John Livingston: Watching the City Turn

Sep. 20, 2011 / By

“Hey! Did you hear about what they’re trying to do?” calls out John Livingston to the guy living across the street from him.  John is a senior citizen living in one of the toughest parts of the city.  He has been a major part of the family living across the street because even though those people are undocumented — and he is the most conservative person I know — John has employed the head of that household for about twenty years.

John is a general contractor.  He cares for his 90+ year-old mother and is very active at the El Dorado Country Club.  He was married years ago but due to growing complications, the marriage came to a quiet end.  The only companion in John’s life now is a very old cat named JD.  It has to be among the oldest cats alive.  His well-maintained two-story duplex reveals the attention to detail he is known for, featuring brick masonry and vertical wood panels.

As a child, John grew up in North Long Beach and watched Jordan High School go from a predominantly Caucasian school to the minority melting pot it is today.  He is the youngest and only boy with three older sisters who all moved out of Long Beach.  His father had an office job in the military during World War II. Even though his family owns numerous properties in Southern California, John’s home has always been Long Beach.  He recalls, “My dad used to take me down to the Pike and, boy, it was great man.  The Cyclone and the Wild Mouse — it was a fun place!”

As a general contractor, John has worked on just about any job that involves a home and even some without.  While having a successful career in construction, he also found time to work on his golf game.  Being a general contractor, he is aware of all of the new regulations being put in place.  “There are hundreds of new regulations and paperwork I have to be aware of compared to when I started,” he explains.

The life John leads is so different from that of any individual I know living in the neighborhood.  This might be why his beliefs are so different from most people that I know too.  John believes in privatizing most aspects of the public sector.  He believes that universal health care is a bad idea and that the social security system is going to leave my generation broke.  The importance of his financial standings is among his top priorities, like it should be.  He has his own health insurance, his own retirement plan, and makes smart investments.  He is a firm believer in not making yourself the victim of anything or anyone — John insists this is a major problem with the younger generation.

The community has changed gradually since he was born in Long Beach Memorial Hospital, graduated from Jordan, and even got his degree from CSULB.  “Long Beach used to be a lot better.  It used to be great,” he says.  “I think Long Beach has been ruined by the politicians like a lot of things have.  They wrecked downtown Long Beach, they wrecked Long Beach Boulevard, and they ran off all the car dealers.  About twenty. . . twenty-five years ago, things took a turn for the worst.  Things were already kind of bad but that’s when they got worse.”

Around that time, John was working construction with his usual foreman named Ricardo when they both realized that the job they were taking on was going to be harder than they originally expected.  Ricardo asked for the help of one of his relatives that recently crossed the border illegally and had no job.  “Back in the ’70s and early ’80s, if you wanted someone that knew how to hang drywall, you could get some black guys because they were the go-to guys.  After a lot of Mexicans started getting in construction, they did more drywall faster and cheaper,” John says.

The reason why he has no problem with hiring illegal immigrants is because they are willing to work hard and do jobs that their American counterparts believed to be beneath them.  “People don’t have pride in their work or what they do,” he justifies.  He knows that foreign immigration to Long Beach has brought some neighborhoods down while enriching others.

“The West Side was always bad.  I had a girlfriend that lived in the West Side but even back then it wasn’t as bad as it is today with all of the gangs and everything.”  Regardless of all of the issues he has with the changing community, John has never had a problem with anyone from the younger generation.  “You see the kids today and you know what they’re going through.  It’s just about showing a little respect.  Everyone disrespects themselves and each other so how do they expect their kids to grow up?”

“Just look at the people that live next door to me here.  The girls are always yelling.  The parents are divorced.  Both daughters have children and their fathers are in and out.  There’s no stability to anything. I grew up in a different era.”

John knows that our future is a product of his generation.  He angrily reveals that his generation did not inherit a debt and his generation is going to leave us with a screwed up economy.  “My generation should never be spending money we don’t have!  There has never been a generation that passes a debt on to the next like we are going to do with yours.  And the only ‘solution’ we can think of is to just raise the debt ceiling,” he rants.

John is obviously passionate about politics.  He is also concerned with the future generations despite the fact that he never had any children of his own.  John believes that too much government is bad for society, that the welfare system is causing poverty, and he believes that even though life was great when he grew up, it is his generation who is messing up our future.  Even though John is right-winged through and through, he has employed an undocumented worker and has helped him raise his family with as much stability as any American family.  This Long Beach, born and raised, model citizen and small business owner grew up in our city and remains as much a part of its evolving face.

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