For about a decade, businesses along Wardlow Road in California Heights have banded together to promote the area in hopes of increasing foot traffic. Now, the unofficial organization is taking steps to become an officially recognized business improvement district.

The group has sent out questionnaires to the area’s businesses to get a better sense of their needs and to gauge their desire to form a city-recognized BID.

“I think it’s been a positive reaction,” Robert Molina, owner of Roxanne’s, said.

The group already has established a five-person board, with representatives from Steelhead Coffee, Long Beach Ballet, f/8 Studios and Verde’s, a new juice bar getting ready to open at the former Babe’s Kitchen location. They have not, however, determined how the BID would be set up.

There are two ways BIDs are funded in Long Beach: through property owners or business owners. If approved by the city, staff would provide annual assessments using a methodology approved by the BID stakeholders. Based on the assessment, a fee is collected and distributed to the BID.

“From a business perspective, it’s kind of a big ask,” Jim Torres said.

The Belmont Shore BID, for example, charges varying rates depending on business type as well as a per employee fee. In Bixby Knolls, meanwhile, the BID charges the same rate for all businesses, with nonprofits receiving a discounted rate.

Each BID also offers its members different perks. The Downtown Long Beach Alliance’s red shirts can be seen throughout the BIDs boundaries picking up trash, power washing sidewalks and engaging with unhoused residents. Up in Bixby Knolls, the organization pays for private security to patrol the area.

BIDs also serve as an information source for their respective members, relaying important notices from the city, including grant opportunities.

But first and foremost, BIDs are cheerleaders for their neighborhoods, tasked with promoting the area for the betterment of all businesses. Many put on events such as Fourth Street’s Fourth Fridays and Bixby Knolls’ First Fridays.

“We want to make sure people see the value of joining,” Molina said, adding that he thinks there is enough support to create an official BID. For approval, the group would need the support of 50% plus one of the businesses or property owners.

Following in the footsteps of the BIDs that came before it, Molina said the group has started its own monthly event: Second Saturdays. Like other events hosted in the area, Molina said the idea is to increase business for all by increasing foot traffic and awareness of what Cal Heights has to offer to nearby residents and visitors alike.

Cal Heights is the city’s largest historical district with some 1,600 homes, Molina explained, but many of the residents don’t know the businesses and amenities right in their own backyards.

“We’d definitely love to see that neighborhood support,” Torres said, noting that the surrounding community has been changing rapidly as younger families move into the area that value walkable neighborhoods. “There used to be a lot of retirees in the neighborhood who didn’t quite see the value in something like this.”

In addition to promoting the area through marketing and events, Molina said top priorities would be security and signage so drivers know when they enter the BID, similar to prominent signs in Bixby Knolls and Belmont Shore. The group also would strive to be a strong community partner through fundraisers such as toy and food drives, Molina said.

The organization also will be an advocate for increased safety along Wardlow, which has two lanes in either direction and wide shoulders. With cars parked on either side of the street, cars careen down the corridor at high speeds, Molina noted.

A truck drives by Wille’s Tin Shop and Roxanne’s on Wardlow Road in the California Heights neighborhood Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Reducing speed limits, improving lighting and adding more crosswalks and traffic signals are some of the actions the group would like the city to take.

“We’ve seen a lot of foot traffic coming at nighttime, and it’s super scary trying to cross the street,” Torres said, noting a recent incident where an employee got hit by a car after a shift.

“And there are a lot of kids around here with Long Beach Ballet,” he added.

In addition to improved pedestrian safety, slower-moving cars would have time to see what the neighborhood has to offer, Molina said. There is also potential for a bike lane in the area, he added.

Molina said if all goes well and stakeholders are on board, the organization hopes to be approved by the City Council for the upcoming budget cycle, meaning the Cal Heights BID would officially begin operating in October.

In the early days of the unofficial alliance, the businesses referred to themselves as the Wardlow Strip. Today, the organization wants to be more inclusive of the entire Cal Heights neighborhood—one issue, however, is that the well-established Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association already includes a portion of the neighborhood.

Bounded by Bixby Road to the north, Cherry Avenue to the east and Wardlow Road to the south, the California Heights neighborhood extends west to Long Beach Boulevard. The Bixby Knolls association, however, already includes Atlantic Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard between Bixby and Wardlow roads.

Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association Executive Director Blair Cohn, for his part, said he encourages all areas to establish BIDs to support local businesses. The Bixby Knolls BID was founded in 1989 and incorporated as a nonprofit in 1994.

Cohn said it is impossible for the new Cal Heights BID to encompass the entirety of its namesake neighborhood but that he welcomes the new group coming right up to his association’s boundary.

During a meeting Wednesday night at f/8 Studios, Molina, Torres and other board members updated Cal Heights businesses on their progress toward becoming a BID. Meat & Vino owner Al Valadez asked if it were possible to be absorbed into the Bixby Knolls association.

Molina and Torres, for their part, praised the work Cohn has done in Bixby Knolls and said the businesses in the overlapping area are always welcome to join in the Cal Heights festivities, including Second Saturdays.

“There is no reason we can’t collaborate,” Torres said. “But we deserve our own BID.”

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.