By Nick Diamantides
Councilwoman Rae Gabelich, who represents Long Beach’s 8th District, is running unopposed for her second term in office, but that doesn’t mean she’s resting on her laurels. “I got involved in the community because of concerns over serious issues,” she said. “We got a lot done in the last four years, but there’s still work that needs to be done.”
Gabelich noted that the city’s plan to greatly expand the Long Beach Airport Terminal was what pushed her into running for a seat on the council in 2004.
“My focus was strictly, strictly airport,” she said. “Our council people in the 8th and 4th districts just weren’t able to grasp the big picture and the negative impacts that the people of the community felt were upon them, so I said, ‘okay, I’m going to get a vote.’”
Gabelich noted that, in addition to the noise-related disruption of residents’ daily lives, property values of homes under the airport’s flight paths would have been significantly reduced if more commercial jets were using the airport.
Since her 2004 election, Gabelich was one of the most vocal councilmembers opposed to the originally proposed terminal expansion, which would have nearly doubled the size of the facility. She said she was satisfied with the council’s unanimous decision last May to increase the airport terminal to 89,000 square feet. It currently encompasses 58,000 square feet. “
“Unfortunately, we don’t always get what we want, so it was about compromise,” she said. “We were able to bring it down to an acceptable size.”
She explained that the size of the terminal and the number of large aircraft parking spaces are two of the most critical factors used by the federal government in determining how many daily flights to allow at a given airport.
“We were able to reduce the size of the terminal footprint significantly,” she said. “That should help us to control growth at the airport.”
Gabelich noted that in addition to scaling back the terminal expansion plan, the council adopted a green airport policy and a neighborhood protection plan. The green policy is aimed at making the airport facilities more energy efficient and reducing the amount of toxic substances used in airport operations and facility maintenance. The neighborhood protection plan will provide FAA grants for soundproofing homes impacted by airport noise.
Gabelich said although the measures will mitigate the airport’s impacts on the surrounding communities, the council and residents cannot afford to let their guard down because future federal legislation could still put the city’s noise protection measures in jeopardy.
A preliminary airport terminal design plan will probably go before the council in four to six months according to Gabelich.
“What’s really going to drive the next part is the money,” she noted. “How are we going to afford to pay for facilities that could cost up to $200 million? It’s not over yet.”
Turning to another issue, Gabelich said she was concerned about woes faced by businesses in the Bixby Knolls area. “We struggle here, but we still have the vision of what we want this area to be,” she said. “We’re not 2nd Street or downtown, but our residents can buy what they need here without having to drive to Belmont Shore or Lakewood.”
The councilwoman noted, however, that many Bixby Knolls businesses struggle because not enough people are buying their products.
“We need to increase the foot traffic and one way to do that is increase the amount of restaurants in the area,” Gabelich said.
She explained that she has noticed that when an area increases its number of restaurants pedestrian activity increases there too, and that usually means more people shop in the local stores.
“I’m going to do everything I can to bring more restaurants to Bixby Knolls,” Gabelich said. She added that the city and the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency will be undertaking projects that will greatly spur economic growth in the 8th District during the next few years.
Asked if the fact that no one was opposing her bid to be reelected to the council meant that her constituents were happy with her job performance, Gabelich responded, “I hope that’s true. I hope it’s not apathy.”
She praised her staff members for the work they do, noting that they are very attentive to the needs of the people and businesses of the 8th District. “It’s really a team effort and I am blessed to have great people on my staff,” she said. “I am excited to be part of the evolution of the city of Long Beach and the changes that are coming to this part of the city.”
Gabelich and incumbent city councilmembers Suja Lowenthall (2nd District) and Patrick O’Donnell (4th District) are all running unopposed for reelection. Long Beach’s municipal election will take place on Apr. 8.