(January 7, 2005, updated Jan. 14) -- 1st district Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal opened her January 4th request for a report on a Master Plan for 14th St. Park with frank assessment the area's circumstances, describing the Park as being "in a very dense neighborhood that historically has had many people camping in the park, sleeping in the park, and intimidating families and children who live near the park, many people who are in fact homeless, and it has been a tremendous challenge for the neighborhood as well as for the city."
Community members then came to the podium, describing nuisance and illegal activities afflicting the area, capped by a statement from LBPD Chief Anthony Batts that he believes social services have impacted the area.
"I'm not doing this to point fingers, but the reality is that we have social services that are available in that area which draw [applause] a large number of individuals there. Those individuals impact that entire community as a whole," Chief Batts said.
The Chief's extemporaneous remark brought cheers from audience members. He preceded his comment by noting that LBPD had conducted 18 separate operations in the area in the past year, "so it's not a lack of enforcement from the Police Dept. It's not a lack of enforcement from the Park Rangers because we are in fact making those impacts."
Chief Batts said what when he was a West Division Commander (roughly 1996-99), he "put tons of resources out there, made numbers of arrests, and we continue to do that today, and the problems still exist, which tells me that the problem is not a lack of enforcement...[W]e need to take back the park and we need to sit down and change and try different mechanisms, because enforcement has not cured this problem in over ten years..."
LBReport.com posts an extended transcript (unofficial, prepared by us) of the item below.
The issue arose in the wake of neighborhood picnics organized in November and December 2004 by Better Balance for Long Beach, a group created by LB activists for the declared purpose of giving neighborhood residents a respite from nuisance activities and crime.
The purposeful picnics drew the attention of several LB media outlets. In December, LBReport.com ran a news/perspective piece that included transcribed statements from area residents describing conditions -- roughly one mile north of LB Civic Center -- where City Hall apparently fails to abate nuisance or illegal activities emanating from city-owned property.
"14th St. Park" is a street median between Magnolia and Pacific Aves. on which LB Parks & Rec has fenced some areas and installed playground equipment. City Hall includes it on its Parks & Rec web pages as "14th St. Playground" among LB parks...listing its operating hours as M-F from 2:30-4:30 p.m., closed Saturdays and Sundays.
[Jan. 14 update: LB Parks & Recs advises that as of early January 2005, 14th St. Park's new supervised hours are Saturday: 11 a.m. - 4 p.m., Sunday: 11 a.m. - 4 p.m., Monday - Friday: 3 - 5 p.m.]
At the November and December events, LBReport.com heard residents say parents and children witness visible drug dealing, sexual activity, and charitable food and utensils left as litter while some individuals hurl verbal assaults at children on their way to nearby Washington Middle School. Much of this takes place on or near the city-owned playground/street median, they told LBReport.com...which published their statements.
The agenda item did not produce an immediate Council response; a City Management report on the 14th St. Park master plan is due back within thirty days.
Our transcript below is unofficial, prepared by us; not all speakers or their statements are included.
Councilwoman Lowenthal: This is an item relating to an area of the 1st district that is a very, very challenged area, and I think for those of you who are familiar with the Washington neighborhood and the 14th St. Park, many of you here actually have called and said 'you've got to do something about this.'
And I have several residents, in particular one who's not living here currently, Faith Palermo, and one person who's not here tonight because she's sick, Linda Palacios, who for years have tried to improve the situation in the 14th St. Park.
And it's a park in a very dense neighborhood that historically has had many people camping in the park, sleeping in the park, and intimidating families and children who live near the park, many people who are in fact homeless, and it has been a tremendous challenge for the neighborhood as well as for the city.
I would say that in my three or four years so far on the Council, I have spent more time focused on that neighborhood than any other because of those challenges.
And as a result, a park that had no activities now has many activities. It has two playgrounds, a skateboard park, a two acre dirt lot that will be turned into a park in the future. There are basketball courts. There are Park Rangers, actually there are times for the Park Rangers, they're there on schoolday mornings and afternoons...
There's recreation programming that never existed before, security lighting, playground fencing, but it's not enough. It hasn't been enough, and as much as we've tried, we are desperate to have the neighborhood, as they are doing now, to try and take back the park and take back the area...
...We are working on a plan, in concert with the community, that would actually stretch fro Long Beach Blvd. from a proposed new school, all the way over to the proposed new park that I mentioned and even beyond possibly to touch to the northern tip of what will be Chavez Park,
...I am submitting this formal request for an update in 30 days about what that Master Plan will be...
Dennis Monfort [sp]...I'm the vice president of the [Washington Middle School] neighborhood association...We have drug dealers openly operating our park. There are [sic] drug use in the park, identified by the children with the smells and usages. We have loiterers in the park. We have people having sex in our park...
We have people that have mass feedings in the park. They are leaving a ton of trash. It's left in the streets, the alleys, and it's left for other people to pick up.
And the conditions are unacceptable in the area for so many children, where the children cannot use the park because of the conditions.
Annie Greenfeld-Wisner: Thank you Bonnie for requesting an update on the 14th St. Master Plan. I'm here tonight representing Better Balance for Long Beach, a business and residential group that is working with Washington Middle School Neighborhood Association to improve the horrid conditions at 14th St. Park, conditions which Dennis has just described.
You may have heard of the two neighborhood picnics BBLB sponsored at the park. It was wonderful to see the children finally feel safe enough to come out and play in the park.
We will continue to organize with the neighborhood until the park is finally made children-friendly.
Our expectation is for 14th St. Park to have parity with Lincoln Park [now part of LB's Civic Center]. The City and Parks & Rec are doing a great job improving the quality of Lincoln Park and we want the same blueprint followed for the 14th St. Park, no less. [applause] We thank you for your support and look forward to working with you for the betterment of 14th St. Park.
Councilwoman Lowenthal: Madam Mayor, would it be possible to have the Police Chief address some of the ways in which his Department has been addressing the crime in that area?
...Police Chief Batts: ...I am pleased that this issue has been brought forth. However,...what I want to start with is not just talking about the things we've done at 14th St. Park at recent times, because I think what we really have to focus on is what's the causative factors of what's happening in that park.
I know I was a Division Commander in charge of West Division from 96 to 99 if I remember correctly, and dealt with the same issues that we're talking about today. I put tons of resources out there, made numbers of arrests, and we continue to do that today, and the problems still exist, which tells me that the problem is not a lack of enforcement, because I have a long laundry list here of 18 different operations that we've run this year  to impact that park from arrests dealing with drug dealing, that led us to other locations to deal with gang members, to make that location safe for those young kids and the residents that live in that area.
We have, and I'm not doing this to point fingers, but the reality is that we have social services that are available in that area which draw [applause] a large number of individuals there. Those individuals impact that entire community as a whole.
So it's not a lack of enforcement from the Police Dept. It's not a lack of enforcement from the Park Rangers because we are in fact making those impacts.
We've sat down with some of the facilitators of our social services over there to work out a way to better manage that. However I do think, much like it was stated, and we need to take back the park and we need to sit down and change and try different mechanisms, because enforcement has not cured this problem in over ten years...