As the newly revamped Bluff Park’s aging neighbor, Bixby Park, continues to provide a well-used and well-loved space for its Tuesday farmers markets, its lively skateboard scene, children’s playground, fitness culture and park lovers and goers in general, Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal has announced that several much-needed improvements will be made before and after this summer, thanks to one-time Council District funding from the Vice Mayor’s office. Overall, Lowenthal has earmarked $1.2 million in funding for Bixby Park, the most ever allotted to the park, according to the Vice Mayor.
Friends of Bixby Park (FOBP), an organization partnered with the Long Beach Neighborhood Foundation and one of the stakeholders heavily involved with Bixby Park's restoration, announced earlier this week that $12,000 will be allocated from the Vice Mayor's office to install new park benches in the easternmost section of the park, designated Parcel One, which runs alongside Broadway Avenue. Mercedes-Benz of Long Beach also granted the FOBP $2,500 to pay for a low-water center garden.
While raising funds for park improvements has been a four-year-long effort by FOBP, according to President Claudia Schou, it’s reassuring that such valiant generosity and hard work will finally lead to building tangible facets of the park landscape, especially for Parcel One. FOBP has worked tirelessly to fund the Mural Garden, new furnishings for the Rec Center and has organized multiple events such as the Monthly Park Cleanups, First Saturdays Music, the Tuesday Farmers Market, and many others.
“Friends of Bixby Park is really excited about the improvements planned for Bixby Park in 2015,” said FOBP Board Member and North Alamitos Beach Neighborhood Association President David Clement in a statement. “A big thanks goes out to Suja, Long Beach’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine and Mercedes-Benz of Long Beach for being such benevolent patrons of Bixby Park. Their generosity and support is truly appreciated by the neighbors and visitors who use and love the park.”
According to the announcement, the park benches were funded by donations from local residents and businesses, including Wells Fargo Bank, Signal Hill Petroleum, Hotchkis Foundation, Park Pantry Diner, On Broadway Business Association, Chateau Nadyne Residential Association, several private donors and now Vice Mayor Lowenthal.
Schou said that the organization is aiming to install eight park benches by this summer in the center plaza area of Parcel One, with two park benches for each of the four historical lampposts, three of which still have to be installed and will be, according to Schou, before summer, with the help of former Councilmember Gary DeLong as well as current Councilmember Lowenthal. According to the FOBP announcement, this most recent allotment brings total support from the Vice Mayor’s office to $36,000.
FOBP raised $15,000 for the new historic era lampposts and applied to the Long Beach Navy Memorial Heritage Association (LBNMHA) for a matching grant. The second time FOBP applied was a success; the LBNMHA awarded the organization $15,000 in 2013 for the lampposts, for a total of $30,000 that just about completed the project.
The allocated $12,000 from Lowenthal are the remaining funds from an LED light installation project designed for Bixby Park, set to be completed this spring, in an effort to improve public safety during events that occur at night, such as the Tuesday farmers market. Made possible with one-time funds from the second district, 49 lights will be changed out for brighter, whiter, more focused pools of light, replacing the yellow glow of the older, dimmer bulbs being used currently.
Vice Mayor Lowenthal was quoted in the release, saying, “Bixby Park is receiving a great deal of TLC and improvements thanks to the City and community partners such as Friends of Bixby Park and Mercedes Benz of Long Beach. Pretty soon, residents will see several projects get underway – including LED lighting, a new playground, bathroom facility and exercise loop with stations. Not to mention the progress that Friends of Bixby Park are making on the plaza and historic lighting project in Parcel One. It’s all very exciting.”
According to Schou, the total cost to complete the Parcel One design is $260,000, which would include the next phase of landscaping and irrigation, which is estimated to cost $130,000. The sketches [pictured] show a spanish revival-style planter and fountain designed by Sennikoff Architects in Naples, with landscaping designed by Korn Randolph Landscape Architects in Pasadena.
