BY Nick Diamantides
Police officers were called to Daisy Avenue last Friday as members of two competing neighborhood associations scrambled to see who could carry off most of the displays that had been left on the grassy median since the end of December. The displays are part of the annual Christmas Tree Lane (CTL) celebration.
The two groups– the Wrigley Association (Wrigley) and the Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance (WANA)– each insist that the displays are their property. City officials have tried in vain to mediate the dispute, but it may take a court to ultimately resolve it.
Nothing more serious than a few angry exchanges of words took place while the groups hauled off the displays.
In 2007, a majority of Wrigley board members voted to separate the Wrigley Association bank account from the CTL account. Descriptions of what that action entailed vary, but at that point some of the Wrigley Association board members broke away and formed WANA. The two groups have been at odds ever since.
For several decades, the displays had been kept in a Port of Long Beach warehouse for 11 months of the year, free of charge. According to several members of WANA, most people assumed they were owned by the city. A few months ago, because of budget problems and liability issues, city officials declared that the city did not own the displays and they could no longer be stored on city property.
Soon afterwards, WANA board members got city permission to move the displays from the port warehouse to an undisclosed location. Wrigley threatened to sue WANA over that move. “For many, many years, the Wrigley Association repaired, maintained, set up and took them down,” said Annie Greenfeld, president of the Wrigley Association. “Because of that, we consider the displays to be corporate assets.”
A few months ago, the two groups agreed to take on separate responsibilities for the CTL celebrations. Under the terms of a city permit signed by both groups, WANA had the exclusive right to set up and remove the displays, but they had to be removed from the median by December 30, which did not happen.
Jill Hill, president of WANA, said the displays were not moved because WANA was not able to find privately owned property suitable for their storage. A city-owned site was available, but the city attorney would not allow WANA to use that site until the ownership issue was settled.
Hill added that on February 5, WANA sent a letter to the Wrigley Association board of directors asking them to either give up their claim of ownership or sue WANA so that the issue could be resolved.
The Wrigley Association did not respond until March 2, when it sent a letter to WANA offering to sell the more than 25 displays to WANA for a total of $1,000. “We gave them 72 hours and told them if they did not respond or if they declined our offer, we were prepared to move the displays,” Greenfeld said. At its March 5 meeting, WANA voted to reject the offer.
Greenfeld added that about three weeks ago, 7th District Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga informed Wrigley Association board members that the city was planning to declare the displays abandoned property, haul them off the median and possibly sell them at an auction. “We were getting complaints from residents who did not want the displays on the median anymore, and now the city was planning on moving them, so we decided we had to do something right away,” she said.
At about 9am Friday morning, the Wrigley Association began loading the displays into a truck and moving them to their own undisclosed location.
About two hours later, some WANA members showed up with a forklift and a flatbed truck. The police, representatives of the 6th and 7th council districts and other city officials also showed up. The moving of displays came to a halt while everyone discussed the situation, but resumed later. By about 3:30pm, all the displays were off the median and the Wrigley Association had possession of most of them.
Hill sharply disputed Greenfeld’s assertion that the city was planning to move the displays. “I cannot believe that the city would make such a decision without notifying the organization that was supposed to move the displays, especially since Dave Ashman, the city’s director of special events, knew we were working hard to find a place to store them,” she said. “We received no notice.”
City Attorney Bob Shannon backed Hill up. “If the items had remained on the public right-of-way and nobody came to claim them, we were prepared to treat them as you would a sofa in the middle of a street,” he said. “We were discussing it, but we never got to the point of deciding to move the displays. If we had, we would have certainly sent a letter to both organizations informing them of that.”
Maria Norvell, vice president of WANA, noted that she has overseen the setting up of the displays for more than 20 years and had been a Wrigley Association member until the CTL dispute in 2007. “For the 19 years that I worked on the CTL displays while a Wrigley Association member, nobody on the Wrigley board ever talked about the displays as if they were Wrigley Association property,” she said.
Greenfeld said that the Wrigley Association was still willing to give up its claim to ownership in exchange for $1,000. Neither Hill nor Norvell would comment on what WANA would do next.