BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
For years, many business owners and residents have wished that Atlantic Avenue north of the 405 Freeway could become a tree-lined boulevard. That wish is gradually becoming true. Tree planting coordinated by the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA) took place last year. Now, with the help of RJ Noble Construction, 31 more trees will soon be planted between the freeway and Bixby Road.
RJ Noble is the company that started repaving Atlantic Avenue from Bixby Road to San Antonio Drive about a month ago.
“RJ Noble is doing a very good job,” said BKBIA Executive Director Blair Cohn. “They are repaving Atlantic and being very accommodating to the business owners in terms of directing customers to alternative parking areas, ramping driveways to keep things open and other things.”
Cohn acknowledged, however, that the project is disrupting the normal flow of traffic in Bixby Knolls and impacting the businesses. “The people of RJ Noble know that too, and they wanted to reach out and help the community,” he said. “They were looking for something they could do that would benefit everybody.”
Cohn added that the construction company’s timing was perfect because a great opportunity was already in the works, and he just happened to be looking for a way to make it happen. He explained that a Boy Scout named Greg Reilly was looking for an Eagle Scout project and had asked Cohn if he could undertake a tree-planting project in Bixby Knolls. “We have wanted trees planted in the entryway from the freeway to Bixby Road for some time but didn’t have the funds for that project,” Cohn said. “The main thing we needed help with was making the concrete cuts for the tree wells in the sidewalk.”
He added that when officials of the construction company expressed their desire to help the community, he suggested using their equipment and crews to make concrete cuts in locations where trees could later be planted. Company officials enthusiastically agreed. Then Cohn got permission and advice from the city public works department and the city’s arborist as to the best locations for the tree plantings.
“RJ Noble donated 31 concrete cuts to make 31 tree wells,” he said. The company made one of the cuts last Friday and the remainder early this week.
He added that Reilly took over the project after the cuts were made. “The Boy Scouts are going to pound out the concrete and remove it,” he said. “Then they will plant the trees and mulch them.” He added that the Scouts will be asking for donations to purchase the trees, but they will provide all the labor.
“When this project is completed, RJ Noble will not only have greatly improved Atlantic Avenue from Bixby to San Antonio, but they will have provided a streetscape from 35th Street to Bixby Road,” Cohn said. “Now we will have a completed tree-lined corridor.”
According to Cohn, the Scouts will plant a total of 34 trees. “There are three more trees that they will plant on parkways that do not need concrete cuts,” he said. “This will take the whole area up a notch.”
Cohn noted that although the repaving project is disrupting business in Bixby Knolls, most shop owners and restaurateurs are not complaining. He explained that for the most part business owners understand that disruption is inevitable during a road construction project, but they also know the improved pavement will benefit everyone.
RJ Noble’s construction foreman Craig Toeller agreed. “We are constantly talking to the business owners to find out their concerns and, when there is a problem, we do everything we can to make the situation better,” he said. He added that the smoother pavement will make driving in Bixby Knolls a much more pleasant experience, which will be good for business.
Toeller noted that each concrete cut was four feet by four feet square, approximately four inches thick, and took about 20 minutes to cut. “We have a good relationship with Long Beach and have done projects here numerous times in the past,” he said. “We are very glad that we can do something that will beautify the area and make it a more attractive place to shop.”
Reilly is a member of Scout Troop 229, which meets at Bixby Knolls Christian Church. “Right now I am rounding up volunteers from my troop to break up and remove the concrete from the wells and to plant the trees,” he said. “We usually get 12 to 20 people working on projects like this.”
He explained that the tree planting will be the project that will help him graduate from Boy Scouts to Eagle Scouts. Reilly is 17 years old and goes to Lakewood High School. “It looks better to have trees on a boulevard instead of just concrete, and it is better for business,” he said, adding that he knows it will give him a personal sense of satisfaction that he was able to do something to beautify the city.