Includes Substantive Postscript From Former LBPD Commander, Now Bell Gardens Police Chief, Keith Kilmer
(Dec. 17, 2006) -- On Saturday Dec. 16, Better Balance for Long Beach -- formed in fall 2004 by activists frustrated with seeming City Hall indifference to chronic nuisances (and worse) along 14th St. between Chestnut Ave. and LB Blvd. -- held an event where two years ago residents said law-flouting activities left children scared and some adults wary of venturing outside.
Two years later, over 1,000 people (during a roughly two hour period, estimated 900 children, most with at least one adult in tow) showed up at what is now recognized as "14th St. Park" for a Community Christmas Party.
From 1:30 until roughly 3:30 p.m., Better Balance distributed roughly 1,800 Christmas presents -- a new book plus a new toy for every child -- donated by various entities and residents.
Among those attending were LB's new Mayor, Bob Foster and First Lady Nancy Foster...the latter, the quiet catalyst for an email effort that produced donated gifts and funds to buy presents for kids...and included the Fosters as donors.
Among attendees were Vice Mayor/1st dist. Councilmember Bonnie Lowenthal, who welcomed families in English and fluent Spanish.
9th district Councilman Val Lerch assembled hot dogs for families. He did likewise two years ago as an early supporter of BBLB's efforts.
Also taking part: LBPD staff and brass. Santa Claus arrived on a Long Beach fire engine.
In fall 2004, BBLB co-founders including Jane Kelleher, Annie Greenfeld-Wisner, Dan Berns. Geoff Bennett, Colleen McDonald, Linda Palacios, Jack Smith, Dennis Monfett and Paul DeJung began holding monthly picnics, using food and favors purchased at their own expense, on a street median (labeled a "park" on City Hall's website) that hardly recognizable as one.
The activists sought to show solidarity with residents...and simultaneously draw media attention to neighborhood conditions (a poke in the eye to City Hall officialdom).
It worked. Within a few months, and with the support of 1st district Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal, several city departments devised what amounted to a coordinated plan to address multiple, difficult nuisance and law-flouting activities. LBPD heightened its presence. The City Attorney's office ensured civil laws were applied. LB's Health Dept. enforced its regulations. Parks and Rec delivered new equipment and park improvements.
Vice Mayor Lowenthal, BBLB co-founders Greenfeld-Wisner and Kelleher share a laugh now...although things were rocky at first. The bottom line: both sides seem pleased that city authorities are reasserting their presence in the area.
In spring 2006, BBLB won national Neighborhood of the Year honors from Neighborhoods USA. [NLB Coolidge Triangle activists were separately honored for keeping 710 freeway expansion plans from eating area homes.]
A few months later, BBLB's Kelleher casually mentioned to LB's new First Lady, Nancy Foster, that at BBLB's 14th St. Park Christmas Party last year, about 400 gifts were given out and Santa ran out of presents...and this year BBLB didn't have the resources to do even that.
BBLB's Dan Berns and others credit Mrs. Foster for what followed: a personal email effort...in which she and Mayor Foster matched a number of Christmas gift contributions personally.
Other donors included [not a complete list] Boeing (also sent volunteers), Charter Communications, Wells Fargo Bank, Book Buddies (John & Michelle Molina of Molina Health Care reportedly contributed the books Santa gave to children), retired LB Firefighters, Sound Energy Solutions and a number of individuals. At the event, we spotted Ray Alpert (benefactor of LB's Jewish Community Center) who showed up incognito after VIPs were introduced...and we're told he provided a donation.
The net result: each child in line (they began gathering at 8 a.m.) visited Santa and was handed a brand new book. Then, one of roughly 50 "elves" (many volunteers from Atlantic Recovery) escorted each child to a gift table to choose his/her own gift. Other volunteer "elves" staffed the children's line and unloaded gifts from trucks.
When we asked Mrs. Foster (in red, chatting with BBLB's Kelleher) about her role in this, she didn't want to say much. "Well, if there's a Christmas Party, the kids need gifts," she told us...but several BBLB activists say Mrs. Foster really was key to this year's event coming off.
And the Mayor had a big smile on seeing all the smiling kids.