August 25, 2006

Minerva Park

In the first two years I lived on Minerva Park, thirty-six gang-related killings took place within a mile of my home. Things have calmed down a bit since then, as the local cholos have been carted off by the criminal justice system. Potholes and parking problems aside, my casita del barrio is not a bad place to live.

My past posting of my dealings with Charter seemed to be the squeek that got my wheel greased. With that in mind, I sent a letter off to Suja Lowenthal, the 2nd district Long Beach city council representative for my neighborhood. With a resounding third of the votes cast, she took over the seat abruptly vacated by Dan Baker.

I'll post an update if I hear back from Suja, one of three Lowenthals in local politics. Here's my letter:

On-going street repair work in my neighborhood has been proceeding apace: roads are being resurfaced; broken curbs and sidewalks are being repaired. Both10th Street and Anaheim are fixed, and North-South running streets on both sides of Minerva Park have been repaired. In fact, just last week the alley to the West of Minerva Park was paved for the first time, one few remaining dirt roads left in the city.

I mention all this because I expect the broken sidewalks and curbs on Minerva Park will be repaired soon. Before this will happen, I’m hoping some critical design flaws will be addressed first. When Minerva Park’s half-block long court of Spanish bungalows were first built, the size and number of cars were less of an issue than they are today. Curb to curb, Minerva Park is about twenty feet wide. With today’s oversized SUVs parked along both sides, this leaves barely enough room for one car to drive down the middle. Since there is no turn-around at the end, cars must reverse drive all the way to 11th Street, much like exiting a driveway. On a couple of occasions, cars parked on both sides prevented the passage of the city’s garbage trucks, which meant trash went uncollected for two weeks. This has not been a problem lately, because the garbage trunk has returned later in the day, during street sweeping hours, a horribly inefficient method for collecting the trash. In addition to the city’s refuse and recycling trucks, large delivery vehicles and the private trash collection for the apartment at the end of Minerva Park must also negotiate the narrow roadway. I’m concerned that if a large emergency vehicle like a fire truck or ambulance is unable to pass in an emergency, it could pose a huge liability issue for the city.

Some residents have improvised solutions by parking large vans and cars with two wheels on the curb or on the grass between the sidewalk and the street. Because the houses were built in the early 1920’s, the depths of the garages were made to accommodate Model Ts instead of today’s longer vehicles, so no cars are able to be parked inside them. Some residents have taken to leaving recycling bins or cheap plastic chairs out all week in the street to “reserve” parking spaces in front of their homes. With two cars parked between each driveway, it makes for minutes of tight back-and-forth maneuvering to remove one’s car from a driveway and onto the street. There have been a couple of occasions when someone parked in front of the driveway across the street from mine, making it impossible to leave in may car, another potential liability issue.

In the twelve years that I have owned my home on Minerva Park, I have never seen a police patrol vehicle drive down the street, other than the times the Long Beach Police were called out due to a disturbance or in response to a reported crime. I have seen LBPD patrol cars drive down 11th Street on numerous occasions. They usually pause in front of Minerva Park, look down the street, and then drive on. Frankly, I don’t blame them, as it would be too much trouble to maneuver down the street, and then back all the way out. Unfortunately this allows neighborhood youth to drink beer and smoke pot in their front yard with impunity.

I don’t have any solutions to the problems on Minerva Park. I have visited a friend who owns a home on Betty Way, a similar-sized historic street in West Hollywood. There, no parking is allowed on the street at all, which greatly improves the streets look and safety, and adds value and class to the neighborhood. Another change that might help would be to paint parking spaces—for one car parking between each driveway—or allow parking only on one side of the street. Another idea would be to widen the street by removing the narrow grass strip beside the sidewalk on one or both sides. Not one of these ideas is a solution, though they might mitigate the problems. The only permanent solution can come from higher gas prices that subsidize more frequent and efficient public transportation, like the red car system, when our homes were first built. In the meantime, regular consistent parking code enforcement would help, as would having Long Beach Police officers park and walk down the half-block long street once a month. The sixteen houses on Minerva Park all pay taxes. I think we should receive at least some of the city services we subsidize.

At times I have two different opinions of my little street, Minerva Park. It has the potential to be a charming and quaint cluster of historic homes, an aesthetic asset to the city. I also realize that most of us homeowners here have limited resources. There are several retired people on our street, living on a fixed income. One neighbor collects cardboard and bottles for recycling, letting them pile up in the yard for a couple of days before carting them off. More often than not there has been at least one abandoned home on the street, remaining unoccupied and boarded up for a year or longer. I don’t see this as an eyesore or evidence of decline, but examples of lower-income individuals attempting to gain their first foothold onto the American dream of home ownership, and through hard luck or circumstance, failing. Perhaps a little financial help might have made the difference. Mr. Mock, a typesetter for the Long Beach Press Telegram was the first owner of my house when it was new. Back in the day of decent working class wages, Mr. Mock’s home ownership was not a dream. As Boeing factories are torn out and replaced with more retail stores, the workers who find employment on that same plot of land will be in the same precarious financial situation my former neighbors faced.

When I bought my home twelve years ago, I made a little over ten dollars an hour, and with my first mortgage and a roommate, I barely made ends meet. Wealthier friends who lived in Bluff Park, with a household income of $250,000 a year (and a mortgage payment of $600 after their tenant pays rent) told me that like them, I should apply to the city’s historic preservation officer for a reduction in property tax through the Mills Act. When I called Ruthann Lehrer, she told me the Mills Act was only for “nice” homes in good neighborhoods, and unless there was some unusual circumstance, the homes on Minerva Park would not qualify. My thinking is that those of us who could most use the financial leverage of the Mills Act to improve our property are denied, while wealthy owners of multi-million dollar properties pay amounts in property taxes similar to ours in the barrio.

We only hope for fairness, and a little safety. It might be helpful if you or one of your staff members took a look at our street in the evening when most everyone is home and parking is at its worst.

Thank you for your attention,

Michael

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