Thank you printer for dying on me today
Thank you Staples for not being able to print out my paper in the correct format
Thank you USC MSW Print Center for letting my paper break the computer
and for having a broken stapler
Here it is!
Community Immersion and the 9th District of Long Beach California
Sonya L. Keith
University of Southern California
Professor Evangelina Espinoza Reina
Long Beach and the Power of the People Living There
“All politics are local”, said former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Thomas “Tip” O’Neill. Neighborhoods have their own politics, both formal and informal defined by the community topography, economics, politics, culture and relationships. The emotional, financial, and physical health of individuals are often tied directly to the community where their home or work is; it is important that social workers understand the dynamics of the base communities clients spend time in. Success of treatment plans hinge of the availability of clients to access services with convenience and safety. Individual goals set in the sterile isolation of an office may be defeated once the client returns to the neighborhood where attitudes and social goals differ from clinical goals setting the client up to fail. The impact a neighborhood has on an individual may be both stronger and more persistent than the impact of family. (Berns R, 2004). Neighborhood affiliation is an identity the way family, political party, and job title are identifying characteristics. Understanding the community a client lives in is one way to learn about them. Examining the community and making visual as well as statistical measurements creates a baseline for measurable, observable and achievable change. Social Workers addressing neighborhood issues must be informed as to the statistics of an area which can be researched and have an understanding of the characteristics of the neighborhood which are rarely accurately portrayed on paper. Fog horns, boat engines and train whistles sounding through the evening air rarely make it into written descriptions of Long Beach. Local government agencies and property brokers will tell you the “walkability” scale of an area by listing the proximity of stores, schools and resources, however the presence of indigent residents living on sidewalks, the conditions of the sidewalks, noticeable presence or absence of police or gangs, and general feel of an area are not quantitative measurements and are best learned from experience.. All politics begin locally and residents of neighborhoods which are well governed and maintained will have a different approach to challenges than someone raised in a run-down anarchy.
A resident of Long Beach cannot be decidedly defined as affluent or impoverished by identification with the city. Long Beach is a diverse city with a history rich in culture, but also comprised of fortunes, racism, classism, and one major natural resource turned business. The Port of Long Beach competes with other ports such as the Los Angeles Port yet earns thrice the money with half the numbers of employees. Because of the port the city can afford to insulate infrastructure and also isolating the city from outside services as well as funding. Residents have exposure to vast wealth and extreme poverty within blocks of each other which make the politics of Long Beach diverse and the residents at risk of being polarized by location within the city.
The northern most portion of Long Beach is also the furthest from the water as shown on the map. This area is known as “The 9th District” and is bisected by the Los Angeles River and bordered by South Street as the southernmost demarcation and East 70th street to the north, Delta to the west and as far east as Coke Avenue. The locals have subdivided the district into ten unique neighborhoods and each subdivision has a neighborhood council, holds meetings and then shares their activities with the other neighborhoods via a community website at http://www.insidedistrict9.com/ and has frequent interaction with the Long Beach City Council Member Rex Richardson representing the area. The 9th District is as far from the Port of Long Beach as possible while remaining in the city limits and is primarily a community of homes. Bungalows and 1940’s single family homes are set back on plots behind wrought iron and wooden fences. The metal dividers separating yards from faded gray and buckling pavement are visual indicators that good fences make good neighbors in an area that often has the highest crime rate in the city. Portions of the area are undergoing renovation with new street medians installed and planted with trees and flowers in the center of fresh asphalt. Children walk home in packs while single occupant, late model cars cruise down the streets as visible reminders that these midcentury homes exist in the year 2015.
According to Century 21 real estate agent Leanna Massimini, residents in the Hamilton neighborhood of the 9th District, live in homes earning 7.5% more than the average income, although 29.6% of the children live in poverty level income and conditions. English is the most predominant language spoken with Spanish and Mon-Khmer, a Cambodian dialect, strongly represented. Residents identify as 51% are Mexican, and 12.1% of Asian Cambodian ancestry with 32.7% having been born in another country. Incomes here are moderate and just 7.5 percentage points above the national average. 9.3% of the residents here are college students from the California State University at Long Beach, and Dominguez Hills, or Long Beach City College. Over 10% of the people living in this area are college graduates and the primary occupation here is manufacturing. District 9 is led by ten neighborhood councils, 1 City Councilman as part of a civic government that appoints the transportation and port authorities.
