West End Neighbor's new leaders look to help businesses rebuild.
John Bendo is stepping into a new position at a precarious time in Long Beach, as the hurricane-crippled beachtown is working to walk again, especially in his neighborhood.
But the Maryland Avenue resident is up for the challenge as he succeeded Rick Hoffman as president of the West End Neighbors Civic Association (WENCA) this week. Former Vice President Karen McInnis was due to become president but step aside to let Bendo to take the leadership role.
“When Rick stepped down he asked if I would be willing to take over the position,” Bendo said. “Karen did not want to be president, so I said that I would be willing to do it. It’s an interesting time to have to be stepping into the role, to say the least.”
Bendo said WENCA will continue to take on projects firsthand and advocate for those in which its members have no direct control. “Obviously, we’re not going to rebuild the beach, but we would certainly advocate to make sure it’s done in the right way,” he said.
The new officers are working with the Historic West End Business Association and the Walks Association toward that end, as well as to help refurbish the devastated business district on West Beech Street.
“Perhaps [we can] have a social nights at some of the restaurants when they reopen,” said Bendo, who chaired WENCA’s Events Committee that held two movie nights on the beach last summer. “And have events at some of the stores on the weekends during the day to try to draw people in to help the businesses.”
When he drove through the West End Tuesday night, Bendo found that many homes remained vacant
. “If you look at a lot of the bungalows, they’re still dark,” he said. “The people haven’t come back. So even the businesses that are open are having a real tough time because the people just aren’t here.”
Joe Sinnona, an associate broker with Verdeschi Realty in the West End, told Patch that about a third of West End businesses have reopened, as of last week. The West End has approximately 71 businesses.
Bendo and new Vice President Jerry Romanoff said another pending project is the restoration of the planter boxes on streets that intersected with Oceanview, a roadway is used primarily as a pedestrian straightaway for bikers, joggers and walkers. The planters were either damaged or destroyed in the storm. At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Romanoff said that without the planters Oceanview has become a “speedway.”
“It’s a very dangerous situation,” said Romanoff, who lives on the street.
He also urged the council to replenish the demolished West End dunes and beach entrances, invited its members to reach out to WENCA members, and made a request.
“What we would like is a seat at the table when you address issues,” Romanoff said.
Looking ahead, WENCA would like to open a farmer’s market in the yard at West School on Maryland Avenue starting in spring, by teaming up with the people who organize the market at Kennedy Plaza at City Hall.
In an email that McInnis sent out to WENCA members and media this week about the change of officers, she wrote: “Our esteemed President Rick Hoffman recently decided to step down from office for personal reasons. In accordance with our By-Laws, I as Vice President, became President. I then appointed John Bendo to the position of Vice President. I subsequently decided to step down as President for personal reasons as well.”
On his appointment, Bendo appointed Romanoff the vice president and McInnis the treasurer. Maria Fitzgerald will remain in her position as secretary.
“We’re in a rebuilding and revitalization mode,” Bendo said. “Rick used to say all the time that the West End is ‘the jewel’ of Long Beach. Well, the jewel is a little bruised up and rough right now. We have to do some polishing.”
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