Creating a new commission to handle issues around the interests of Native Americans in Long Beach could cost as much as $191,000, but it’s something one council member says he’ll fight for as the city drafts its budget for next year.
The City Council asked for a feasibility study last year to determine what it would take to create a commission focused on the concerns of Native Americans. The city is home to the sacred Tongva site, Puvungna, which is on the campus of Cal State Long Beach. It has been the center of a legal fight between the tribe and the university for years.
Councilmember Daryl Supernaw, who requested the study, said he hoped to be able to have the commission in place before the council’s annual Native American day of celebration, which is typically held in November, but now that’s not likely to happen. The council’s next meeting is Nov. 14, the only scheduled meeting next month.
“Our vision was to have this in place so we could get the land statement decided by the commission so we could lead the meeting on the 14th with the statement,” Supernaw said.
Supernaw’s request last November asked for a report to return to the council in 90 days, but the report wasn’t published until Oct. 18. It notes that the start-up costs and ongoing expenses of commissions have grown recently. It projects that creating a new Native American-focused commission would cost $191,000 initially and about $165,000 per year after that.
The start-up costs would help pay for what the city says could be a yearlong process to establish an advisory team, learn what the community wants from the commission, recruit potential applicants, go through the formal votes to create it and onboard commissioners approved by the mayor and City Council.
The ongoing expenses would cover hiring a dedicated city staff member to handle commission business, beginning community engagement and purchasing supplies. It would also pay the $50 per meeting stipend for 12 commissioners.
Supernaw said his idea was for a smaller commission, probably between five and seven members, to meet quarterly, not monthly.
“That seems like a pretty steep number to administer that group,” Supernaw said.
April Walker, a deputy city manager who helps run the city’s Ethics Commission meetings, said there’s a lot of staff time that goes into running meetings and that’s factored into the cost.
She pointed to the Ethics Commission, which held a special meeting Wednesday. In addition to running the meeting itself, staff also had to tabulate and digest poll results from a survey that it sent out to residents in advance of the meeting.
The costs for commissions vary. Commissions created through charter amendments, like the Ethics Commission, have a dedicated city attorney to help manage their business, but all commissions have their own staff member and support from the City Clerk’s office to run meetings.
Walker said new commissions have typically wanted to be very active and have asked for numerous reports and outreach to the community, both of which take a lot of time for city staff to put together. They also have shown a willingness to hold meetings more often than once every few months.
“We can’t tell them no,” Walker said.
Time spent on commission business and running meetings can take away from other projects that city staff members are working on outside of their commission duties, Walker said.
Supernaw was hopeful the commission in Long Beach could function similarly to the Los Angeles City/County Native American and Indian Commission and help provide nuance on city policies when it comes to protecting tribal resources and respecting tribal history.
The memo laid out some alternatives if the city determines it can’t afford the new commission. They include having the City Council solicit written comments from the Native American community on specific issues or leading city meetings with a land acknowledgment to honor the Native American community.
It also suggested the potential for referring Native American issues to the city’s Equity and Human Relations Commission, which could then hear testimony from Native American communities and send recommendations to the council.
That commission sent a letter to the City Council in June 2022 calling for the renaming of Downtown’s Lincoln Park after tribal members called for the change because of President Abraham Lincoln’s role in the 1862 hanging of 38 Dakota men, reportedly the largest mass execution in the nation’s history. The council has yet to discuss that recommendation.
While the commission seems unlikely to be formed by the end of the year, Supernaw said he’s likely to bring the issue back to the City Council for discussion in an effort to get the commission rolling.
“I’m not going to cave on this, no way,” he said.