A $5 million upgrade and a new name had city officials and North Long Beach residents excited Monday morning, April 4, when the Ronald R. Arias Health Equity Center opened its door at the edge of Houghton Park, 6335 Myrtle Ave.
The City Council voted last year to name the center after Arias, who worked for the city’s health department for 22 years, 12 as the director. He has been active in the Chicano/Latino equity movement in the city for more than 50 years.
The health center is more than 50 years old, serving as an area facility center, a health center and day care over the years. The heating and ventilation system broke down a few years ago, prompting the push to renovate the building, said Human Services Director Kelly Colopy, who succeeded Arias.
“Our people were wearing coats and hats, trying to provide services,” Colopy said. “In the summer, there were fans all over the place.”
Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, whose Ninth District includes Houghton Park, pushed for the renovation and to name the center after Arias. The city put together the money from Measure A funds, state funds and some city capital improvement money.
“Refreshing the building is one thing,” Richardson said. “What’s happening inside the building is what’s really happening, though.
“It brings services to where the people are,” he added. “There are five or six city halls closer than their own city hall here — this is sort of the North Long Beach city hall.”
Besides a new public health clinic focusing on immunizations and family planning, Richardson said, services will include youth violence prevention and reentry programs, workforce development programs, and rental and housing services. There also will be meeting rooms for outreach sessions and community meetings. Hours currently are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The concept of health equity and naming the center after Arias was a perfect match, Richardson said. Arias moved to Long Beach 53 years ago to attend Cal State Long Beach and almost immediately began to advocate for equity, the former health director said.
“We formed UMAS, United Mexican American Students,” Arias said. “We organized to take over the ASB (Associated Student Body), because that’s where the money was.
“We paved the way for people like Jenny Oropeza and (Mayor) Robert Garcia, who both were elected president of the student body,” he added. “We created the Chicano Studies Department, which still exists today and is still one of the best around.”
Arias was hired as director the the Bureau of Public Health in 1990 and appointed department director in 2010 by then-City Manager Henry Taboada; he was the first Latino director of the department. Before retiring in 2012, Arias built the department budget from $30 million to $150 million (primarily through grants).
Arias also created “the most ethnically diverse department in the city,” he said. “We looked like the people we served.”
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