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Long Beach: Garcia Follows Garcetti in Restoring LA River

A rendering of the RiverLink project. Photo courtesy of the City of Long Beach

A rendering of the RiverLink project. Photo courtesy of the City of Long Beach

Back in April, former director of Long Beach Park, Recreation & Marine Phil Hester sat in front of a bunch of urbanerds and bicyclists, pedestrian-oriented folks and designers, and discussed an idea that is both brilliant and needed on a community level: the 2002 RiverLinks projects. RiverLinks would vastly use the underused L.A. River by connecting the west sides of Districts 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, and 9 to the river via biking/ped/green utopia.

Of course, as with many projects in Long Beach, there was a lot of talk but little action and the bold project soon became—like the I.M. Pei museum, like the Art Exchange, like, like, like…—a document and little else. After all, Hester was in April, unquestionably, preachin’ to the choir.

(The 2002 River Link Report is available off our Scribd Account.)

However, Councilmember and mayoral hopeful Robert Garcia wants to reinvigorate and update the 11-year-old RiverLinks project by not only including some of his own bold proposals (remember his enthusiastic idea to adaptively re-use the Shoemaker Bridge?) but also largely mimicking Mayor Eric Garcetti’s own reclaiming of the River by calling on Long Beach to partner up with Los Angeles.

Garcetti, no more than two weeks ago sought some $1 billion from the feds for River revitalization in a trip to Washington, D.C. The $1 billion is in addition to the roughly $200 million set aside to restore a massive section of the northern part of the LA river to make way for kayakers, hikers, bird-watchers, cyclists, and all those other strange creatures who actually enjoy a little nature in their urban landscape. Garcetti even scored 15 minutes with Obama—not that it will help much given the House’s perpetual cutting of federal spending along with the Army Corps massive list of awaiting-funding-projects (which total $60B—pocketchange, obviously).

According to Garcia’s logic, the fact that Long Beach is home to the river furthest down its stream makes the stakes greatest for the city. And the proposal to update the RiverLinks project and put focus on the river was met with a resounding yes from the council, as the resolution—co-sponsored by Councilmembers Suja Lowenthal and Al Austin—was unanimously approved yesterday. Read more…

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Despite Calls for Boycott, Los Angeles and Long Beach to Continue Relationship with Troubled BYD

Protestors outside BYD's office off Figueroa.

Protestors outside BYD's office off Figueroa.

Several labor and social justice organizations—thirteen to be exact—called on the three public agencies engaged with bus manufacturer BYD Motors to boycott their engagement while protesting in front of BYD’s office in Downtown LA. However, despite all the shouting, chanting, and finger-pointing, all three agencies—LA Metro, Long Beach Transit (LBT), and the City of Los Angeles—are not making any moves that indicate they will abandon the troubled bus manufacturer.

BYD faces multiple issues since garnering two of the nation’s largest electric bus contracts—one with Metro and the other with LBT—including the recent admission at a LBT board meeting that seven of the nine subassemblies for the new fleet were not approved for use. This came just two weeks after welding issues were discovered in the frames and bracket installation and just two months after cracks were discovered near the rear of the BYD bus undergoing Altoona testing. They were also provided $1.2M by the City of Los Angeles to help build their offices off of Figueroa, where the protest was held.

Most recently, two major national stories—one for the New York Times and the other for the Los Angeles Times—has uncovered that the State of California is investigating BYD for labor violations that amount to 112 citations and nearly $20K in back wage violations after it was discovered that BYD had employed Chinese nationals with a $1.50/hr wage.

“They have been cited by the State of California so extensively that we know [these labor violations are] actually happening,” said Madeline Janis, National Policy Director of Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). “We call on these three public agencies [LBT, LA Metro, and the City of Los Angeles] to sever or at least reconsider their ties.”

However, these groups are going to have to do more than protest, as LA Metro was quite succinct in their response:

“We are continuing with the Board-approved zero-emission bus program,” said Dave Sotero of Metro. Read more…

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Long Beach: Re-Imagining East 7th Street

Design by Mario Cipresso/Studio Shift

Design by Mario Cipresso/Studio Shift

There’s something to say about collaboration in any sense of the term, be it social or political, design or communal. And the East 7th Street Collaboration–a congregation of the neighborhoods of Rose Park, Craftsman Village, and North Alamitos Beach–has opted to override the City in favor of getting their vision done themselves.

This is not an easy feat since their main focus is the massive arterial that is 7th Street. And while the group knows they can’t simply put up the buildings they want to see or immediately create the streets they want to create, they do know that by asking others what they want to see is the first step towards realizing a better 7th Street that is more efficiently connected to Downtown.

