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Finally, council member Rae Gabelich made a delicate attempt. "I would think this is a wonderful thing for us to strive to become," Gabelich began, before cautioning that the title might come across as a little "self-serving" and suggesting that using it to market the city "would be a little disingenuous" at the moment.
"I'm wondering how Miami, Orlando or Fort Lauderdale, or even San Diego, would feel about us taking that on and adopting it for ourselves," Gabelich speculated.
Council member Gary DeLong—currently running for Congress in the 47th District—jumped right on that one with a calculated cluelessness intended to blow questions of ethics out of the water. "I think what they would think is, 'Darn, I wish we had thought of it first,'" DeLong said.
But Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske was next, and she had no interest in wordplay, instead taking the point-missing straight to its illogical extreme. "What would San Diego and others think?" she asked, then answered, "Who cares?"
Actually, Schipske showed she cared a little bit about what other cities might think, specifically in case they think about using the "Aquatics Capital of America" title, too. She recommended Long Beach trademark the name.
* * *
Meanwhile . . . um . . . Long Beach? Biketown USA? Buried deep beneath a budget deficit, surrounded by recession, the city is all a-buzzing—and okay, all a-bitching, too—about a major civic cycling makeover that puts it in the conversation about where everybody goes next. Where did this come from?
"It wasn't me," says Gandy. "I was attracted to Long Beach because the people I met here had their act together."
Gandy met a lot of people—big surprise—including council members Suja Lowenthal and Robert Garcia, Andrea White-Kjuss and John Case of Bikestation, and publicist Melissa Balmer. They were a cross-section of politicians, activists, insiders, business owners and a lot of folks who like to ride bikes. Gandy is especially focused on that last category.
"Like Saul Alinsky says, 'Only two things are powerful in politics: organized money or organized voices,'" Gandy offers. "My job is to organize the voices of the cyclists to be heard in the political process."
In this case, the voice of one cyclist in particular was already pretty well-heard in Long Beach's political process. In fact, it's fair to wonder—and people certainly do—how much Long Beach's focus on bike culture can be traced to the fact that city manager Pat West is a cyclist.
Yet once those voices are heard, the conversation can go anywhere. The movement being enabled by this bicycle makeover has no limits, either. It ain't just about bikes—but nothing's going to get very far without them.
It's about the story a clean, convenient and local bicycle-transportation system will tell about Long Beach.
"It's a narrative that's attractive to young people and people with disposable incomes," says Gandy.
It's about the options that will be created by the bike-share systems that will soon be installed.
"The people at the Convention and Visitors Bureau are very excited," says Gandy "They see it as a way to get conventioneer dollars."
It's about the opportunities that can be created and increased for existing businesses through the needs that will be created by all the active lives.
"It's called economic gardening—instead of only trying to bring new companies into the city, we look at the businesses that exist and support those that can expand quickly," he concludes. "When those people start making money, they aren't likely to move. It's all about finding people with talent and passion and supporting them."
This article appeared in print as "Biketown USA? Long Beach reinvents itself (again) by hitching its civic reputation to cycling culture."