Eighth District Long Beach City Councilmember Rae Gabelich has succeeded in bringing about many changes in the past eight years. Last Thursday (Feb. 16), at the “State of the District” dinner party hosted by the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA), she reflected on her two terms in office and described some of the good things that have happened during her tenure.
The event took place in the Expo Arts Center building on Atlantic Avenue. About 100 people attended.
“It’s difficult to try to summarize eight years in a brief presentation,” Gabelich told the audience, explaining that she could only cover some of the highlights and remaining challenges. She noted that she first ran for office in 2004 primarily because of her objection to the proposed expansion of the Long Beach Airport.
“When I took office, the recommended project would have nearly tripled the size of the airport terminal to about 133,000 square feet,” she said, adding that because of the strong opposition of so many residents, the City finally approved a 78,000-square-foot terminal.
Gabelich reminded the audience that she was instrumental in most of the 8th district repaving projects since 2004, as well as the installation of new traffic lights and other improvements to make Atlantic Avenue between Bixby Road and San Antonio Drive more pedestrian-friendly. She also mentioned the annual Bixby Knolls Dragster Expo & Car Show that she first organized in 2005 and which drew more than 13,000 fans last July.
She listed other accomplishments as well, explaining that she played a major role in finding the Long Beach Historical Society a permanent home in Bixby Knolls and in the establishment of the uptown farmers market.
In her approximately 15-minute speech, Gabelich talked about some of the new businesses, new parks and new open spaces that came into being in the 8th district during the past eight years. She described public art and new opportunities for youth. She recalled how she and many others joined together to prevent the extinction of the Long Beach Municipal Band due to the city’s budget woes.
“We have seen many improvements in the 8th district, but certainly challenges remain,” she said. “One of the biggest is the loss of (the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency). Most of the projects that I have mentioned were made possible because of funding from the redevelopment agency (RDA).”
She stressed that funding for BKBIA projects and the future of several unfinished projects– the new North Long Beach Library, the retail development at Atlantic Avenue and South Street, the new soccer fields and park at Oregon Avenue and Del Amo Boulevard, and the development of vacant parcels on Long Beach Boulevard– are now in doubt because of the state’s elimination of all RDAs.
Gabelich ended with good news about soon-to-be completed projects in the district, including more than $1.6 million in infrastructure improvements. She also noted that she will finally get to see the realization of a goal she has had for eight years– the re-painting (financed by the two ports and Union Pacific Railroad) of all five railroad bridges in the district to do away with graffiti. She added that cameras have been installed at all bridge locations (with RDA funds) to deter graffiti vandals from marring the bridges in the future.
Gabelich thanked all 8th district residents for allowing her to serve them for two terms.
“It’s been a tremendous ride and one that I will never forget,” she said. “I might be leaving office, but I won’t be leaving the community, so we’ll see what comes next.”
When she was finished talking, the audience gave her a long, loud round of applause.
Blair Cohn, executive director of the BKBIA, spoke next. He gave Gabelich and her staff a lot of the credit for the progress that has been made in Bixby Knolls in the past few years. “We have been working together for the greater good of this area,” he said.
In his approximately 30-minute presentation, Cohn described most of the progress made and challenges faced by the BKBIA that he discussed in an interview published in the Feb. 3 issue of the Signal Tribune.
Agreeing with Gabelich, Cohn stressed that the dismantling of the RDA is the BKBIA’s biggest challenge. “We do have a 10-year contract (with the RDA), and this is the first year of it,” he noted. “We have been told that this is an enforceable obligation.” He explained however that it may be months before the powers that be decide on whether a small part of the revenues that were once the RDA’s will continue to fund BKBIA projects.
Cohn said that, for now, the association will continue moving forward with new events and other ways to encourage people to patronize local businesses. He added that, if necessary, the association will try to develop strategies for replacing the lost RDA funding.
“It takes a lot of people to do what we do,” he added. “This is not the Blair Cohn show. There are a lot of people that I work with every day.” He explained that without the help of city officials, the BKBIA board of directors and staff, local business owners and residents, neighborhood associations, the police department, and the artists and musicians that participate in events, many of the improvements in Bixby Knolls would not have happened.