LONG BEACH — Harbor commissioners have decided to spend an estimated $1 million to refurbish their wood-paneled board room.
The 1960s-era, lime-green chairs where the commissioners sit with assembled staff and press for their brief weekly meetings will be replaced by 25 new seats costing an average of $960 each.
Commissioners will no longer have to swivel their chairs and crane their necks to look up at a projection screen on the rear wall of their meeting room on the top floor of the Port of Long Beach headquarters building. Each person will have a video screen built into the desktop.
They approved the plans Tuesday over the sole complaint of a Long Beach man who questioned the price tag for the proposed renovation.
"I would hope you would give serious consideration (before) spending a million dollars to upgrade a board room," said Larry Goodhue. He said the existing board room appears to be serviceable.
"Quite frankly, when I came in here I was a little surprised," he said as he peered at commissioners assembled at the head of a horseshoe-shaped table. "As I walk in here, I've got to tell you, this is not a bad room."
The board voted for the improvements without comment. Afterward, they said in interviews that the board room has remained largely unchanged for 30 years and needs upgrading.
To prove the point, Commissioner David L. Hauser reached underneath his high-back chair and pulled out a handful of dust that looked like disintegrated foam rubber.
He said the renovation has "been discussed and discussed for a long, long time." The board agreed to go ahead because it decided to stay in its aging administration building, rather than moving to a newer facility.
"It's long overdue," Commission Chairman George F. Talin Sr. said. "They haven't spent a cent in that board room for 30 years."
Besides $24,000 for new chairs, the commission approved spending $225,000 for audio-visual equipment and another $136,970 to have it installed.
The board estimates that it will pay out another $140,000 for the "fabrication, delivery and installation of a board room conference table, three ancillary tables, dividing rail, lectern, wainscoting, custom doors, marble inlays and custom mill work."
Paul E. Brown, the port's acting executive director, said the board room chairs are so old that springs are beginning to poke through, lighting is poor, the acoustics are lousy because the ceilings are too high, and the sound system doesn't work very well. "Our goal is to get a board room more functional and up to date," he said.
State and federal legislative committees also use the room periodically for public hearings, he said.
He said the commissioners could have taken stopgap measures to fix the room's shortcomings such as clamping a floodlight on the speaker's podium. But the port has a long-term commitment to staying in the building and should fix the problems permanently, even if it costs $1 million, he added.
"A million dollars doesn't buy what a million dollars used to buy for us," he said. "We don't like the fact it's costing a million dollars either."
Three City Council members, reached for comment, said they have no major disagreements with the port commissioners' decision.
"It's a very old facility. . . . Sometimes it costs a lot to update a building," said Councilman Ray Grabinski. "It's a great deal of money, but it would be easy for that same organization to say, 'This is an old building. Let's go spend the money and build a (new) one somewhere else.' "
Councilman Warren Harwood said that the harbor board's meeting room needs improvement, especially the lighting. While noting that "it's a lot of money," he said harbor commissioners can justify it by saying they need an impressive board room in which to meet with visiting dignitaries and conduct port business.
Councilman Tom Clark, who has called for spending more money to fight crime, said he received a call from a resident complaining about the port's spending plans. He said he tried to explain that the use of port funds is restricted.
The Harbor Commission administers the hugely successful Port of Long Beach, which collects revenue from rents and leases from businesses that operate in the port. By law, the revenue cannot be diverted to the city's general fund to fight crime, buy park space or finance other civic improvements.
"It's hard for people to understand how you can put a million dollars into the board room and we're indicating there are serious shortages in police and recreational resources," Clark said. "It does tend to . . . make it appear resources are not being put to their highest use."