Photo by Sarah Bennett

By Terry Braunstein and Craig Stone | We are strongly recommending that the City Council on Tuesday vote against the proposed pedestrian path that has been referred to by the press as the “two-lane highway.” The press nailed it–we are against approving this path because it is the most simplistic solution to moving people on the beach–it is based upon an uninspired 25-year old bike path.

There was a more interesting and attractive path designed twelve years ago that was ignored by City staff. The City of Long Beach, following the lead of Santa Monica and Huntington Beach, commissioned an Art Master Plan for the Beach and Bluff Areas of Long Beach. The Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine took the lead in creating this plan. Initially the artists worked directly for the City to create a conceptual plan, one that was eventually reviewed and approved by the Parks and Recreation Department, the Marine Advisory Commission and the Parks & Recreation Commission.

Then the artists collaborated with landscape architects, designers, planners, and engineers as sub-contractors to Tetra Tech engineering firm that was paid by the City of Long Beach. The work by these four different entities cost the city in excess of $200,000. 

This kind of collaborative conceptual design process, where artists are integrated from the beginning is what we are talking about here. We are talking about adding value–making our beach as attractive and enjoyable as possible. We are talking about the design process that produced the beach plans for Santa Monica & Huntington Beach. We are talking about approaching development in Long Beach so that planning includes input from the Community, the Arts Council, the Sierra Club, Surf-riders and all other critical stakeholders at the beginning of the design process. This is something that the city of Long Beach used to do, and could do again. The Parks and Recreation’s plan is only one example of what could be done on our beach.

This plan was designed to add value–the opposite of being seen as a simplistic highway. This design creates a poetic connection between the real beach walkway and the imagined coast of Southern California. It includes a meandering pedestrian path in the shape of our coast. Next to this path are little “parks” in the shape of the California Channel Islands. The idea was to design the placement of all of the functional elements on the beach, such as the restrooms and playgrounds, so that when you look down from the bluff you see what looks like the coast of California. A design like this can provide a unique educational attraction and identity for Long Beach.

Over the past three months, we have had discussions with many neighborhood groups that are close to the beach — including Belmont Shore, Belmont Heights, Bluff Park, and North Alamitos Beach. Essentially all of them said that they liked this design approach better than the “highway on the beach” path shown to them by City staff.

Other important groups support the example of the Parks & Recreation path. These are the Sierra Club, the Surfriders, the Historical Society of LB, Long Beach Heritage, the Long Beach Museum of Art, and the Belmont Brewing Company. We also took this design to the local Coastal Commission office, which did not feel there were any major issues, and that if the City were to revise the current path, the approval process would take only eight to ten weeks.

What we took away from all of these meetings was a loud plea for the city to show vision that truly recognizes the beach as a major asset. All groups felt that any pedestrian path that is built should be based upon an integrated plan that includes artistic values along with landscaping, engineering and design. Frankly, everyone was amazed that the City had spent more than $200,000 on a plan that was never even considered.

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Yes, we recognize that it may cost more. Every consumer, who makes a choice in buying something, is faced with paying more for a better product. A better design and higher value costs more. The question is whether the city wants a “WOW” or a highway on the beach. 

We, therefore, recommend that the proposed pedestrian path not be approved as designed. We recommend that the design for a pedestrian path be developed as an integral part of a conceptual masterplan for the entire beach. This might be utilizing the Parks and Recreation plan, or it could be a completely new design that conforms to a completely new conceptual masterplan for the beach. The two-lane highway pedestrian path that has been proposed is simply ordinary–what we are suggesting is a pedestrian path that is extraordinary.

Terry Braunstein and Craig Stone have been Long Beach public artists for the last 25 years. Their joint proposal for the Art Master Plan for the Beach, the Bluff and the Bike Path was selected by the City and approved by the Department of Parks and Recreation.