Diverse community members from across the city of Long Beach, California, in the United States, released a #PeoplesBudget for Fiscal Year 2020 on July 23, 2019, in order to bring their values and priorities to bear on the city budget.
Problems and Purpose:
Long Beach, California, in the United States, is the second most populated city in Los Angeles County, with 462,257 residents as of the 2010 census. It is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country, with African-American, Latino, white, Cambodian, Filipino and other ethnicities represented and 45.5% of residents speaking a language other than English at home . Despite this incredible diversity, positions on the Long Beach City Council and the Budget Oversight Committee (BOC) specifically have not been fully representative of this diversity both in terms of the backgrounds of members and the particular districts within the city whose representatives serve on the BOC, with wealthier, predominantly white districts disproportionately represented on City Council and the BOC . The People’s Budget initiative seeks to place the priorities of Long Beach residents writ large front and center with a budget proposal responsive to the needs of these underrepresented groups.
Background History and Context:
The first People’s Budget initiative was organized for Fiscal Year 2019, which resulted in an allocation in the city budget of over $600,000 to benefit immigrant and other minority groups . This effort was replicated for the budgeting process of Fiscal Year 2020, with particular emphasis on the importance of the upcoming 2020 census and the role a municipality like Long Beach can play in ensuring that all residents are counted.
Long Beach is a city with stark wealth disparities and a history in the late twentieth century of racially discriminatory housing practices . Refugee settlement, including Cambodians escaping the Khmer Rouge and the 1979 invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam, resulted in the creation of Cambodia Town, and throughout the twenty-first century, Latinos have been the fastest-growing demographic, resulting in language diversity found in few other places in the United States .
In 2013, Vallejo, California became the first American municipality to adopt city-wide participatory budgeting . Similar to Vallejo, Merced County, California, allocated public discretionary funds toward a participatory budgeting pilot . This pilot ended up being carried through to completion in a single district . The city of Long Beach, California has tried participatory budgeting processes in the past, and the People’s Budget Proposal has received vocal support from sitting members of the City Council as a continuation of the legacy of that process .
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities:
The People’s Budget Proposal was coordinated by Long Beach Forward, a project of Community Partners, a nonprofit with the purpose of building “community knowledge, leadership, and power” in Long Beach’s low-income communities . Community Partners is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides fiscal sponsorship and capacity-building support for a number of local grassroots initiatives, including knowledge sharing and expert counsel . Long Beach Forward also supports the Building Healthy Communities Initiative that coalesces community-based organizations and collaborative workgroups .
The People’s Budget Proposal was organized in collaboration with several advocacy groups within Long Beach, including Invest in Youth, Khmer Girls in Action, Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach, Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, Long Beach Residents Empowered, and the Advancement Project .
Participant Recruitment and Selection:
The coalition assembled for the People’s Budget represents a range of constituencies in the city and allows the People’s Budgeting process to take in the input of diverse stakeholders. Many of the organizations who participated were fellow Community Partners grantees and members of Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach.
Methods and Tools Used:
The organization of the People’s Budget Proposal centered around a Budget Advocacy Workgroup. This Workgroup brought together the participant advocacy groups to craft the proposal around community priorities. The People’s Budget Proposal utilized participatory budgeting (https://participedia.net/method/146) to develop the budget proposal, and then relied upon the lobbying efforts of its coalition members to request those allocations outlined in the People’s Budget Proposal in the FY 2020 Long Beach city budget from Long Beach mayor Robert Garcia. The coalition developed an “Advocacy Toolkit” to inspire advocacy efforts among community members by providing a script and list of phone numbers for the offices of the Mayor and City Council members for phone banking, as well as sample social media posts (https://participedia.net/method/4939) with a list of the Mayor and City Council members’ respective Twitter and Instagram account handles.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation:
The FY 2020 People’s Budget Proposal utilized the Budget Advocacy Group to identify two primary requests for funding priorities totaling $1.03 million: $530,000 to fund resources to improve greater language access and translation services for Long Beach residents whose primary language is other than English, and $500,000 for education and outreach efforts to improve participation and reach for the 2020 Census .
