LONG BEACH — Belmont Shore has the makings of an attention-getting coup. Now all it needs is thousands of people willing to pay $10 apiece to hold hands in the street, and the coup will be complete.
"It will be the greatest event since the Olympic torch relay," said James Serles, a Long Beach dentist who is also a City Council candidate in the Belmont Shore area.
In fact, the event began with what local residents perceived as a slight.
Hands Across America, an unprecedented attempt to raise money for the nation's poor by forming a human chain across the country, was planning to bypass Belmont Shore entirely.
$10,000 Up Front
So four of the area's leading citizens put up $10,000 as a good faith gesture. And on Sunday, May 25, when the chain is supposed to stretch from New York Harbor to the Queen Mary, it will take a previously unscheduled, four-mile detour through this affluent neighborhood in the southeastern part of town.
"It's the only place (in the state) where we have a significant addition to the line," said Roger Carrick, California state director for the project.
John Morris, a 2nd Street businessman, added, "This is the happening spot--to miss Belmont Shore would be to miss Long Beach."
The idea grew out of residents' frustration that their neighborhood was not to be included along the original Hands Across America line, which was set to enter the city at its western border on Pacific Coast Highway, parallel the Los Angeles River south to 6th Street, jog east to Pine Avenue, then south to Ocean Boulevard and over the Queens Way Bridge to the Queen Mary.
Showcasing the River
"They were showcasing the river on the west side of town and that isn't the gem of our city," said John Blowitz, owner and publisher of the Grunion Gazette, a weekly newspaper circulated in Belmont Shore. "It was Saturday night, the dance was on, and nobody had called to invite us. And we're good dancers."
So Blowitz wrote a column advocating extending the route. And four area citizens--Legends bar owner Morris, Serles, beer distributor Bryan (Whitey) Littlefield and Steven E. Pelzer, general manager of the Hyatt Edgewater at Long Beach Marina--joined hands to contribute $2,500 apiece as evidence of their intent.
At first the proposed extension was resisted by some national Hands Across America staffers, according to Carrick. After all, a great deal of thought and planning had gone into determining the existing route. But they relented, he said, because the community not only put together a plan, but demonstrated it had the resources necessary to make it a reality.
"It's hard to say no to that kind of spirit and enthusiasm," Carrick said.
Earlier this week, Mayor Ernie Kell presented the $10,000 check to Carrick on behalf of the shore community. And on Tuesday, Hands Across America will go before the Long Beach City Council to formally request permission for a four-mile spur that will extend the chain of hand-holders in an open-ended branch east along Ocean Boulevard to Livingston Drive, then south and east down 2nd Street through Belmont Shore and Naples to the Hyatt Edgewater on Pacific Coast Highway.
To fill the line, organizers say, they need a minimum of 5,280 people willing to pay the national admission price of $10 a head. Based on previous experience, Serles said, he expects between 10,000 and 25,000 to show up. "We have a history of success," he said, referring to the 1984 Olympic torch relay, which he estimated attracted 40,000 spectators to the area, and the Easter and Christmas parades, which routinely attract at least 10,000.
To Sell Tickets
Organizers say they plan to sell tickets between now and May 25 at various outlets in the area.
Not everyone in the city is pleased with the prospect.
Susie Silva, a resident of Los Altos who said she bought tickets for Hands Across America through a local church, said she found the idea of a neighborhood rerouting the national event to suit its own convenience somewhat disturbing. "The purpose of the whole program is to feed hungry people and they are subverting it into an advertising stunt," Silva said of the Belmont Shore effort. "There are many cities in the country through which this isn't passing and they are still buying tickets."
Her own spot on the line, she said, is at an as-yet undisclosed location within two hours of Long Beach.
"There are a great many people with lots of money who are buying a mile's worth and going to a different state," she said. "They are willing to go to the desert to attract others there, and these people (in Belmont Shore) aren't even willing to go out of their own community. I think it's pretty egotistical."
According to Serles, however, the intent is for the shore to become a "hub" through which participation from throughout the city can be attracted.
And Carrick said one factor that tilted the national organization toward allowing creation of the "Belmont Shore loop" is the fact that, in addition to passing through the affluent areas of the southeast side, the proposed new line will pass near predominantly homosexual and Asian communities in the central part of the city.
"This area is a mosaic of what Southern California is all about," he said of the route, "and part of our effort is to showcase areas that exemplify the best of Southern California."