Long Beach officials say they’re trying to make people feel safer in Downtown Long Beach by lighting up more streets and alleyways, tightening up the operations at construction sites, and speeding up the city’s ability to sweep away homeless encampments prior to the city’s annual tree lighting ceremony.
“We’re doing whatever we possibly can to make it a better environment for your guys’ guests, as well as our residents and our businesses,” Long Beach Police Department Commander Stephanie Hall said to a group of hotel operators and hospitality industry leaders gathered for a meeting of the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau Thursday afternoon.
The CVB and Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center are prepping for the annual Christmas event that includes lighting a 67-foot tree in front of the Terrace Theater Plaza, which is scheduled for Dec. 5, but the event is taking place in the wake of complaints from Downtown business owners that customers are being driven away by rising crime, noisy construction and a growing homeless population.
Mainstay restaurants like Modica’s Deli and Beachwood Brewing have said the situation has grown untenable and could force them to move if it’s not addressed.
At Thursday’s meeting, Hall and Public Works Director Eric Lopez outlined a series of steps they want to implement before the tree lighting, which typically brings large crowds Downtown.
One of those tactics is more swiftly sweeping away homeless encampments before they can grow, according to Lopez.
Lopez said his department is training cleanup teams that work daily in Downtown Long Beach to post the 48-hour notices required before Public Works can perform an encampment sweep.
Lopez said Public Works is trying to do these sweeps, which involve impounding or cleaning up any property left behind by homeless residents, more frequently in the hopes of preventing a small encampment from growing into a large one.
The goal, Lopez said, is “a lot better responsiveness to not allow these encampments to grow and grow and grow and get worse and dirty.”
That comment was met with applause from the CVB board.
Lopez said his department also plans to increase the nighttime lighting by 30% to 40% by adding lights to side streets and alleyways in the heart of Downtown.
He said The Promenade and Harvey Milk Park are already bathed in light overnight, and he wants to expand that to Tribune Court and Waite Court, the two alleyways immediately west and east of the Promenade. Public Works is also looking at brightening Third Street and Broadway, he said.
Public Works has also started dispatching overnight inspectors to the many active construction sites Downtown so they can compile lists of things for developers to address such as trash left overnight or open areas that allow people to congregate.
Hall, the LBPD’s southern division commander, said her department and Public Works are also planning an overall “sweep” in Downtown about a week before the tree lighting to clean up encampments and push people on the street toward housing, shelter and mental health resources.
“I take it personally when people don’t feel safe in my division,” Hall said.