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"Listening to You" at Pyramid Draws Small Crowd But Gives City Hall an Earful

Includes transcript excerpts

Pyramid Town Meeting(June 9, 2001. updated June 11 & 12) -- Resembling an overgrown focus group more than a town meeting, a public meeting variously dubbed "Listening to You" and "Town Hall Meeting" drew roughly 150-250 residents to the CSULB Pyramid on June 9.

Some were veteran activists but others were LB residents and businesspeople not usually seen or heard at Council meetings.

Those who spoke gave City Hall an earful. We post transcript excerpts, below.

Not all speakers criticized City Hall; several lobbied in support of LB's libraries (one indicated she was affiliated with Friends of the Library).

However, a number of speakers criticized City Hall's record on park land, neighborhood quality of life (issues ranged from public safety to Airport to Port impacts), City Hall-run utility rates and -- most heavily -- current plans for Queensway Bay.

A large contingent of city staff, elected and appointed officials listened but, as promised, didn't speak.

Councilman Ray Grabinski was the original impetus for the "Town Hall Meeting," prompted by the landslide victory of Norm Ryan's Prop J utility tax cut with nearly 70% of the vote in November 2000. No incumbent Councilmember supported Prop J.

Despite the overwhelming public vote, Councilman Grabinski suggested getting more public input on how to proceed. With Council approval, a non-government committee (but including representatives of the offices of Councilman Grabinski, Vice Mayor Baker and the City Manager; list of committee members, click here) proceeded to develop the event that became the Pyramid "Town Hall Meeting."

On May 15, 2001 Councilman Grabinski and Vice Mayor Dan Baker both agendized, sought and received Council approval for spending $3,000 of each of their Council district discretionary funds (i.e. general fund money) on behalf of the event.

[Pertinent text of Grabinski's agendizing memo: "I would like to allocate $3,000 of the Seventh District's discretionary funds for the following purpose: To assist the Community Listening Committee with their cost associated in the "Listening to YOU" a Community Forum Town Hall Meeting Day..." Pertinent text of Baker's agendizing memo: "I propose that $3,000 of the 2nd District Unallocated funds be allocated to cover costs relating to the "Listening to Long Beach" event..."]

The Pyramid event was not a traditional "town hall meeting." A "facilitator" acted as MC and ran the meeting. The facilitator was from a private firm that had previously facilitated LB City Hall related events; however, it does not appear (as of this posting) that the firm was being paid by the City of LB for this event.

The small turn out effectively let some participants speak for up to a minute or two, shorter than allowed at Council meetings but long enough to deliver a potent extemporaneous point (transcript excerpts, below).

Among the grassroots activists attending; LB Citizens for Utility Reform activists John Donaldson, Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, Ron Noe, Bry Myown, Dorothy Wolf, Roger Erickson, Adrea Stoker and Colette Marie McLaughlin and Stop Taking Our Parks/Friends of Scherer Park leaders Gigi "Fast Elk" Porter and Reggie Bannister (both with informational tables).

Other LB civic activists and VIPs spotted included Prop J/utility tax cut author Norm Ryan, ECO-link chair Diana Mann, "Mums" owner John Morris, LBACI activist (and recent Mayoral appointee to Human Relations Commission) Joanne O'Byrne, Downtown Plaza Coalition activists Jason Witt & Michelle Berg, Wrigley Ass'n President Jill Hill and Past President Alan Tolkoff, "Inside LB" co-host Mike Murchison, Los Altos activist Jack Reed, LBACI leader Richard Green, Bixby Knolls/Los Cerritos neighborhood leader Mike Kowal, LB attorney Marc Coleman, View from the Hill publisher Robert Magid

Among city officials attending were: Mayor Beverly O'Neill (present throughout the four hour meeting), Mayoral Chief of Staff Kathy Wieder, Vice Mayor Dan Baker, Councilmembers Dennis Carroll (with aide John McNaughton), Jackie Kell, Laura Richardson-Batts, Ray Grabinski (with aide Jondra Matrone) and (after roughly 3 p.m.) Rob Webb.

