Opinion: Why turning the Shoemaker Bridge into park space is so important for West Long Beach

West Long Beach is park poor—as in federally-defined park poor.

In fact, West Long Beach residents have a paltry one acre per 1,000 residents or what amounts to about a soccer field. This is far below the National Recreation and Parks Association’s standards for a healthy city, set at a minimum of 10 acres of parks for every 1,000 of its residents. In fact, it’s legally deemed “park poor,” particularly compared to East Long Beach, which averages a staggering 16.7 acres per 1,000 residents thanks to the massive 650-acre El Dorado Park.

Of the 31,066 acres of land within our city limits, 3,123 acres are dedicated to parks. El Dorado Park makes up the biggest single chunk of that mass.

Nearly 20% of Long Beach’s total population is unable to easily access parks—and that burden falls disproportionately on West Long Beach, with the most park-poor areas also the most dense, the most youthful and the poorest.

That is why the discussion around how to redevelop the Shoemaker Bridge—one going on since 2013—is so pertinent. As part of the disastrous 710 Freeway expansion, it is one of the silver linings: One proposal calls for a new bridge to be built south of the existing one and turning the current bridge into an car-free, pedestrian-friendly green space a la the Highline in New York. And the public is encouraged to weigh in on this project on Nov. 12, when public comment meetings end.

This isn’t the first time the discussion about how to bring more park space to the Westside had been discussed.

Brian Ulaszewski of City Fabrick has long fought to turn a portion of the Terminal Island Freeway into a green space, adding some 20 to 30 acres of park space to West Long Beach, thereby increasing its supply by 50%.

And that was this past decade.

In 2001, a debate in Long Beach was sparked: How had a city of a half-million dwindled its park space to 5.2 acres per 1,000 residents? And, even more disturbing, how had the acreage of parks become so disproportionately spread?

The once mile-long sprawl that was Victory and Santa Cruz parks along Ocean Boulevard in Downtown Long Beach had become, particularly during the 1990s, nothing more than sidewalk landscaping for the office buildings and high-rises—further discouraging exploration past the 710 and decreasing green buffers to purify the air.

Multiple green spaces were replaced with unshaded asphalt that, in combination with the elevated terrace that is Long Beach’s physiography, sometimes makes the city 10 degrees hotter than other coastal havens, according to former director of Long Beach Park, Recreation & Marine Phil Hester. The queen palms and sparsely planted eucalyptus trees that line medians do little to improve the lack-of-cover issue since they provide little shade. Combine this with the air quality issues—a bastion of on- and off-shore winds that mix with auto and port pollution—and it is clear that the Westside lacks much needed green buffers.

And in 2002, the City Council noticed this deficiency—and unanimously voted to help increase the city-wide 5.2 acre average to 8, which would require an additional 1,000 acres.

Hester helped led one of the more ambitious—not to mention realistic and deeply needed—projects that came out of that 2002 vote: the Long Beach RiverLink, a project developed between the city and Studio 606 of CalPoly Pomona.

It was an ambitious but doable project. Ulaszewski’s project was ambitious but doable. This is ambitious but doable. And for the love of healthier living, West Long Beach deserves better, dammit.

Period. So support the project. It’s as simple as that.

Digital versions of the documents surrounding the Shoemaker Bridge project can be found here while physical copies can be found at the addresses below and comments can be submitted through email here. The public comment period will be open through Nov. 12.

  • Caltrans District 7 Office, 100 S. Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
  • Billie Jean King Main Library, 200 W. Broadway, Long Beach, CA 90802
  • Mark Twain Neighborhood Library, 1401 E. Anaheim Street, Long Beach, CA 90813
  • Public Works Department, 411 W. Ocean Boulevard, 5th Floor, Long Beach, 90802

Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or on social media at FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

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