• Long Beach’s Renaissance Woman Advocates Arts Diversity, Funding

    By Melina Paris, Columnist, Photo by Phillip Cooke

    Max Viltz, the owner of Village Treasures, is a community servant, promoter of the arts and music, and a major influence for African American culture in Long Beach.

    While Viltz doesn’t believe she’s done anything special, a glimpse into her day planner reveals the contrary. The term “Renaissance woman” is a fitting description, she has responsibilities to a great number of circles in Long Beach’s civic life.
    She recently finished her third three-year term on the Long Beach Arts Council, first on the allocations committee and then serving as the chairwoman of governance.

    Viltz explained that the arts council’s purpose is to make people understand there are all kinds of art, from graffiti to glassblowing.
    Community service, the arts council and arts community are Viltz’ priorities. She says people need to be aware of what is going on and add their support to the arts community, which struggles to attract funding because its value is often not appreciated.

    Viltz envisions Long Beach as a city with more diverse artists and events (galleries, music, theater, dance companies) that engage residents and encourage visitors to choose Long Beach as a premiere destination. Some programs exist, but she emphasizes there needs to be better access and communication through marketing.

    This past year, the arts council received only $300,000 from the city, which speaks to the minimum importance the city puts on the arts. There was a time when the arts council had much more funding, but without it, events had to be removed. It takes money for the arts council to be relevant.
    Viltz compares arts support here to that of New York. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs had a 2014 fiscal year expense budget of $156 million, according to its website. That figure is for a city of 8,336,697 New Yorkers (in 2013) compared to a population in Long Beach of 469,428 the same year.

    “New York may be the extreme,” Viltz said, but art is the reason people go there, from Broadway to Chelsea. “Things have improved (here) with the [Long Beach] Convention and Visitors Bureau. The facility has been enhanced, but what else? What about music and theater?”
    The arts council particularly wants to involve young people in art and let them know they can have a career in the field, whether it’s as an administrator or in a medium they might decide to explore such as music, painting or sculpture.

    Viltz has a bachelor’s degree in business administration. She approaches her passion for business, as well as the arts, with pragmatism.
    “I don’t know to what extent, or how long it would take for more of the public to understand or acknowledge our relevancy and that art is important,” Viltz said. “It has also been proven [that] the arts will enhance education.”

    Viltz’s first serious entry into the arts as a purveyor came in a business context. In the 1980s, she and her former husband Femi went on an educational tour of Egypt. The goal of the tour was to inspire people to go back to their hometowns to open cultural centers and create study groups from more of an African-American perspective, instead of a Caucasian or Arabic one.

    When the couple returned from the tour in 1988, Max and Femi started the African Cultural Center, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Long Beach. It was because of their drum and dance classes that Viltz got involved with the arts council, and has been involved in the art world ever since.

    As they submitted proposals to the arts council to receive grants for their program, Viltz became familiar with everybody. Dixie Swift, the director at Homeland Cultural Center, was in charge of the program on the allocations committee and was ready to retire. She wanted to make sure someone of color took her place and asked Viltz to replace her.

    “Depending on who is on the allocations committee, they can help influence bringing in more diverse programs and people that win these grants,” Viltz said.

    In Viltz’s eyes, the council’s greatest challenge is drawing community support and educating Long Beach residents about their presence and what they offer. Part of the resistance is criticism that the council is not as diverse as it could be and that it does not represent the makeup of the city.
    “When they hear arts or arts council [people] don’t think it’s for them,” Viltz said. “[They think] it’s [for] some elite group.”

    The arts council has incorporated different ways to connect to the community, yet a disconnection still exists.

    “Our role as the arts council is to be as connected as we possibly can be to the many different communities in Long Beach,” said Victoria Bryan, the council’s executive director. “It’s sort of the point of the council.”

    Bryan described how the council looks for diverse representation from community members to serve on panels. They hold quarterly arts forums where each council member and a member of their staff select a delegate from each community in Long Beach to come together with them. From that point, these representatives are able to serve on panels, potentially join committees and even become a board member. Bryan also explained that the council creates combinations of people representing all area’s of the arts community, from individual artists and small arts organizations to large ones such as the Museum of Latin American Art.

    Bryan said that Viltz has contributed to the organization and the community in many ways. From the perspective of her arts-based retail business and her involvement on so many committees, they feel they received a two-for-one with Viltz’s fellowship. Bryan added that with Viltz’s continued involvement and help toward the council, she does not feel like they have said goodbye.

    Viltz has touched the lives of many, including students, artists and musicians, through her business and astute perception for art. A constant supporter and promoter of everything artistic, her work is her philosophy.

    “Some people may not think what they have to offer is enough or relevant, but if more people volunteered (they would find), it’s really rewarding,” Viltz said. “You may not get a certificate or accolade. It’s nice to get those things but it’s important for people to give back to their community.
    “Nothing is too small. Expose your kids to music and art outside their neighborhood or circle and attend other people’s cultural events.”

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  • Cabrillo Marine Aquarium Announces $25 Million Expansion Plan

    By Eric Fujimori, Editorial Intern

    Cabrillo Marine Aquarium has come a long way from its start as a beachside display table of sea specimens in empty mayonnaise jars in 1935. Since then, it’s evolved into one of San Pedro’s most popular waterfront attractions.

    The success is due in part to the aquarium’s history of creating and executing ambitious yet achievable plans for expansion. Hoping to continue the trend, a $25 million plan has been drawn up and is ready to be put into action.

