Long Beach residents riding the Metro Blue Line will start to notice some familiar badges after the city council approved legislation Tuesday that will give the LB Police Department jurisdiction over the Metro.
The council approved the final contract between the Metro Board and LBPD that will replace the current metro staff of Los Angeles Police Department officers with Long Beach officers.
The change will take effect beginning this summer, while LBPD takes the next few months to hire on 30 new officers for the metro division. The new hires will patrol the eight stations included in the Metro Blue Line, as well as all the ground in between.
Mayor Robert Garcia, who has a position on the Metro board, voiced his enthusiasm for the new division.
“It’s not everyday that this council gets to vote to add 30 new LBPD officers,” Garcia said.
By putting LBPD in charge of the Blue Line, the city hopes to decrease response time from 12 minutes to five minutes, as well as increase coverage throughout the city over a 24-hour period to improve public safety as a whole, according to Vice Mayor Rex Richardson.
The council hopes to provide a sense of familiarity for the residents riding the metro by hiring officers that are concentrated in one area and have a better understanding of the city of Long Beach.
The new division isn’t limited to the tracks and the new hires will also be able to respond to city-wide problems, while the current LB officers will be able to respond to incidents happening on the metro, if needed.
In another effort to improve the safety of residents, the city is looking to prohibit panhandling on traffic medians that may distract drivers.
City staff will be exploring legal methods of limiting the access to medians in high traffic areas, which are commonly used as platforms for panhandlers. The intersections with the highest amount of collisions which include Anaheim Street and Long Beach Boulevard, minutes away from Cal State Long Beach, will receive first priority throughout the study.
While the intent of the study is to ensure the safety of both drivers and pedestrians, some citizens accused the council of targeting the homeless community, which are more likely to be seen on the streets near busy intersections than anyone else.
“This is an attempt … at best, to remove homeless people out of sight and out of mind, and at worst, it represents a continuing trend by the city to criminalize poverty,” said Stefan Borst Censullo, member of the Democratic Socialists of America in Long Beach.
Censullo also addressed the issue of prohibiting freedom of speech, saying that panhandling is protected by the first amendment. Cities that have in the past attempted to ban panhandling faced lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Councilwoman Suzie Price, who introduced the measure, was quick to ensure that the ban is to improve the safety of citizens without targeting a single group.
“I don’t want Girl Scout cookies being sold on the medians. I don’t want car washes being solicited on the medians,” Price said. “It’s just a dangerous traffic hazard and people get confused.”
The study will be conducted over the next two months and return to the council with legal clarity on how to prohibit people from accessing medians.
Long Beach is also one step closer to providing a new hotel for residents and visitors to stay in.
The new hotel site located on North Lakewood Blvd. will have six stories, 125 rooms and a two level parking garage. The current site is a mostly empty lot shared with a Holiday Inn and adjacent to a gas station.
Council approved a request for a zone expansion for the construction of the new hotel, having already been approved by the Holiday Inn and the gas station. Both the existing hotel and the gas station will remain where they are, leaving the contractors to come up with a paint scheme that compliments the buildings already present.
Councilwoman Stacy Mungo said that the new hotel would provide a place to stay for those travelling to Long Beach for business.
“We’re very proud to have our corporate partners do trainings from individuals all across America and sometimes international and they come to Long Beach to be trained and these are great facilities for them to stay at,” Mungo said.
Receiving the approval of city council, the hotel construction will be up for a final vote in the coming weeks.
The council also approved the second amnesty period for the Long Beach Public Library.
The month-long amnesty period will take place during April and give residents an opportunity to turn in overdue items back to the library without facing any penalties.
Councilman Robert Uranga brought the measure to council after seeing the success of the program last year, stating that the 13,323 returns brought in a total of $239,814 along with 2,911 donated books.
While the program presents an opportunity to citizens to regain library privileges, councilmembers warned against the program becoming a pattern in the library.
“What I don’t want is to start a pattern where we do this every single year so people just keep their books until that time and then obviously have their fines forgiven,” Mungo said. “To those of you who do not take this opportunity, there will unlikely be another opportunity in the future.”