Graphics by Baktaash Sorkhabi
2017 marked an important turn for the city—and with it, it also marked an important shift for not just me as a writer but Longbeachize as a whole, something that was reflected in the content.
I decided to take a formal step away from a desk owned by someone else and focus solely on my writing—bringing me bylines on KCET, LA Weekly, and OC Weekly as well as earning my first nomination for Best Individual Blog at this year’s LA Press Club Awards—while the site’s numbers skyrocketed.
Longbeachize received over half a million page visits and I would like to think that it is partially driven by how I choose to tackle subjects, more heavily on the incredible faithfulness of my readers, and—most importantly, in my opinion—almost entirely due to the people in this city who give me tips, insight, support, and love.
Just glancing at the array of subjects on Longbeachize‘s top stories—from history and homelessness to development and displacement—proves one thing: people care about where they live, how it came to be, and how we can make it better.
These are, after all, the stories you chose as readers since they are the stories you flocked to most and garnered the highest views.
And now, in no particular order…
Click the graphic for direct links to the articles.
I am just going to get this one the hell out of the way given it is a piece that will never cease to provide me annoyance throughout my career: #Popeyesgate.
When I had discovered that Sweet Dixie Kitchen in DTLB was repurposing Popeye’s chicken strips and reselling them on a $13 chicken’n’biscuit sandwich, I was perturbed—and I thought people should know, particularly after its owner, Kim Sanchez, proved she had absolutely zero chill in handling the situation.
The story became more than a story. Soon enough, Fox 11 news was outside my apartment, later paired with a screen caption that caused me brief pain. VICE interviewed me. And, in one of the best turns in the fiasco, Kim reached out for some PR help from yours truly—so I gave it to her.
But in all frankness, perhaps the most frustrating aspect was that I was somehow painted as the bad guy. A dear friend of mine told me I should be ashamed of myself. Another small business owner called me a “phony” and basically threatened to hurt me should I step inside his bar again. Many said, in one way or another, the only reason I wrote it was for “the numbers.” (Which the piece really didn’t drive traffic, to be honest.)
But let’s get real here: no one can predict how far a story can reach.
Of all the things I’ve written on—housing, marginalization, inequity, history, eradication of culture—it was fucking fried chicken that made the world go haywire. To insinuate that local writers write stuff purposely and evilly thinking, “Can’t wait ’til VICE and the New York Times get their hands on this!” is absurd—otherwise, we’d be doing it all the time.
The reach of the story, however, does say two things; one about Long Beach and another about people in general.
Long Beach is proud of their small business owners; so proud to the extent that, when word reaches beyond our precious little borders and that word is not good, they attack the reporting rather than the issue itself. This is both a beautiful and frustrating characteristic given Long Beach wants to protect small business owners they perceive have little protection when called out.
On a second note, there’s a frank reality with the reach of the story: a shit ton of people thought that the reselling of reheated fast food paired with flippant responses from the owner toward concerned customers was newsworthy for the food world.
The path of Long Beach’s Land Use Element (LUE) was, perhaps, the most fascinating conversation in Long Beach—and also one of its ugliest.
Misinformed (if not outright factually incorrect) theories about what could be built near to the affluent, comfortable, and otherwise uninhibited lives of East Long Beach’s finest single-family homeowners really pissed people off.
And by pissed off, I mean everything from stealing the microphones of city representatives trying to help out to folks sharing renderings of 25-story towers, claiming they are five stories, and screaming, “THIS WILL BE OUR NEIGHBORHOOD.”
The ultimate result? It brought out some of our worst while ultimately decreasing our housing supply in a time when we are in a housing crisis.
To counter that ugliness, one of my personal favorites was this piece—and it proved to be one of our most popular stories ever.
Every damn year at Long Beach Pride, just east of the Long Beach Museum of Art, a group of angry, bitter, unloving folks with microphones and really badly designed signs scream words of hate and profess that “God will come down and destroy Long Beach.”
While God didn’t destroy Long Beach, what was destroyed? Their hate.