    The project, which was presented to the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners March 19, includes plans for a more visible entryway, a new pavilion and a refurbished exhibit hall, among other features. These plans will be officially unveiled at the aquarium’s Grand Grunion Gala on April 25. (more…)

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  • Taking Sides

    We Can Be Pro-Business and Pro-Labor
    By James Preston Allen, Publisher
    I recently found myself involved in a very long conversation about development issues with a local business owner. But something he said stopped me cold.

    “Wait a minute,” I said. “Let me make sure I heard you right. You think that this newspaper is ‘anti-business.’ Is that what you really think?”

    He answered affirmatively citing the many articles written by my senior editor Paul Rosenberg and my managing editor Terelle Jerricks. (more…)

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  • California Wakeup Call: Preparing for Droughts to Come

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    The satellite photos make it starkly clear: California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack—the lowest ever recorded—is virtually non-existent this year, following a record three straight years of severe drought. The last time a majority of the state was not considered “abnormally dry” or worse was in December 2011, according to weekly data from the Drought Monitor Index. On April 1, Gov. Jerry Brown chose a snow-bare mountain location to announce “an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state.”

    “Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be 5 feet of snow,” Brown said. “This historic drought demands unprecedented action… As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible.”

    But as dire and unprecedented as the current situation is, it is only a foretaste of what’s to come, a change that will force California to reinvent itself once again.

    “We’re not going to have that snowpack,” Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, told members of the Environmental Law Section of the California State Bar this past November. “So not only are our reservoirs low, the snowpack is low. If you’re trying to deal with reality in a clear-eyed way, it’s going to take us decades to retrofit ourselves.”

    That’s the stark truth behind the recent headlines about California’s record-breaking drought. Whatever anguish, extreme measures, and conflicts we’ve seen so far, it’s only the beginning of a decades-long process, a process some say is equally long overdue.

    The overwhelming driver will be the impact of global warming, which many scientists argue is already being felt. Others are less certain, citing natural variations, while still saying that current drought conditions are a foretaste of what a global warming future holds for the state.

    Random Lengths News reported in 2014 that for 13 years, more than half the state was under some degree of drought conditions, and that from 2012 until March of 2014, the figures ranged from 87 to 98 percent.

    This year however, just about 100 percent of the state has been under drought conditions.

    For that story, we interviewed Columbia University’s Robert Seager, whose research was the first to put North America’s medieval mega-droughts on the map.

    “Some part of the West has been in or out of drought since 1998,” he told us. Hence, “We are getting up to that 15 year time frame.”

    We also spoke with Aiguo Dai, author of the 2010 paper, “Drought under global warming.” Dai said that the American West, particularly the Southwest, had “reversed the course since around year 2000 towards a much drier climate for the foreseeable future.”

    One year later, we re-contacted both scientists, as well as Seager’s Columbia colleague, Benjamin Cook, who recently published “Unprecedented 21st Century Drought Risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains,” which predicts that “future drought risk will likely exceed even the driest centuries of the Medieval Climate Anomaly.”

    That’s the period Seager first explored in discovering American mega-droughts, which, the paper also notes, “had profound impacts on regional societies and ecosystems.”

    All three scientists view the past year as conforming to the pattern of global warming foretelling of what’s to come, rather than saying global warming caused it. The scientists essentially see this structure as a reflection of how causation works in large-scale systems.

    “In many ways, the current California drought is a taste of the sort of events we can expect to see with increasing frequency,” Cook told Random Lengths. “The fundamental cause of the current California drought is natural climate variability. Basically, [the] circulation patterns in the ocean and atmosphere have gotten stuck in place and have rerouted storms away from California and much of the West Coast.”

    But there’s a difference as well, Cook noted.

    “One thing that makes the current California drought really stand out compared to previous droughts is how hot it really is,” he said. “[This is] due, at least in part, to the long term anthropogenic [human-caused] warming trend over the last 150 years. When things are warmer, this amplifies any kind of natural drought impacts because evaporation is higher, making everything that much drier.”

    Regardless of precipitation patterns, the heat alone ensures that “we can expect to see more and more really hot years in the future which will mean that, when droughts do occur, they will be that much hotter and drier.”

    Cook’s paper—using three drought measures with a suite of 17 models—found that decadal drought risk in the second half of the 20th century ranged from 80 to almost 100 percent in the Great Plains, and from 90 to almost 100 percent in the Southwest. Meanwhile multi-decadal drought risk ranged from about 70 to 90 percent in the Great Plains, and was consistently close to 80 percent in the Southwest for all three measures. So, droughts will almost certainly be much longer, as well.

    “Our results point to a remarkably drier future that falls far outside the contemporary experience of natural and human systems in Western North America, conditions that may present a substantial challenge to adaptation,” Cook and his co-authors concluded.

    It’s that future, and the challenge to California’s ability to adapt that Felicia Marcus was referring. Random Lengths turned to another published climate scientist, Michael Hanemann, who we interviewed last year for an even more refined look at the challenges from a historical perspective.

    In addition to researching economic costs of climate change, Hanemann has a deep background in California water policy, as well as comparative knowledge of what other Western states and Australia have done to modernize their water policy systems in preparation for the coming challenges.

    The first thing Hanemann pointed out was that, with just a single exception, California has always responded to droughts by relying on water users to voluntarily take drought-fighting action. That’s what makes Brown’s and the water board’s, under Marcus, use of governmental authority all the more remarkable. Even if the scope of their action is relatively limited, action such as this was virtually unheard of in the Golden State before.

    “Before 1914 there was no water rights agency in California. The only mechanism for dealing with water allocation was through litigation,” Hanemann explained.

