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A delicate border dance between Long Beach and Signal Hill

At the Long Beach Ballet academy on Wardlow Road, pint-sized ballerinas get dressed upstairs in Signal Hill.

When they go downstairs for class, the dance floor is in Long Beach.

That’s because city lines pierce right through the building, making it a two-city hybrid that was created when 100-year-old boundaries got overtaken by development. From time to time, the oddity has created confusion among business owners and residents seeking to get business licenses, pay taxes or obtain police services.

Down the street, at Walker Automotive, Ed Walker learned he was wrongly paying a utility tax in Long Beach; even though his business’ cash register is in Signal Hill.

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A Signal Hill planning official once ventured out with a measuring wheel to appease residents complaining that a medical marijuana dispensary had opened without permission. Scott Charney, director of community development in Signal Hill, stepped off the distance from the curb to ensure the dispensary was, in fact, a Long Beach business. Had it been in Signal Hill, the city would have moved to shut it down, he said.

The almost two-mile-long line runs along two corridors in the northwest corner of Signal Hill. Cutting in about 60 feet from the curb, it goes along Wardlow Road, from Walnut to Atlantic avenues, and on Atlantic, from Wardlow to Willow Street.

David Wilcox, artistic director at the ballet, learned of the unusual city boundaries when a drunk driver plowed through some paint cans and a stage backdrop in his parking lot.

He remembers that when he called Long Beach police to file a report, they told him the incident had occurred on the Signal Hill side of the lot.

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“I find it very amusing,” Wilcox said. The students “find it hilarious that they take class in Long Beach and have to go down the hall to use the bathroom in Signal Hill,” he added.

How the line was drawn is part of the oil town’s lore.

Oil operators, hoping to avoid annexation of their fields by then-expanding Long Beach, mounted an incorporation drive in the 1920s. Then, the hill overlooking Long Beach was pockmarked by impressive drilling derricks and small farms. When the city was created, the boundaries that oil companies staked out included only their fields.

The arbitrary lines are little known to most residents today.

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But city officials are well aware of the lines and have no plans to redraw them.

“We can’t change a city boundary unless we get a request,” said Paul Novak, executive officer of Los Angeles County’s Local Agency Formation Commission. The group is charged with certifying and determining city lines when disputes arise and can make annexation recommendations of unincorporated areas.

Novak said that although Signal Hill and Long Beach’s lines are unusual, they’re not unheard of. Culver City has a two-block stretch where it shares commercial space with Los Angeles.

In Signal Hill, a city that relies heavily on sales tax revenue, officials like to know where cash registers are positioned in businesses that straddle the city lines.

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“I find it mind-boggling that you have a building in two different cities,” said Signal Hill Finance Director Maida Alcantara. “Where do you put the cash register? Do you base it on logic or feng shui?

“Personally, I think it should be on the Signal Hill side,” she joked.

ricardo.lopez2@latimes.com


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