In addition, a “Budget Advocacy Toolkit” was created to rally volunteer support for the enactment of the People’s Budget into the official Long Beach city budget with a phone banking script, a list of talking points, phone numbers for the Mayor and the offices of each City Council Member, and social media hashtags .
Initiatives included bringing stakeholders in to provide public comment at an August 20, 2019 City Council Meeting . Outreach to inform stakeholders of the meeting and their opportunity to provide public comment were made through social media platforms, such as Twitter and Instagram, utilizing the #PeoplesBudgetLB hashtag . Public comments included sharing stories about individual experiences with city departments that were hampered by a lack of translation services .
During the FY 2019 People’s Budget process, a “Young People’s Budget Hearing” was organized on August 6, 2018 at the Long Beach 9th District Field Office by Khmer Girls in Action with teenagers advocating for the creation of a $500,000 Youth Fund centered around their own priorities . The teenagers engaged in skits, art, dialogue, and interactive storytelling to identify the benefits of a potential youth center, including tutoring services, financial literacy training, and awareness of city services .
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects:
The final FY 2020 Long Beach city budget is finalized and is currently being presented to the public, but the People’s Budget has received vocal support from City Council members, including an assurance that “The budget includes significant funding for Census outreach and additional support for the city’s Language Access Program” . What “significant funding” looks like remains to be seen.
A participant in the People’s Budget campaign reported that she comes from a community that often is not aware of what is happening in city government and yet her community lives with the consequences of that lack of awareness of how to make their voices heard . Participating in the People’s Budget campaign allowed her to build community knowledge and gave her a chance to engage in advocacy .
Following from the FY 2019 People’s Budget process, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia mirrored many of the People’s Budget proposals in his own budget recommendations, and the Mayor’s recommendations were fulfilled through the city’s unallocated funds .
Analysis and Lessons Learned:
The City of Long Beach appears to be at least vocally receptive to the work of the People’s Budget and has attempted participatory budgeting processes in the past. The group achieved partial funding of its priorities in FY 2019 and appears to be poised to make gains in FY 2020 on this year’s priorities as well.
A statement by the organizers following the completion of the FY 2019 People’s Budget campaign said, “Beyond the dollar figures, the People’s Budget campaign has successfully changed the narrative on what budgeting for racial and economic justice looks like in Long Beach. The People’s Budget changed the conversation in the city to think about public safety more holistically, make space for the stories of people who are most vulnerable, and bring these truths to the council during budget negotiations” . Much of our understanding of the People’s Budget in Long Beach is restricted to the advocacy and promotion of an already-created set of budget priorities, but initiatives from FY 2019 such as the Young People’s Budget Hearing offer a glimpse into participatory processes . The FY 2020 People’s Budget appears to have found success in directing funds to its identified initiatives, and participants from Long Beach’s underrepresented communities, as selected by Long Beach Forward, have reported feeling empowered by the process and better able to bring their concerns to City Hall .
Further research should go into how the Budget Advocacy Group selects its priority topics and reaches out to community members and stakeholders, and what community input into selecting those priorities looks like in concrete and specific terms.
- “Participatory Budgeting – Method”: https://participedia.net/method/146
- “Participatory Budgeting in Vallejo, California”: https://participedia.net/case/4230
- “Participatory Budgeting in Merced County, California”: https://participedia.net/case/5122
 The Budget Advocacy Workgroup (2019, July 23). “The People’s Budget Proposal.” Retrieved from https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/a77594_2787e1a133e34fae8517c344b3e3c1a0.pdf.
 Long Beach Forward. “Long Beach Forward – Purpose.” Retrieved from https://www.lbforward.org/purpose.
