Thursday, March 8, 2012

Long Beach City Council Approves Resolution for "Cambodia Town" Freeway Sign

A resolution to request the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to post community signs for “Cambodia Town,” on the 710-Freeway, was approved in a 9-0 vote by Long Beach City Council during Tuesday’s council meeting on March 6.

Two signs will be posted at Anaheim Street, one northbound and one southbound, under Section 101.12 of the Streets and Highways Code, which states the department may place and maintain signs on state highways directing motorists to communities within the geographical boundaries of a city or county. This sign must also meet a list of conditions and requirements that pertain to aspects of geography, culture and historic significance, and public recognition.

The design, production, and installation of the freeway signs will now be under the jurisdiction of Caltrans, pending approval by the California State Legislature, a timely process that may take as long as six months.

Council Member Dee Andrews, of District Six, was one of the original councilman who sponsored  the resolution, and showed his support after opening the discussion to the rest of the council.

“This vibrant Long Beach neighborhood is where Cambodian-American history flourish,” Andrews said.

When Council Member Andrews thanked the California state elected officers, who wrote several letters in support of the freeway signs.. Once he asked for council members to second his request to approve, multiple members of the council said they would second the decision.

Pushing extensively for this resolution approval was Cambodia Town Inc. Chairman Pasin Chanau.

“This designation symbolizes a great honor to Cambodian-Americans, who have chosen to live in Long Beach because of the warm welcome of its citizens and city officials,” Chanau said.

“A resulting consequence of this resolution is the increase in business opportunity for local merchants, which will help improve the economic well-being of residents and business owners.”

Part of the Cambodian Town Inc. mission statement is to use Cambodian culture, customs and traditions to change the social and economic well-being of residents and business owners in Central Long Beach.

Local Cambodian community activists have been working, since 2001, to get Long Beach City Council to approve the official designation of “Cambodia Town” in the Anaheim Street corridor. After being placed on the City Council agenda for almost 10 months, council members voted, on July 3, 2007, to designate that area as “Cambodia Town” in a 8-1 vote.

After gaining approval for street signage near the allocated area of “Cambodia Town” in February 2011, the unveiling ceremony of the first two signs took place on July 16, 2011. Since then 14 more street signs have been installed surrounding the area.

City Council Member Robert Garcia, of District 1, believes since the street signs are appealing and currently successful, a freeway sign would only add to that positivity of the community.  

Funding for the street signs came out of organizations like Cambodia Town Inc. and other community affiliated organizations. Similarly, funding from the state will not be given for the freeway signs, which may cost tens of thousands of dollars for each one.

Other community members, including Cambodia Town Inc. Board Member Karen Quintiliani, spoke in support of Cambodian representation in Long Beach. Long Beach native Quintiliani has multiple publications relating to culture and immigration in the Cambodian society, and has been active in the Cambodian community in Long Beach since the late 1980’s.

In addition, Quintiliani is an associate professor in the anthropology department of California State University Long Beach and believes this freeway signage approval reinforces the proud idea that Long Beach is an international city in California.

“It allows us to give something to the next generation,” Quintiliani said. “Something for all of our kids to be proud of here in Long Beach.”

Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal was also a sponsor of this decision and spoke about how this change makes logical sense, not only for the community, but for the potential of increased tourism.

“This request for signage is the logical next step in the evolution of ‘Cambodia Town’ as the center of arts, culture, and business in Southern California,” Lowenthal said.

According to Cambodia Town Inc., hundreds of Cambodians from Southern California come to Anaheim Street during the weekends to shop and visit with one another, recreating their homeland. No other population of Cambodians, outside of Cambodia, has attained this level of recognition.  

While waiting for State legislative approval of the freeway signs, community activists are currently focusing on the development of constructed gateways to mark entrances into Cambodia Town.

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