    Most significant were appropriative water rights (originally based on miners working claims on public land) to divert a specific quantity of water from a certain time forward (which makes the issue of “seniority” particularly important). The original controlling agency, the California Water Commission, came into being in December 1914, with authority residing in the State Water Resources Control Board since its founding in 1967.

    Although it has authority over water rights, “It has limited authority” compared to similar boards in other Western states, Hanemann said. “One crucial difference is the authority to supervise distribution of water.”

    The board registers claims, noting both the amounts and the date they were filed, but it has no power to arbitrate disputes.

    “Suppose it’s 1924—that’s a dry year,” Hanemann explained. “Logically you need somebody out there to enforce seniority and to enforce the rights, so you need somebody on the ground to say, ‘Hanemann, you can’t be taking water because Rosenberg has a, senior right.’ You let him take his water first.’ You also need a traffic cop which says, ‘Rosenberg you have a right, but you have a right to 50 cubic feet and you’re taking 60 cubic feet, and that’s a no-no.’”

    Hanemann said that without enforcement on the ground, the make-believe system we have now will continue.

    Hanemann noted that though other states established agencies with enforcement powers, when California’s agency was set up in 1914, that power was withheld.

    “We know this from the historical record; it was withheld because water users objected,” Hanemann explained. There were subsequent requests to grant that authority, “but the legislature never acted on those requests. It still does not have that power today.” The result is “like an intersection with no traffic lights.” The only recourse is individual lawsuits, just one step short of shooting at one another.

    The second thing California was missing was a firm handle on the rights involved. Throughout the West, water rights were originally claimed simply by diverting water, and making a note of it on the spot.

    “There’s actually no mechanisms for recording this,” Hanemann said. “Literally people would put a stick in the ground by the point of diversion, and put a piece of paper saying. ‘I, Michael Hanemann, started diverting 50 cubic feet a second as of April 8, 1920.’” The shortcomings of this method are self-evident.

    “The sticks in the ground don’t always stay in the ground, the paper doesn’t stay there. This is not a system of record keeping. The river might be 50 miles long. So who knows what sticks are in the ground 40 miles upstream from where I am,” Hanemann said.

    This system wasn’t unique to California. It began like that throughout the West—and if there were disputes, you sued. But even that was slapdash, at best. “I sued you, there were 10 other water users along the river, they didn’t take part in the suit,” Hanemann pointed out. “It was a really chaotic system.”

    Hanemann noted that this was eventually replaced by state agencies handing out new water rights and grandfathering all the pre-existing water rights alongside them. But after a few decades, grandfathering ended as well, and all rights were integrated into a single system.

    “California is the only state which still grandfathers the pre-existing [pre-1914] water rights, and we didn’t create our agency, essentially until 60 years after first using appropriative rights, in 1914. So, we have a huge number of water rights that were grandfathered and are still grandfathered to this day.”

    Hanemann noted that other western states have an agency with authority over all water rights. In California, water agencies don’t have authority to supervise the distribution of water, at least not unless the water users in the basin requested to do so. That happened in a few cases which did not include major parts of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys.

    Hanemann noted that California water agencies have no authority over pre-1914 rights, rights that make up over half of the water rights.

    Here, Hanemann added another footnote, calling attention to California’s riparian rights (rights to use a body of water adjacent to land you own), which he pointed out are “even more nebulous than appropriative rights” because they are essentially unlimited. The only way they get limited in amount is via a lawsuit. “That happens, but that’s a very rare occurrence, that type of litigation,” Hanemann added.

    California experienced the second-worst single drought year even to this day in 1924. Hanemann noted that at the time, the state didn’t have the power to allocate water because its power was limited to post-1914 rights, which in 1924 was only a tiny fraction of the total number of water rights in California. And, so was born the practice of convening meetings of water users and asking them to work things out amongst themselves.

    “Basically that’s continued in every other drought until now,” Hanemann said.

    Hanemann noted 1977 was the only exception. California was suffering the second dry winter in a row during Jerry Brown’s first stint as governor, and an exceptionally effective leader of the state’s water rights board, John Bryson.

    At the time, the board ordered those with post-1914 rights to stop taking water from the Sacramento River. Hanemann noted that this was actually a well-established power—just one that had never been used before.

    But pre-1914 rights were another matter, Hanemann explained. In 1977, the water situation was so dire that the board directed those with grandfathered pre-1914 riparian rights to stop taking water.

    Hanemann described this as a daring move.

    “It had no authority over those rights, and it also didn’t have the enforcement staff on the ground actually to enforce the restriction,” Hanemann said. The board didn’t even have the staff to enforce the restriction on the post-1914 claims where it did have authority.

    Nonetheless, “It sent letters to the water rights holders. What happened was, in some cases neighbors and others complained, and said so-and-so is violating your order. The state board [then] sent somebody [on the] ground, but it was more the moral effect of trying to get water users to cut back.”

    On top of that, Brown, acting on Bryson’s advice, appointed a high level commission—chaired by a former California Supreme Court Justice—to review water rights in California. Unfortunately for us now, the drought ended, Bryson left the board and Brown’s interest waned, leaving enforcement still stuck in the 19th century. As a result, “In the subsequent droughts, like 1991 and 1992, and then later 2008 and so on, the state board played no role in dealing with the situation,” Hanemann pointed out.

    Now, almost 40 years later, Brown has a rare opportunity for a major do-over.

    “I think he’s very much learned the lesson of, should we say, his ineffectiveness in his first period in office,” Hanemann said. “The other thing is, Jerry Brown gets climate change. He’s been concerned about it for a dozen years or more. He takes it very seriously.”

