LONG BEACH — Brushing aside allegations of elitism, the City Council has voted to close Pioneer Boulevard to keep traffic out of the upscale El Dorado Park Estates in east Long Beach.
The council decided on a 5-1 vote Tuesday to erect the traffic barrier for at least one year at Long Beach's border with Hawaiian Gardens, a city with a predominantly blue-collar, Latino population.
Allegations of racism have surrounded the closure, and the issue has caught the attention of talk-show host Phil Donahue.
Councilman Les Robbins, whose district includes El Dorado Park Estates, pushed for the closure. He said hundreds of commuters use the road as a shortcut to and from the San Gabriel River Freeway (605), presenting a danger to children and other residents.
Councilman Ray Grabinski said he cast the sole vote in opposition because he did not want to restrict traffic. Vice Mayor Jeffrey A. Kellogg and Councilmen Evan Anderson Braude and Douglas S. Drummond were absent for the vote.
A Hawaiian Gardens official protested the move, saying the barrier would reroute traffic through Hawaiian Gardens neighborhoods.
"It will create an exclusive community at the expense of Hawaiian Gardens," Planning Director Carl Holm told the council.
Afterward, Holm said the Hawaiian Gardens City Council also considers the barrier exclusionary and will discuss taking legal action next week to keep it from being installed.
The barrier is expected to go up within the next two months south of 223rd Street, dividing contrasting neighborhoods.
The Hawaiian Gardens neighborhood to the north has apartments and small houses, many with bars on their windows. Many of the homes in El Dorado Park Estates, a predominantly white neighborhood, are large, with manicured lawns and bright flowers.
Long Beach officials have always mentioned traffic as the problem driving the effort to close the street.
But some residents of El Dorado Park Estates have said they want to stop crime at the Hawaiian Gardens border. They have long attributed theft, graffiti and other crimes to their poorer neighbors to the north.
Hawaiian Gardens officials say their residents are not responsible for the crime in the Long Beach housing tract. Police officials have said that El Dorado Estates has one of the lowest crime rates in the city and that Hawaiian Gardens residents do not account for an inordinate number of crimes.
Not all residents of El Dorado Park Estates support the traffic barrier.
Lucinda Von Reichon, 34, says it is exclusionary and in recent weeks has been organizing opposition to it. Von Reichon said 25 El Dorado Park Estates residents have pooled about $11,000 to fight the street closure in court.
She told the council Tuesday that the barrier is not about traffic, but about keeping Hawaiian Gardens residents out of the Long Beach neighborhood.
"Every community has its problems," Von Reichon said after the council vote. "We're not willing to help; we're just willing to put up a fence."
Von Reichon, a television writer, said she told the "Donahue" TV show about the dispute. Robbins, Hawaiian Gardens Councilwoman Kathleen Navejas and other city officials flew to New York last week to tape a discussion of the issue.
The show features the dispute between Hawaiian Gardens and Long Beach and a similar row between two New Jersey cities.
On the show, which airs at 2 p.m. today on Channel 4, Navejas attacked the street closure as racist. She could not be reached for comment.
Robbins defended the move, as he did at Tuesday's council meeting.
The councilman denied that the barrier had anything to do with Hawaiian Gardens residents, saying most of the commuters using the route are from Long Beach or cities in Orange County.
"This is a traffic issue. This is a quality-of-life issue," Robbins said. "I take great affront that this is (being called) a racist act."
The idea of closing Pioneer Boulevard came up more than four years ago, but it was put on hold by city officials who thought state law prevented them from blocking the street.
But the state attorney general's office issued an opinion earlier this year indicating the city could close the street as long as it isn't too important to the area's traffic circulation.
The city conducted an environmental impact study, which indicated that several hundred cars will be rerouted each day. Those cars are expected to affect various intersections in Long Beach, Hawaiian Gardens and Lakewood, but not create major problems. After one year, city officials will evaluate the closure and decide whether to keep the barrier in place.
"The only way to find out (about potential problems) is to close it," said Long Beach's environmental planning officer.