So they asked architects to stroll along East 7th, selecting one of 50 buildings, and showcasing how precisely they envision 7th Street.

The results were not only varied–ranging from contemporary to Classical French–but reflected the diversity of culture that inhabits Long Beach. Even more fascinating are the amount of entries from varied places: Santa Monica, Santa Maria, Fullerton, Fremont…

The winning design from Mario Cipresso of Studio Shift comes from a previous concept the architect submitted for the Anning River Aquatic Recreation Resort in Miyi, China back in 2009. Cipresso (literally) transplanted the massive building he proposed for Miyi–over 400 meters in length–and shrunk it down to size for 2700 E. 7th, making his East 7th Community Center both dramatic in flair and natural in its composition.

The design, a geometric, straight-edge silhouette that mixes metal, wood, and glass, echoes not just Cipresso’s style (his Tran Residence in Los Angeles comes to mind) but also harbors a similarity to the new courthouse downtown on a smaller scale with more natural hues. His design also happened to win him both top awards in the competition. Read more…

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Long Beach Development Could Redefine Mixed-Income, Senior Living

The Annex by Studio 111 / Photography by Tom Bonner

The Annex by Studio 111 / Photography by Tom Bonner

Contemporary. Hip. Accessible. Vibrant. Artistic.

These are usually not the words associated with affordable housing, let alone senior affordable housing. But that is precisely what Studio One Eleven aimed for when it was handed the development key to a collection of land parcels sitting at Anaheim and Long Beach Boulevard. And it just might be the future of not just affordable housing, but housing development in urban spaces as a whole.

Let’s go into what is simple about the Long Beach Senior Arts Colony and its attached two buildings, one another affordable housing complex and the other a soon-to-be built 12-story market rate apartment complex.

Originally a redevelopment project, the parcels were then sold to Meta Housing Corporation following redevelopment’s dissolution. Originally, Studio One Eleven was just on board for consulting—until it was discovered that the developer that was heading the project knew little about housing.

“We didn’t initially get the job,” said principal Michael Bohn, laughing. “We weren’t even invited; just hired by the City to do the peer review.”

Senior Arts Complex in Long Beach CA.  by Studio 111 / Photography by Tom Bonner

Senior Arts Complex in Long Beach CA. by Studio 111 / Photography by Tom Bonner

Thankfully, the inexperience of the former developer led to One Eleven scoring the job and creating what is its most simple aspect: intelligently uses cheaper materials to make a beautifully well-made product.

Take, for example, its use of concrete blocks to simulate wood, even down to the reflection and varnish. Or, how the six-story building towers over the central, south facing courtyard. A developer building for market rate would typically set the top story or two back, providing dimension that would make the courtyard feel more open and less encapsulated. However, Studio One Eleven opted for a much more nimble approach by simply painting the top floor a differing coloring, giving the illusion that the sixth floor is actually set back. Read more…

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Is Long Beach Looking to Roll Towards Bike Share without Bike Nation?

As Los Angeles quietly (but directly) abandons Bike Nation and Santa Monica pirouettes past both cities to pave the way for its city-wide bike share program, one can’t help but ask Long Beach: Are we continuing to go forward with a company which largely ignores the media, lacks a fulfillment of promises, and ultimately seems to wear a name tag it put on itself instead of earning?

No, really...is this going to happen? Image via Bike Nation

The answer is… Maybe?

According to Andrew Veis of Supervisor Don Knabe’s office—Knabe, it should be noted, also sponsored the motion in encouraging MTA to find a viable bike share partner—it’s all up in the air.

“At this time it’s too early to tell what the implications of a bike share program are for Long Beach,” Veis said. “The motion you refer to was calling for Metro to look at the feasibility of a bike share program to connect Metro stations. It is still too early to know what kind of connection this would have with Mayor Garcetti’s plans for a City of Los Angeles bike share program.”

Or maybe the answer is… Yeah, Bike Nation is the bike share guy for Long Beach.

It should be noted that Long Beach doesn’t face the advertising revenue issues that Bike Nation faces with Los Angeles, which perhaps explains Long Beach Deputy City Manager Tom Modica’s acknowledgement.

“In Long Beach, we want to move forward,” Modica said, “so we are continuing to work with Bike Nation through our no-cost agreement as they roll their program out. If there were a Countywide Bike Share program as proposed below, we would be interested in discussing with Metro to see how Long Beach could benefit and perhaps supplement what Bike Nation rolls out. To this point there has been lots of discussion about regional bike sharing programs, but none actually moving forward.” Read more…

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Long Beach’s Terminal Island Freeway Removal Project Scores $250k Caltrans Study Grant

The Terminal Island Freeway viewed facing west at Hill Street near Hudson Park.

