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Change of address can't split these neighbors

Residents of Island Village, a gated community on the edge of Long Beach, are considering switching their addresses to Seal Beach. Debate has been heated but unity remains a top priority.

September 15, 2009|Dana Parsons

Denis came to the meeting in the community clubhouse with a four-page statistical analysis.

Howard came with a cocktail.

Perhaps it was inevitable that they would eventually get testy with each other. "Are you going to overtalk me, or am I going to overtalk you?" Howard said at one point, as neither would yield as they reacted to a woman's comment.

"Well, I guess you're going to overtalk me," Denis said, adding, "I'm still going to take five minutes when she's done."

"You can take 10," said yet another person in the crowd.

"I will," Denis said.

The flurry ended when someone advised taking a chill pill.

From 18th century Boston to 21st century Long Beach, nobody ever said American-style democracy had to be cordial. Snippiness is allowed, as some in the crowd of about 50 demonstrated on a Friday in August at the Island Village clubhouse, where neighbors in the 182-home gated community set out to decide if they want to change cities.

Because Island Village lies within Long Beach city limits but is virtually encircled by Seal Beach, sentiment has cropped up from time to time about joining the Orange County community. Residents can request the boundary change, but it must first be approved by both Los Angeles and Orange counties and have the blessings of the two cities. If the governments supported the change, residents would vote on it.

The evening's agenda was to form a committee, the proverbial get-the-ball-rolling step on what probably will be a months-long process. Within the first five minutes, a man suggested that the woman chairing the committee be replaced. His motion was seconded, but very little of what followed would fit "Robert's Rules of Order." The woman leading the meeting said the chairwoman was up to the task but didn't impede the effort to replace her.

As neighbors bickered over one thing or another, a man cautioned about appearances: "We don't want Seal Beach thinking we're nuts."

Some residents think becoming part of Seal Beach would improve municipal services and perhaps provide other financial advantages -- such as increased property values -- but others are less certain.

The consensus that emerged was that a nine-member committee would do fact-finding and report back, but not make a recommendation.

Residents realize there's the potential for hurt feelings over a boundary change. "From the very beginning, when this issue was raised, it was one that could split a community and we don't want to go that direction," Jenny Pack, a young mother who began the evening as unofficial chairwoman, said later. "My reason to be chairwoman is that I see myself as Switzerland. I do not have an agenda, I don't sway one way or the other."

The snarkiness at the meeting got to longtime resident Dave Bates, prompting him to tell the crowd: "I look around the room and I see friends." The community, built in the early 1970s, has bickered about issues over the years, "but the one thing Island Village has always had is that we may disagree but we're still friends."

His remarks drew applause. But they didn't stop subsequent sniping over whether someone was a renter or an owner -- and if the latter's opinion should weigh heavier -- or whether someone had finished speaking or not before someone else took the floor.

"It's a strong-feeling issue," Bates said later. "Some want to stay in Long Beach, some really want to go to Orange County. It's also a personality issue," he said of the tenor of the meeting. "Some like to be heard and like things to go their own way."

The amity at the end of the hourlong meeting appeared to stem directly from the naming of John Bahorski to chair the committee. The even-keeled and organized Bahorski, city manager of Cypress and former city manager of Seal Beach, "is absolutely hands-down the best person to do it," Pack would say later.

Asked to reflect on the tone of the meeting, Bahorski said, "I think the issue, to a certain extent, was the unknown. What does this really mean to us? It was all abstract until that meeting, then all of a sudden it became a day-to-day living thing issue."

For example, he said, some residents worry about losing the discount rates for locals at some Long Beach golf courses. Or about the implications of changing a mailing address or how the change would affect auto insurance rates. Some even floated conspiracy theories about the potential move.

Bahorski hadn't planned to chair the committee. "When I came home that night and told my wife, her jaw dropped and she said, 'What are you doing?' " he recalled. "I told her I saw some of these senior citizens looking like they don't know what's going on and looking to me for help, and I couldn't let it go. I had to step up and as I've seen in public life, you've got to get the comfort level up. I felt like I had to protect my community."

Bahorski predicts smooth sailing for the nine-member committee. As for the contentious meeting, he said, "You ever have a family discussion that kind of went round and round and at the end of the day everybody felt good but going through it, it wasn't that much fun? We're all a family and we know it. I kind of enjoyed it, actually, because I knew at the end of the day everything would be OK."

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dana.parsons@latimes.com

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