A rift between Long Beach and neighboring cities appears to be deepening as they battle over the future of the former Long Beach Naval Hospital site on Carson Street near the San Gabriel River (605) Freeway.
Lakewood officials recently stepped up their attack on Long Beach's plans to turn the 30-acre hospital site and 70 acres of adjacent land into a shopping center.
Lakewood City Administrator Howard Chambers said that Navy and Long Beach officials have apparently made a back-room deal to clear the way for the shopping center. "Get out of bed with Long Beach," he told Navy Capt. Bob Keisling, who is overseeing the conversion of the site.
"That's absolutely ridiculous," said Jerry Miller, Long Beach's economic development manager. "Of course there is no back-room deal."
Lakewood officials also accused their Long Beach counterparts of not disclosing that portions of 35 to 40 residential lots on Nectar Avenue in Lakewood would have to be acquired to widen the Carson Street off-ramp from the southbound 605 Freeway to accommodate increased traffic.
Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill denied that any residential property is needed for the project.
Officials and residents from several cities packed recent public hearings in Long Beach and Lakewood. The sessions were scheduled by the Navy, which is expected to decide in June how the site should be used. The hospital closed a year ago.
Officials of Lakewood, Hawaiian Gardens and other surrounding cities remain opposed to the project, saying it will hurt merchants and bring gridlock to their streets. They have suggested other alternatives, such as moving the Los Angeles County Office of Education from its Downey headquarters to the hospital site.
But that suggestion brought a protest from Downey Mayor Barbara J. Riley, who said that her city's economy would be hurt by the loss of 800 jobs if the office moved.
O'Neill and other Long Beach officials also insisted that a 1 million-square-foot shopping center would generate much-needed revenue to pay for basic city services.
"We're a sales-tax poor city," O'Neill said, noting that Lakewood receives twice as much in retail sales per resident as Long Beach. "Our city has a low retail sales tax base, and we must increase it."
But Lakewood Councilman Robert Wagner said Long Beach receives almost 10 times as much property tax per resident as Lakewood.
"It's inappropriate to take one funding mechanism and say it justifies bringing in a retail center that will take away jobs and taxes from us," he said, drawing loud cheers and applause from the 900 people who attended the Lakewood hearing.
Critics of the new mall have said that it will sap hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in sales tax revenue from surrounding cities while creating fewer than 300 part-time jobs that pay only $6 to $7 an hour--not the high-paying jobs that the Clinton Administration had promised from closing military facilities.
Long Beach officials say their residents are tired of driving to malls in other cities and want more places to shop in Long Beach.
"We're determined to level the playing field," Long Beach Councilman Les Robbins said.