    Brown is aided by Marcus, another strong board chair, who also enjoys his strong confidence and support. Together, they’ve began modestly cutting off thousands of post-1914 rights holders late last summer. Hanemann called that a “strong initiative,” but was uncertain about what it portended. Now, after another dry winter, it’s “been stepped up with the governor’s order and the events of the last 10 days. That, in my mind, is a big deal. It’s way, way overdue.” But much more remains to be done, including putting an end to grandfathered rights—as all other western states have done.

    “As part of adaptation to climate change, we need to start getting our house in order,” Hanemann said. “If we’re not going to start doing things properly in this round, when the hell are we going to adapt to climate change? This is like, when the house is on fire, that’s a time that you better do something about fireproofing.”

    In her November Bar Association speech, Marcus explicitly embraced the notion that nothing less than a fundamental re-conceptualization of water policy was at hand:

    We’re at this period of paradigm shift. Not to overstate it, but it’s always an uncomfortable period. As in Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he says as things are changing, people become very uncomfortable, and it becomes very messy. The old order is somehow changing yet you see these brilliant strides forward and strides backward. We’re just in a difficult time and the drought exacerbates it.

    Marcus did not explicitly say how deep that re-conceptualization would go, or what it would involve. At this point, it’s probably impossible to say. But Hanemann did cite three basic steps as a common-sense starting point, just to bring California into the modern era.

    First is to create “an accessible database of water rights and legal rulings in California,” including all the appropriate documentation. Complete documentation exists at the county level for post-1914 rights, only, but hasn’t been fully integrated online.

    Second is to implement record-keeping to support real-time water management, meaning a record of all water diversions. This has been legally required for decades, but penalties were not introduced until quite recently, so data only goes back to 2012, and reporting is required only every 3 years. It should be yearly, at least, and monthly during droughts, Hanemann said.

    Third, the board must be given authority to supervise the distribution of water. This exists only in a very crude, limited, emergency form, without real enforcement power. It needs to be fully formalized and written into law.

    Actually, he added a fourth point—the need to verify and consolidate claims, including the resolution of conflicting legal claims, a process called “adjudication,” which can drag on for years and even decades. “It’s been done in many western states,” Hanemann said. “It’s a bonanza for the lawyers,” but it would finally provide clarity as to who has what rights.

    As it stands today, claims are so unreliable, so exaggerated that, for example, “the flow of the Kern River was claimed like 30 times over,” Hanemann said. So, “What California needs is an adjudication of the Central Valley, especially the Sacramento Valley,” just to create a reality-based foundation for moving forward and dealing with future challenges.

    All these are just practical, common sense changes, but California water rights holders have successfully resisted them for more than 150 years now. Overcoming this resistance is the first hurdle.

    But there’s a second hurdle that should also be considered, and that involves a fundamental re-conception of how water policy is handled, down to the very definition of water rights—or possibly even some alternative formulation. Hanemann highlighted the contrast in ways of thinking about the two paradigms.

    The traditional, legalistic way of thinking is in terms of water rights, and the senior water rights that agricultural users have, based on their earliest claims. As we’ve already seen, however, those rights are anything but clear cut, well-defined, and even, in many cases, plausible. So the anarchic “Wild West” nature of the system casts the legitimacy of this approach into doubt—not to mention that it’s the holders of the water rights themselves who have insisted on maintaining this state of chaos. Indeed, Hanemann said, the legacy of this approach, historically, “is massively counterproductive.”

    In contrast, we need to “step back and…say ‘no, let’s take a modern view of this. We live in a modern society. We have competing needs. We have a population of 38 million people. We have large cities…This is not a sensible way of allocating water.’”

    This is a view that makes sense in terms of preparations for dealing with the growing challenges California faces. But it “goes against property rights,” and nobody has the power to simply wipe out all those rights, however questionable they may be.

    Yet, something akin to this process has taken place in Australia over the past 25 years, because starting around 1990, a growing sense of urgency emerged that managing water inefficiently was a threat to the nation’s prosperity and well-being. This led to federal intervention and to legislation that never had been contemplated before. However hard it is to envision in advance, it’s conceivable that a whole new approach to designing water policy could be adopted in California at some point in the future.

    This wouldn’t be without precedent. Prior to the Civil War, slaves were considered property and this reality made it virtually impossible to contemplate slavery’s end. With slavery’s post-war abolition, things looked completely different. In retrospect, the slaveholder’s “rights” were seen to be more like crimes. No one suggests that water rights are like slavery.

    Though seriously flawed, they serve a vital purpose. California’s agriculture is as rare and precious as its tech industry. “We’re one of only five Mediterranean climates that can grow healthy fruits and vegetables and we should honor that,” Marcus said in her speech, “even as we are clear and hard-line and fair and demanding of agriculture to do their part.”

    But the system is as archaic as slavery—if not as evil—and in need of a sweeping overhaul to prepare us for the difficult future ahead.

    Highlighting this need for forward thinking, Marcus referenced Barbara Tuckman’s book, March of Folly, which, she noted, deals with historical examples—King George losing the colonies, the Vietnam War, etc.—in which those in power had all the facts they needed to solve a problem, but ignored them “by fearing change” that ended in disaster. Heeding this lesson, “We need to be thinking forward,” Marcus said, “and looking at the present through the lens of what our future holds, for better or for worse, and what we can do about it, versus looking at today through the lens of the past and stubbornly sticking to it.”

