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    KPCC Does LB: "Air Talk" Focuses On LB Issues

    KPCC Air Talk on QM, Sept. 29/03(October 1, 2003, posted at 12:45 p.m.) -- KPCC radio's "Air Talk," the thoughtful mid-morning talk show hosted by Larry Mantle, devoted its full two hours to Long Beach on October 1 in a program taped Sept. 29 aboard the Queen Mary.

    KPCC Air Talk on QM, Sept. 29/03KPCC (89.3 FM), a Pasadena-based NPR affiliate with a signal blanketing much of southern California, invited listeners to attend the taping and over 100 people filled the QM's Windsor Salon. The program featured six panels with guests from both City Hall and the broader community.

    The station initially aired announcements indicating questions would be taken from the floor but subsequently decided against it. Host Mantle told the audience before the taping:

    Mr. Mantle:...I've wanted to come here to do a program for some time but the question is, do we take a couple of topics, do them extremely in depth, take questions from the audience and do that kind of thing, or since this is our first visit here, does it make more sense to do something that touches on a variety of different topics, get a kind of life of slice of a variety of things going on in Long Beach and to do that. And that's the thing that we chose to do. So we have six distinct segments in the two hours that we're doing...And my apologies that that means we are not going to have time to be able take questions from you as an audience member, but in going this route of taking on so many different topics, it just means we're not going to have the time when panels will be changing so rapidly. I know we had originally promoted this as "town hall" with questions, so I must apologize for changing-up and switching gears...

    KPCC Air Talk on QM, Sept. 29/03The first panel featured retired LB Mayor/Councilman now LB Community College Trustee Dr. Tom Clark and Press-Telegram columnist Tom Hennessy.

    Mr. Mantle asked Dr. Clark about the city's identity. Dr. Clark said, "One reason we purchased the Queen Mary [was] to give us some identity, and it's had its days both up and down, but that was one of the reasons, to try to give this city some type of identity..."

    When Dr. Clark noted that LB's downtown isn't in the center of town, Mr. Mantle said that "you could argue that having downtown so close to the water has made it a much more beautiful area, I mean you've got from downtown down to the newer developments waterside, I mean it's very attractive."

    "The big asset we do have is water, there's no question, the oceanfront," Dr. Clark said, prompting Mr. Hennessy to add, "And [on] the question of whether or not we've used that to our advantage, you'll get a good argument here tonight."

    "I'm sure that's true, and we're looking forward to that," Mr. Mantle said, drawing audience applause, adding "like every city, Long Beach has its share of controversies..."

    Regarding the biggest challenges facing Long Beach, Mr Hennessy said:

    Mr. Hennessy: Not all the problems are financially based, I don't think. I think one of the biggest challenges is, for whatever reason and there are a bunch of reasons, there has been a gulf between City Hall and between the people of the community, and I think that needs to be bridged. There has been one example after another where people have just lost their faith in City Hall.

    Mr. Mantle:: And you say lost their faith because they think the decisions made by the Council have been bad or because they feel that the Council and the City is removed from the residents?

    Mr. Hennessy: Not only bad but patronizing. Sort of, pat you on the head and 'we know best' and that sort of thing. You see it primarily in people who get appointed to boards and commissions, where the well-connected are going to get appointed. People who are not well-connected are not always going get appointed. You see people go from one commission to another commission and so forth, and it's kind of a, sort of country club atmosphere."

    Mr. Mantle: So you think that's more a function then of a sort of exclusivity than it is that there's a finite pool of people willing to take on these kinds of roles?

    Mr. Hennessy: Sure, and I think Long Beach is a tremendously talented city, has a great resource of talent, and that's not being tapped.

    KPCC Air Talk on QM, Sept. 29/03The second panel addressed development, putting City Hall Community Development Director Melanie Fallon alongside LB writer and former City Council staffer Bry Myown.

    After noting the city's past development efforts, Mr. Mantle began by asking Ms. Fallon if the Aquarium "has been a success or an albatross for Long Beach?"

