LONG BEACH — Bixby Park, long a pickup spot for gay men, will be padlocked at night under a city plan intended to stop chronic cruising and prostitution that has disrupted nearby residential neighborhoods.
The City Council this week endorsed a proposal to close the park at 10 p.m., two hours earlier than it now does, and barricade the two cross streets running through the park, 1st and 2nd streets, with locked gates to keep out cars. Police will also enforce an anti-cruising ordinance prohibiting drivers from passing back and forth in front of the same point more than twice in a four-hour period.
The plan is the product of months of work by two neighborhood groups and one of the city's leading gay and lesbian organizations, the Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club.
"We're very pleased with what has been proposed," said Lynne Severns of Beach Area Concerned Citizens, noting that the nighttime problems of noise, prostitution and drug trafficking have grown worse in recent years, greatly annoying residents of surrounding blocks.
"The closing is not to punish anybody. It is to start changing the attraction of the park," she said.
Listed in Gay Travel Guide
A green expanse that covers three blocks just north of Ocean Boulevard, Bixby Park is known as a place where gay men can go to pick up other gay men or a male prostitute. It is even listed in a gay travel guide as a cruising spot.
In response to neighborhood complaints, police have increased their park patrols in recent months, and the number of citations and arrests in the park have risen dramatically. Although members of the gay community had previously complained that police used the park problem as an excuse to harass them, recent police activity has raised no serious objections.
"If we can change the reputation of the park . . . we'll need fewer police," said Rick Rosen of Lambda's police relations committee.
While Rosen said he personally wishes the park could remain open until midnight, he said his organization endorses the proposal. The plan must go before the city staff for review before the council takes final action on it.
Sidewalks bordering the park would remain open all night.