Members of Long Beach’s First Congregational Church and United Church of Christ—a group of genuinely caring, loving representatives of Christ—made a banner so large that it literally blocked the group from view.
The banner read, “Protecting our kids from hate!” and the eventual applause drowned out anyone proclaiming that love is a sin.
This year was the year of listicles for Longbeachize given three of our top stories of the year are lists.
But this one was particularly special since it came out of frustration. I was genuinely irked at certain listicles, written by non-Long Beachers, talking about the food of our city. Some were driven by searching Yelp!—a company that I truly believe is the epitome of evil when it comes to food and small businesses—while others were driven by…
I honestly have no idea what drove some of these haphazardly collected lists but the fact of the matter is this: any city’s food is personal, if not outright sacred. One would have to truly meander the streets and repeat visits to places to really be a patron of food—and that requires time, not necessarily online research skills.
That is precisely why I think over 30,000 people read this story: it is the great food that no one talks about in LA because they don’t even know its exists.
The power of art is what it evokes, which isn’t necessarily always directly connected to its content. But in the case of a handful of artists taking on Trump’s attack on immigrant children, it was both applauded and appalled.
My personal sharing of the piece led to commenters claiming it was “anti-American,” “shameful,” and—my favorite—even led to someone telling me I shouldn’t politicize my own blog.
Longbeachize’s sharing of the post led to some calling it “bullying” and touting Trump’s alleged business acumen.
Perhaps it is best summed up by one of the murals’ supporters: “This is a perfect protest. Let’s see more of it.”
There’s a lot of bitching in Long Beach about street conditions—and they’re completely founded given that you could very well bust your oil pan on a dip that been slowly pounded out by other vehicles for years or lose a tire running over a pothole.
So one would think the entire replacement of the Broadway corridor would bring nothing but cheers. After all, what the City is going to do is nothing short of a massive undertaking and one that would have never happened had it not been for the countless years that advocates have been looking to have a better corridor paired with the recent influx of Measure A funds needed to make the project possible.
It’s a dream for the neighborhood, right?
Judging from the comments on the article itself, my own posting, and Longbeachize‘s sharing, there was still plenty to complain about and, perhaps most impressive given the comments, proved Long Beach is home to a plethora of undiscovered traffic engineering experts.
Long Beach has pride in many things but one unparalleled sense of pride it holds is for its dive bars. Unapologetic, unfettered, unwavering, Long Beach’s love for dive bars is one that shouldn’t be messed with.
And I think that is the sole reason this piece was so popular.
To be honest, there are too many dives to really list—so this list isn’t a comprehensive one nor is it a Best Of list. This is just a list of classic, seedy, underbelly-like, wonderful, sometimes dangerous, stucco ceiling-filled, popcorn machine-ready, questionable health code ethics-laden Long Beach dive bars that deserve the dried-out lime light like any other watering hole.
At the end of last year, I launched my Long Beach Lost series—and it proved to be one of the most successful series I’ve launched.
While subjects varied from the old Belmont Plaza Pool to the den of depravity that was DTLB’s The Jungle, the most popular was the tale of how Disney once tried to create a massive theme park on the coast of Long Beach.
It has the meat of any great story: politics, power, and a shit ton of money that eventually went to a place and idea that never came to fruition.
The Queen Mary is like the Hollywood sign for Long Beachers: surely we can poke fun at the kitsch of it all but outsiders are solemnly refrained from doing so. And, in that sense, skepticism rules the day when, after decades of ideas as to what the City should do with the land and water surrounding the ship, a group comes in and says they have “a plan” for our dear ol’ Queen.
We know the Queen is somewhat dilapidated, certainly aging faster than we had hoped—on the outside; not in spirit—and Long Beach’s own history of creating flashy images attached to flashy ideas only to have them studied and put on a shelf is a history that is nothing short of exhausting.
The outcry over whether or not to get our hopes over the design, the chance that we will be finding ourselves saddened by the thoughts of what could have been, that we might not succeed…
Well, that outcry came. And for me, I’ve decided to not lament over things that could have been or just aren’t. Part of the Long Beach spirit is just that: showing possibilities as much as strive to make those possibilities happen.
