City leaders are planning to convene a meeting Thursday in hopes of keeping prominent Long Beach businesses from fleeing Downtown where they say crime, noisy construction, a dwindling number of office workers and an out-of-control homeless population are keeping customers away, the Long Beach Business Journal has learned.
“The situation in Downtown is desperate, sad and disappointing. We are close to having very few choices to save our Downtown spot,” Beachwood Brewing co-owner Gabriel Gordon wrote in an Oct. 27 email to the Downtown Long Beach Alliance, where he outlined a litany of issues he said have driven business down by over 25%.
They include: the open use of drugs, acts of violence near the restaurant, people wandering onto the patio where they disrupt customers and property damage, among other issues. Gordon recounted one incident where a couple got into a fight in front of the restaurant, which resulted in the woman being knocked unconscious. The police did not respond when called, he said.
In addition to the safety concerns, Gordon wrote that nearby construction projects have pushed business away due to noise and dust, and office jobs in Downtown “have not meaningfully returned” since the pandemic began to wane.
The Business Journal obtained Gordon’s email after DLBA CEO Austin Metoyer forwarded it to more than a dozen high-ranking city employees, elected officials and business leaders.
“While Downtown has had challenges over the last two years, these recent months have brought an entirely different level of issues concerning the aggressive and erratic behavior of individuals who may be suffering from substance abuse or mental health challenges,” Metoyer said, urging the city to take action.
Metoyer wrote that the DLBA has heard from other businesses considering closing up Downtown, including The Ordinarie, BO-beau kitchen + roof tap, District Wine and Farmers & Merchants Bank.
In his email, Metoyer suggested calling a Nov. 10 meeting “to look for sustainable solutions for addressing this immediate crisis.”
“I’m hoping that we can come out of this initial discussion with some actionable items,” Metoyer said Wednesday afternoon, adding that it would be a blow to lose businesses that, years ago, helped turn Downtown into an entertainment destination.
“They’re foundational,” he said. “They really brought the change we’ve seen. They were the first ones to take a leap in the direction Downtown was going.”
Long Beach city spokesman Kevin Lee said the Thursday meeting will include representatives from various city departments, including the city manager’s office, police, fire, health and public works.
“Collectively addressing these complex societal challenges is important as we continue to develop new strategies to uplift our entire community,” Lee said in a text message Wednesday.
Councilmember Mary Zendejas’ office confirmed she also would be in attendance. Mayor Robert Garcia and Councilmember Cindy Allen, who were included in Metoyer’s email, did not respond to requests for comment. It is unclear if they will be in attendance.
Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jeremy Harris said he is attending the meeting, noting that a similar gathering was held about six months ago.
“I think it’s been status quo since then,” Harris said. “I don’t think the city has done enough to address issues, but Long Beach is not alone. This issue is unfolding across all major cities in the country right now.”
Harris said he hopes the meeting results in solutions that will retain businesses in the Downtown, which already has a high vacancy of office and retail space.
BO-beau owners couldn’t immediately be reached, and Gordon declined to comment beyond what was in his email. A spokesman for Farmers & Merchants said the bank has no intention of closing any branches.
The Ordinarie’s owner, Christy Caldwell, said he has a long lease for his space and is not considering closing. He did, however, say he recognizes the serious issues facing Downtown and that he hopes they get resolved.
District Wine owner Angela Mesna said Wednesday she is aware of the meeting but is unable to attend for health reasons. She said she will be following up with the DLBA after the meeting for updates on how the issues will be addressed.
“It’s almost becoming more damaging than the pandemic,” Mesna said, adding that she will hold out another six months before she starts looking for spots to relocate. If other businesses shutter, that would speed up her timeline, she said.
District Wine opened in 2009 and Downtown feels more dangerous now, Mesna said, adding that the area had made progress over the years before the pandemic-induced “slide back.”
City numbers show Long Beach’s unhoused population surged 62% since 2020 and overall property crime in Downtown is up 23% this year. In October, the city even temporarily closed the $48 million Billie Jean King Main Library due to security concerns.
Adding to the problem, 22.4% of office space in Downtown was vacant as of the second quarter of 2022, according to a report released by the DLBA in August. Many Downtown restaurants depend on lunch traffic from nearby offices.
“Customers don’t feel safe,” Mesna said, noting that even regulars are visiting less. “My staff are afraid. We all carry pepper spray just to serve our customers on the parklet.”
“I love Downtown, I love Long Beach,” Mesna continued, “and it breaks my heart to see what’s happening.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comment from the owner of The Ordinarie and to correct the spelling of Angela Mesna’s last name.