    Highlighting this need for forward thinking, Marcus referenced Barbara Tuckman’s book, March of Folly, which, she noted, deals with historical examples—King George losing the colonies, the Vietnam War, etc.—in which those in power had all the facts they needed to solve a problem, but ignored them “by fearing change,” which ended in disaster. Heeding this lesson, “We need to be thinking forward,” Marcus said, “and looking at the present through the lens of what our future holds, for better or for worse, and what we can do about it, versus looking at today through the lens of the past and stubbornly sticking to it.”



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  • Long Beach Graffiti Remediation Sometimes Misses the Mark

    The term ‘graffiti’ is a bit like the term ‘drugs,’ in that many people negatively over-generalize the concept. The government has talked of its “war on drugs” for decades, all while sanctioning plenty of them, many of which are far more potentially damaging than some illicit ones. It’s all about the particular drug and how it’s used; and a particular drug’s legal status cannot tell you whether it’s being used for good or ill in a given situation.

    Unlike drugs, graffiti is, by definition, illegal. But like drugs, the legal status of a particular graffito is not the determiner of its community benefit. That’s my hypothesis, anyway. And Long Beach is a perfect lab in which to examine it.

    According to the City of Long Beach, in 2014 the City removed over 75,000 graffiti, which the City defines as “any unauthorized inscription, word, figure or design which is marked, etched, scratched, drawn or painted on any structural component of any building structure, or other facility regardless of the nature of the material of that structural component.” The City’s stated goal is “to keep all privately owned real property within the City free of graffiti [… which] is expressly declared to be a public nuisance.”

    The long and the short of it is that quality doesn’t factor in. If Banksy honors Long Beach with one of his masterpieces, without intervention by the powers that be, a city staffer is likely to paint over it.

    Of course, when it comes to art, quality is subjective. Whether Banksy is the genius that I take him to be or a hoodlum whose “unauthorized” works should be wiped off the face of the Earth—as many have been—is in the eye of the beholder. But that Long Beach has no mechanism in place to consider whether a piece of unauthorized public art is more beautification than blight might not be the most effective strategy for a city with pretensions to aesthetic greatness.

    To be sure, the vast majority of graffiti not only fall short the Banksy standard, they are not even intended as art. These are tags, generally no more than a hastily scrawled signature of sorts placed to claim territory, the artistic equivalent to a bear’s urinating on a tree. In effect, tagging is generally intentional blight, a deservedly criminal activity that the City does well to wipe away.

    But aside from sometimes throwing the baby out with the bathwater, there are instances when the City’s cure is worse than the disease. A prime example is in plain view on the Queensway Bridge, where huge, ugly blotches dominate the concrete barrier separating the northbound traffic lanes from the bike and pedestrian paths (see above).

    Clearly, this white barrier has proven an appealing canvas for taggers. But while covering up the tags may be a commendable intent, in practice it has proven an aesthetic disaster. For starters, not only does the paint used for the cover-ups fail to match the original paint, it fails with a variety of mismatched colors.

    As undesirable as tagging might be, if it cannot be prevented there—something for which the City is not to blame—from an aesthetic perspective it might have been better to leave the tags alone, especially since simply recreating the blank canvas that attracted taggers in the first place is likely to attract them again. Leaving the tags alone might be ugly at first, but as they accumulated over time, eventually the sheer gallimaufry of color and script might begin to yield something of artistic value, however unintended.

    But perhaps a better means of addressing the problem would be to give local artists free rein to do what they will with the barrier. Incorporating the tags into new art or painting over them with images less tempting to taggers would be both cheaper for the City and more aesthetically pleasing than the status quo.

    The City of Long Beach declined to comment about the bridge or related matters.

    Another area in which the City seems to favor the dilapidated look over alternative strategies is the former Acres of Books building. Abandoned and neglected since 2008, the “historic façade” facing Long Beach Boulevard is little more than a cacophony of distressed plywood. Not surprisingly, over the years local artists have repeatedly taken it upon themselves to adorn the façade with posters, stickers, and the like, sometimes with book-related themes. But almost as soon as something goes up, City officials remove it, leaving the Acres of Books building a naked monument to disuse.

    Is the Acres of Books building really better off stripped of unauthorized adornments by local artists?

    Unauthorized public art as public service is nothing new in the Southland. One of the most striking recent examples is Richard Ankrom’s freeway signage. After Ankrom moved to downtown Los Angeles nearly a decade ago, he noticed that Caltrans had neglected to install green overpass sign on the 110 Freeway East alerting drivers to the exit for Interstate 5 North. So Ankrom created and erected his own signage. For eight years the illegal sign went unnoticed—except by drivers looking to transition from the 110 to the 5.

    Although problems of allowing a free-for-all of signage are obvious, Ankrom’s work is a clear case of society profiting from unauthorized activity. Guerrilla art cannot be fairly judged by its authorization, but on each work’s individual merits.

    A Long Beach official who has straddled the line between guerilla art and authorization is Blair Cohn. As executive director of the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA), part of Cohn’s charge is to improve his community. And on multiple occasions Cohn has followed his instincts beyond the bounds of authorization. Two recent examples concern painting City property.

    Surveying Bixby Knolls, Cohn noticed that a small and simple way to beautify the area was to repaint several dingy yellow fire hydrants. Using as a model several downtown fire hydrants made resplendent with reflective gold paint, Cohn contracted the same vendors to use the same paint for 13 hydrants in his neck of the woods.

    But just before the job was completed, the Long Beach Water Department ordered Cohn to repaint the hydrants the original color at BKBIA expense—not because the gold paint in any way hindered the hydrants’ intended use, but simply because the work was unauthorized.

