Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Eminent Domain, My Azz!

Way back in the dark ages, 1987, my high school principal, Dr. William Wright, encouraged us to participate with our families in the STOPPS campaign. Stop Taking Our Private and Parochial Schools! The City of Lynwood, California and the State of California were utilizing the Eminent Domain provisions made possible under the Manifest Destiny clause of the law to take Lynwood Adventist Academy, Pius X Catholic High School and a few other properties that the city felt they needed for the benefit of the people.
We peacefully fought and used all legal means to prevent our school from being taken but Lynwood Academy was taken and the property is where the New Lynwood High School is presently located. The city had a legitimate need. The old Lynwood was grossly overcrowded and old and our school even counting the elementary and junior high only educated about five hundred kids total. The old Zody's/Ralphs Giant property along with the elementary, junior high and High School now comprise the New Lynwood. Eminent Domain was invoked because of the public need and at that time it was only invoked for that purpose but now it is used to benefit private developers. This is not what it was created for!

But in the City of Long Beach, California it is being invoked and utilized to confiscate properties in the East Arts Village section. This pisses me off to no end! I lived in that neighborhood when it was Downtown! The Long Beach Mall was on life support, the homeless and mentally ill were all over, crime was in the open but growing among that were numerous art galleries, nightclubs, bookstores and quaint thrift shops and boutiques. It became a little metropolitan center with Condos, artist loft apartments, great restaurants and theatres. In the midst of that were two great beacons.
Bertrand Smith's Acres of Books and The Shades of Afrika. Acres of Books, a huge bookstore, specializing in everything! They buy, sell, trade and you could find just about any type of book there.

Ray Bradbury sang its praises and up until recently so did the city granting it a historical landmark status conveniently rescinded in order to move them out of the way for the latest greatest project.
This store , a converted barn is sooooo huge, that there is an entire half store that doesn't have electricity, where during the winter hours you have to brave it with a flashlight and we did because it has a spectacular fiction and Science Fiction section. If you want to read all of L. Ron's Hubbard's novels before he wrote Dianetics and founded the Church of Scientology then you should go here. There's a super friendly, one eared hairball, guard cat who on more than one occasion rubbed against my leg and patrolled the store while I shopped and then there is the staff, knowledgeable, friendly eccentric! You can't replace that!
Now, the Shades of Afrika, is Mecca to the Acres, Medina. It started in the early nineties selling dashikis and incenses, that you could smell a half a block away, I ain't kidding, and it evolved into a cultural center. This place became my second home. I started writing and performing poetry while attending The poets corner on Sunday nights, learned to appreciate Afro Cuban Music at the Pan African Drum Circles, watched those reaching out for help come to AA/NA meetings on Wednesday nights, learned CPR every fourth on Sundays, became a founding member of The Long Beach Pan African Writers Workshop there. I co-hosted Epiphany Evenings under Alice the Poet and eventually grew to host my own set, Soulstice there as well.
I met a poet named Roni who introduced me to my wife. We had our first date at a poetry set called Ascension hosted by Mst Muze at the Old Rifts Coffee house. Mst (Misty) and I met cause she strolled into the Shades cause she heard two brothas trading verse.
I watched the neighborhood heal, change and be renamed, from Downtown to The East Arts Village! And now the four blocks that make up the village are being torn down to make way for yet more condo's and another shopping center. In fairness, The Redevelopment Agency states it will be a mixed use project with a Art center and will possibly include Cal State Long Beach. It does not however explain how you can justify nullifying an already existing Cultural and Art center, IE, a mixed use center, commerce and commercial, which already serves the community to replace it with supposedly the same thing. Does this make sense? I would ask why weren't the businesses that already existed on 3rd Street, Elm Ave, Broadway, and Long Beach Blvd allowed to remain open and be included in this new Utopian mixed use art center?
Terry's Camera's is gone, The 99 Cents store is gone, Book Baron and Jacks are gone, Richard Kyle Books is gone! Sick Body Piercing is gone! Uncle Al's Seafood, home of a great Salmon burger is gone, The Shades has moved on almost out of the Village and Acres will soon be gone as well to be replaced by what? Another shopping center?
What will the city replace it with that will provide poetry, art, CPR, Yoga, Drumming, Song, Debate, writing, healing and friendship? They won't be able to build anything that will produce that because these things are intangible, they grew organically!
Recently the Long Beach Press Telegram wrote an article documenting the closing of Acres of Books. The article praised the stores longevity, it's history and asserted that the store was closing because it can not compete with the internet and larger chain stores. I will post the article here. I called the Press Telegram and pointed out that the article is not truthful because it never mentions the cities Redevelopment Agency invoking Eminent Domain on the store, The city rescinding it's Historical Landmark status and that the store owners are actually being forced out! The reporter admitted this was true about her article. I asked why haven't there been any articles covering the RDA and eminent domain and the anger in the village? I haven't received an answer to that question yet to this day.
Here is the article.

Acres may close last chapter
By Karen Robes, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 04/08/2008 06:59:08 AM PDT

Phil and Jackie Smith, owners of Acres of Books on Long Beach Boulevard, have agreed to sell the store s large lot to the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency for about $2.8 million. Relocation plans for the iconic store are uncertain.

