Taking over for the defunct redevelopment agency, the City and Port of Long Beach have recently made a commitment to invest in sprucing up the Westside industrial area, which for decades has lacked basic infrastructure.
Last year, the port completed an $8 million project to improve a nearly one mile-long stretch of Anaheim Street from the Los Angeles River to the Terminal Island Freeway.
The thoroughfare, heavily traveled by trucks off the I-710 Freeway, was upgraded with new pavement, sidewalks, curbs and medians, along with drought-tolerant landscaping, energy-efficient lighting and stormwater-filtering tree planters and swales.
“It has really changed the whole streetscape,” said 1st District Councilmember Lena Gonzalez during a phone interview with the Business Journal. “It was a huge facelift for that area . . . A lot of the westsiders were amazed. They thought that no one pays attention to the Westside and now, all of a sudden, all of these things are happening. It was really a good surprise for them that it actually happened and it looks beautiful.”
Many business owners in the area have also lauded the recent streetscape improvements, adding that the upgrades were long overdue.
The need for public infrastructure in the Westside industrial area has been an issue for decades with a long history behind it.
The city once attempted to improve the area by utilizing state property tax increment funding through redevelopment, forming the Westside Project Area in the mid-1970s.
The effort, however, became a double-edged sword by the very nature of using eminent domain as a means for economic development.
With fears the city would raze the entire industrial area, Westside business owners quickly banded together and filed a lawsuit against the city. In the early 1980s, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the businesses.
The Westside Project Area Council (PAC), which oversaw redevelopment funds and now operates as a nonprofit community group, was to remain intact through the life of the project area, but many plans that were in the works went by the wayside when the state eliminated redevelopment.
Stan Janocha, president of Superior Electrical Advertising, Inc., said the recent improvements have made a big difference for his business, adding that his building used to shake like an earthquake when trucks rolled by an intersection of Anaheim Street and Santa Fe Avenue because of old railroad tracks under asphalt. The street has since been paved over with concrete, he said.
“Anaheim Street was a real mess,” Janocha said. “You can really tell how big the improvement is when you continue on and go into Wilmington.”
City officials have confirmed that there are even more plans in the works to upgrade public infrastructure in the Westside industrial area.
Derek Wieske, Long Beach assistant city engineer, said the city’s public works department is resurrecting a former redevelopment project to enhance storm drains on the Westside.
With redevelopment eliminated by the state, the Long Beach Harbor Department has tentatively agreed to use port funds to pay for construction, which is expected to cost about $3 million, he said.
Wieske said the city is currently working with the harbor department on a memorandum of understanding to fund the construction of the storm drain project, which has already been designed.
While the Anaheim Street upgrades have been well received, some business owners east of the Los Angeles River that are part of a property and business improvement district known as the Magnolia Industrial Group (MIG) have their own concerns.
Mike Zupanovich, who owns Harbor Diesel and Equipment, Inc., said there haven’t been any major street improvements in the MIG area in nearly 40 years.
“The condition of the streets is horrible,” he said. “The blight is just increasing steadily.”
Gonzalez, however, said she plans to recommend costing out the completion of streets in the MIG area as part of the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, which is up for city council approval tonight, September 15.
In addition, Gonzalez said the city plans to add banners to the Westside industrial area, highlighting longtime businesses, in addition to adding a “Welcome to Long Beach” sign. She added that the city is looking to partner with Tell Steel and Sav-On Signs, both Westside industrial businesses, to develop and install the banners and the welcome sign.
Some business owners, however, expressed concerns about an influx of homeless encampments moving into the industrial area in the last few months after being displaced from another area.
Zupanovich said brand new parts from his warehouse had recently been stolen, adding that he is now investing in a camera surveillance system.
Lester Duncan, owner of Specialized Transport, a tow truck company, echoed concerns about the homeless population, adding that people are living in tents along the bike path on the Los Angeles River as well as in cars and motor homes in the industrial area.
“It’s really gotten to be a problem down here, and I think the city needs to address it,” he said.
Paul Collins, chair of Westside PAC, said he’s optimistic about the future of the Westside industrial area and Long Beach in general, adding that many new developments are on the horizon.
“In the next three or four years, there’s going to be some good development in the area that will clean up some of the real bad lots,” he said. “I think the new city council and the mayor are going to make big changes in this city. Long Beach has been a gem waiting to happen.”