(Nov. 19, 2005) -- LB elected officials, candidates and activists joined residents of the Washington Middle School neighborhood at 14th St. Park on Saturday (Nov. 19) for the first year anniversary of monthly picnics initiated by Better Balance for Long Beach (BBLB).
BBLB, organized about a year ago by grassroots activists and businesspeople from other parts of LB, began holding the picnics to focus attention on nuisance and law-flouting activities in the area.
A year ago, 14th St. Park had two small fenced areas of playground equipment on the wide street median between Chestnut Ave. and LB Blvd. (The median occupied what was once parking for the vanished Seaside Hospital). Neighbors reported drug use, excretory and sexual activity and threatening behavior in the area as children walked to school and tried to use the playground.
A year later, we saw tangible changes, catalyzed by BBLB and brought to fruition by City Hall departments and 1st district Councilmember Bonnie Lowenthal (seen chatting with a BBLB member). 1st district activist Don Darnauer looks on.
Fencing has been installed encompassing the entire park area (stretching several blocks). Area residents with whom we spoke were ecstatic about this. Children can now use the park protected from traffic. We watched as kids played tag by running across the park to the fence, a simple pleasure previously impossible without potentially ending up in the street.
Large, modern electric lighting has been installed.
The park now features a piñata pole. Councilwoman Lowenthal credits neighborhood activist Linda Palacios with the idea; the Councilwoman asked LB Parks & Rec chief Phil Hester to put one in...and he agreed. "He's very responsive to the 1st district Council office when we ask for something."
Neighborhood children go to work on this piñata.
Councilwoman Lowenthal chats with a BBLB member as neighborhood kids finish off the piñata.
A Parks and Rec staffer said the multiple improvements have encouraged use of the park by more children and families...and discouraged its misuse by unsavory elements. "We have programs here seven days a week, Monday through Friday for three hours, and Saturdays and Sundays for six hours. We do arts and crafts, games, sports, relays." How's the turnout? "25 to 30 on Saturdays and Sundays and during the week it's about 15." Did the fencing and lights change things? "It's more secure and safe." What have you noticed since the changes were made? "It's safer for the children, not so many people in transition hanging out during the time we're open, or at night." For the record, we didn't see any transients, refuse or their leavings.
Among those attending the event was 3d district Councilman (and Mayoral candidate) Frank Colonna (left), watching kids enjoy the park area alongside BBLB co-founder Dan Berns.
Councilman Colonna gave BBLB a Council district Certificate of Recognition...and Mr. Berns displays it for 7th district Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga and BBLB co-founder Annie Greenfeld-Wisner.
BBLB co-founder Paul DeLung (left) chats with City Prosecutor Tom Reeves.
Also attending (after we took off so not pictured) was Norm Ryan, who recently announced his candidacy for the 3d district Council seat being vacated by Councilman Colonna.
At the same time as the area has seen visible progress, there continue to be challenges. We saw visible graffiti in the area...and although graffiti is evident eleswhere in LB (LBReport.com reported seeing some near the Belmont Pier this summer), the amount visible in the 14th St. Park/Washington Middle School area got our attention.
We have chosen not to post photos of the graffiti (for obvious reasons), but it blocked out half of a "School Crossing" sign and all of a "no parking" sign just steps from 14th St. Park and half a block south of Washington Middle School; one long tag stretched across the upper part of a residential building across from the park; a light pole outside the park was marked...and a sign listing "Park Regulations" on one of the park's new light standards was marked by graffiti.
BBLB co-founder Jane Kelleher said, "There's more to be done."
Meanwhile, work will begin shortly on creating entirely new parkland west of 14th St. Park (west of Chestnut Ave.), a project pressed by Councilwoman Lowenthal. When completed it will extend the neigborhood's greenspace by reclaiming urbanized areas (parking and buildings) and transforming it into new parkland.