Bordered by an unassuming white, ranch-style fence, the empty lot on the northwest corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway has a story. The central Long Beach lot used to be home to a liquor store with a notorious reputation for crime.
One of 259 properties that belonged to the former Long Beach Redevelopment Agency (RDA), the site is just one example of a vision for the city that has yet to be realized. Long Beach’s redevelopment program was dissolved more than a year ago, and many of the agency’s properties sit in limbo, waiting for the State of California to determine its ultimate fate.
The City will be submitting a long-range property management plan to California’s Department of Finance no later than Oct. 23. One of the redevelopment program’s main goals was to transform blighted areas, however, without the State’s approval of the City’s plan, the City can’t enter into any new contracts for development on the properties that belonged to the RDA.
Central Long Beach is one of the areas affected by the State’s decision to shut down the redevelopment program. The vacant lot on a busy intersection in the middle of the city represents the neighborhood’s troubled past and its possible future.
Sixth District Councilmember Dee Andrews remembers how the property’s old liquor store, an establishment that stayed open until 2am, would attract the already intoxicated crowds who were leaving clubs– people who wanted to get even drunker. He described how police responded to numerous calls to the area. Any crime you could think of, Andrews added, it happened right there.
“It was just an eyesore,” said Virgia Wade, an active 82-year-old resident in Andrews’s 6th District. In a phone interview, she described how unsafe she felt at that liquor store. She remembers there were so many people loitering at the store both day and night. Some asked for help, but others, she feared, were looking to snatch a purse.
Andrews explained how the redevelopment program had been a good thing for his area. The councilmember acknowledged that his district had high crime rates, but he credits the redevelopment program with a lot of improvements to the region that helped foster a sense of community pride. He described how the program not only eliminated the liquor store, but it also developed low-income housing and cleaned up some of the streets and sidewalks.
“It just meant a total revitalization of a community…which was really so beat down [and] run down,” Andrews concluded.
He acknowledged that there were plans in motion for the lot before the redevelopment program ended last year. Willie McGinest, a former NFL player who became a real-estate developer, had expressed serious interest in developing the property into a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, according to Andrews. The councilmember acknowledged that the ambitious plan for the property in an economically depressed area had similarities to Magic Johnson’s vision to create Starbucks coffeehouses in poorer areas in Los Angeles in an effort to improve the neighborhoods.
However, plans like the one proposed for a coffeehouse in central Long Beach will have to wait a little longer.
The oversight board to Long Beach’s Successor Agency approved the long-range-property-management plan on Oct. 7. It was a crucial step for the City to take before the plan is ultimately turned over to the State’s Department of Finance for approval.
The new plan still acknowledges and refers back to the strategic plans that were crafted by the people behind the former redevelopment agency. It offers four possible futures for the 259 properties. The properties could be slated for government use, sold, kept for future development or retained to honor an enforceable obligation that existed before the redevelopment agency was dissolved.
The vision that the redevelopment agency had created for the City is not completely lost. If the City wants to promote a particular kind of land use for specific property, the City would seek to competitively bid the properties through an RFP [request for proposal] process, according to Michael Conway, the director of the City of Long Beach’s Business and Property Development Department. Conway had presented an overview of the property-management plan to members of the Long Beach Central Project Area Council (CPAC) last month. He later explained to the oversight board on Monday that the intent is to promote land uses and community amenities that were supported by the redevelopment plan.
The properties are currently valued at approximately $65 million, according to Conway.
In the meantime, the former site of a disreputable liquor store in central Long Beach still waits for something to happen. It would mean a great deal to residents who do want to see the community continue to develop.
Wade, the 82-year-old neighborhood advocate and member of the Long Beach CPAC, says that she has seen her town change in many ways since she first came to the area in the 1950s.
She says that over the years, she watched her neighborhood decline.
“And then with redevelopment, it was slowly coming back,” Wade said. “With the money from redevelopment, we were able to start bringing it back.”
Wade remembers how Long Beach used to be– with hamburger stands and little shops where she could take her children. She describes how she used to feel safe walking anywhere. Wade says that she wants to see her neighborhood look better and have residents take pride in their town again.
If the matter is up to Councilmember Andrews, he would like to see redevelopment properties in his district developed quickly. Many of the properties have a white fence surrounding an empty lot.
“Every white picket fence I see in my district…I want you to put something in that hole,” Andrews said. “Fill it up, quick.”