By Nick Diamantides
Residents of Long Beach’s Wrigley Village area have been pushing for improvements of the Pacific Avenue corridor north of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) for about five years, and it looks as if their efforts are paying off. Last week, Michelle Arrington, a consultant for the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency (RDA), announced that work on phase one of the improvement project would probably begin by early summer.
“We want to get this moving so we don’t lose the funding,” Arrington told the approximately 25 people attending last week’s monthly Neighborhood Advisory Group (NAG) meeting, which took place at the community police center at 2023 Pacific Avenue. Arrington explained that, among other things, phase one includes establishing an easily identifiable gateway into Wrigley Village and redesigning and replanting the medians that run through that section of Pacific Avenue.
Last year, the RDA hired Katherine Spitz Associates, a Marina Del Rey-based architectural firm, to develop a preliminary Wrigley Village street enhancement plan. Representatives of the firm attended three community meetings in 2007 to get ideas on what kind of improvements the residents of that area wanted. “The community focused on which components will have the most impact on improving Pacific Avenue and expressed a strong interest in the green design scheme being the focus of the plan for the streetscape,” said Gavin McKiernan, NAG chairman.
As the process progressed, residents, architects and city officials agreed on some general ideas for various components of the streetscape improvements. They decided the gateway to the village should be at 19th Street rather than PCH. They also decided to plant more trees and shrubs along the corridor, place comfortable benches in various sidewalk areas, and use solar lighting where possible. While most of the improvements will take place in later phases, Arrington said crews would likely begin work on the first-phase components in the next few months.
She said that work would include planting clusters of palm trees at all four corners of Pacific Avenue and 19th Street and building an inlaid crosswalk with an oval design element in the middle of the street to identify that intersection as the gateway. The first phase would also include redesigning and replanting the median.
The residents who attended the NAG meeting approved of most of the concepts described by Arrington, but several of them strongly objected to the city’s plan to remove existing palm trees from the area. One man noted that the city would have a hard time explaining to residents why it was spending money to remove palm trees and then spending more money to plant other palm trees in the same spots. He said that would outrage many people who don’t want to see any existing trees removed.
Arrington explained that in order to create a visual impact that clearly identifies the area as Wrigley Village, it would be better to have palm trees that were all about the same height, and the existing trees would be much taller than any that could be purchased for planting. Arrington added that the city had taken into account all the input received from residents during the past NAG meetings, but the ultimate decision had to be made by city officials.
“If not for us pushing (the city to improve Pacific Avenue) this wouldn’t be going forward now,” countered a woman in the audience. “My concern is that the city needs to not make all the decisions. I’m not going to sit back and take that.”
Arrington said she would bring those concerns to RDA officials and come to a compromise. “A surveyor is going to look at the trees at the intersections,” she said. “If there’s a way we can add palm trees without removing the ones that are there, that’s the way to go.”
In response to other concerns raised by audience members, Arrington said that, if at all possible, any trees removed would be transplanted in other locations within the city.
The first phase of the Pacific Avenue streetscape improvements is expected to cost approximately $500,000. Arrington said construction drawings for that phase will go to plan check in May, followed by a four to six-week bid process to select a contractor for the work, which could begin in July. Arrington added that the RDA was currently in the process of selecting artists for public art displays on the Pacific Avenue medians as well as other areas throughout the city.