“Friends of Bixby Park was hoping to make serious progress with funding possibilities from the 1.3 million that Suja had earmarked for the park,” explained Schou. “We feel fortunate that Suja has matched our efforts to date, and Friends of Bixby Park will continue to donate their volunteer time to continue raising funds necessary to complete Parcel One.”
FOBP, according to Schou, was hoping that the City would cover the cost of irrigation and landscaping, so the organization could continue to raise funds to upgrade planters, purchase trees and build a center planter in an effort to complete the revitalization of Parcel One. The organization reached out for the funds, however, after the park bench installation is complete, FOBP will continue to raise funds for the $130,000 next phase, while the City will move forward with the new bathrooms, playground and fitness loop.
Schou continued, “One of our concerns and the reason why we’ve decided to focus on Parcel One is because it’s the most underutilized area of the park and it’s an area where people don’t feel safe because of public drinking and public drug use.”
After several workshops and surveys were held to gather feedback from stakeholders and other participants, new bathrooms and a new playground were found to be highly prioritized. While Parcel One was also listed as a priority, explained Lowenthal, the majority of workshop participants voted for the latter two.
“If you look around in dense urban environments the only places where children get to play, if you go around our city and look in places where it is really dense, you'll see children playing in the streets or in the alleys. Our greatest application, is to take the very little public space we have and make sure that it meets the needs of our youngest, most vulnerable participants.”
The new bathrooms, to be designed as stand-alone facilities, will improve sanitation and will increase the sense of security that park goers wouldn’t normally feel in a shared space with only stalls to separate each person. After the initial estimates for the new bathrooms and playground were calculated, the funds left over were enough to build a fitness loop, but not enough to complete Parcel One.
“If we were to dedicate it to Parcel One we would have only been able to finish half of Parcel One with the same amount. That's the quandary here, you don't want to finish half a project. And so if we can get one thing done and done right and then start working on Parcel One as the next thing, then as a policy maker that's my obligation.”
The fitness loop, according to Lowenthal, will serve the needs of the greatest number of park users, improve security and introduce a new brand of health and wellness to the community. The now-standing exercise equipment will be removed from its current location and in its place, as well as throughout the entirety of the park, stations will be installed to invite in a broader set of park goers.
Lowenthal explained, “Friends of Bixby Park have been tremendous partners in this effort to improve Bixby Park and to make it as inviting as possible to all users, so that was what I shared with them, that as a policy maker, I have to regard them as one stakeholder group, but then there are so many other stakeholder groups that have expressed their needs as well, and it's a balance. And it has to be a balance and those are the tough decisions that we make.”
The order of operations as of now is to install the park benches and remaining historical lampposts in Parcel One, install new LED lighting, and build a new playground and fitness loop. And all in all, while the FOBP’s goal is to reactivate Parcel One as soon as possible, you simply can’t argue that Bixby Park as a whole is receiving a more than fair amount of attention, for the sake of its regular park goers, its soon-to-be park goers, its surrounding community, and even the region.
“This is incredible and I ask everyone to look at the park as a whole, rather than just one area of the park..." Lowenthal expressed. "I've lived in this city since 1997. I'm not just excited as a councilmember and Vice Mayor, I'm a resident here. My child is 12, had this been available when my child was two, I would have been ecstatic, but I'm just that much more ecstatic that all of these families are already experiencing improvements."
"If you look at the bluff side, the meandering pathway on the bluff that connects Bixby Park, that's incredible," she continued. "And what separates us on most beautiful mornings is about 80 to 100 yoga participants... I mean how much more zen and peaceful and amazing is that? I do ask everyone to take that step back and look at it and think, 'Oh my goodness, this is incredibly unique and we are so incredibly fortunate.'"
If you’d like to make a donation to FOBP to help fund the expedited completion of Parcel One, click here. To stay up to date on meetings and events, visit their Facebook page here. For Second District news and updates, click here.
Images provided by Sennikoff Architects and Korn Randolph Landscape Architects.