LONG BEACH - For locals like Stan Poe and S&e Reed, Acres of Books has been more than a bookstore to them.
The storefront on 240 Long Beach Blvd. has been a longtime source for researchers, writers and book enthusiasts who have combed its acres of dusty shelves for hours hoping to score rare specialized tomes and hard-to-find first editions.
Writer Ray Bradbury once said Acres "is the best walk-through multimedia experience, if not on Earth, if not in all America, at least in the western part of the United States."
"For book lovers, a lot of (coming to Acres) was the experience," Reed said. "You could get a book anywhere, but it's the smell of the bookstore, the smell of the old books, the store cat, the way you can get lost in it and escape the everyday. It's so much more than getting a book. It's the book-buying, book-browsing experience and Acres is one of the last places to do so."
But the iconic bookstore with a million books may have penned the ending to its storied life.
After more than four decades at the site, owners Phil and Jackie Smith have agreed to sell the 12,000-square-foot lot for about $2.8 million to the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency.
The property on which Acres sits is slated to be part of a proposed mixed-use project bordered by Broadway, Long Beach Boulevard, Third Street and Elm Avenue. It will include commercial space, housing and an art center where local works can be displayed and art-related events can be hosted. The project also could include involvement with Cal State Long Beach in terms of class offerings and student housing, said Craig Beck, executive director of the Redevelopment Agency.

"We think it would be a very dynamic project and a real asset for the downtown," Beck said.
He added that the city will have to address the historic nature of the site.
The agreement - which city officials and store owners spent 12 to 18 months negotiating - includes the land purchase and relocation costs and is expected to go before the agency board for approval as early as April 21, Beck said.
The agreement allows the owners additional parking and the ability to stay at the location rent-free for 12 months after escrow closes - anticipated on or before May 1 - to give them time to relocate if they choose to do so, Beck said.
For co-owner Jackie Smith, who has worked at the bookstore since 1976, the lifelong dream of working at Acres has clashed with the reality of her industry.
"It's all I ever wanted to do and my heart is broken," she said Monday. "I didn't want the bookstore to go away but reality speaks. I'm sure the buggy-whip makers didn't want horses to go away."
Many bookstores like Acres of Books have been facing extinction in recent years. Gone are independents like the Book Baron in Anaheim, which closed its doors after 27 years, and Midnight Special, which amid rising rents on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade was forced to shutter in 2002 after more than 30 years. Closing this month is Dutton's Brentwood, which is shutting on April 30 after 24 years in business.
Smith, who has been looking for potential relocation spots, attributed waning interest to new media culture.
"In general, the book business is a (buggy) whip," she said. "Forty years ago, you had three TV channels and then books in your spare time. Now you've got 300 channels and the Internet and your computer games and on and on and on and there's much less time for reading."
She also spoke of the rising role the Internet has played in the industry.
"Amazon and the Internet bookstores have done a great deal of damage to the brick-and-mortar stores," she said. "You don't have to pay employees and employee taxes and business licenses."
It's not just a fading interest in books, said Reed, who co-owns Open, an independent used bookstore on Fourth Street.
"If you're looking for a specific book, you can now find it (online) in Kentucky versus having to travel around the South Bay asking or calling around," she said. "You don't have to do that anymore. It's changing everything because relatively low per book price and significantly high retail storage price - that's not a winning combination."
Some in the community grieved Acres' possible closure, including Stan Poe, president of Long Beach Heritage.
"It's a terrible loss to the community and to Southern California to lose such an iconic bookstore like that," he said.
He remembered when independent bookstores dotted the city 40 years ago. He has seen them fold over time as rent grew more expensive.
"This was a very well-read town," he said. "With Acres of Books, they owned the building. It's probably what saved them for so long. They weren't at the whim of a money-hungry landlord. Acres of Books is probably one of the last ones around."
Store manager Raun Yankovich said he cried when he was told about the decision.
"The employees are devastated, especially long-time employees," he said. "It means a lot to me because I've met so many wonderful people here. ... We talk about film, we talk about art, a little bit about politics but mainly literature. It's not just a bookstore."
The move has some disillusioned about redevelopment.
"It's sad that they don't get to be part of that development," Reed said. "They've been a part of Long Beach history for so long and they just don't get to be there and for what? To build something else that everybody thinks is really cool? But we really had something."
The Smiths said they are far from being out of books. They are still getting in new titles.
"We quit buying and started taking books in trade so we could run down the inventory in case we find a place to move," Jackie Smith said, adding that they should know by October what they plan to do with the business.
Meanwhile, Jackie Smith reflected on what doing business in Long Beach has meant to her.
"I think the community has provided so much more to me," Jackie Smith said. "I have been able to deal with the wonderful world of book people and readers and writers and I've just gotten so much from them.
"It's just been a joy every day to be there. It's always been something I wanted to do and I'm so grateful to have been able to do it for so long.", 562-499-1303

Article printed courtesy of Press Telegram Website.

When will Cities learn that some things in life are more important and beneficial than how much property tax money can be collected. Probably never! And that's the most shameful unfortunate part of it!

Be Mindful! Be Prayerful! Be Careful!

The views and opinions shared in A Choice of Weapons belong solely to Mista Jaycee and are not necessarily the views or anyone mentioned in A Choice of Weapons.



Serious said...

Acres sounds like my kind of spot. It's to bad they have to close. I'm glad you called the Press Telegram and pulled their card. While it was a good article it was not honest. What happened to journalistic integrity? This is truly sad. Thanks for sharing the truth.

Obi Asad said...

I'm going to miss Acres of Books, man. Good blog, Jay.