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Sinking City: Long Beach Faces Deep Financial Troubles


Australia’s Owen Wright flies over a wave during last September’s finals of the Quiksilver Pro surfing competition in Long Beach. The City let the tournament continue after Hurricane Irene struck but cut out the planned concerts and sporting events. (AP Photo/ASP, Kirstin Scholtz)

SURF CITY

By all accounts, the city is still paying the price for having cancelled Quiksilver’s concerts and sporting events, which were expected to draw even larger crowds than the thousands of people who came to the city. When the perception took hold that the Long Beach could be holding something bigger “than Woodstock,” as champion surfer Kelly Slater was quoted saying, some of the city officials started having second thoughts.


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“They started peeling a layer of skin off Quiksilver a day at a time,” says a source with inside knowledge of the city’s treatment of the company.

“I was one of the people who was saying that the thing was getting way out of hand,” says Hennessy. “Quiksilver was trying to come into our town and they were looking to make a real lot of money on our backs. And I didn’t like the way they were treating our city and our residents…. Thank God, the hurricane hit! It forced us to put the brakes on a thing that was spiraling out of control.”

The former city manager has no regrets about his actions regarding Quiksilver.

“The music portion of the event was cancelled solely due to Hurricane Irene,” Theofan tells the Press in an e-mail. “The health, safety and welfare of residents was my top concern as 4,500 homes and businesses were without power, along with extensive damage to the beach front. You should not lose sight of the fact that the surfing competition was a tremendous success.”

The business community is still smarting over the decision.

“It was a terrible decision,” says Mark Tannenbaum, the executive vice president of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce. “The city was not in the disaster state that he claimed.”

Tannenbaum recalled that at the first council meeting after the storm Theofan gave citations to the city’s workers “for doing an outstanding job in getting the city back up and running.” Then, Tannenbaum says, the city manager turned around and shut down the rest of the scheduled events—disappointing thousands, not to mention the merchants and restaurant owners in town.

Quiksilver cancelled its plans to return to Long Beach for 2012, but with a new administration, Tannenbaum says, “I believe we have a shot at getting them back next year.”

Catlin Rawling, a Quiksilver spokeswoman, was non-committal.

“We had a truly great surf event back in September,” she told the Press in an e-mail. “Currently there is nothing to report about 2013.”

Tannenbaum had hoped that hosting the surf contest and the concerts would have put Long Beach “on the map,” but he feared that Theofan’s treatment of the company may have soured others from taking the city seriously because “they don’t know if they have a real deal when they make a deal.”

Long Beach’s chamber of commerce is not a political organization, Tannenbaum reminded this reporter, but he clearly likes how Schnirman has taken control.

“This new city manager is just great,” he says. “I’ve had a number of meetings with him. He’s professional beyond his years. I believe it will be a whole different type of thing going forward.”
In fact, he says, “The last three months we’ve worked with the city better than the last six years and we’ve accomplished more things.”

Long Beach locals agree.

“Theofan doesn’t surf,” a resident in a business suit who asked to be identified only as a “local surfer” told the Press after a recent council meeting. “There’s surfers and there’s the rest of humanity that’s just sort of there, wasting the ocean,” he says and laughs. But in a slightly more serious vein, he adds, “If we get all surfers on the city council, then things will be different…”

Tannenbaum, turning wistful, has a different vision.

“Someday, if they ever put the politics aside,” he says, “Long Beach could be an unbelievable city—and an unbelievable draw for this Island!”

Politics is not high on the agenda of Dave Juan, co-owner of Unsound Surf, an institution in the Long Beach surf world and a key player in bringing the Quiksilver Pro-Am to the city—and helping save the tournament when pressure was mounting after the hurricane to cancel it as well as the music.

“You’ve got to give everybody some credit because there’s a lot of people here to make happy,” says Juan.

He knew that Irene had left the city “pretty beat up,” and cited how the lifeguard station had been uprooted and slammed against the boardwalk during the storm surge, so he harbors no regret that the concerts were cancelled. He doesn’t want to waste time rehashing the past.

“You’ve got to move forward,” he says. “As long as you move forward and you work together, then it’s all good, you know? That’s how you grow—that’s how the city should grow, too.”

So, in a sense, the future for the City of Long Beach—both financially and metaphorically—is all about catching the next wave, with the hope that the next one is better than before.

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