After two attempts at gaining money, the three-year long dream to remove the northern portion of the Terminal Island Freeway (I-103) just took another step towards reality after the City of Long Beach scored a quarter-million Cal Trans grant for environmental justice transportation planning.

The grant—followed just six months after it was sought and following the same push in 2012 that ultimately failed in garnering monies—will provide a formal study of what could be one of the largest freeway removals in Southern California history, stretching a mile just south of PCH north to Willow Street.

What could largely be called one of the (many) babies of City Fabrick Executive Director Brian Ulaszewski—the same guy behind destroying one of the most deadliest intersections in Long Beach in order to pave way for a much-needed park—since 2010, the plan is rather simple: given the creation of the 20-mile Alameda Corridor and the modernization of the Intermodal Container Transfer Facility just west of Terminal Island, the northern length of the freeway is not needed. It would then be converted into a local street that fits into the grid, thereby alleviating traffic away from Santa Fe, the only other north-south arterial nearby.

What destroying this stretch of the freeway further (and more ultimately) does is remove large amounts of trucks passing by lower west side schools—such as Cabrillo and Reid High, and particularly Hudson Elementary, which sits directly east of the freeway—and various neighborhoods. The 20 to 30 acres of surplus land, most of which is weeds and dirt, can be converted to a mile-long public park. This, in turn, dramatically boosts park space on the West Side by roughly 50%. Read more…

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Long Beach: Uh-Oh, (More) Flaws Discovered in BYD Electric Buses

Looks like the electric buses coming from China-based company Build Your Dreams (BYD)—the ones procured by both Long Beach Transit (LBT) and Los Angeles Metro—are becoming an even larger nightmare.

Dignataries from Shenzhen, China, Los Angeles and BYD at the grand opening of their North American Headquarters in L.A. Live. Photo:ECNS

First, we had the beyond-sketchy RFP process earlier this year where LBT went with BYD over Altoona-tested-and-ready-to-go South Carolina electric bus manufacturer Proterra. This was despite multiple questions regarding BYD’s capability to fulfill the buy America clause set forth by the TIGGER grant given to LBT to procure the vehicles. This was also despite a failure to have any form of Altoona testing done and their ultimately failure in establishing promised North American headquarters in Los Angeles and Windsor, Canada. And this was also despite the fact that they lied about who they had already built accounts with as well fibbing the results of a trial run of one their buses.

Secondly, after BYD scored the bid and finally began the process of Altoona testing, it turns out they were not fairing so well: cracks in the rear of the bus caused the bus to be returned with the problem ultimately being rooted back to “low-quality welding” in China.

Well, we now have more welding issues, all of which come from China. It was reported that LBT inspectors have found that the frames—the very ones that Executive Director and Vice President of Maintenance and Facilities at LBT Rolando Cruz said were the “tinker toy” parts being sent to the United States for assembly—are flawed.

According to the Long Beach Business Journal, the frames had “unacceptable” issues, including “improper bracket installation on the bus sidewalls and roof assemblies and inconsistencies with steel subassemblies on the chassis.”

Cruz has insisted that these flawed frames are for a BYD “engineering bus” separate from the actual LBT pilot bus. Well, that assurance… certainly alleviates worries. In the words of LBT Boardmember Maricela De Rivera—one of only two board members, joining Lori Ann Farrell, who voted against providing BYD the contract—”Why not wait to see if there are more problems before building an engineering bus?” Read more…

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Long Beach Introduces Its First Entirely ADA-Accessible Garden

Rendering of the Children's Gateway Garden.

Rendering of the Children's Gateway Garden.

“I think of a busy mother,” Kathleen Irvine–someone Long Beach can safely call our own Mother of the Westside–said. “And there she is: stressed out from work and wanting to cater to her children and herself. But how? I think of someone who doesn’t have the physical capabilities of most and there he is: unable to enjoy a park because he can’t even access most of it.”

And for Irvine, the answer revolved something tidy, uncomplicated, and (something that many forget) an endeavor which required work. This may seem counterintuitive to relieving stress–work–but we’re not talking office hours. Irvine went for the simple route: a garden that was not just in an urban environment, but entirely ADA accessible.

Her point brought me to my college days, when my cognitive behavioral professor noticed that my stress level–unbeknownst to me or, in the least, something I was refusing to admit–had increased. Sure, I was getting work done efficiently but my movements were slower, my energy was down, and my participation had dropped. She suggested something that, at that moment, baffled me: gardening.

