Former LB mayor Beverly O’ Neill is still high on Long Beach

bev-oneill.jpgBY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Staff Writer

Beverly O’Neill believes Long Beach is one of the best cities in the United States. The city’s former three-term mayor shared her perspectives and talked a little about her time in office at the monthly meeting of the Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance. During her half-hour speech, O’Neill reminded the audience that Long Beach has faced significant budget deficits in the past and managed to survive each one. About 45 people attended the gathering, which took place at Jackie Robinson Academy last Thursday evening.
O’Neill was first elected mayor in 1994 and reelected in 1998. In 2002, she was barred by the city’s term-limits law from having her name on the ballot. She ran as a write-in candidate, won handily and stayed in office until 2006 when Bob Foster replaced her.
O’Neill noted that she admires the Wrigley residents and community leaders for their efforts to better the area. She stated that many of the aesthetic improvements and commercial developments such as the Wrigley Marketplace were the direct result of local activists working with city officials to make positive changes happen. She especially praised Jill Hill, Maria Norvell, Joan Greenwood, Joan Bizato and Dan Pressburg for all the work they had done over the years to make Long Beach a better place in which to live.
“I look back at those 12 years (in office) as probably the best years I ever had as far as feeling that I was part of something really important,” O’Neill said. She remarked that she and her husband Thomas were both born in Long Beach and met while attending Poly High School. She said she attended school in Long Beach all the way from kindergarten to Long Beach City College to California State College, Long Beach. “In this city, you can go all the way from kindergarten to graduate school without ever leaving home,” she said.
O’Neill taught in the Long Beach Unified School District until she received her master’s degree at CSLB and then taught at LBCC for 31 years, retired and ran for mayor. She never wanted to run for public office until she realized she could make a significant difference. “I felt that there wasn’t pride in this city and we had so many things that were good about Long Beach,” she said.
O’Neill explained that she did not know that soon after she was first elected, the Long Beach Naval Shipyard would close forever. “When that happened we had a $3 billion-impact to the regional economy,” she said, explaining that the layoffs of the shipyard workers combined with the layoffs of most of the employees of McDonnell Douglas resulted in the loss of 50,000 jobs.
The economy of the entire state was in decline at that time, but, according to O’Neill, one good thing that happened to Long Beach was that the Navy abandoned five sites that were city-owned land, which could be developed.
“But the government wasn’t sure they were going to give them back to us,” she said. “So when I became mayor, the first thing I needed to do was to make sure we got that land back.” To do so, she had to travel to Washington D.C several times and go through a long, complicated bureaucratic process. She noted that the city eventually did get all five sites back, and working with private enterprise and nonprofit groups put all of them to productive use, including the Towne Center shopping center at Carson Street and the 605 Freeway.
During her first term as mayor, she also worked hard to give Long Beach residents a sense of pride for their city. To that end, she attended the grand openings of countless businesses and organized celebrations of as many successful programs and ventures as time permitted. “The goal was to build, to get us beyond where we were,” she said, adding that several of the city’s existing shopping centers were in decline and needed major redevelopment in order to succeed. She noted that the city successfully worked on that during her tenure and managed to revitalize the Los Altos and Marina Pacifica shopping centers, which both now bring significant sales tax revenues to the city.
During her second term in office, the city rebounded economically. “We came out of our slump and had a few years where we were doing really well monetarily,” she added, acknowledging that during her last three years in office, the city began experiencing financial woes again. “We had to work on our budget so that our revenues and expenditures met,” she said, adding that the city faces the same challenge today. “That’s because the cost of everything is increasing while our revenues are decreasing,” she added.
The former mayor explained that she ran for a third term in order to complete projects begun during her second term. She acknowledged, however, that she wished she could have done more to solve the city’s poverty problem while she was mayor. “We have too many of our residents living in poverty and we have a large homeless population,” she said.
O’Neill also said she wished she could have done more to improve the city’s transportation system, including reducing traffic congestion and air pollution caused by automobile traffic. She told the audience that solutions to problems take a long time and require the involvement of local residents.
“This is a good place to live and to raise your children. We are facing our problems together,” O’Neill said. “I want to encourage you to keep working together as you have been doing and to appreciate your leaders who do a lot more behind the scenes than most of you are aware of.”
O’Neill is still active in the city, working as a board member for several organizations and involved in several fundraising campaigns for local nonprofits. O’Neill is also a member of WANA. She said she is enjoying her retirement. “I love the fact that I can wear tennis shoes and go grocery shopping on Wednesday, because (as mayor) I did everything on weekends,” she said.

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