    “I wrote to them and said, ‘Granted, we didn’t ask permission to do it, but we followed the model [of what was done downtown], making them gold to doll up the neighborhood and add one more fun element to Bixby Knolls,'” Cohn recounts. “We just did it, because I knew it was the right thing to do. I mean, if we used the same people and the same paint as [were used downtown], what’s the harm?”

    The Water Department relented after Cohn got Long Beach Fire Department Chief Mike DuRee to tell the Water Department that the LBFD doesn’t care what color hydrants are, so long as they can be easily seen, especially at night. Because the new paint was reflective, the hydrants’ utility was actually improved by Cohn’s rogue action.

    Not long afterwards, Cohn decided—again sans authorization—to beautify one of those ugly utility boxes that are weed-like presences throughout the city by giving Dave Van Patten, one of Long Beach’s most renowned and recognizable painters, free rein. As usual, Van Patten delivered in his singular style.

    One side of Van Patten’s first unauthorized Bixby Knolls utility box.

    But just before the work was completed, Van Patten was told that the work would be painted over if it had not been previously approved by the City. However, after a flurry of phone calls to city officials, Cohn was assured that Van Patten’s unauthorized contribution to the community would be left alone. (In fact, it was never verified whether the person who made the initial comment regarding Van Patten’s work was a city employee.)

    “It’s not like everyone at city hall is a villain here,” Cohn says. “They don’t want there to be chaos; they don’t want just anyone to go do whatever they want to do. But do you want swastikas painted on utility boxes, or do you want [an artist like] Dave Van Patten to paint something there?”

    Pleased with Van Patten’s work, Cohn contracted him to beautify a second utility box. Did Cohn seek authorization for that one? “No,” he laughs. “I just picked the next one. That one had already been painted once before, and it got hit by a car, so all we’re doing is repainting it. We’re not removing the box, we’re not sealing it shut, we’ve not exposing wires or doing anything that could be hazardous. […] I [saw] a corner that could really use something, so I decided to have it painted.”

    Cohn is just as enthusiastic about the appearance of guerilla art to which he has no connection appearing in Bixby Knolls, provided that it is genuine art-making. He recalls, for example, his excitement when graffiti artist Help Desk hit the BKBIA office and some area utility boxes, along with his disappointment when the City painted over it.

    “I wasn’t going to touch it,” Cohn says. “It wasn’t offensive. It was clever and political and interesting. I loved it, […] Is it subjective? Of course. It’s absolutely true that art is subjective. But if it’s clever, if it’s artistic and interesting, awesome!”

    Cohn says the Queensway Bridge is a perfect place to take on tagging with the help of guerilla artists.

    “What I would do is go and find a few street artists, and let them elevate [the space], and let it grow from there,” he says. “Meet [the problem of tagging] head-on. And it’s not like that bridge is where the Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau is shooting promo pictures for the City of Long Beach. It’s not like it’s the side of city hall. It’s not like it’s the Main Library or St. Mary’s Medical Center. My point is, it’s a nondescript area. [If you allow street art there,] you’re adding to the overall experience. Now you have not only the view of the water and the downtown skyline, but what you’ve done is create this art wall that has character, a little along the lines of 5Pointz in New York.”

    Visitors in town for the Grand Prix who drive by the Acres of Books building or bike across the Queensway Bridge will behold areas of blight perpetuated by City of Long Beach. Beautifying urban space is more art than science, more about keeping the big picture in view than adhering to the status quo or the letter of the law.

    Doubtless much graffiti abatement in Long Beach is as good as anyone could wish. Nonetheless, it appears that the City lacks a nuanced, comprehensive strategy for maximizing the aesthetic value of its urban landscape. For Long Beach to live up to its artistic pretensions, there is more work to be done on that front, including recognizing which strategies are failing to produce worthwhile results, and knowing when to leave well enough alone.

    An unauthorized adornment to the base of a lamppost.

    Graffiti — the bad kind — is already appearing along the new beach path. How will the City respond?

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  • RL NEWS Briefs April 10, 2015

    Boy Drowns After Car Submerges Near Ports O’Call
    SAN PEDRO — A 13-year-old boy, Abdelkrim Ali Elmezayen, is dead and his 8-year-old brother is in critical condition after the family car lunged into the ocean at the Port of Los Angeles.
    The children’s family had just left the Ports ‘O Call waterfront village area, April 9, when their vehicle suddenly tipped over. The parents, who were able to escape the vehicle, managed to escape the vehicle unharmed near Berth 73 when they called for help.
    Los Angeles Fire Department crews soon arrived. Firefighter Miguel Meza, who dove 30 feet underwater to rescue the two boys. By the time they were freed, they lacked pulses and weren’t breathing. Only the youngest child was able to be resuscitated.
    Cement Truck Overturns on 710 Off-ramp
    LONG BEACH — On April 9, a cement truck overturned on the 710 freeway going southbound.
    The driver is in moderate condition. The truck flipped over as it was ascending the westbound Willow Street on-ramp. The accident caused a leak of five gallons of diesel fluid and two gallons of hydraulic fluid on the freeway. This caused the on-ramp to be closed for a half hour.
    CalTrans and California Highway Patrol worked to flip the truck upright to remove it from the on-ramp.
    Long Beach Fire Department personnel arrived to rescue the driver, who had his leg caught inside the truck. He was then transported to a local trauma center.
    City of Long Beach Launches Health Data Website
    LONG BEACH — Long Beach launched LiveWellLongBeach.org, an interactive, web-based platform that provides data on more than 100 demographic, health, and quality of life indicators specific to Long Beach.
    The platform also serves as a database of promising and evidence-based programs, scientific literature, and funding opportunities.
    The website is supported by Department of Health and Human Services and was launched in conjunction with National Public Health Week.
    LiveWellLongBeach.orgfeatures data comparisons by Long Beach zip codes and census tracts, and shows how Long Beach compares to Los Angeles County, the State of California, and Healthy People 2020 on key health and socioeconomic indicators.
    The website also provides continually updated visual references and brings data, local resources and scientific literature.

