In still economically challenging times, Signal Hill finds ways to help residents and one local business

CJ Dablo
Staff Writer

There’s always a story behind even the smallest amounts of money that Signal Hill city officials approve during a routine City Council meeting on a Tuesday night. This week, city officials awarded another annual $5,000 grant each to Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach and The Children’s Hospital to help pay for medical expenses for the City’s uninsured or underinsured children.
In the past, the grant has helped a number of local families. Ask Patty Nakazawa, who manages the grant for Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach. She knows about the low-income families who have been helped by Signal Hill. At the July 19 Council meeting, Nakazawa recounted a few stories of kids who needed the funds: a baby diagnosed with asthma; a disabled single mother with two children with cranial development issues; and a 2-year-old girl with a kidney disorder and a serious urinary tract infection.
In gratitude, the family of that child wrote a letter which Nakazawa read Tuesday night.
“Because of your kindness and generosity, our family is able to have a financial burden lifted from our shoulders,” Nakazawa said, reading the letter to the City Council. “You have helped us tremendously. We are forever grateful and again wish to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the grant you have given our daughter. When she grows up, we will tell her how proud she should be to live in Signal Hill.”
And while Mayor Larry Forester acknowledged in a telephone interview Wednesday that the budget is tight this year, the Council still found a way to support the two grants for medical care. In years past, these grants were funded through a community development block grant (CDBG) managed by the County. However, due to an administrative issue, the City couldn’t rely on CDBG money this year to fund the modest financial aid to low-income children from Signal Hill needing health care, according to Forester. He said that this year, the Council reduced their travel budget and used the extra money to continue to pay for the grants to the two local children’s hospitals.
Signal Hill’s Redevelopment Agency (RDA) also reviewed a City staff recommendation to continue financial assistance to Delius Restaurant in Signal Hill. In January 2010, the RDA agreed to provide a rental and utility subsidy totaling $100,000 per year for up to three years for the local business that had been facing financial problems during the economic downturn.
Eighteen months after the agreement began, the RDA had to determine whether Delius was on track to eventually becoming financially independent and if the RDA needed to continue its financial aid, according to a City staff report. The RDA approved the full financial aid package for Delius, noting that the restaurant has been making significant progress. The restaurant’s total sales equaled about $1.9 million over 17 months, and its monthly sales average exceeded the established benchmarks, according to a report by Elise McCaleb, who serves as the redevelopment and economic development manager for the City.
The RDA approved full financial assistance to Delius Restaurant for another 12 months, with another review of the restaurant’s performance scheduled for June 2012.
“I’m very pleased to be standing here today in this condition,” said Dave Solzman, who co-owns Delius Restaurant with his wife Louise. He thanked the RDA for its decision on Tuesday night. “Two years ago, I didn’t think I was going to be a business owner here any longer. Everything has really turned around for us, and it is primarily because of the assistance that we were given. It did more than just help us out with our bills. It also gave our investors confidence to help with cash as well.”
Forester said Wednesday that the agreement has worked.
“They’ve been maturing and becoming a very first-class restaurant and a pride to Signal Hill,” Forester said of Delius. “We just felt that that money was necessary for our citizens to maintain. . .to make sure that they are on a sure footing and move forward.”
Yet, the City’s financial help can’t be guaranteed in future years. Redevelopment funds have been threatened by the state. Earlier this year, California lawmakers passed two bills that affect the redevelopment agencies. One bill would effectively dissolve redevelopment agencies, or, if redevelopment agencies couldn’t be shut down, another bill would require RDAs to pay a large amount to benefit schools. Currently, Signal Hill and other RDAs in the state are supporting the California Redevelopment Association’s lawsuit that hopes to stop these two bills.
When asked whether the City could continue the generosity next year for the City’s low-income children who need health care, Forester said that he hopes so but warned “next year’s budget is next year.”
“Right now, you know, we’ve projected five years out,” the mayor explained. “And I can’t say it’s the rosiest projection in the world. I would hope that the economy picks up and…unemployment drops so that we can afford to move forward with some of these things, but I’ll do it this year. And believe me, we’ve strained to do it, but I’m happy to,” Forester said.

Other Council highlights:

Library Design Committee The Library Design Committee has been formed. It will be responsible for developing recommendations and design concepts for the new library’s construction plans.
The following individuals will be on the Library Design Committee: Louise Cunningham,Parks and Recreation Commission; Tom Benson,Planning Commission; Luis Morente, Friends of the Signal Hill Library; Brady Barto, Community Foundation; Terry Rogers, Signal Hill Chamber of Commerce; Mary Justus, Signal Hill Historical Society; Brett Geithman, LBUSD; and Signal Hill residents Sylvia Hopper, Shari Joyce, and Carole Yochum.
Special meeting notifications The City Council approved a change to a city ordinance that would allow City staff to issue notifications of special meetings via telephone or other electronic means. Previously, the municipal code required special meetings to be announced in writing to legislative members and interested media outlets, according to a staff report. The change to the ordinance will influence how quickly the Council can approve financial transactions during special meetings when these meetings are scheduled.
“The need for council approval for orders of payment of money at other than a regular meeting is infrequent but may arise from time to time. Many changes as to how municipal government does business have occurred in the past 65-plus years,” wrote City Manager Ken Farfsing in a staff report submitted to the City Council.
In addition to using phone calls and electronic means to spread the word about special meetings, staff will continue to post written notices of special meetings in a publicly accessible area and will also continue to notify media and other interested parties of special meetings through the City website’s “e-Notify” system, according to the city manager’s report.
New middle school construction A new middle school is being constructed on the former GTE property on Cherry Avenue. The school is scheduled to open in September 2012, according to Councilmember Michael Noll, who said the construction’s estimated budget is $61.6 million and is running approximately $7 million over-budget.
The next City Council meeting has been scheduled for Monday, Aug. 1 at 7pm in the Signal Hill Council Chambers.

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