Councilmember Lena Gonzalez is pictured at Romeo Chocolates in Downtown Long Beach. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Pat Flynn
LBBJ: Do you feel business owners in your council district are happy with the direction the city is going?
Gonzalez: I would say yes, they are. We have created this really awesome ecosystem for business and residents to thrive, especially here in downtown. The tourism industry has been hitting record numbers, [with] over 7,000,000 tourists that have come through. And then we have the Port of Long Beach [and] all those business tenants and the port tenants on the Westside. Record cargo numbers. Then here [Pine Avenue], we’ve done a great job of creating an awesome ambiance. We have amazing business owners, and they have done a great job. I think all of it, combined with infrastructure projects through Measure A, is a huge upswing for the city, and the council district particularly.
LBBJ: In your four years on the city council, how have you worked to build relationships with businesses in your district?
Gonzalez: We have worked in the realm of people, policy and projects. We are very familiar with our business community. Any time we have any major business impact, we meet with all of our business stakeholders. We go around to each business improvement district with myself personally and my chief of staff to make sure they understand what the policies are in front of them and how we can help fold in some of their ideas. I am at every Small Business Saturday. We localize everything from my engagement ring that I just got at Mark Schneider, to the furniture in my office [from] Caravana. All of our events are localized. We don’t use any outside vendors. We have created a lot of policies to really create that infrastructure for them to feel supported.
LBBJ: Would you give an example of such a policy?
Gonzalez: Yes. The very first one, which we’re still working through but it’s super exciting, is the Long Beach Business First Program . . . [which will offer] preference points for local businesses to bid on contracts. Through the process, financial management is retooling our purchasing [and] our procurement technology service. . . . In addition, we have co-authored the economic inclusion items that were done recently. And we’re working on a digital inclusion roundtable that will be coming up in August that will include both large and small businesses to really understand what businesses are off the grid, and also what we can do to create more technology platforms to make it easier for them. . . .
We’re also activating the street like crazy. Pine Avenue businesses, for example, want more people on the streets. Next week we are doing a bicycle drive-in and then a movie on the street. We also have the largest event now in downtown: the Day of the Dead brought forward about 8,000 people. That allowed these businesses to see a return of about 200% on their investment for that Saturday, which is really great. And I love that: to be able to provide more opportunities for business.
LBBJ: What are businesses in your district telling you are their biggest challenges?
Gonzalez: Here in downtown, they want activation. They want more housing opportunities so there is more consumerism down here. They want more events. . . . So we are really ramping that up. Then, on the westside, they are evolving. Pier B [a rail expansion project] is coming down the pike in a decade or so. You have marijuana dispensaries opening up out there, you have homeless service providers out there, so it’s a very changing dynamic on the westside. Businesses have been there for 60 or 70 years. That’s a whole different sort of arena. They don’t care about events. They just want to know that they’ll continue to exist and that the city actually has their back, because they have felt neglected for so long. We go to every single WestPAC [Westside Project Area Council] meeting every month to make sure that they’re heard. . . . Then the central area of my district is Anaheim and PCH. We’re working with [the Long Beach] Economic Development [Department] to create more opportunities for transportation and urban mobility through bicycles and pedestrian opportunities, and maybe a median. . . . There is going to be a lot of beautification in those areas, definitely.
LBBJ: As the elected representative for the businesses in your district, what steps have you taken to make Long Beach business-friendly?
Gonzalez: We have done a lot of great work in acquiring larger businesses. We pull out all the stops. My office, we initiated the item for Amazon to come here. It was a really awesome opportunity to see economic development be creative about what we can do with another city. [Editor’s note: The proposal to bring Amazon HQ2 to Long Beach involved a partnership with Huntington Beach]. However you feel about it, it was really interesting to see that. . . .
[We also] look at the little guys, because small business is where my heart is. We don’t often do enough for them. So the Long Beach Business First program, we’re pouring a lot of our heart and soul into . . . . We’re going to be working with the chamber and its small business council. We will continue to work with the BIDs [business improvement districts] as the [city’s] procurement tool comes to fruition. That’s going to be a big investment of ours. And, like I said, continuing to activate our streets. Then working closely with economic development for the central area, because it needs a lot of love. I just know that it’s going to be a lot better, but what it will look like I don’t know yet. There are so many different council districts that stretch along that [area].
Looking ahead, another big issue here is filming and how businesses are sort of wiped out for a day because of filming. Special events are a unique part of our city, and we want to continue filming here. But we also want to be mindful of the businesses that are losing out on a day’s revenue because of filming. We need to ease that for them. We’re also looking at easing the music permits and coauthoring that with Council District 2 to make sure we have more opportunities for live music. I have another item that is similar to what Austin, Texas, did in looking at a hybrid license. Those are opportunities here in downtown that I don’t think we’ve taken advantage of.
LBBJ: What sorts of businesses do you feel your district has a need for? Do you have a plan to attract such businesses?
Gonzalez: There are a few things. I think in Downtown, it’s always great to have more competition. . . . like a Gaslamp [district] – a lot of restaurants and bars. Downtown residents want more opportunities for that. Downtown also needs a supermarket. I know we have talked in the past about Trader Joe’s coming. . . . [but] we didn’t have the education level. They wanted us to have bachelor’s degrees and higher. Now we’re at that point where about 52% of our residents have bachelor’s degrees, which is good. So [maybe] Trader Joe’s. Now we’re entertaining Whole Foods. Those are opportunities for us. As a downtown resident myself, I have to drive to go get groceries, and it’s hard.
Another kind of fun thing that downtown residents really want is an arcade bar. Everyone talks about it. There was a DLBA [Downtown Long Beach Alliance] study that [showed] it was one of the first things people wanted. Who cares about the groceries? They want an arcade bar! Again, creating retail that is also creating an ambiance, not just a passthrough but really an experience for downtown. I think that is what people really want.
LBBJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Gonzalez: As the representative for the majority of downtown, it has been an awesome opportunity to see the district evolve. I am looking for it to continue. We have the best businesses that have made us who we are. We’ll continue to focus on the Westside and make sure they know that they are near and dear to our heart. We will always support them. Our next move is to ensure that Central Long Beach, which needs help, sees a real pick-me-up . . . collaborating with our colleagues to be able to see that area thrive.