Councilmembers Frank Colonna and Jerry Shultz did not appear to attend.

Also spotted were City Attorney Robert Shannon, City Prosecutor Tom Reeves, City Auditor Gary Burroughs, Planning Commission member Nick Sramek, City Manager Henry Taboada, City Manager staffer Braden Phillips, Community Development chief Melanie Fallon, City staffers Sharon Diggs-Jackson & Anitra Dempsy (LB Airport), Public Works Director Ed Shikada, LB Energy Chief Chris Garner, Advance Planning Chief Jack Humphrey, Neighborhood Services Bureau Mgr. Dennis Thys, Integrated Resources Mgr. Jim Kuhl and Airport Advisory Commission members Elliot Fried (brought microphone to speakers) and Derek K. Brown.

Other LB VIPs spotted included former Mayor Ernie Kell, former Councilman Les Robbins, Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal, LB aide to Congressman Steve Horn, Connie Sziebl and LB Area Chamber of Commerce leader Mike Murray (who introduced Mayor O'Neill).

Informational tables were set up on one side inside the conference hall (not visible in picture at top of this page.) City Hall staff tended to tables distributing information on LB Airport, LBPD, LB Planning & Building/Code Enforcement, Public Works, Financial Mgt., Business Development, Water Dept., Health & Human Service and the Aquarium.

Groups with informational tables included LB Citizens for Utility Reform, STOP (Stop Taking Our Parks), the Apartment Association-California Southern Cities and the LB Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Comments took place in the context of three topics (neighborhoods, energy crisis, economic development), each taking about 50 minutes, plus a wrap-up catch all topic, approved by the event's planning committee and reportedly based on a questionnaire sent to neighborhood groups by the LB Business Journal. However, speakers were not restricted or silenced to keep them within specific topics.

Transcript excerpts follow. Not all speakers or statements are indicated (since transcribing nearly four hours would take weeks.) We post this transcript quickly and apologize for name misspellings or unidentified speakers. (We'd welcome participants correcting name spellings and identifying speakers who didn't identify themselves. E-mail us at "")

[Begin transcript excerpts]

[Topic: Neighborhoods]

Unidentified man

I live on 6th and 7th street between what I call the 6th and 7th street freeway...When it comes to open space for parks, just a little grass, a net, the kids will come, because I will see the children tonight, Saturday night, they will be playing in the street, or they'll be playing on the sidewalk, they have no place to play...

Mike Hernandez, Bluff Park Board of Directors

...One of our biggest concerns has to do with the infrastructure of the neighborhoods. We should be spending more of our time and efforts and dollars in the maintaining and the developing and the caring for these areas. We're not gonna attract business, we're not gonna attract additional unless the neighborhoods start looking the way they should and make people feel comfortable and safe in them...

Linda Harmon [sp?]

...I'm concerned about our parks. There's a police substation evidently proposed for Scherer Park and I hope that this is abandoned. There is only so much park space in our city and we don't want to see it used by even police...

Paul de Silva

...I'm a homeowner in the Los Altos district. I'm pleased about my neighborhood for its diversity, not just in ethnic diversity backgrounds but also in age levels...What I am concerned about is the expansion of large businesses, in particular the airport. What that does is really, from 7 a.m. to 11 'o clock at 100 decibels, firing off large, large jet engines, it's just so disruptive to just actually having a nice pleasant breakfast on your patio, I mean, things we work hard for...I mean, I'm all for business. Business is what allowed us to buy our homes and continue with our lives. But when a business interferes with actual piece of mind where it's an actual assault on your sensibilities day in and day out, it's a bit offensive...Maybe rethinking where we build up large businesses. Bulding an airport in the middle of one of the prime spots in the neighborhood seems a little out of reach, and it's fifty years old, that was a different time...

Larry Boland

...I live in Lakewood Village...The problem at the airport is that the current single event noise levels were set almost 15 years ago. They have allowed very noisy jets that have to be retrofitted to come to our airport...JetBlue is going to take up 27 slots with quiet airplanes. Let's take advantage of the noise technology that has been produced over the last fifteen years, lower our single event noise level to be more consistent with the technology that Boeing has brought to our airport. The airport is a very strong economic entity but it can be better situated in terms of a balance between the noise it makes the quality of life. And we need to do that. It's been fifteen years now.

