Plans to move the Long Beach Veterans Day Parade to Bixby Knolls on Atlantic Avenue and San Antonio Drive this November are still unconfirmed, but a recommendation on how to proceed with the event might come as soon as Wednesday.
The Veterans Day Committee opted at the end of January to move the parade to Bixby Knolls, away from its original location for the past two decades in north Long Beach, primarily due to low attendance in recent years, according to Val Lerch, chair of the nonprofit Veterans Day Committee.
The new proposed parade route would begin on Atlantic and San Antonio and end at 36th Street, about 1.4 miles away from the original route, Lerch added.
Long Beach Vice Mayor Rex Richardson said his office has partnered with Brian Ulaszewski, executive director of City Fabrick, to conduct a number of focus groups– featuring a roundtable discussion on media outlet Padnet and meetings with stakeholders, north Long Beach residents and the veterans commission– and online outreach in order to get ideas to improve the parade.
He said the focus-group meetings will conclude Monday, and the results of the discussion, along with specific recommendations about moving forward with the parade, will most likely be released Wednesday.
“We’ve seen events like Beach Streets and the Uptown Jazz Festival get record attendance while the veterans parade hasn’t seen growth in its attendance, which raises a good question as to why,”
Richardson said in a phone interview Wednesday. “And we, at the City, we’re going through and having a dialogue with residents, stakeholders [and] veteran groups about how we can best honor and serve our veterans. And, if that means making changes, then we are open to making some changes to how we all celebrate. The question for us is not where we move the parade, but, rather, how to best honor and recognize our veterans.”
However, an off-the-record source who is a city official, claimed this week that the parade will not be moving. The source then said to direct further questions to the Long Beach Special Events and Film Department, which is in charge of giving permits for public events. The Signal Tribune made attempts Wednesday and Thursday to get in touch with Tasha Day, manager of that department, for further details about the Veterans Day Parade via telephone and email, but there was no response as of press time.
Lerch, in response, expressed discontent.
“The nonprofit parade committee has made a decision to move the parade to a new location within the city– a safer route,” he wrote in an email on Wednesday. “Everything else about the parade is the same. I would be very disappointed if the move was stopped by politics or bureaucracy. If the City supports an event that salutes our veterans, then it would not care where it is held.”
In January of 2016, Lerch said the Veterans Day Committee directed the board into looking into the feasibility of relocating the parade to the Bixby Knolls area.
He said the process was delayed a year, per Richardson’s request, to allow another chance to increase attendance at the event.
Lerch claimed in a phone interview on Tuesday that the attendance in the parade this past year was one of the worst he had ever seen. He compared the attendance to that of 2011’s parade, in which he said he remembers looking to Atlantic Avenue and seeing the streets filled with a multitude of participants.
“Last year, […] I’m not exaggerating, there were 11 people on that street,” he said. “It’s been dwindling over the years.”
Lerch attributed age demographics within north Long Beach as one of many potential reasons as to why interest in the parade has diminished.
He said the parade’s target audience of people over the age of 40 most closely identify with veterans, such as those who served in the Vietnam War and World War II, than younger generations. He said the younger audience simply might not relate to the event.
He also said the busy working class in Long Beach, where some people still primarily work on Saturdays, interferes with attendance, as well.
“We won’t know until we do the parade, but we believe the demographics [in Bixby Knolls] will support this a lot better,” Lerch said. “Plus, the business there will be a lot better.”
Lerch shared a budget sheet that detailed parade expenses this year at slightly more than $55,000, which also factors in in-kind donations. So far, he said there has only been one donor who pulled out of the parade until next year to gauge the event’s success in Bixby Knolls.
Lerch added that all other donors are on-board, including corporate donors who are in support of the change.
More information is available at lbveteransdayparade.com.
Other supporters include those who are close with the Bixby Knolls neighborhood.
Eighth District Councilmember Al Austin, whose council district includes the Bixby Knolls area, emailed a statement about the parade on Wednesday to the Signal Tribune detailing that he is excited about the event, regardless of its location.
“I look forward to working with the parade committee to continue the tradition of honoring our veterans,” Austin wrote. “I will support the parade committee’s special-events permit application like I always have. Parades are supposed to celebrate and bring our Long Beach community together.”
Blair Cohn, executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA) and who had announced during the State of the District address a few weeks ago about the possibility of the parade moving to the neighborhood, said in a phone interview Wednesday that he is still awaiting confirmation on the parade’s move.
“It’s my same response to everybody, whether it’s the council offices or the parade committee, that if– and you’d have to put ‘if in capitals– if the parade does move to Bixby Knolls, then we will get involved, support it and make it an exciting event,” Cohn said. “But, in the meantime, we’re just way out in the wings here waiting to see how things turn out and letting the political climate do its thing.”