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    Better Balance for LB Begets Action: Community Christmas Party In Renewed/Upgraded 14th St. Park As Volunteers Dispense Approx. 1,800 Donated Gifts; LB Mayor Foster & First Lady Nancy Foster Among Attendees...And Donors

    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 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.

    Postscript from Former LBPD Commander, Now Bell Gardens Police Chief, Keith Kilmer

    The day after the event, received the following emailed note from Keith Kilmer, now Chief of Police in Bell Gardens, formerly Commander for the area in which 14th St. Park is located. He is as knowledgeable as any person in the city with conditions as they existed in that neighborhood two years ago...and today.

    We post Chief Kilmer's email to us verbatim below:

    The recent Christmas celebration at 14th Street Park gives me renewed confidence in the ability of a community to come together to maintain focus on an area that has long suffered from the effects of economic and social neglect. Not that all is fixed and continued efforts to sustain these gains are not needed; but when compared to the state the park and neighborhood were in, some amazing things have occurred to transform the area into a much better place. This is particularly true since we still have children attending middle-school in this neighborhood, directly adjacent to the park.

    I can recall when efforts first started and it was very difficult for members of the organization now known as Better Balance for Long Beach (BBLB) to bring focus to the park and plight of the surrounding neighborhood. Bureaucracy and the political process are not easy partners to bring on board; however, persistence and creating a common vision eventually paid off in support from many in the community.

    It would be difficult not to miss a key partner in this huge effort, but Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal, the Parks and Recreation employees and Director Phil Hester, Washington Middle-School administrators, the Health Department and homeless service providers, along with many others deserve applause for pushing forward despite many continuing challenges.

    What gives me a particularly great source of pride is how community and neighborhood leaders came together with members of the Long Beach Police Department to take ownership and control of extremely difficult conditions, and lead efforts to dramatically change the area and the way the neighborhood now looks at itself. There are so many officers that consistently worked together in this area that it would be difficult to name them all in this letter. Suffice it to say that West Division Patrol Officers and Supervisors, Gang and Violent Crime and Youth Services Detectives, and others in the department all stuck to a course of action despite the many "broken windows" that existed. I know that these officers can reflect on the fact that they actually have made a visible difference in the community they serve. Hard work paid off.

    One courageous woman that I have grown to admire is Linda Palacios, a resident of the neighborhood that can now see mothers, fathers and children actually using their neighborhood park for recreation. She never gave up the vision of that happening.

    Mayor Bob Foster and his lovely wife Nancy have truly been a recent blessing in all of this. Their involvement will help to ensure that the families and children of the neighborhood will continue to have opportunities like was had this past weekend. After all, what better goal than to make things better for families and children.

    Keith Kilmer
    Long Beach Resident
    Former LBPD Commander and current Chief of Police, Bell Gardens

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