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  • RL NEWS Briefs: April 4, 2015

    Downtown LB Parking Meters Will Have More Features, Higher Rates
    LONG BEACH — Long Beach will begin replacing 1,114 coin-only parking meters on the week of April 20, in downtown.
    The new meters will accept debit and credit cards, and will increase in rates by 50 cents. The upgrade is the result of a December 2014 Long Beach City Council decision to purchase and install the new meters. About 350 meters will be replaced each week.
    The new meters will also offer visitors five minutes of free parking with the press of a button. Parking rates at The Pike are not affected.

    Five-Year Project Labor Agreement Approved
    LONG BEACH — On April 7, the Long Beach City Council voted 7-0 to approve a 5-year project labor agreement that will fund $28 million in annual projects, with the goal of impacting about half of the workforce to be local.
    The vote comes after several months of negotiations between the city staff and labor unions.
    The project labor agreement will cover city projects more than $500,000 that are subject to state, federal or other funding restrictions. Agreements that city employees usually perform will be excluded from this new agreement.
    Among the goals of the new agreement, 40 percent of the hires of any given project would be local and 10 percent of the total hired would be “disadvantaged workers,” which includes veterans and impoverished workers.
    The labor agreement also incorporates a partnership between Long Beach City College and the Pacific Gateway Workforce Investment Network to provide pre-apprentice training.

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  • Garcetti Launches First-Ever Sustainability Plan

    LOS ANGELES­­—On April 8, Mayor Eric Garcetti laid out Los Angeles’ first citywide sustainability plan that would prepare the city for a healthier environment and economy.

    The plan’s short- and long-term goals are in14 categories related to conservation, clean energy, waste, green jobs, transportation, housing and neighbor livability. The short-term goals would be reached in 2017, and the long-term would be reached in 2025 and 2035.

    The plan also made commitments in zero emissions goods movement at the Port of Los Angeles that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, and reduce per capita vehicle miles traveled.

    Garcetti signed an executive directive incorporating the plan into city management, including appointing department-leveled chief sustainability officers who will work with the city’s chief sustainability officer.

    Community members interested in tracking the progress of Garcetti’s sustainability plan can visit  https://performance.lacity.org/sustainability.

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  • Hahn Honored the Late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald

    LONG BEACH — On April 7, Rep. Janice Hahn hosted a special ceremony renaming the North Long Beach Post Office for the late Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald.

    She was joined by Millender-McDonald’s widower, James McDonald Jr., her daughter Valerie McDonald and several prominent elected officials.

    The renaming of the facility at 101 E. Market St. is the result of legislation introduced by Hahn which passed Congress in December 2014.  Hahn unveiled a plaque honoring Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald alongside Millender-McDonald’s widower and daughter. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), former Rep. Diane Watson and Long Beach Councilmen Al Austin and Rex Richardson also spoke at the event.

    For all her accomplishments, Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald’s political career started relatively late in her life. By age 26, she was a mother of five. After raising her children, she went back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in her 40s.  She became a teacher in LAUSD and later the manuscript editor for Images, a textbook aimed at promoting the self-esteem of young women, and the director of gender equity programs for the school district.

    Juanita Millender-McDonald made history by becoming, in 1990, the first African-American woman on the Carson City Council, and in 2007, she became the first African-American woman to chair a congressional committee — the House Administration Committee. She served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Small Business Committee, the two committees on which Congresswoman Hahn serves.

    Congresswoman Millender-McDonald succumbed to cancer in April 2007, just a week after requesting a leave of absence from the House of Representatives.

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  • RLn ANNOUNCEMENTS: April 7, 2015