 Rivera, S. (2018, Jul 17). “Acknowledging common goals, community groups unite to present first-ever ‘people’s budget’ that prioritizes the marginalized.” Long Beach Post. Retrieved from https://lbpost.com/news/city/acknowledging-common-goals-community-groups-unite-to-present-first-ever-peoples-budget-that-prioritizes-the-marginalized/
 Rivera, S. (2019, Jul 23). “‘People’s Budget Proposal’ asks for $1.03 million in city budget for language access, Census outreach.” Long Beach Post. Retrieved from https://lbpost.com/news/peoples-budget-proposal-asks-for-1-03-million-in-city-budget-for-language-access-census-outreach
 Long Beach Forward. “The People’s Budget Advocacy Toolkit.” Retrieved from https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/a77594_977677f3133747bba2ebb78965e2e544.pdf
 Community Partners. “Community Partners – About Us.” Retrieved from https://communitypartners.org/about-us.
 Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach. “About BHC Long Beach.” Retrieved from http://www.bhclongbeach.org/about/.
 De Luca, J. (2015). Participatory Budgeting in Vallejo, California. Participedia. Retrieved from https://participedia.net/case/4230.
 Evans, G. (2017). Participatory Budgeting in Merced County, California. Participedia. Retrieved from https://participedia.net/case/5122.
 Addison, B. (2017). A History of Housing Practices in Long Beach. KCET. Retrieved from https://www.kcet.org/shows/city-rising/a-history-of-housing-practices-in-long-beach.
 @MoveLBForward (2019, August 21). “A special thanks to all of the community voices who shared their support of the #PeoplesBudgetLB last night! These folks waited hours to give public comment. Here’s a thread on some of the stories they shared at City Hall last night.” [Twitter post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/MoveLBForward/status/1164215732562845696.
 @jaisuazo (2019, August 19). “There’s an important budget hearing Tuesday night so come on out. Last year the budget proposed $160K for language access. This year it’s HALF that. We got some stuff to fix #peoplesbudgetLB” [Twitter post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/jaisuazo/status/1163673562948853761.
 @kgalongbeach (2019, August 19). “📣Tues 8/20: We need community voices to unite in support of the #PeoplesBudgetLB at City Hall tomorrow evening! Get involved with the City Budget and advocate for language justice and a complete census count for communities at risk of getting left behind in the year 2020 and beyond.” [Instagram post]. Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/p/B1XXp_dgmnJ/?igshid=1w8aeffuvs158.
 @hemdash (2018, August 6). “I'm at Long Beach's 9th District Field Office, where a crowd has gathered to watch "The Young People's Budget Hearing." Kids and teens are using the event to campaign for more youth-allocated funding in the city's 2019 budget.” [Twitter post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/hemdash/status/1026620657772068866.
 Munguia, H. (2018, August 6). Long Beach kids campaign for $500,000 Youth Fund in 2019 budget. Long Beach Press-Telegram. Retrieved from https://www.presstelegram.com/2018/08/06/long-beach-kids-campaign-for-500000-youth-fund-in-2019-budget/.
 @MoveLBForward. (2019, September 6). “What does it mean to build community knowledge? We chatted with a supporter of the #PeoplesBudgetLB on why it’s important for communities to get involved & raise their collective voices. Help us continue to build community knowledge on 9.19.19 by visiting http://lbforward.org/lbgives.” [Twitter post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/MoveLBForward/status/1170062669556006912.
 Munguia, H. (2018, September 5). Long Beach approves $3 billion budget for 2019, after marathon debate over ‘People’s Budget’ additions. Long Beach Press-Telegram. Retrieved from https://www.presstelegram.com/2018/09/05/long-beach-approves-3-billion-budget-for-2019-after-marathon-debate-over-peoples-budget-additions/.
 Suazo, J. (2018, September 5). The People's Budget Statement on FY 2019 Budget Adoption. Long Beach Forward. Retrieved from https://www.lbforward.org/post/the-people-s-budget-statement-on-fy-2019-adoption.
Video of 9/3/19 Long Beach Budget Oversight Committee meeting: http://longbeach.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=12&clip_id=10804
The first version of this case entry was written by Connor Thompson, a Master of Public Service candidate at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, and then edited. The views expressed in the entry are those of the authors, editors, or cited sources, and are not necessarily those of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.