Crime Still a Worry Despite Downtown L.B. Boom : Efforts to Enliven Area Meet With Mixed Success

Times Staff Writer

"I think safety has to do with what a person walking through the downtown feels. It's, 'Do I feel safe?' It has nothing to do with crime data." --David Lund, deputy police chief and former Redevelopment Agency director.

It was almost 7 p.m., but the sun still warmed Thelma Swift, who cocked her head upward from a bench to catch the sky's last rays.

Swift, 63, dapper in slacks, silky blouse and sports cap, positioned herself on the inviting tree-lined northern Promenade. Even as darkness approached, she had not thought of budging.

"I'm laid up with this darn broken arm and I needed to get out," she said. "Usually I don't come down here at all. But I couldn't drive with this arm, and this is close to home."

Owner of a downtown condominium, she had chosen the early evening for a stroll, she said, to avoid the daytime bustle on the walkway that links the Plaza shopping mall on the north with Ocean Boulevard and the new Hyatt Regency Hotel and Shoreline Village on the south.

She had not given her safety a second thought, she said.

Scruffy Vagrants

But as the sun set, only she and three vagrants were still about. She glanced at the scruffy men who were sitting nearby, sharing a cigarette.

"It's not all fear that keeps people away from here," she said. "It's just the atmosphere. They don't like what they see. None of my neighbors shop down here and neither do I. We get in our cars and drive someplace else."

In one way, Swift seems typical of an increasing number of Long Beach residents and visitors drawn to attractive downtown areas by new development. They come almost in spite of themselves, knowing they are not altogether safe in an area still high in crime.

There are, for example, retiree Lee Anderson, small-business owner Tom Donald and airline pilot Art Culver.

Anderson, 61, a Long Beach resident for 30 years, insisted the 3-year-old, 120-store Plaza shopping center lures the worst types downtown, but he still goes to the mall most days because it is a safe place to chat with friends.

"I don't know a guy in this town who hasn't been robbed or mugged in the last two years," declared Anderson, who said he was fighting off four muggers when police arrived at a downtown street corner one evening last year.

Donald, 60, a Seal Beach resident, had ventured downtown to use Western Union's Promenade office, not knowing that, like most other shops and offices, it had closed by 6 p.m.

Unwise to Carry Cash

"I'm down here to wire money, otherwise you wouldn't see me here at night," he said. He sometimes goes to plays at the Terrace Theater and events at the Convention Center, he said, but as a general rule, "You don't walk down here at night with money in your pocket."

Culver, an American Airlines pilot receiving simulator training at Douglas Aircraft Co., had studied the downtown during lengthy evening walks from the Breakers Hotel. A resident of Connecticut, he had been warned by other pilots about Long Beach.

"When I told them I was going to Long Beach, they said, 'That's a bad part of Los Angeles,' " said Culver, 47. "My first impressions are that it's not that bad at all. And I've been to a lot of cities. But you've got to get the people down here at night."

City officials could hardly agree more. In fact, much of the 10-year-old downtown development plan is designed to make the area "an 18-hour activity center," said Deputy Police Chief David Lund, the redevelopment chief until he temporarily shifted to the Police Department early this year.

"The more activity you are able to create, the safer people will feel, and that has to discourage criminal activity," Lund said. "That has been and continues to be one of our principal intentions."

The problem, said Lund and his successor at redevelopment, J. Edward Tewes, is that despite $1 billion in new construction, the nighttime activities planned along the Promenade corridor have not materialized north of Ocean Boulevard.

South of Ocean, shops and restaurants at Victorian-style Shoreline Village and business at the Hyatt Regency have boomed, and it is not uncommon to see couples strolling the boardwalk near the Hyatt even after midnight.

But the "ocean of safety" Lund had also predicted for the northern Promenade has proved elusive.

One recent evening between 7 and 9 p.m., no more than two dozen people were on the Promenade's two blocks between the Plaza mall and First Street, even though most shopping center stores were open until 9 p.m. Nearly all mall shoppers went directly to their cars in an adjacent parking structure.

Crime statistics for the area indicate the shoppers were wise--that late-evening walks are not a good idea.

Although reports of violent crimes--murder, rape, robbery and assault--have dropped 12% in the downtown area during the past three years, some blocks north of Ocean Boulevard remain particularly dangerous. The downtown is defined as the area south of 7th Street, west of Alamitos Avenue and east of the Long Beach Freeway.

A two- by three-block section adjoining the Plaza mall to the southeast was the site of 47 robberies in 1984, the largest number of any of the Police Department's 255 crime-reporting districts. Even the crime district dominated by the new mall had 29 robberies, though mall general manager Charles Sullivan said nearly all of them occurred away from the shopping center, which has its own 16-officer security department and 24-hour patrols. This year there have been no robberies within the mall and only one in the three-block-long mall parking garage, he said.

"We do have crime, but I don't think it's a major problem," said Sullivan. "Our No. 1 crime problem is shoplifting."

Numerous Thefts

Indeed, mostly because of 504 petty thefts in the mall's crime district, that area ranked first in Long Beach for all crime in 1984 with 998 offenses. It also ranked high for grand theft and bike theft, but had only 30 automobile burglaries and 35 auto thefts, including those from the mall's heavily used 2,800-space parking structure.

"I think the mall has obviously helped the downtown area," said police Cmdr. Jerry Heath. "It's a secure place to go and shop."