    April 7
    Council Considers Alcoholic Manufacturing, Accessory Tasting Room Ordinance.
    The Long Beach City Council will consider an ordinance amendment with regard to alcoholic manufacturing and accessory tasting rooms, during its 5 p.m. April 7 meeting, at City Hall.
    The alcoholic beverage manufacturing industry has experienced significant growth across the county. The council would like to add specific zoning specific definitions form the industry and develop standards regulating the use.
    Details: 15-0247
    Venue: City Hall, 333 W. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach
    April 7
    Hahn to Dedicate Post Office to Late Congresswoman
    WASHINGTON, DC –On April 7, Rep. Janice Hahn (CA-44) will lead a special dedication ceremony to the North Long Beach Post Office after the late Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald who represented the community for years.
    The ceremony, lasting from 10 to 11 a.m., will feature the congresswoman and members of the Millender-McDonald family, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and Long Beach City Councilmen Al Austin and Rex Richardson and State Sen. Isadore Hall.
    Details:www.hahn.house.gov, (310) 831-1799
    Venue: North Long Beach Post, 101 E. Market St., Long Beach
    April 7
    Special Olympics Luncheon
    The San Pedro Chamber of Commerce and the San Pedro Convention and Visitors Bureau will be hosting a luncheon featuring Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson on April 7 at the Doubletree Hotel in San Pedro.
    The event is to raise funds to host Special Olympics athletes from Croatia and Kazakhstan.
    In July, the World Games will take place in Los Angeles. Over 10,000 Special Olympic athletes from 177 countries will be coming to compete. As part of the festivities the athletes will be coming one week early to practice and get to know the people of Southern California. Eighty communities will be hosting athletes. San Pedro is privileged to host athletes from Croatia and Kazakhstan from July 21 to July 24.
    Tickets are $75 and reservations are available through the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce or the San Pedro Convention and Visitors Bureau.
    Details: (310) 720-1776, SpecialOlympics@SanPedroCVB.com, bkeenan@toberman.org
    Venue: Doubletree Hotel, 2800 Via Cabrillo Marina, San Pedro
    April 9
    Pathways to Employment Planning Committee
    The Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council’s Pathways to Employment Planning Committee is meeting at 6 p.m. April 9 at Peck Park.
    Details: nwsanpedro.org
    Venue: Peck Park, 560 N. Western Ave., San Pedro
    April 11
    Jump Into Spring by Volunteering
    Join the Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for volunteer open house.
    Details: (310) 603-0088; www.dominguezrancho.org
    Venue: Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum, 18127 S. Alameda St.,
    Rancho Dominguez
    April 11
    Participatory Budget Meeting
    Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez is launching a demo of the participatory budget process to District 1 residents, from10 a.m. to 12 p.m. April 11 at Cesar Chavez Park in Long Beach.
    District 1 is partnering with Participatory Budgeting Project, a nonprofit that empowers people to decide how to spend public money. The group will be introducing the process, see what the community values are and help residents get a feel for the process by deciding how $50,000 gets spent.
    The demo will consist of three gatherings, where community leaders and residents collect ideas and decide how best to allocate funds.
    From April to June 2015, the district committee will oversee the participatory budget process along with District 1 staff and the Participatory Budget Project.
    Details: (562) 570-6919; http://longbeach.gov/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=42611
    Venue: Cesar Chavez Park, 401 Golden Ave., Long Beach
    April 11
    Jane Addams Neighborhood Tree Planting
    Join a team of neighbors, city staff and volunteers to plant trees, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. April 11, at Jane Addams Elementary in Long Beach.
    Trees reduce greenhouse gases, provide habitat, reduce cooling costs, and increase property values.
    Details: (562) 570-6866
    Venue: Jane Addams Elementary School, 5320 Pine Ave., Long Beach
    April 14
    Human Trafficking Panel
    The Cal State Dominguez Hills Political Science Department is hosting a panel discussion on human trafficking, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. April 14, at the Loker Student Union Ballroom C.
    The forum will be exploring, learning and discussing the questions: What is human trafficking in the 21st century, and what can we do to help raise awareness and strive towards alleviating it once and for all? The event is free and open to the public.
    Details: (310) 243-3435
    Venue: 1000 E. Victoria St., Carson

    April 14
    LA County Town Hall Meeting: Proposed Civilian Oversight Commission for Sherriff’s Department
    You are invited to the Los Angeles County Town Hall Meeting to discuss the proposed Civilian Oversight Commission for the Sheriff’s Department, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 14, El Cariso Community Regional Center in Sylmar .
    The mission of the Civilian Oversight Commission is to improve public transparency and accountability with respect to the LASD by providing robust opportunities for community engagement and ongoing analysis and oversight of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s policies, practices and procedures and advice to the sheriff, Board of Supervisors and the public.
    Details: (818) 901-3831,13100 Hubbard St. Sylmar
    Venue: El Cariso Community Regional Center
    Come to find out more about the Commission and share your thoughts.
    April 17
    Cambodian Genocide Remembrance Day
    The public is invited to an evening dedicated to observing the passage of 40 years since the Cambodian Genocide, from 5 to 8 p.m. April 17, at the Expo Arts Center in Long Beach.
    Venue: Expo Arts Center, 4321 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach
    April 18
    Charity Voyage
    New Image Emergency Shelter for the Homeless Inc. presents its 4th Charity Voyage fundraiser, April 18, aboard The Majestic in San Pedro.
    The event will include a reception complete with a harpist, a 5-course gourmet dinner with wine, a comedian and a silent auction.
    Costs start at $150 per person.
    Details: (562) 822-7657, www.newimageshelter.org
    Venue: The Majestic, San Pedro
    April 25
    Eighth District e-Waste and Shred Fest
    Dispose of old electronics at District 8’s e-Waste and Shred Fest, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 25, at the North Station Police Department in Long Beach.
    Household electronic waste which includes: computer monitors, televisions, computer CPUs, keyboards, printers, cellular phones, DVD players, etc.
    Details: (562) 570-1326; district8@longbeach.gov
    Venue: North Station Police Department, 4891 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach

    April 29
    Pulse of the Ports
    Be part of the 11th Annual Pulse of the Ports: Peak Season Forecast, from 7 to 10 a.m. April 29, at the Long Beach Convention Center’s Pacific Ballroom.
    Details: www.polb.com/pulsersvp
    Venue: Long Beach Convention Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach

    POLA Expands Marina Engine Exchange Program
    SAN PEDROThe Port of Los Angeles has expanded its existing Marina Engine Exchange Program to include all-electric and alternatively fuelled motors.
    The Marina Engine Exchange Program provides funding (75 percent of the total cost, up to $2,000) for local boat owners to upgrade old, highly polluting motors with California Air Resources Board three-star certified ultra-low emission motors.
    POLA will offer up to $3,000 to boat owners choosing to purchase an electric motor.
    In order to qualify, an applicant’s boat must have an operational, two-stroke outboard motor no greater than 20 horsepower and be in a port marina. The old motor will be replaced with an approximate equivalent horsepower rating (up to 15 horsepower). Upon engine replacement, the boat must remain in a Port of Los Angeles marina for at least one year.
    For an application form, visit http://portoflosangeles.org/environment/marina_engine_exchange_program.asp

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