Rendering of the Children's Gateway Garden.

Rendering of the Children's Gateway Garden.

Much to my amazement, my garden had provided me this odd sense of relief that occurred when I was both in and out of the soil.

The connection between stress relief and gardening is now scientifically backed as more and more research develops. This research largely correlates the human connection with nature as part of a behavior which steadily decreases acute stress. That is, generically speaking, a response to the body by its sympathetic nervous system which causes an increase in epinephrine, norepinephrine, and particularly cortisol. One of the most cited studies even discovered that though reading and gardening both decreased cortisol levels, gardening was significantly ahead of reading as a form of stress relief.

All of the aforementioned neurochemicals (as well as many of the other neurochemicals involved in stress) are beneficial–to the point of being essential. However, with cortisol for example, the build-up can be dangerous; that build-up is usually caused by dwelling on problems, which can occur in a variety of circumstances: immediately returning home and getting to “family work” instead of relief or exercising excessively without balancing your cortisol with proper nutrition or simply repressing stresses or…

And as always with the strange movement of the zeitgeist, you have probably noticed the vast amounts of gardens popping up in odd places–everywhere from alleyways to jails–and this is, essentially, a good thing.

But for Irvine, there was a sense of exclusivity about these gardens that most hadn’t taken into account. Read more…

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As Cities Big and Small Move on Bike Share, LA and LB Wait for Bike Nation

It’s been no major secret that things with Bike Nation aren’t pedaling so well.

Following New York City’s successful launch of the Citibike bike share program —yes, successful even with its flaws—it remains disheartening that two of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation, Long Beach and Los Angeles, have yet to have their moment when they can share themselves (although there remains an irony that Portland is hitting many bumps as well).

The promises of delivered bicycles and bike kiosks by certain dates ultimately failed. Now it’s nigh impossible to get Bike Nation to provide new launch targets for their Los Angeles and Long Beach programs because they don’t want to disappoint (again).

The reason for the delay in Los Angeles? A (supposed) major company somehow not knowing the advertising parameters set by the second-largest city in the U.S.

Even worse is the criticism and issues that have faced the location it has actually managed to get kiosks into: Anaheim.

Anaheim didn’t receive the amount of kiosks it had been promised; instead of 10, it received three, despite multiple promises before the Bike Nation backed out of the city completely. Add this to bicyclists from Anaheim informing me that their kiosk became unworkable during the rain. Yes, we do have inclement weather in Southern California. Even though Bike Nation had a 24-hour service call line where they never received a complaint, they’ve yet to officially address the claim.

“The City of Anaheim did not walk out on the bike share program,” said Ruth Ruiz, spokesperson for the City of Anaheim. “They chose to walk out themselves.”

Granted: there were restrictions in Anaheim—in regard to advertising, permitting costs, and creating a program within a resort town (gotta love Disneyland). For a company that relies on revenue, these restrictions made the program unsustainable in both the short- and long-terms.

This enters a whole new arena of issues: Given Bike Nation continues to offer the costs of its programs, why would it would back out for… Costs it knew it had to uphold? Even more, what does this say about Bike Nation’s aforementioned issues with advertising revenue with Los Angeles (the other city, mind you, in which it has formed a we’ll-cover-the-costs agreement with, promising kiosk locations everywhere from Venice to Downtown)? Certainly one would hope—keyword being “hope”—that they wouldn’t back out, as they did with Anaheim, because of unforeseen costs that should fall under the umbrella of costs they claim to cover. Read more…

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Greater Long Beach YMCA Unveils Renovated Lakewood Plans

The Weingart-Lakewood Family YMCA has unveiled its plans for the renovation of its location on Woodruff and Carson Boulevard in Lakewood, just north of Long Beach.

The project, set to break ground in early 2014, will add an additional 10,000 sq. ft. of space to the already existing 25,000 sq. ft., including two additional group exercise rooms, a Family Adventure Center geared towards activities for families and children, and a space that has doubled in size for kids’ activities. The expanded space is essential for not just those in Lakewood, but East Long Beach and Hawaiian Gardens residents as well.

It follows the recent renovation of the Los Cerritos YMCA and ultimately expands on the rather large Greater Long Beach YMCA, which serves 30,000 visitors in 11 cities across the southern Los Angeles County area every year.

The design, helmed by Michael Bohn of Studio One Eleven (the guys behind the current Parc Broadway development unveiled earlier this year), mixes mid-modern post-and-beam style with contemporary natural accents like wood paneling, large amounts of glass and windows, and sustainable greenery and foliage. Read more…