LONG BEACH - The committee studying a proposal to create a Cambodia Town here voted 3-0 to ask the city to prepare a report on the area's boundaries and the feasibility of creating a business improvement district.

After listening to nine speakers, members of the Housing and Neighborhoods Committee threw in their support to call the study the "Cambodia Town Pilot Designation" and asked city staff to return within 90 days with a presentation.

"I'm very much in support of what the community is asking for," said Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal, who chairs the committee.

Councilwoman Rae Gabelich is the committee's vice chair and Councilman Val Lerch is a member.

Supporters of the idea are asking the city to designate the stretch of Anaheim Street between Atlantic and Junipero avenues as Cambodia Town. They say a city-sanctioned area will boost tourism and business and give greater visibility to the biggest hub of Cambodian cultural and economic activities in the country.

"They have already adopted Long Beach as their home. It's the real center of the Cambodian diaspora," Susan Needham, anthropology professor at Cal State Dominguez Hills, said to the committee. She studies language and


identity among Cambodians in Long Beach.

Long Beach is home to the largest population of Cambodians in the United States.

Needham said allowing the designation would be psychologically and emotionally significant, in addition to contributing to the local economy.

No one spoke against the proposal, but John Edmond, a former Long Beach resident, said he would like to see the city create an international corridor, one that includes a Cambodia Town along with other designations.

"The biggest asset for the central area is its diversity," he said.

Opponents have in the past said any ethnic or racial designation will fuel Cambodian-Latino gang violence and isolate non-Cambodian residents and businesses in the area.

Police officials have said they do not expect the designation to increase gang violence or racial tension.

The project has received support from Latino and African-American business leaders who envision turning the long run-down area into a lively attraction that includes a Latino marketplace and special recognition for African-American commerce.

Gabelich cautioned against taking on too many ideas at once.

"We'll take it one step at a time," she said.

During the 90-day study period, city staff will work with community members to figure out how a Cambodia Town would work. For example, would it have a dues-paying business improvement district? What about a non-business association?

An outside firm will do a financial analysis of existing business improvement districts.

Staff will also research existing ethnic towns and the Anaheim corridor's number and type of businesses. It will also review the impact of designating the entire area on Anaheim Street between Atlantic and Junipero avenues as Cambodia Town. This was the original idea backed by members of Cambodia Town Inc., the group pushing for the specification.

In October, the council voted to send the matter to the committee after contentious debate by residents and community leaders. The council had talked about decreasing the area to five blocks and making the designation a temporary one.

Mira Jang can be reached at mira.jang@presstelegram.com or at (562) 499-1278.