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State of the People Was Not Covered

February 14, 1991

Mayor Ernie Kell's "State of the City" message on Jan. 15 did a credible job of outlining the status of Long Beach's budget, its buildings, its business climate, its need to conserve water and to improve its infrastructure, and its ongoing problems with crime and its Police Department. The mayor clearly has provided us with his picture of what the "state of the city" looks like to him.

Noticeably missing from this picture, however, is any discussion of the "state of the people" who work and live in Long Beach. With the exception of a paragraph of praise for the 450 members of the Fire Department, the mayor neglects to acknowledge and/or thank approximately 4,000 other city employees who daily provide a wide variety of quality public services that enable Long Beach to call itself a "full-service city" and make Long Beach more than budgets and buildings.

There is no recognition of the more than 460 citizens who give their time and energies on the city's 47-plus committees, commissions, boards and task forces, and who provide valuable input to our elected officials.

And why no recognition of the activism and diversity of the numerous civic organizations that contribute positively to the dynamic changes and growth of our city?

In his picture of the city, Mayor Kell cites only two areas as being "unacceptable" to him--the Police Department's low rate of solving crimes and its high rate of disability filings.

Is it acceptable that the city has an embarrassingly high mortality rate among black infants (currently 20.8 per 1,000)? Is it acceptable that, despite statistics which indicate that last year 195,000 visits were made by residents to the city's Department of Public Health and Human Services, the department still had to turn away women in need of prenatal care and that the city has epidemic levels of measles and tuberculosis? And what about the fact that 600 to 1,000 Long Beach children are taken into custody each year to protect them from abuse and/or neglect? Is that acceptable, or the fact that Long Beach has only 82 foster homes to shelter these children?

Why is there no concern expressed about the unacceptable high dropout rate among Long Beach high school youths--particularly minorities? Or the fact that the city does not have adequate staff to respond to the many complaints of substandard housing?

Certainly, the mayor's silence on these problems does not suggest he approves of their existence. To his credit, he has taken a leadership role in focusing on the needs of the homeless by launching his Mayor's Fund for the Homeless. But where is his voice and the voices of the other members of our City Council in expressing their concern and their commitment to resolving the serious problems which impact upon the quality of life? Why is this picture of our city taken only from the narrowest of angles?

The mayor ended his speech with the remark that he is often asked by citizens: "How can I make our city better?" He responded by suggesting four items that are easy to accomplish: "Shop Long Beach first, preserve water, use the utility bill envelope to contribute to the homeless, and recycle household waste."

The future state of our city, however, does not depend upon our leadership asking us to handle the "easy" issues. The future state of our city depends on leadership that calls on us to handle the more difficult issues, and states that anything less is "unacceptable."


Long Beach

Schipske is a member of the city Board of Health and Human Services.

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