The problem is that "they haven't finished redeveloping the rest of the downtown area yet," Heath said.

Total crime--misdemeanors and all crimes against people and property--is up from 4,152 in 1981 to 4,426 in 1984 for the downtown. Still, Heath said the razing of numerous "porno shops" and bars for redevelopment projects has changed the area for the better.

Because of the new office and hotel projects, including the clearing of the World Trade Center site, about 2,000 residents and 280 businesses have been displaced since 1979, say city officials. The population of the downtown probably has remained about the same, however, because of new condominium and apartment developments, including nine in the southwestern downtown area.

A downtown crime area of particular interest is occupied by the Convention Center, Hyatt Regency, Shoreline Village, Shoreline Marina and several old hotels.

That district, though mostly vacant land in 1981, had 387 crimes, compared to 569 in 1984. Despite completion of the 531-room Hyatt and Shoreline Village in 1983, which have brought many more people into the area, violent crime was about the same, increasing from 26 to 28. The greatest increases from 1981 to 1984 were in petty thefts, which rose from 12 to 71, and business burglaries, from 16 to 45. Auto thefts increased from 42 to 53, auto burglaries from 74 to 118, grand theft from 40 to 61.

Private Security Patrols

Mary Lou Lambert, general manager of Shoreline Village, said crime has not been a problem there. The village, which has about 40 shops and seven restaurants and cafes, is patrolled by private security and the city's Marine Department, she said.

Despite drawing about 2.7 million people in 1984--an average of 7,400 a day--and staying open as late as 2 a.m., "We have experienced virtually nothing in the area of crime," Lambert said.

"The Hyatt Regency and Shoreline Village area has achieved what we're looking for," said Lund, "but it's still too early for the immediate downtown core. We still don't have enough activities to generate pedestrian traffic."

Lund and Tewes said the spring, 1986, opening of the 380-room Ramada Renaissance luxury hotel on the Promenade just north of Ocean will be a large step forward.

"The Ramada will have a street-level delicatessen and a restaurant with outdoor seating," said Tewes. "We are hopeful that it will attract people from offices who will come by after work and keep things lively."

In addition, a $125-million Sheraton Hotel and office tower development is expected to be approved by the City Council on July 16 for the block east of Long Beach Boulevard and north of Ocean. It could be completed by 1988.

Another major project that had been counted on to enliven the northern Promenade is the 400,000-square-foot International Plaza to be built between Broadway and First Street. The development would include five restaurants and six motion picture theaters, but it has been stalled for three years by a lawsuit from a business that would be razed.

In the meantime, developers of hotels, offices and condominiums continue to show a strong interest in downtown Long Beach, said Tewes.

Some condo promoters "are concerned about the overall ambiance, shopping and entertainment and, of course, safety is a factor," he said. "But we have not had any indication that (crime) enters into their decision to invest in Long Beach or not."

The Police Department breaks the city into 255 crime-reporting districts that were created in the early 1970s to divide equally the number of calls for police service. Areas with more crime calls were divided into smaller districts than areas that had fewer crime problems. That's why districts in the traditionally high-crime downtown and central areas are generally smaller than those in low-crime eastern Long Beach. - Violent crime includes homicide, rape, assault and robbery. - Property crime includes burglary, theft and arson. - Major crime is a combination of violent and property crime. LONG BEACH CRIME, 1984 VIOLENT CRIME District with greatest number of reported incidents of all types of violent crime is listed first; other districts follow in descending order. Listed for each district are its most significant categories of crime. 1. 1st in assault, 4th in robbery and 9th in major crime. (1st in home burglary.) 2. Tied for 1st in rape, tied for 3rd in assault, 3rd in robbery. 3. 1st in robbery, tied for 4th in rape. 4. Tied for 5th in assault, tied for 11th in robbery. 5. Tied for 7th in robbery, high in assault. 6. 2nd in robbery, high in assault. 7. 6th in robbery, high in assault. 8. Tied for 11th in robbery, high in rape and assault. 9. 2nd in assault, tied for 2nd in rape. (7th in home burglary.) 10. 10th in robbery, high in assault. (3rd in petty theft.) 11. Tied for 3rd in assault, high in robbery. (8th in auto burglary.) A. PROPERTY CRIME District with greatest number of reported incidents of all types of property crime is listed first; other districts follow in descending order. Listed for each district are its most significant categories of crime. A. 1st in major crime and in petty theft, 3rd in grand theft. (Tied for 11th in robbery.) B. 1st in grand theft, 2nd in major crime, 2nd in auto and business burglary, 3rd in auto theft. C. 1st in auto and business burglary, 2nd in grand theft, 3rd in major crime, 6th in auto theft. D. 2nd in petty theft, 4th in major crime and 7th in grand theft. E. 3rd in petty theft, 5th in major crime and 6th in grand theft. F. 1st in auto theft, 6th in major crime, 7th in auto burglary and petty theft. G. 1st in bike theft, 4th in petty theft and 7th in major crime. H. 3rd in business burglary, 5th in petty theft, 8th in major crime. I. 4th in home burglary, 6th in auto burglary and 10th in major crime. (Tied for 1st in rape.) J. 2nd in auto theft, 3rd in auto burglary. (Tied for 6th in grand theft.) K. 11th in major crime, high in auto burglary and auto theft. L. 5th in home burglary. LOW CRIME: Crosshatched areas show districts with least crime

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World