A Downtown Plan. A re-imagined Pike. A rebuilt Bixby Park bluff. A Queen Mary land use task force. A Civic Center ready to break ground next month.
Those are a few of the things Suja Lowenthal points to when asked what she’s been doing for the last 10 years. Lowenthal will end a decade on the Long Beach City Council in July, leaving office due to term limits and a feeling that “a lot of it is done.”
“It’s a 10-year narrative,” Lowenthal said of her time as the Second District City Council member. “The beauty of planning is that it is a shared story. We’ve been blessed with an amazing city staff over the last 10 years.”
Lowenthal, who has a doctorate in urban planning, long has made that her hallmark. Early in her tenure, she began something she called a downtown visioning process that culminated in the Downtown Plan. That plan is an over-arching land use template that has allowed for streamlined approvals of everything from high-rise residential buildings to mixed-use projects on Pine Avenue and the Promenade.
Lowenthal also has led the charge on environmental issues, sponsoring a plastic bag ban and serving as chief cheerleader for the bike-ability movement. Both faced some opposition in sectors of the city, but were for the best, she said.
“It’s all about live-ability,” she said. “We want to be known for our bike-ability. We’ve just been recognized as one of the top 10 in walk-ability… We have one of the best education systems in the country. It all raises our stock as a city.”
Lowenthal was serving on the Long Beach Unified School District board when the Second District seat became available when Dan Baker abruptly resigned. She won the special election in 2006, then had little opposition in winning two more terms. She has served as vice mayor for the last two years.
She joined Long Beach’s version of a political dynasty when she married Daniel Lowenthal. Daniel’s father is Congressman Alan Lowenthal, and his mother is recently retired state Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal. Alan and Bonnie were divorced, but continued to support each other’s political careers. Bonnie Lowenthal was the First District councilwoman when Suja joined the council.
Suja and Daniel divorced in 2008. Their one son, Avi, will be entering high school in the fall. For the last four years, she has worked at Big Blue Bus, the public transit agency in Santa Monica, currently as manager of the planning and community engagement team.
For the most part, Lowenthal kept her private life private, focusing on public policy when she is in the public. She said she learned early on— from then-Third District Councilman Gary DeLong — that the top priority in getting something done is to work with other members of the City Council.
“I learned that you have to find common ground,” Lowenthal said. “It’s a matter of getting to yes. You need to be able to communicate with everyone.”
Lowenthal said that what likely will be her legacy — a new Civic Center with a new City Hall, Main Library, Port Headquarters and Lincoln Park — was really the culmination of several other steps over her tenure.
“We first started talking about a new Civic Center right after we completed the downtown visioning process,” she said. “But it was a matter of first things first — things like the shopping cart ordinance, and banning cruising… At the time, we didn’t have the courthouse to point to. And ironically, when the economy fell, it gave us time to deal with a lot of interim things.”
Those things included everything from improving beach water quality by cleaning up the Los Angeles River to adding a downtown nighttime entertainment policy.
Most often, she said, the council’s role was to provide the political will to get things done and to back up the city staff trying to do them.
Lowenthal has a background in water policy, and has been Long Beach’s representative on the Metropolitan Water District board for the last several years. She also was an alternate on the state Coastal Commission for a time, and is a member of Heal The Bay board in Santa Monica.
“I’d like to try and see what working just one full-time job is like for a while,” she said of plans after leaving office next month. “I’m taking a pause, and getting Avi ready to start high school. I would like to stay as active as possible in Long Beach, whether that’s continuing to represent on the MWD board or somewhere else. That’s what evokes emotion with me.”
Lowenthal will leave office in mid-July, and said she would work with her successor — either Jeannine Pearce or Eric Gray — to be sure there is a smooth transition. Hers is the only seat on the council that is changing hands this year.
Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at email@example.com.