When Long Beach prepared to flip the calendar to a new century on Dec. 31, 1999, the biggest concern was something called Y2K.

That was shorthand for a fear that computers and computer-based functions would collapse trying to switch from 1999 to 2000. Computer experts worldwide worked for months in preparation, and the turn of the century came and went without a glitch.

1999 mug shots

Then-Mayor Beverly O'Neill, then City Councilman Frank Colonna and activist Diana Mann were prominent in the news of 1999.

Long Beach 2000 was a city on the upswing. Most of the Navy — and the jobs associated with it — was gone, but with the help of the federal government, Long Beach was able to pivot to what then-Mayor Beverly O'Neill called the Three Ts and an R. That stood for Trade, Tourism, Technology and Retail.

Trade equalled the Port of Long Beach, which moved into the 21st Century with an emphasis on modernization and becoming a "Green Port" by reducing air and water pollution. Tourism was represented by the new Aquarium of the Pacific and a Queen Mary operation trying a number of things to attract visitors.

There were underlying problems with the Queen Mary, and the city struggled to develop the rest of the waterfront to complement the aquarium. But a deal was signed to bring Carnival Cruise Lines to a terminal next to the Queen, and a developer had been found for the waterfront.

Technology still was primarily a concept as a job generator, but a multi-national consortium did establish Sea Launch, an ocean platform-based satellite launching system based at the former Long Beach Navy Mole.

1999 front page

The front page of the last Grunion Gazette in the 20th Century.

The Navy's departure directly impacted retail development when the former Naval Hospital site became the Long Beach Towne Center big box outdoor mall. On the west side of town, Naval housing turned into Century Villages at Cabrillo, housing and providing services for the homeless, particularly military veterans. A high school (Cabrillo) police station and research park also was located there.

Downtown continued to struggle to "live up to its potential," with Pine Avenue restaurants seeking more help from the city. The dreary Long Beach Plaza mall finally gave up the ghost and closed, while the East Village started exploring the possibility of becoming an arts district.

In what might be considered a precautionary tale, Catholic HealthCare West, operator of St. Mary Medical Center at the time, purchased Long Beach Community Hospital on the city's east side. The nonprofit tried to merge operations and administrations at the two hospitals, but was destined to fail, closing Community in 2000.

Another precursor of future events was the rise of influence for activists. An attempt to limit public speaking time at City Council meetings was blocked, as was a proposal to use a small part of Stearns Park for a new 911 emergency communications center. A citywide push to cut the 10 percent Utilities Users Tax in half gained momentum, qualifying for the 2000 general election ballot at the end of the year.

Long Beach Airport struggled to gain a foothold, with startup airlines WinAir, Allegiant and Farwest Air starting and stopping operations. 

But in general, Long Beach's attitude at the end of 1999 was optimistic after overcoming some hard times in the previous decade.

In The Year 2009

Bicycle lanes

Sharrows, or bicycle lanes that share the road with vehicles, were painted on Second Street in Belmont Shore in June 2009, as part of the initiative to make Long Beach a more bike-friendly city.

What a difference a decade makes.

At the end of 2009, Long Beach, California and the rest of the country found itself mired in what has since been called the Great Recession. The finger of blame points to the collapse of the housing market and several major financial institutions. Unemployment peaked and tax revenues dried up.

In Long Beach, oil prices collapsed, and an oil revenue dependent city budget found itself $16 million in the hole. City employees had to take a week off without pay — City Hall was closed for five consecutive Fridays beginning in May.

When it came time to approve a budget for Fiscal 2010, another $26 million was lopped off the general fund, meaning cuts in every department, including police and fire. And that was after city unions agreed to a year-long pay freeze.

Bob Foster was mayor at the time. His business background and gruff exterior made austerity measures stick, and he was able to bring unions — including police and fire — to the table to talk about pension reform.

Making the pain worse, for education as well as city government, was the state government's fiscal crisis. Gov. Jerry Brown's administration convinced the state legislature to balance the budget with cuts to education and local governments. Resulting tuition increases at Long Beach City College and the California State University system sparked protests.

Activism centered around environmental issues in 2009, particularly in regards to Los Cerritos Wetlands. The Bixby Ranch Company had sold the wetlands to a group of real estate investors led by Tom Dean. That group tried to trade part of the wetlands to a public trust, but was blocked, again primarily about oil drilling. Two different attempts to develop land on the edges of the wetland were turned away as well.

Another major environmental battle, over the Long Beach Breakwater and erosion along the beaches, reached a milestone with completion of a preliminary study trying to determine whether it would be cost-effective from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers perspective to do an in-depth study. It would take another decade for that feasibility study to be done.

Shooting Takes Wilson Student’s Life

SAD MEMORIAL. Students gathered in front of a makeshift shrine in 2009 in front of Wilson High School in memory of Melody Ross. —Gazette file photo

The entire city was shaken in the fall of 2009 when Wilson High School student Melody Ross was the innocent victim of an apparent gang-related shooting outside Wilson's homecoming football game. Ross was the daughter of Cambodian refugees. The suspects in the shooting were arrested five days later, and have since been convicted of the crime.

As always, there were some bright spots in the year. A new child-friendly pavilion was completed at Miller Children's Hospital. The city gained the reputation of a leader in water conservation as the state suffered through a drought. Two new hotels opened, and the Hotel Maya reopened after a complete overhaul.

Finally, a more subtle completion, of the Termino Avenue Storm Drain project, signaled the beginning of the ultimately successful restoration of Colorado Lagoon.

Now the 2020s have arrived. Another decade has passed, and the Grunion was here for it all. Let's see what difference this decade makes.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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