The issue of homelessness is a complex one, one which involves housing, mental health, the coordination of both the public and private sectors, and perhaps most importantly, empathy. From everyone.
So when I heard that there was a social media group, hilariously called “Saving San Pedro,” that was mainly photographing and bashing on the homeless (not to mention blaming Long Beach for dumping our own homeless onto the streets of Long Beach), I decided to infiltrate the private group, and collect as much data as I could.
The result? A collection of perturbing, depressing, and outright offensive human thoughts and actions on display with pride.
From “kicking homeless butt” to “trying not to run them over,” this group proved a few things about the horror that humans can sometimes exude: we adore putting the problems we’ve created out of our eyesight and we can do this most awfully when hiding behind a keyboard and screen.
Speaking of homelessness, there are times when what people need, in order to really see how deep an issue really runs, are numbers.
Numbers. Charts. Data.
For example, Long Beach has seventeen people moving here for every one housing permit granted, making it the state’s eighth worse city. By comparison, our neighbor to the north, Los Angeles, has 2.8 persons per housing unit—one of the lowest in the state.
Every single chart speaks for itself and shows the power of data.
The southeast corner of 2nd and PCH has long been plagued as one of Long Beach’s most revered and contested development battles: the now-demoed mid-mod masterpiece that was once the Sea Port Marina Hotel was for many in the 3rd District an eyesore that had offered room rentals by the month and was home to the bro-out dingy club that altered titles every other month before hosting women wrestling and other cultural wonders.
In other words, the 11-acre space was in desperate need of upgrading—and it will finally be getting some much TLC despite a eyebrow-raising Orange County-like makeover by way of CenterCal Properties.
Unveiled in November of last year, the project is a giant, uninspiring, two-story sprawl of mostly retail—no housing, nada; no hospitality, nada—in “a casual yet refined resort-style” aesthetic.
I suppose something is better than nothing?
We take our breakfast-ing seriously. Breakfast joints in Long Beach become local chains given their popularity (as in Potholder/Potholder, Too/P3—part of our list). Hell, we even have a place called The Breakfast Bar (also one of our essentials listed below and kicking off the list)…
So it wasn’t shocking that this list became a huge hit (and even led to one of the most blunt retractions I’ve ever made that is now included at the bottom of the piece. Oh, #Popeyesgate…).
This marked one of my most successful opinion pieces, even prompting KCET to ask me to write a piece against Measure S specifically.
Largely, this particular article was driven by one thing: wealthy, comfortable people were (and still are) beginning to convince poor folks that new housing was bad.
On top of it all, the conversation has become tinged with hatred and misinformation.
We’ve reached a point where low-income is directly associated with gang members. We’ve reached a point where planning commissioners are accused of taking free “fancy dinners” to approve housing projects. And we’ve reached a point where people honestly believe East Long Beach is overwhelmingly packed “with people and cars.” (It is the least dense part of the entire city and one of the least dense areas of the entire county.)
And these people—be they wealthy heads of organizations in Hollywood or East Long Beachers—are likely to be part of one of two camps: they are uninformed or, as is the case with many, they are trying to preserve their comfortable life so the less fortunate can’t have one.
In one of the far more interesting food pieces, Kafe Neo closing its doors proved to be something the community was concerned about because they had just announced plans to expand the patio, its owners bought the building across the street that houses O’Connell’s, and the place never seemed to be searching patrons.
However, once word got out that its address was one of the successful lottery winners providing recreational marijuana licenses, the story blew up. People became, oddly, infuriated.
One guy tried to start #KafeNeogate—FML—despite the fact that what was being done with the license was entirely up in the air. Another said the owners had “close their restaurant to sell pot in the neighborhood.”
In the end, Kafe Neo was a business, first and foremost, each with families. If they had or have an opportunity that makes them more money while allowing them more time to spend with their children and spouses, that should be applauded. It’s entirely legal and entirely fair.
The biggest loss is the fact that Zeus Fries will be no longer, let’s be honest.
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