Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association officials are watching anxiously as its next decade teeters on the brink of disaster, depending on a ruling whether its contract with the now-disbanded Redevelopment Agency remains in force.
BKBIA Executive Director Blair Cohn said he is holding onto hope that the 10-year contract with the RDA that started this year to give the business association $200,000 annually will be honored.
“Our contract, which city staff tells us they believe is an enforceable obligation, is getting submitted to the state for the thumbs-up,” Cohn explained. “We were worried that we would have to stop everything (all RDA-funded services) on Feb. 1, so we were trying to cram a year’s worth of work into one month (in January) — we painted seven buildings and put in six new signs and did three landscape projects on top of regular events such as First Fridays — but what we’ve been hearing from the city is that our contract will be okay.”
That $200,000 contract represents most of the BKBIA’s annual budget, which also includes $130,000 from business assessment fees. Cohn said that if the state does not honor the 10-year contract, the loss would be devastating to Bixby Knolls, which relies on the BKBIA to host weekly clean and safe programs as well as special events and marketing for the business district.
“We want to keep this momentum going and continue doing what we do,” Cohn said. “If you drive by Bixby Knolls right now, you can literally smell the wet paint because we have so many projects done… I believe the neighborhood and the city have seen what we have done, and we aren’t ready to throw in the towel. We are going to keep doing everything we can to put Bixby Knolls on the map for everybody.”
Cohn and the two other members of the BKBIA staff compiled a list of ways RDA money has been used to improve the Bixby Knolls business district in the past few years. The list includes: signage on the 405 Freeway, more than two dozen improved building facçdes, Boy Scout Eagle and other landscaping projects, 80 trees planted, removal of graffiti, median banners, a Bixby Knolls clean team, special events, a BKBIA mobile device web application, repaving work, the EXPO building lease and BKBIA staff salary augmentation.
Amy Bodek, director of the Development Services Department, said the city is required to send the state a list of enforceable obligations, or third party contracts, debts, bond issuances and anything that the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency had already been committed to.
“We have to send that list to the county taskforce and the county is supposed to go through each item and verify that it is an obligation,” she explained. “We believe the contract with the BKBIA is an enforceable obligation, … we don’t know when we will get a confirmation.”
Bodek stressed that the dissolution of redevelopment has been a challenge for cities throughout the state.
“It is pretty phenomenal because cities with agencies are trying to unwind 60 years of public finance practice in one month,” she said. “It is awe-inspiring in one way, but it is beyond one of the most challenging things I have had to do in my career.”
If the state does not honor the RDA contract with the BKBIA, Cohn said the momentum that has been growing in Bixby Knolls could come to a halt. Additionally, he and members of the BKBIA staff might be laid off or incur major salary reductions.
Cohn said that he is moving forward this year with caution, being careful not to book too many events in advance at the EXPO building or commit to additional façade improvements that might not come to fruition if the state doesn’t honor the contract.
Eighth District Councilwoman Rae Gabelich said she, too, hopes that the BKBIA money will be protected for the term of the contract and used to continue improving the area. Either way, she added, the elimination of the RDA will negatively impact the Bixby Knolls area.
“This impacts projects I have been working on since I got here (was elected),” she said. “Opportunities for soccer fields … parks … housing for young adults with disabilities … skate parks… What we have been working on for a long time is going to end up at a fire sale.”
If the BKBIA contract is honored, Gabelich said that would give Bixby Knolls time to properly prepare for the loss of the $200,000 per year to the business district and find other tools to continue economic development.
“I wish I had the crystal ball that said things would just maintain where they are without the assistance of RDA, but many of the projects that have taken place would not have happened without the RDA,” she said. “It was a gift while we had it. Now, I think the best advice that we can give each other is to support the community and keep looking for whatever the next tool is going to be.”