The Future of L.B.: Ideal or Dismal? : Broad-Based Group Defines Choices Through Year 2000

Times Staff Writer

After 25 years of change on top of change, of downtown decay and partial reconstruction, of white flight from Westside neighborhoods and a surge of new business, Long Beach is poised for a future that promises to jerk it even further away from its comfortable past.

It is a future with more people. By the year 2000, this city's population will swell from the 361,384 of 1980 to a crowded 426,000, demographers say.

And, according to seven "Long Beach 2000" citizen task forces that have studied the city for nearly a year, the future carries both problems and opportunities.

During the next 15 years, Long Beach could become a "nearly ideal city" of booming business, fine schools and racial harmony, said a task force summary.

But a "much more dismal future scenario" of declining city services and increasing poverty and conflict "is equally likely," said the summary.

"Which it will be depends upon the actions of our residents, businessmen and political leaders over the next several years."

Participants Invited to Session

Now, with the task force reports complete, the city has scheduled a public forum from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday on the Queen Mary. A short general session will be followed by seminars run by the officers of each task force. People who live or work in the city are invited to participate.

Suggestions from the seminars will be forwarded to the City Council as it attempts to meld task force recommendations into a long-range, citywide plan for community development, said Mayor Ernie Kell. Suggestions can also be submitted in writing to Kell before Nov. 1.

The council will begin formal consideration of the reports during an all-day session Nov. 23 at Cal State Long Beach.

"We intend to implement as many of these as financially possible," Kell said. "I'm sure the council shares my view that these are excellent reports."

Decisions Could Begin July 1

A number of the council's decisions--formation of permanent advisory committees and approval of some capital improvement projects--probably will occur by July 1, when the new fiscal year begins, said Planning Director Robert Paternoster.

"But there should be a lack of finality to this," said Paternoster, whose staff worked closely with the task forces. "This is an ongoing process."

The seven task forces, composed of 150 of the city's most prominent leaders from business, education, government and the community at large, were chosen by the City Council nearly a year ago.

The committees have pondered the future direction of education, housing, transportation, economic development, basic services (such as health, public safety and libraries), the city's physical facilities (such as streets, parks, sewers and public buildings) and quality of life (such as crime, culture and recreation).

Unlike recommendations of other "blue-ribbon" committees that have come and gone over the years, the reports of the task forces will be taken seriously because "these are quality people with a lot of credibility," said Kell.

The task forces have brought previously uninvolved citizens into the municipal planning process and highlighted issues that have been pushed aside, said city planners.

"One of the most important functions of this," said Ellis Crow, director of long-range planning for the city, "is to really focus attention on problems that . . . haven't come to the political forefront for some reason."

East-West Traffic Problems

For example, east-west traffic was a large issue in the early 1970s before a proposed 7th Street Freeway was killed, but the problem has hardly been considered since, said Crow. "The situation has been getting worse every year, but it has been given little attention. The task force's attention may help to move some answers along."

The transportation task force recommended that underpasses or other types of grade separation be built at three key east-west intersections on Pacific Coast Highway, said Crow.

Paternoster said another issue given new life was a recommendation by the task force for creation of an independent housing corporation to finance and promote affordable housing.

The simple existence of the task forces has been significant, added the planning director.

"It is very important, if not historic, that more than 150 community leaders--from chief executive officers to rent-control leaders to representatives of the elderly--have come together to think about what Long Beach should be like in the year 2000," Paternoster said.

Large-Scale Planning

The process of large-scale participation in establishing goals, known as "strategic planning," has been used by large corporations since the 1960s. In the last three years a number of cities--including Dallas, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Memphis--have used large-scale citizen participation to develop municipal goals.

In Long Beach, task force topics were selected by the City Council, which was assisted by Chester Newland, a USC professor of public administration.

The task forces were eye-opening experiences for many members, who knew the city was due for more change, but who were not aware of demographers' startling projections for Long Beach's near future, said Paternoster.

For example, the racial makeup of Long Beach, long an enclave of white refugees from the Midwest, shifted from 93% white in 1960 to 68% in 1980, to 61% today, according to census data and city estimates. There will be no racial majority by the turn of the century, planners and scholars have said. Many of the city's new residents will continue to be low-income immigrants from Latin America and Southeast Asia, planners say. And they must be helped to assimilate if Long Beach is to remain a sound, productive city.

These demographic changes "are already straining people's nerves and civilities," noted one task force.

Other findings or conclusions of the task forces were:

- Most of the city's increase in jobs and traffic the rest of this century will occur in four main centers of activity--downtown, the port, the airport and Cal State Long Beach.

- By the year 2000, the city will have 192,000 dwellings for 426,000 people, up from about 159,000 dwellings and 361,000 people in 1980. Most new dwellings will be high-density apartments or condominiums.

- Local employment will increase 30%, primarily because of a boom in business related to tourism, high-tech manufacturing and the port.

- Traffic congestion could be somewhat reduced by banning on-street parking, increasing meter fees and synchronizing traffic signals.

- Long Beach has not effectively responded to deterioration of its public works facilities such as roads and sewers for 20 years. Proper maintenance with no improvements would cost $60 million a year, far more than is now spent.

- Crime will remain an important concern of most residents. Task force recommendations are to increase the current 31-member police reserve force by 300 and to expand the Neighborhood Watch program.

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