    Ms. Fallon: Well I think we clearly would say that the Aquarium has been a success. It's really a the key point of our focal development on the waterfront in Long Beach. And there were some struggles with it. I think the amount of tourists that come there have been great, but not as great as originally anticipated, and as you [Mr. Mantle in setting up question] said the development that we thought would occur shortly after 1998 is really occurring now in 2003, so we have had a gap of about five years to fill but I think we're going in the right direction...
    After some follow-up questions, Mr. Mantle turned to Ms. Myown for her thoughts on LB's more recent development projects. "Do you think that they are largely successful or are you critical?" Ms. Myown replied:

    Ms. Myown: No, frankly I am very critical...The people who are critical of economic development policies are often criticized for looking backwards and not being forward thinking. I want to say that economic development policies throughout the nation are predicated on officials who devalue their assets, so that they can write down their value, bulldoze what is on them and hand them over to a private developer.

    Long Beach was built because we used to have a long beach. It was visible from the entire downtown and throughout our major thoroughfare. We were the fastest growing city in the nation at the turn of the last century which you will know means we have one of the finest collections of historic housing. We hit oil in the art deco period that gave us fabulous commercial buildings.

    So I think what you hear me describing and what we residents have faith in, is exactly what makes your listeners drive to Santa Monica and Pasadena every weekend. If they're not coming to Long Beach for that reason, then I think our officials didn't have faith in our assets and have devalued and destroyed them over the last twenty years.

    Mr. Mantle: But in fairness, Pine Ave. [interrupted by applause for Mr. Myown], Pine Ave. is a district that really does look at the history of the buildings, it's like old Pasadena, it's...

    Ms. Myown: [interjecting] Pine Ave. is great, it's the remaining two blocks of our architectural treasures. The remainder was bulldozed to build the Long Beach mall that was a redevelopment project in the mid to late 80s. It was a failure within ten years and it's what we've just reopened as CityPlace...[cites other examples] So in every case, the UCLA Public Policy Institute did a study on our economic development in 1999. It was called Banking On Blight, and they called Long Beach an example of a city building for someone else, and concluded that these economic development policies are producing nothing but minimum wage jobs...

    We've gone in the last three years from being number 37, to number 27, to number 10 in the number of people living below the poverty level in our city...

    After follow up questions, Mr. Mantle gave Ms. Fallon an opportunity to reply:

    Ms. Fallon: I think communities all throughout California struggle with the issue of having enough resources to support the services in our communities, in the way that Sacramento divides taxes and distributes taxes back to cities is that cities with the most sales tax base get more money back from Sacramento...and Long Beach faced a really devastating early 1990s. The Navy left Long Beach. The Navy Hospital closed. And McDonnell-Douglas downsized. We lost 60,000 jobs in the city of Long Beach in the early 1990s, and that's part of what, you know, Bry is saying.

    And I think as a city from our economic development perspective, we are trying to do a couple of things. One is to bring more sales tax opportunities into the city. A majority of our residents spend their sales tax dollars outside of Long Beach. And so we have been focusing on retail. One of the consequences of retail however is that they are lower paying jobs...

    I would say that our economic development strategy from now and into the future is to look for opportunities for higher paying jobs for our residents.

    When Mr. Mantle turned to housing, especially downtown, Ms. Fallon said:

    Ms. Fallon:: Our strategy in particular in downtown [is] to bring in more residential units. We currently have 4,000 new units either under construction or going through our entitlement process for development in the downtown, and we really believe, as most urban cities in California in fact throughout the country believe, that to have a healthy downtown you need 24 hour people, you need people that live there and not just the workers, not just the tourists. So we really believe that it's going to be the turning point for the city of Long Beach to have a much greater downtown urban population..."

    Ms. Myown responded:

    Ms. Myown: I support in concept high density downtown living. I think what's important to note about Long Beach is that downtown buses more than half its kids out of the area to school. Downtown lacks parks, and the city lacks police. So all the basic services that cities use to take care of their neighborhoods are lacking here.