Margaret Cheriott [sp?]

I live in Bixby Knolls. I took the LB transit bus here today, and I just wanted to say it was a wonderful ride, I made it in 45 minutes. Went straight down Atlantic and changed at PCH to come here But what a dismal view out the window. All those stores on Atlantic that have no residents, no businesses, and then when you get beyond Willow going down to PCH it's horrible...

Marilyn Larson

I'm another one [of several speakers preceding her] speaking on behalf of the library. Two positive things that I want to tell you about libraries, the direction we should be going. First of all, north branch has been open on Mondays for a while now. Adding that extra day of opening added 20% to the use of that library, based on circulation figures. One more day, 20% more use. That could be happening all over the city if we could add that one more day in all the libraries. We talked about infrastructure. That's our intellectual infrastructure, is keeping people using books and libraries. Second point. I'm speaking for a carpet cleaner that I've never even met. He was cleaning the carpets at the home of one of our board members and she told him that she was having a meeting of the board there that day, the Friends of the Library board and he got very interested...and he said, "Where I come from in Mexico, books are very expensive and people can't have many books in their homes, but it's different here."...So I'm speaking on behalf of him and lots of others who are counting on the library to have books in their homes.

[Topic: Energy Crisis]

John Donaldson (co-chair LB Citizens for Utility Reform)

...By my estimation, a full third of the people are in real danger. They have either received a delinquent notice, they have had a shut off notice or they have a self-imposed shut off. Even those folks who don't have delinquent notices, many of 'em have not paid their bill until it became delinquent and then put it on a credit card, which continues to push their finances. This is not a problem that we can afford to delay until we can get our money back [from entities the City of LB has sued]...It's a problem that just strikes to the core of the residents of the city, as well as the small businessmen in this city who are failing because of the problem...

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp (LBCUR)

...What we have is a situation where it's a failure to manage and a failure to communicate. And not only do we have an issue of learning how to conserve, but we need to look at our Gas Dept., dismantle it, and I don't mean take it apart, but really look at how it can work better, so that we have reserves, so that we have public hearings if there are going to be rate increases and the people need o participat ein the process.

Unidentified man

Why can't the City Council and the rest of the city government follow the law that they swear to uphold when they're inducted into office? I'm talking specifically about the City Charter, sections 1501 and 1502. We didn't only have a bunch of anarchists on the street [a May 1 demonstration in LB], we have 'em in the City Council.

Alan Tolkoff (Wrigley area activist)

You asked what we could do to enhance communications. I think it's a two way street with communication. I do think that the city staff and elected official, maybe more so the staff, could be making a greater effort to reach out...On the other hand, as I said, communication is a two-way street. In my personal experience, only once have I ever had a staff member who didn't quickly respond to a request that I made for information or even set up a meeting and sort of open up the books and show me how we got to where we are. I think it would behoove all of us in this room to...just telephone and invite those same city officials to attend those [neighborhood] association meetings, or meet one on one or with a small group of people...

[Topic: Economic Development]

Unidentified woman

We ought to be concerned about what's been referred to a corporate welfare, where we offer more incentives to businesses than they can ever give back to the community.

Unidentified woman

With the energy crisis the worst that we've ever seen, why the hell are you going to put 16 more movie theaters in Queensway Bay? It's dumb.

Sambath Mao

I live in the sixth district...I head that we're going to bring the [Carnival] Cruise ship to Long Beach. That is a positive sign. And also, I'd like to see more flights coming to Long Beach, so that from restaurants, hotels and cab drivers, they'd have jobs...

Unidentified man

Down at City Hall, they've got a black hole, and money gets sucked into that black hole, and I think at the other end of that black hole is developers. If a developer comes in the City of Long Beach says I've got a dang good idea for this city, but I need you to give me $20 million. Well if it's a dang good idea, why ain't he spending his money on the project? The city needs to stop lookin' at these developers. If they want to build a project, let them spend the money on the project...