The neighborhood is changing faster than many parts of the city other than the waterfront. My last visit through here was in 1994 when it was decorated with older cars and populated with visible gang activity. Without access to the community plans, agenda and residential statistics I would have operated on the premise that the residents here were poor because they were poorly educated and creating their own economy based on illicit activity rather than being part of a 97 school Unified School District and employed in manufacturing. It came as a surprise that the local City councilman was promoting Jazz and Music festivals as venues to bring all portions of the district together.
Community demographics matter politically because the populous elect the leaders who appoint oversight to the Port of Long Beach and through the port control of trade and economic success or struggle for this country and others. Unpopular legal decisions have brought the port to a halt and forced restricting of the unions in 1988. The legal presidents from that crisis are still echoed today in the legislation about Uber drivers being considered contracted workers or employees. Language matters because successful education for Non English Speakers require awareness of the number of ESL (English as a Second Language) students and the ability to communicate with the parents. School lunches, free backpacks, free day care programs at the school for the poorest students can’t be structured into the system without knowledge of the numbers of families in need . Repaving the streets most worn and used as was begun in the summer of 2014 and required information on transportation and need.
Community Characteristics and Need
Ethnic and cultural acknowledgement and appreciation matter because Long Beach has a history of racist tendencies dating back to the first municipally funded band being the private band of a Caucasian man, Harry Baley, in response to a popular Italian musician applying for local dollars and official status. The concern then was that Italians were taking American dollars and jobs from American citizens (Los Angeles Herald September 8, 1908). In 1997 when COSCO , a Chinese Shipping Company, was evaluating their terminal contract with the Port of Long Beach, and considering building on the abandoned Navy Yard, the Associated Press released an article on March 31, 1997 linking the terminal to Chinese Communism. The politics of race in Long Beach inspired Heul Hauser from California’s Gold to file a lawsuit regarding the claims of Chinese Communism. Currently there is a growing Cambodian population in the same city that has historically been leery of non-Caucasian residents and business partners. Being aware of the historical bias, the city can provide services to adapt and welcome new comers without tensions.
The current physical and economic characteristics of District 9 are changing and have been served by newly created initiatives: Uptown Property and Business improvement District, the Liquor Store Modernization Program, and the annual “Getting Back to Work” regional jobs summit. The 2012 Liquor Store Modernization Program changes the appearance of the area from the street by removing broken payphones, displays and posters that blocked windows and reduced the clutter inside of the stores. Concurrently the program assessed that the district had a disproportionate number of liquor stores which were tied to higher crime in this area compared to neighborhoods with fewer stores. Stores now have more communication with the police who can easily access store surveillance camera feeds. Residents of North Long Beach are attempting to transform neighborhood stores from liquor to corner grocery stores and make the area safer for new businesses. The program reduced crime and improved the physical appearance of the area.
According to the US Census Bureau, the average Long Beach resident travels just under half an hour to work. Thirty minutes is the approximate amount of time needed to drive from the Long Beach convention center to downtown Los Angeles as calculated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority and experienced by myself. Manufacturing is the primary employment for residents weather in LA or working in the terminals of the port. Travel outside the city is not nessisary for entertainment as the downtown area has a thriving nightlife and culturally the area has drawn on the historic musical roots of the city to have Jazz Festivals, Busker competitions and celebrate the emerging music scene of underground clubs that are in fact sometimes underground. These music clubs are not visible from the street.