    The other part of the picture is in the 80s the city engaged in increasing density. [describes "crackerbox" developments]...It caused tremendous crime problems for us. The city basically replaced our economic with a civil service and social services economy which is what we saw happen in New York, and now [in] those same neighborhoods where that happened the city wants to expand redevelopment, not because their old historic houses are run down, they've been fixed up by private investment, but again because the shelf life of what they built in the 80s was only ten years and it's already blighted.

    Ms. Fallon replied:

    Ms. Fallon: I think that to go back and question some of our past practices, I think there are some things we could have done better. And I think that our focus, and I would say, in terms of the future,...we really need to refocus our energy and our future in our neighborhoods, to make them the best, to help them achieve the highest quality of life.

    Asked by Mr. Mantle if she believed the ripple effect of redevelopment was "pie in the sky," Ms. Myown said:

    Ms. Myown: I would say that the city began its redevelopment project areas, for example, back in the 1960s. It now covers half the city and is looking to expand. I would say that we now have the worst municipal budget deficit we have ever faced and I would add that we now have more people living below poverty level than the city has ever had, and we are the only California city in the top ten, so personally, no I don't think our residents have felt the trickle down effect yet.

    KPCC Air Talk on QM, Sept. 29/03Other panels focused on the 710 freeway, pairing 7th district Councilwoman Tonia Reyes-Uranga and Gateway Cities Council of Governments Exec. Dir. Richard Powers. Mr. Mantle asked Councilwoman Reyes-Uranga how debate on the 710 freeway was playing out in LB:

    Councilwoman Reyes-Uranga:...Right now we have 36,000 truck trips a day...And the Port does say that by the year 2020, the traffic will probably increase to 96,000. Now if you don't have Port expansion, you get a mere 77,000 [forecast cited by Port], but if you don't expand the Port, we've just cut 20,000 truck trips from the freeway. So again, if you're focusing on the freeway [alone], the natural response would be let's expand that freeway, let's double deck it, let's do whatever we can to the freeway. But if you shift the focus to the Port, well maybe we need to look at the Port on whether it should expand or not...

    A panel on LB's gay community featured 2d district Councilman Dan Baker and Board Chairman of LB's Gay and Lesbian Community Center (One in Long Beach, Inc.), Jeffrey Wilcox.

    Host Mantle asked Councilman Baker what made LB an attractive place for the gay and lesbian community.

    Councilman Baker: ...I think it's a vibrant city, a lot of change going on. We are on the coastline. Relative to other coastal cities, we're a very inexpensive city still, even with the rapid increase we're seeing in property values. And it has a number of opportunities for folks, whether they're interested in a vibrant nightlife, quiet communities out in the eastside of the city, a downtown that is coming to fruition, it just offers everything that a community would like.

    And we are a community here in Long Beach, unlike some of the other gay and lesbian communities around, that is very much integrated into the whole of Long Beach...

    ...If you look at the numbers here in Long Beach, the estimates are 70- or 80-thousand gay and lesbian folks here in our city, that of course is twice the size of the entire city of West Hollywood...

    [after intervening questions] Mr. Mantle: ...How much weight do you give to your being a gay man to your being a successful candidate to win this [Council] seat? How relevant was it that there be a gay representative in this district?

    Councilman Baker: Well, I'm the first openly gay elected official here in the city, and that certainly had an impact, I think, in my first election. We had ten people in that first race, four of us were openly gay. So there certainly was a movement to try to elect an openly gay member of the Council. However I don't think that had too much of an impact one way or the other in the election since we were somewhat divided as ten candidates in a one person race.

    Since then, I think that most of my constituents could care less. Quite honestly, the calls and concerns I get are about trash and sidewalks and police services and everything else that people care about, the things we've talked about, economic development, airport growth, 710, so the fact that I'm gay I don't think probably 90% of my constituents really care...

    ...[O]ne thing I've been working on quite hard is to bring an upscale gay and lesbian nightclub downtown, for instance to integrate that into all that you've heard about, the Pike development or along Pine Ave., I think if we were going to try to target something to bring to our city, that would be the one thing that we need.

    Other panels discussed the city's Cambodian community and city efforts at historic preservation.

    Archived audio files of KPCC programs, including Air Talk, are posted on the station's web site: Click the left side "Air Talk with Larry Mantle" link.

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