Jeff Huso [sp?]

I'm concerned about the quality of life in Long Beach for the residents that already live here, and not too much extra traffic...I don't think that economic development for more money is always going to be to the advantage of the people that live here. It's going to be to the advantage of certain people that have apartment buildings and so on and we need to look out for that and preserve the quality of life for the people. If have the home here, you know, get in and represent your interests, you don't have to have a 100 units to show up and represent your interests.

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp

...Economic development in my view is supposed to help the communities that have the least. We don't see a lot of them here. That should be a first thought. Second thought is, we can never invest enough money in our kids...We look to tourism to bail out our future; that's a mistake. We should focus on technology, we should focus on education, because that's what pays. Bringing in "Big Boxes" do not thing but perpetuate the cycle of poverty. They push small businesses out of business and they keep people poor, disenfranchised and disempowered. That is a mistake for the future of our children. Lastly I would say that the vision for economic development should also be about being fair. If money is supposed to be allocated for a low income community, it should not bail out Loehmann's [city provided contingent rent guarantees for Loehmann's LB landlord], it shouldn't be for the Aquarium parking structure, it should be for thsoe communities so that when we say it's the Year of the Neighborhoods, we mean it.

Robert Fox

..I've lived in the city for twenty years. When I first arrived in Long Beach, I noticed that we could speak as long as we wanted to before the City Council. Eventually that was chaned to five minutes per person, now we're down to three minutes per person. If the city really wants to listen to the community, they should protect our constitutional right to address the City Council. Allow us to agendize items on the City Council agenda, we do not have that right any more. Also, we do not have that right any more. Also, we have no use of the audio visual equipment in the City Council whereas the developers do. If we are trying to protect the quality of life in our neighborhoods, we have as much a vested interest in providing the Council with visual information as any developer that comes to this city. And I think it's only fair and only just that the neighborhoods have the equal right of representation before our Council. Otherwise, our government's screwed. And also what happens here is, the developer always is right, the neighborhoods are always wrong, until eight years past the debacle and then you try to clean up the wreckage of an 8-10 unit crackerbox [multi-unit apartment building]. I don't want to see this city go through wreckage clean up for the rest of my life.

It seems to me, we need to listen and listen distinctly to the people of Long Beach and when they said gee, something's wrong with Queensway Bay, listen to it...

John Donaldson

...What is [a coming downtown] WalMart but a repeat of the [downtown] Plaza? Ten years from now, that WalMart will be gone and we will be stuck with exactly what we had before...

Unidentified man

...I live just west of the 710 freeway and one of the biggest problems in the city of Long Beach I think is the Port. Right now, 8 million contains a year roughly go through that Port. By the year, I I was readying by 2012 or something like that, 25 million, expect to get 25 million coming out of those Ports a year. And they're talkin' so much about the Alameda Corridor, that's not even going to absorb what's going out right now. And that Long Beach freeway is going to be one big truck route unless they do something about it...

Gigi "Fast Elk" Porter (Friends of Scherer Park/Stop Taking Our Parks)

...I am also the president and CEO of a small business...Economic development has got to be addressed in this town and we're talking about not the upper two percent, we are talking about the lower ninety percent, the ones that can't attend Tuesday night City Council meetings or endless neighborhood meetings or endless Commission meetings such as I do; I'm the boss, I can do that.

...The good news is, we have a situation in North Long Beach that I am notorious for, it is the consideration of the expansion of the North Long Beach station. Let me go on record yet one more time after two years. Our police deserve a new police facility now. They were promised it ten years ago and they still don't have it, but hey, guess what, not in a park. The reason I say this is because we have a situation in Long Beach where there is not enough park space, and I'm not talking about just open space. I am talking about places where our children can play safely, where our families can go and recreate...If this police station is approved to go into Scherer Park, all parks will be jeopardized. Why? There is a zoning law that will be changed, that will change it from park to institutional. If that happens, it says so in the Environmental Impact Report, it is a precedent setting action...This means they're going to look at this and use this as a precedent to do it to the other parks, and we don't have enough as it is.

