- Greggory Moore
In 2003, after a process the City of Long Beach labeled “a competitive selection to develop concepts for an integrated artwork program for city parks and the beach along the city’s shoreline,” based on the recommendations of the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Marine Advisory Commission, and the Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine, the City hired the artist team of Terry Braunstein and Craig Cree Stone “to prepare the detailed drawings necessary to construct the artwork […] as part of the ongoing bluff erosion mitigation project.”
By mid 2004 Braunstein and Stone delivered a set of schematics for transforming the entire walk from Alamitos Ave. to 54th Place, both above and below the bluffs, into an integrated experience tracing the history of Long Beach from the Native Americans through the 1940s. The team’s concept also included a range of contemporary signage (directional, prohibited activity, etc.) incorporating both historical imagery and optical illusions, as well as suggestions for planting native vegetation and lighting installations.
A decade later, on the eve of the city council’s being asked to approve a plan for a new, $5,000,000+ pedestrian path that incorporates none of Braunstein and Stone’s concepts—and little in the way of aesthetic considerations of any sort—some are wondering whether the City is about to take a developmental misstep.
While the staff report attached to Tuesday’s agenda item stipulates that in 2003 Parks & Rec recommended that “the concepts created by Terry Braunstein and Craig Stone be incorporated into ongoing designs for some of the Bluff Erosion Control projects and in preparation of a beach master plan,” there is no mention of what transpired between 2003 and 2008, noting only that in 2008 Parks & Rec hired landscape architecture/planning firm Hirsch & Associates, Inc., “to assist with the development of a formal Beach Master Plan. Terr[y] Braunstein and Craig Stone were not hired as part of this effort[,] nor were their concepts used.”
Why not? According to the report, Braunstein and Stone’s concept, entitled “Coastal Allusions.” “are problematic from a planning, regulatory and professional design standpoint. They would be costly to implement, difficult to maintain, and face difficulty obtaining Coastal Commission approval.”
While Tidelands Capital Improvement Project Officer Eric Lopez, the city manager’s point person for the path project, says comments in the staff report regarding “Coastal Allusions” should be taken in context of the entire scope of the pair’s proposal, which includes (as Lopez puts it) “develop[ing] grassy islands in the beach area,” adding “not just a few lights here and there, but a significant amount of lighting from start to finish,” and shaping the path so that it mimics the shape of the California coast. And he says the pair was insistent that their concept needed to be implemented in its entirety.
“They have not advocated this as, ‘You know, [incorporating] certain pieces would make sense,'” Lopez says. “It has been, ‘No, you really need to do [all] this per this plan.'”
Braunstein says this is simply untrue. She calls the “Coast Allusions” proposal “suggestions or art possibilities” and says City staff is mischaracterizing cost considerations.
“First of all, the idea was to take this plan and [implement it] as each section of the bluffs was worked on,” she says. “[… Aspects of the plan] were never priced out because [at the time] there was no money. So to say that it’s too expensive, none of that is factual because it never went that far.”
While Braunstein admits that incorporating elements of “Coastal Allusions” would cost “marginally more” than the proposal being floated at Tuesday’s council meeting, she feels there is a more important issue in play.
“This is far larger than a straight cost comparison for simply putting in the pedestrian path and building the restrooms,” she says. “This is about the use of a master plan for the beach that includes artistic and landscaping elements, in order to move the city to a greater vision of its potential. This is about creating an attractive, unique, interesting beach that people will come from afar to see and experience.”
As an example, she touches on one of the cost issues raised by Lopez: lighting.
“Let’s say we’re going to have lighting on this path eventually,” she says. “How can we make it more interesting? The lighting we were proposing is [having] solar lights, but that they would be different colors. That’s all. We were not saying [of our own accord], ‘Let’s put lights on the beach’; we were told when we were given the parameters for our plan to work on lighting, to work on a pedestrian path, to work on all these things—we were told [to include] that as part of the plan. So it isn’t like these were things that came from us: they came from Parks & Rec.”
Lopez says that, because he was not around at the time “Coastal Allusions” was recommended, he cannot comment on why the City did not see the plan as cost-prohibitive at the time.
Braunstein makes it clear that hers is not a personal issue with the City, as she and Stone were paid in full—slightly over $50,000—for their services.
“This is really about our vision of Long Beach and how things should be done in the City,” she says. “You don’t have a car that’s designed by an engineer: you have a car that’s designed by a car designer. [Similarly,] you shouldn’t have a bike/pedestrian path that’s designed by an engineer: it should be designed by someone who’s thinking, ‘How can this be a better bike/pedestrian path?’ What we’re trying to get them to say is, ‘Yes, let’s approve the bike/pedestrian path, but let’s approve it with modification that will make it a more attractive path.’ [At this point] we’re not talking about any artwork at all; we’re just talking about the path.”
Braunstein says she and Stone decided to re-engage with the issue when she learned that, contrary to what the City had led her to believe, the planning for the path was not finalized.
“We talked to Eric Lopez in July of 2012 and had a conversation about making a more interesting path, and we were told then that [the planning] was all done—’Don’t even bother, it’s finished,'” she says. “Then we tried again six months later […] and we were told the same thing: ‘It’s done, it’s finished, don’t even talk about it. Nothing’s going to change on the path. Maybe we’ll look at some of your ideas later, but it’s not going to happen relative to the path at all.’ But [when] we saw the articles coming out [saying] that the Coastal Commission were not approving the original design, we thought, ‘Wait a minute. This couldn’t be done if the Coastal Commission is turning it down.’ That’s when we started getting involved.”
Lopez did not respond regarding Braunstein’s characterization of her conversations with him.
Because the final plan has yet to be approved, Arts Council for Long Beach President Marco Schindelmann holds out hope that ultimately the path will be developed with aesthetics in mind.
“I hope that all parties involved can, at the very least, reach a creative compromise,” says Schindelmann. “Our beach is a city resource whose value should not be diminished by expediency when such can be increased by choices that bring added value. The more attractive our beach is, the more it will attract attention, people, and money. It’s worth the investment of everyone’s extra time and consideration.”
Braunstein says that’s all this is about: spending just a little extra time, effort, and cash as a way to shift the paradigm for how the City of Long Beach grows itself.
“The City gets money from wherever, and the council rushes in and says ‘Let’s get this and this and this,’ and it’s never enough to add the aesthetic considerations,” she says. “[…] At what point do we say, ‘Yes, it’s going to cost a little more, but isn’t this how the city moves to the next level?’ […] Do we capitalize on our greatest asset, or do we say, ‘Let’s get the cheapest thing down, and let’s get it down fast’? Too often that’s how decisions are made.”
The Long Beach City Council will consider the Pedestrian Path Project during its regular meeting Tuesday, February 18. The meeting begins at 5 p.m.
(Photo courtesy of Terry Braunstein from “Coastal Allusions” Conceptual Master Plan)