Residents are served by multiple small medical clinics and hospitals. Although this portion of the city is not home to any world class institutions, it remains in near proximity to Harbor UCLA hospital and the VA Hospital by car. Local emergency services, specifically the fire station, are at risk of closure due to lack of funding that the local emergency services tax could not replace. The EMS tax is a line item added to the bill of anyone who calls for emergency medical treatment and is seen by a first responder. Speculation is that rather than filling a finance gap, the $250 charge will prevent lower income people from calling 911 when they need to for heart attacks and other emergencies. Twenty-four additional Fire Department staff were included in the 2015 budget but were not hired because they could not be paid and the 2016 budget has omitted those positions. Lack of appropriate finding for emergency services has caused situations such as a house fire one street away from a fire department to continue burning until a firetruck from another station could respond. The local fire department did not have a working fire truck. Fire insurance is expensive and although the 9th District has some middle class affluence, many residents are not affluent and do not and cannot afford housing and fire insurance on small budgets.
Literature and art are important components of the local and business interests of the city. Fall 2015 is the expected opening of the North Neighborhood Library. Long Beach is the home of the Freedom Writers, a group of teens who were inspired by a book of Diary entries from Europe and in response kept their own journals which were published into a book; The Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell inspired into a movie and created opportunities for the students to travel the world and publically speak of growing up in the neighborhood. Long Beach is also the setting of Snoop Dogg’s book Love Don’t Live Here No More: Book One of Doggy Tales . In 1982 the Long Beach Women’s Author Festival was begun and has relocated to the Long Beach Convention Center. October 2015 will find the Long Beach Comic Convention in town celebrating the written word and characters and art associated with comic books and movies. Long Beach is addressing the long outdated local library in the northern part of the city and bringing in multimedia services to expand the scope of what a traditional library used to offer, however the process on the project has been slowed in part to the closure of the Community Redevelopment Agencies and loss of funding through them.
Community Decision Making
Civic Leadership in Long Beach is easily defined by the structured city government: non-voting Mayor Robert Garcia earns $137,144 as of August 1, 2015 and nine city council members who each earn over $100,000 a year. The elected Mayor has the historically used his authority to make unilateral decisions such as bringing the railroad to town and currently appoints the committee to oversee the transit authority and the largest business in the city, The Port of Long Beach. Each of the nine city councilmembers presides over a separate portion of the city and oversees events and budgets for their territory. The political forum in Long Beach is transparent. Minutes and agendas for the Council and other Board meetings are available for free on the internet or during business hours at city hall. Informally there are many community support groups, local reporters, neighborhood watch captains and Neighborhood Committee members.
Conclusion and reflection
Long Beach functions on two major strata’s: large metropolis and suburban neighborhood and each is dependent on the other for survival and change. The city is made internationally famous and financially important by the Port of Long Beach and constantly in flux by the power of the residents living there. . Cultures and character of the residents give the city depth and other identities. Although the structure of the government has changed since the inception of Long Beach, the effects remain. When the city was primarily a port the residents pushed for changing the underwater landscape by removing mud so the port could expand business to containerships. In modern times the residents are still the driving force to the evolution of Long Beach digging into the existing neighborhood and local businesses to morph physical composition the neighborhoods and business districts affecting small businesses like liquor stores and public services, automobile race down the streets of the city and bringing their own personal interests to the city in the form of conventions for literature an art. As a social worker, I would recognize this existing process and build it into plans to change the city. The multilayer governing system serving the many identities and needs of the city are imperfect but also changing. Suspected financial corruption and mismanagement have not prevented governing officials from addressing the needs of large and small businesses and the people who own and work inside and beside them. The shortage of public safety service equipment and personnel is the current concern now that the 2016 budget has omitted the funding for missing but needed staff. that I would address with encouraging residents to lobby their politicians and also take CPR and First Aid classes, reduce safety and fire hazards and minimize their risk for needing services not adequately offered. A social worker walking through the city will see places like the 9th District where modern people live in older homes and use their political power to create a city scape that matches their internal identities. While many historical establishments remain, the economic situation of Long Beach is a solid representation of the political reality of change. Elected officials wield enormous cultural and financial power, however they are placed in power by vocal residents who actively inform these leaders of the changes they want on both levels. Businesses are in flux and a visit to the corner liquor store in the 9th District and The Pike Street both showed this with new businesses replacing closed ventures with new liquor license applications taped to the windows. Long Beach is a city with many personalities and all of them are the products of the people who live there. The bungalow I rented in college is still standing amidst all the change in the area and I often wish I lived there still.
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