Now, we have a resolution too...We could keep the substation, put a bike patrol in it, foot patrol, motorcycle patrol and community police officers give them their own facility to work out of which has not been done before...take the existing police station, refurbish it, give it to them. Keeps our police presence there. Move the station to Atlantic and 52d Street up near Carmelitos, which is one of the alternate sites...It stimulates economic growth to have a police station built in that area...

Unidentified woman

...I'm a resident of Long Beach for quite some time. And I think one of my issues is that there should be more balance to the city's planning and city's decisionmakers. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on economic development, but not enough emphasis on our youth, our children, what kind of things that we could be doing for them...The second thing that I have is the Queensway Bay project and I really am in opposition to that. And I am certainly glad that we've heard that before...We don't want direct competition with Pine Ave. theaters, with a new mall, with the retail stores. We don't want it to block our ocean. We want space out there. There are better uses for the development of 18 acres of waterfront property...And also it sets a very dangerous precedent using statewide land for permitted tideland uses.

John Morris (owner, Mums restaurant)

...I'd kind of like to refer to myself today as just "John Morris" because I don't like "activist," I don't "gadfly" and I don't like being a "cave person." But I think I sit here today and I agree with 95% of what is being discussed. And it's very unfortunate that as a businessperson when you make your concerns known, you are referred to as "well that's just Morris, he's always complaining about downtown, he always has negative things to say about downtown." What I know, that where I'm coming from, I've been in this town since 1973, and I think I've made a commitment in this city to make it a better city. But the city has a great way of spinning it. If you don't agree with the party line, they're excellent at pushing you out. And they make it known they don't like what you're doing and they don't like what you're saying.

And I'm going to make another comment about Queensway Bay right now because I have to make the comment. Until ground is broken, I will work to oppose the inland portion of the Queensway Bay project.

I have never had a problem with a project at the Queensway Bay, and I don't believe any people in Long Beach have a problem with doing a project at the Queensway Bay. It's about doing the right project. The waterfront portion of the Queensway Bay project is something we've always said is a slam dunk. Restaurants and retail, it'll make it a happening spot.

What they're creating on the inland portion of the Queensway Bay project, it's nothing but, it'll be a detriment to all of downtown. It'll have a major, negative impact on what we've already tried to do on Pine Ave. But because city management years ago when we built the Aquarium decided Pine Ave. has had enough, they're on their own, we have not seen any growth whatsoever in the last five or six years on Pine Ave. We are one and half blocks, and that's all we are.

We've been begging for parking structures. I came in here in 1986, I bought my property on Pine Ave. One of the topics in 1986 was building parking structures. I left a meeting yesterday morning at 7:30 a.m., and I had to laugh at myself, here we are in 2001, and we're still talking about do we need parking structures downtown.

The communication. That's what it's all about here, communication. It's about time they listened to everybody. It's not about the select few. It's not about the good old boy network. The good old boy network has had their time. Guys like me who own a business in this town, are committed to this town, we make a living on the decisions that are made at City Hall and we have every right to dispute and argue decisions. I was opposed to the Aquarium when it was being built. I was opposed to the location of the Aquarium when it was being built. But today, I am a fan of the Aquarium because we have the Aquarium, we've got to embrace it, we have to support it. And that's always been my philosophy; once it's here, you get behind it.

But you have every single right to oppose anything you want to oppose, and I'm sick and tired of theway City Hall has a great way of pointing fingers and isolating people, and making you, they try to make you feel like two cents.

Bea Antonore

Most of you know me. I have been connected with this city for more than fifty years and volunteered my time. I love it. I've supported much of what the city has done and I've been opposed to other things. I have to say that as far as the Queensway Bay is concerned, I am much opposed to what is planning. The [movie] theater, I haven't heard of one person in my experience throughout the community that is in favor of the theater. We have a 16 theater complex down on Pine Ave. I agree with Mr. Morris, we need to do something about Pine Ave.

I think that what we have to consider is not just the tourists. They will come and go, but the people in this community need to have a place where they will return to, like they did the old Pike. We need to have something there that will satisfy all of the needs, both tourism and the people who live here. I wouldn't go a second time if it was just theaters or something down there. I want to have something that will allow me to go down to the shore and to enjoy whatever is there for all people...

