enhance our waterfront and add economic value to the city.
In terms of what exactly the use is, I’m a bit agnostic. I think we just have to understand what our guiding principles are and let that drive the discussion.
SP: I think the Elephant Lot is an underutilized asset, and we need to activate it for the people who live and work here. We need to be creative and open minded, but have it be a public service type of establishment, whether it’s a museum, or concert venue, or a sports complex as we head into the Olympics.
How do we create spaces, either in or around the Elephant Lot, that are similar to things like the Highline in New York, where you’ve got a lot of walkability and public art along the way?
I think about how we feature that area and incorporate—with the help of some urbanists—public art and walkability around that area and use the Elephant Lot as a public serving amenity. I also worry about uses that would create too much of a parking impact.
Anytime you have a surface lot adjacent to the ocean or close to like the Elephant Lot is, you have a unique opportunity for something to help activate it.
Obviously, I’d want to have a lot of public engagement on it, but I would love to see an art museum with a music venue at that location that partners with the university. I think that would be fantastic.
How do you feel the city should tackle meeting the affordable housing requirements set by the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (10,000 by mid-October, 26,502 units by 2029)?
RR: I think you have to invest in every community. The most significant barrier to building housing is not the space. We’ve already identified through our Land Use Element space and capacity for 26,000 units in Long Beach. So what is the challenge of getting into affordability? It’s because we don’t have a dedicated source of revenue.
When redevelopment agencies ended in 2013, that took about $25 to $30 million a year away, and we haven’t replaced that. We’ve done grant programs to do things like motel conversions, but it pales in comparison to the scope that we need to build.
We’re going to need to partner with other agencies who also have similar interests. By working together, we can identify how we can layer funding together around projects and how we can leverage shared use of properties, facilities and land.
Imagine if we had had a program that guaranteed that the affordable housing produced in our city goes to students on free and reduced lunch. Those students now have a better chance at higher educational attainment levels, better graduation rates and better educational outcomes, because they have housing stability and security.
That’s the way that we have to as a city think comprehensively about bringing all of our partners together. If we partner with educational institutions, health care and others, we can build housing that’s available for our workforce here in Long Beach.
SP: We’ve taken some good steps in the past few years by adopting policies like our inclusionary housing policy, which does incentivize affordable housing projects. Right now, our number one source of affordable housing creation in the city is our ADUs. That’s not low-affordable, but it does provide different price points for people to be able to enter the housing market. I think we need to continue to do that where it makes sense.
I think trying to promote and incentivize more affordable housing projects throughout the city is critical for us and working with developers to streamline their approval processes will help in that endeavor.
When I talk to developers who create affordable housing projects, they will say that it takes years for a project to come online, and that’s just unacceptable because the need is now. Really thinking about how we can streamline and incentivize the process to develop affordable housing is critical.
I think the other thing that we really should be doing more of is public-private partnerships with the city, or the city can leverage some of its own credit rating and financial status to be able to work with private developers to create more affordable housing projects.
Those kinds of partnerships provide opportunities for us to enhance our affordable housing stock, but it needs to be made a priority.
If you are elected, what would be the first thing you do or push for to change development in the city?
RR: One of the first things that I’ll do as mayor is establish a deputy mayor for economic development, recovery. This will be sort of a czar in the Mayor’s Office who can help lead and grow a Long Beach Advisory Team whose job is to explore opportunities to attract businesses and high paying jobs to our city, and housing is central to that.
When people think about doing business with Long Beach, we should think about three words: ease, speed and predictability. It should be easy and fast, you should know what to expect from our city, and we should know how long it’s going to take and how much it will cost.
In the first 100 days, I’m going to convene partners in education and health care to see what commitment and partnerships can be made to produce housing that’s truly affordable for the average family with students in public schools here in Long Beach.
I’m going to make sure that whatever we do is in partnership with those communities who are very invested in making sure that we get it right. We’re going to partner with educational institutions, nonprofits and community development corporations to make sure that we have the right people at the table to make sure that we do smart development in our city.
SP: It’s a really simple thing: I would add more planners for our city’s Development Services team.
We have fewer planners per capita than most of our peer cities, and that has resulted in a lot of unnecessary delays and a disincentive for people to want to invest in the city. Given the potential that we have a city of our size, we really need to have more developers and a streamlined process.
I also think it’s important for us to consider having an architect on staff to help with the broader vision on projects we review. We have an amazing team already in place, but we have a team that is short staffed and often doesn’t have the ability to have a watchful eye over every project.
I would love to have an architect on staff who’s connected with the broader architect associations in the city and the region. We can have a peer review and more of an eye on what the future developments look like and how they fit together so that we have some consistency in the city in terms of style and direction.