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Building to a Climax : Fate of Massive Redevelopment Project to Be Decided Tuesday


LONG BEACH — It is shortly before 8 a.m. on another workday and a Blue Line train hums down Long Beach Boulevard.

Passengers stare out at the vacant buildings, weed-filled lots, hamburger shacks, auto repair shops, auto supply stores and used-car lots that herald the way in and out of downtown. A burned-out swap meet still stands, a reminder of last year's riots. "For Lease" signs abound.

This is the boulevard where there were 17 new-car dealerships in 1981. Now there are two.

To the west and southeast the neighborhoods are dotted with aging homes with chipped paint and sagging front porches. Dozens of apartment buildings, which sprouted during an epidemic of construction in the mid-80s, crowd once-quiet residential streets.

These are neighborhoods where people say they don't like to walk alone at night.

Now, the area is caught in a giant tug of war between those who want to resuscitate it with a massive redevelopment project and those who say the project could bring further hardship to an area that has had enough already.

Called the Central Redevelopment Project Area, it is the largest redevelopment project ever proposed by the city. Nearly a third of the city's population lives within its borders. It includes portions of Long Beach Boulevard, Anaheim and Willow streets, Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway--key commercial corridors that have lost their luster.

On Tuesday, the City Council and Redevelopment Agency board are scheduled to decide whether to adopt the project. The public hearing is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers. If approved, the Redevelopment Agency will soon receive a larger share of property taxes with which it can buy and clear large pieces of land for resale to developers, usually at a discount. The money can also be used to spruce up the neighborhoods with tree-planting programs, new street lighting and housing rehabilitation programs.

By the year 2038, when the project expires, hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps more than $1 billion, will have been collected and reinvested in the area, said Susan Shick, redevelopment agency director. Supporters of the plan predict that the end result will be thriving commercial corridors, stable neighborhoods, more park space, cleaner streets--in short, an urban renewal.

Without redevelopment, some city officials and residents of the area warn, a bad situation is just going to get worse because the city doesn't have the money to invest in the area, and private developers have not shown much interest.

"What are the other options? That is really what you've got to look at," Shick said. "I mean, why not do it? The strength of this city will live and die on what happens in this central core. You can't have an area of city that is in distress that doesn't affect the whole city over time."

However, some residents say a massive redevelopment project might not be the answer. They have expressed concern over its size as well as the way it was created.

After the rioting in April, 1992, then-Assemblyman Dave Elder, now a special assistant to City Manager James C. Hankla, authored a bill to help the city quickly repair damage and address its inner-city problems and blight by speeding up the redevelopment process.

Few would argue that the area has long been neglected and is in trouble. A consultant's report, based on Long Beach Police Department and 1990 Census figures, found that the proposed redevelopment area has a higher proportion of serious crimes, such as murder, than the rest of the city, and has as many as 31 gangs, including 10 of the 11 most hard-core.

Nearly 45% of the residents are in "very low-income categories," earning less than $17,482 a year. Three-quarters of the residents are renters, and the area is "extremely overcrowded," the report states.

In addition, according to the city's own standards, the area should contain or have ready access to 136 acres of parkland. It has 13.

The report states that Long Beach Boulevard, once the grand dame of the city, is dying because private developers do not believe it is a safe place to do business.

The report also found that, based on city inspection reports, 80% of the buildings damaged during the riots were in the proposed project area. Of the $20.1 million spent in the city to repair public and private buildings, $19.2 million was spent in the central project area.

The area isn't all bad. Pockets of tidy Victorian homes dot the area, and the commercial corridors still have a sprinkling of well-kept, ethnically diverse businesses.

Nonetheless, the report stated, "The quality of life for residents of the Central Long Beach redevelopment project area has diminished considerably over the last decade."

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