Long Beach and Rotary Club Collaborate to Build a Park

The City of Long Beach won the Award for Excellence in the Community Services and Economic Development category of the 2009 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more about the program, visit www.cacities.org/helenputnam.

Adding recreational open space to serve a growing population in a built-out city has been an ongoing challenge for Long Beach. The city revised the open space element of its General Plan in 2002 to include the goal of providing eight acres of open space for every 1,000 residents. But as the city’s population grew, the ratio of open space per capita fell to less than 5.6 acres per 1,000 residents — 25 percent less than the national average of open space per capita in cities similar to Long Beach.

Seizing an Opportunity

At the same time that the city was revising its open space element, the Long Beach Rotary Club was looking for a way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Rotary International, which was coming up in 2005. Rotary International is a worldwide organization of more than 1.2 million business, professional and community leaders who volunteer their time for local service projects. The Long Beach Rotary Club approached the city with the idea of collaborating on building a new park that would serve a local neighborhood and its residents.

“We identified 1.2 acres of city-owned undeveloped land along the former Pacific Electric right of way,” says Phil Hester, director of Long Beach Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine. “The area was ideal for a park because the surrounding neighborhood is very densely populated and very much in need of recreational open space. Approximately 80 percent of the area’s population lives in apartments with no backyards, and 29 percent of the population is under the age of 14.”

Finding the Funds

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine identified $607,550 in funding from several sources: city park impact fees; the Land and Water Conservation Fund; the voter-approved Proposition 40 California Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks and Coastal Protection Act of 2002; and the Los Angeles County Regional Park and Open Space District that administers voter-approved (1992) Measure A funds for park and open space improvement projects. The total project cost including the prior land purchase was $2.27 million.

The Long Beach Rotary Club committed to raising $100,000 toward the park’s design and construction. Its fundraising campaign included soliciting donations from Rotarians and corporations, applying for grants and selling engraved “Community Bricks.” At a city council meeting in May 2004, the club presented the city with $100,000 to help build the park. The club also secured an additional $50,000 Rotary International matching grant to build a play structure.

Soliciting Community Input

The project involved members of the community throughout the process. The Long Beach Rotary Club facilitated two community design meetings to get resident input on the features of the park. The ideas were translated into plans that incorporated a solar system theme with art installations of planets, along with benches, turf, trees, playground equipment and a shade shelter. The club also funded the creation of a planet walk and a sundial sculpture. Rotary member Mark Bixby, who chaired the park project, says, “It was a pleasure to work with the Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine staff, who were excited about incorporating the design vision.”

Celebrations for project milestones increased public awareness of the park and its recreational possibilities. Dozens of enthusiastic neighborhood youth previewed their new park at a dedication ceremony on May 21, 2005, the date of Rotary International’s 100th anniversary. Rotary Centennial Park officially opened on June 25, 2005. Long Beach City Council Member Patrick O’Donnell, whose district encompasses Rotary Centennial Park, says, “Rotary Park is an outstanding example of a public-private partnership that has truly benefited our community. The Long Beach Rotary Club has demonstrated unparalleled levels of dedication and commitment to the park, creating a beautiful recreation area and sense of neighborhood pride.”

Creating a Legacy of Stewardship

The local Rotary Club has continued to support the park with work parties for beautification and improvement efforts every second Saturday of the month. Today, between 20 and 40 volunteers continue to meet each month. The group includes neighborhood residents, local students and many staff from the nearby Hotel Maya, whose general manager is a Rotarian. The volunteer group not only adopted Rotary Park, but also adopted an adjacent block on Stanton Place after observing litter on that street. The group approached the city to obtain hand-held trash grabbers, and now both Rotary Centennial Park and Stanton Place are cleaned on a regular basis. Brian Russell, a member of the Rotary Centennial Park Committee, says, “The project is a wonderful example of bringing different entities in the community together to create a much needed park and then involving the surrounding neighborhood in ongoing stewardship efforts.”

Contact: Jane Grobaty, superintendent of community information, City of Long Beach Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine; phone: (562) 570-3233; e-mail: jane.grobaty@longbeach.gov.

This article appears in the April 2010 issue of Western City
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