Sue Cannon

We lived on the eastside for 25 years, moved to downtown Long Beach five years ago, so we're now urban dwellers, love it down there. But there is not enough open space, park area in downtown for the huge populaton of families that live there...

Also about Queensway Bay, I agree completely. I think all of the delays have been a blessing to us and give the city an absolutely golden opportunity to completely rethink how that incredible, prime property should be used. I think that all the most creative minds in the country should be gotten together to really make something, fulfill the potential of that. I think, parks, museums, places where concerts could be held, make it a huge gathering pace but not just the same-old, same-old...

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp

...We have an opportunity as a city with our elected officials, and I think that this day of talking is really nice, but it should happen every Tuesday night. Period. It shouldn't be a special event. It shouldn't be a special meeting. You shouldn't have to have a special meeting to plan it. You should have it. And I think if anything comes out of this meeting, I hope that our elected officials, our City Manager in particular, I hope you're payin' attention Henry [pause] I'm glad cause I se you over there talkin', we pay your salary. We're your boss.

And we want to know, when you're making a decision that might impact us, like our gas rates, what's goin' on. Whether it's about economic development, whether you're going to build a 911 in my park, the police station in Scherer Park, the public's business should be done in public. [Wrap-up topic: Hopes & Fears About Long Beach]

Joanne O'Byrne

For more than ten years, I've been a participant, as both an observer and a participant and City Council meetings...and so this which is an enlargement of that in a true, kind of town-hall version of democracy is something that absolutely delights me. But what disturbs me is the kind of reaction that speakers at City Hall get. The people behind the rail are engaged in other kinds of activities, whether they're telephoning, or talking to one another, or doing crossword puzzles even. And the responses that you get to any kind to any kind of remarks that are made are either "thank you" or no comment, or a small comment and then "next" or "we'll get back to you." I've never been gotten back to, and I've spoken many times and nothing has ever happened.

So I'm concerned about this kind of activity that we're having today. I remember a couple of years ago there was a "Day of Listening" for the youth of Long Beach. It was touted as being an absolutely wonderful thing and it was taped and it was televised and everybody was excited about the venues in various parts of the city. And I don't know of anything that ever came out of that. I'm wondering what's going to come out of ths. Maybe it's just a chance for us to vent our opinions. But what I'd like to know is what's going to happen to those opinions...

Robert Lamond

Yes, I've attended City Council meetings, almost all of them for the past dozen of so years. It amazes me that our Councilpeople can stay away during much of the public input they get. When infrequently they have something that makes sense, and it's helpful, they welcome it. Thank you.

Maria Norvell

I think the people that know me know that I'm very interested in public safety...There are districts in our Long Beach that residents still can't go out and walk in their own neighborhoods. Think about that...[I]n the information that I have gotten, crime is rising. It's not going down. Crime risk is getting higher. So that's my main concern about the neighborhoods, is public safety, and if you don't have that you're not going to have anything.

A sign snafu

Before the doors opened, a controversy arose when, apparently as a result of a benign miscommunication, a CSULB staffer prepared parking signs directing the public to "Councilman Ray Grabinski Open Forum." After members of the event's planning committee objected and before the meeting got underway, Mr. Grabinski's name was hurriedly taped over.

Parking Sign BeforeParking Sign After
Parking Sign Before
Parking Sign After

Asked by about this at the event, Councilman Grabinski said the information didn't come from him and he was personally saddened because he'd tried hard to keep politics out of the event. He added the tape used to cover over his name had come from inside his car. has corroborated Councilman Grabinski's lack of involvement in these events. On June 12, Mary Louise Simms of CSULB's sports office told she advised CSULB's parking office of what to put on the signs after speaking with a member of event planning committee (unrelated to Mr. Grabinski); she said she came up with the sign verbiage after concluding on her own the event would be an open forum and Councilman Grabinski would attend as a guest. Ms. Simms confirmed she had no contact with Mr. Grabinski or his office or City Hall about the signs.

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