The next time Long Beach City Council members meet it will be at Long Beach City College because their normal City Hall council chambers will be closed for nearly a month to upgrade audio and video capabilities.

City Manager Tom Modica said at the council’s Tuesday meeting that things like translation booths and features that make hybrid meetings possible were not included in the original design of the civic center, which opened in 2019. He said the upgrades will cost roughly $158,000.

“I know there are questions about why, with a new City Hall, are renovations needed,” Modica said. “As you design something and use it in real life, you find there are things you need to do.”

Lea Eriksen, the city’s director of Technology and Innovation, said that the project will add speakers to the side and the back of the council chambers. It will also add overhead lighting to areas where city staff sit and a lectern where public speakers talk during public comment periods. The lectern will also be upgraded with a longer microphone to accommodate people with disabilities.

People line up inside the Bob Foster Civic Chamber Tuesday Aug. 22, 2023, to urge the City Council to dedicate more money to a tenant eviction defense fund. Photo by Jason Ruiz.

Eriksen said the changes would provide better control over audio in the chamber, something that has been an issue in the past. If they’re too loud, speakers behind the dais give off feedback, which has led to volume issues for council members, people in the audience and those watching from home.

A second phase of construction that could include translation booths in the chamber is currently in the design phase and won’t be part of the renovations expected to start this week, Eriksen said.

The closure will affect the council as well as other city commissions that use the chamber for meetings. They’ll meet at LBCC, conference rooms inside City Hall or other locations while the upgrades are made.

Councilman Daryl Supernaw said the council chamber’s problems have been apparent since it opened in July 2019. The old civic chambers used speakers in the armrests of chairs so audience members could easily hear. The new building largely relies on two PA speakers at the back of the room.

“I’m not faulting anyone at City Hall, they had consultants saying this would work,” Supernaw said. “To my knowledge, the sound systems are going to be improved so the audience can hear what’s being said. It would be nice if the council member could hear what’s being said, too.”

The city is picking up the $158,000 tab for the improvements despite being a tenant in the privately owned building. The City Council approved the construction of the new City Hall complex in 2015 under a public-private partnership where the developer, Plenary, would front the cost of the nearly $1 billion project and the city would pay nearly $14.5 million annually over 40 years before the city officially becomes the owner of the building.

Eriksen said the improvements could be completed ahead of schedule, but the council and other city bodies that use the chambers are expected to use other facilities through Feb. 13.

A list of where city commission and City Council meetings will be held can be found here.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.