By E. Medosch
At its monthly meeting June 26, the North Long Beach Project Area Committee (PAC) voted to approve portions of a $75,000 funding package to be administered by the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA).
But the matter of how and where the funds would be spent was not so easily resolved.
A long, thin slice of the North Long Beach Redevelopment Project Area runs down Atlantic Avenue to Wardlow Road. This is the area that would receive benefits from the $75,000 package.
Among other things, the money was earmarked for marketing and promotion, including a Web site. Also, putting local artists’ work in vacant storefront windows, improving the parkway garden and generally giving Atlantic Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard more appeal were part of the package. The funding could easily have been approved by the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency (RDA) since RDA Executive Director Craig Beck has what is called “signature authority” on items up to $100,000.
But RDA Boardmember Bill Baker, who is also a North Long Beach resident, asked that the BKBIA funding matter be put before the North Long Beach PAC so it could issue an opinion– yea or nay.
“I asked that this be sent back to the PAC,” Baker said, “So, what you see here is democracy in action.” Democracy in action, in this instance, was contentious.
North PAC Chair Martha Thuente expressed strong opinions about giving more money to Bixby Knolls when other areas of North Long Beach are in need. The objections she expressed at the June 26 meeting focused on particular portions of the funding package, namely on student art programs.
“We don’t want to fund programs. Do we do this for Bixby Knolls and become a social agency? This is not our purpose,” Thuente said.
Business owners and residents of the Bixby Knolls area came prepared to the June North PAC meeting, and there was standing room only at the North Long Beach Police Station community room. Several members of the audience were prepared to speak during the public comment portion of the agenda and took that opportunity to express their support for the BKBIA.
E. Thor Carlson, president of the BKBIA and a member of North PAC, said, “Atlantic Avenue was in a slide for many decades. We’ve stopped the slide and now we’re starting to move forward. We’re all in this struggle. Just because one area is a little bit ahead of the others doesn’t mean it can’t help to bring the others along.”
Zack Golden, a BKBIA volunteer and student at Milliken High School, offered a global perspective. If Atlantic Avenue is enhanced and more people shop there, locally, Golden suggested, it can reduce carbon emissions to the benefit of both the community and the planet.
Not everyone was convinced that $75,000 for the BKBIA was in North Long Beach’s best interest. Laurie Angel, North PAC member, pointed out there was “an order of magnitude” in any plan to redevelop what locals call “Northtown.”
“Not in our lifetime are we going to see improvement in some of these areas. I don’t want to be difficult, but we’re already funding the arts council and economic development,” Angel said.
Thuente said, “We can vote to fund this and impugn our integrity; we can receive and file or we can vote for certain items.”
In the end, it was the latter point that North PAC members agreed upon. However, before the vote was taken, Thuente produced a written opinion which she had requested from Chief Assistant City Attorney Heather Mahood. The opinion, which Thuente read, stated that any Bixby Knolls business owner who stood to benefit from the $75,000 funding had a conflict of interest.
Not only could they not vote on the item, but they were also asked to leave the room. Commercial realtor Paul Forman left willingly but Carlson objected.
“I don’t see how you can say putting art in vacant windows is going to benefit my business,” he said. (Carlson owns Thor’s Antiques, an upscale antique shop on Atlantic Avenue.) Thuente said the marketing and promotional aspect of the funding would benefit venues such as Thor’s Antiques. Carlson also objected to the manner in which the opinion issued by City Attorney’s office was presented.
“This was not in the packet,” Carlson remonstrated. “You spring this on us at the last minute. The way you’re playing games is not acceptable.”
But Carlson did leave the room.
The final vote, which Beck will now present to the RDA board, was to approve all items that could not be considered “programs.”
The vote was four in favor and four abstentions. Items approved include a mural project, art in vacant storefront windows, additional work on the “parkway garden” and banners for Long Beach Boulevard.
The North Long Beach PAC meets on the fourth Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at the North Police Station, located at 4891 Atlantic Ave.