The Long Beach City Council’s Housing and Neighborhood Committee unanimously approved a proposal to rename the new downtown Main Library as the Billie Jean King Main Library on Monday afternoon. The proposal–which was sent to the committee with unanimous approval from the council–will now return to the City Council for final approval, likely in August.
The votes in favor were Vice Mayor Dee Andrews, the committee’s chair, eighth district councilman Al Austin, and fourth district councilman Daryl Supernaw.
“I’m so sad that I didn’t listen to Billie Jean and I decided to be a football player instead of playing tennis,” joked Andrews, a high school classmate of King’s. “I believe that no one from Long Beach has done more for the cause of equality than Billie Jean King. I believe it’s the most fitting to name the Main Library after her. Not just for her achievement on the tennis court which is legendary, but for her encouragement and championing the rights of women. I hope we inspire the future generations to reflect on her legacy.”
Given the 7-0 and 3-0 votes in favor of the proposal, and Mayor Robert Garcia’s public support of the renaming, it’s likely that the City Council will grant final approval when it hears the item next.
Supernaw waved a stack of printed emails from Long Beach sports fans, LGBTQ advocates, and women’s rights advocates sent to the committee in favor of the renaming.
“The support we have received is voluminous,” he said. “We’ve received tons of support.”
Garcia said at the City Council meeting last week that 1,000 Long Beach residents had written in supporting the idea, with 30 or so emails coming in opposition to renaming the library, and a handful of other messages suggesting renaming it in favor of other people.
On Monday, there were 23 speakers before the Committee for public comment on the item, with 18 speaking in favor of the renaming, four against, and one in favor of the renaming but requesting the full title be the Billie Jean King Long Beach Main Library.
The Century Club was well-represented at the meeting, and was joined by Long Beach tennis czar Cathy Jacobson-Guzy and others from the tennis community, representatives from Long Beach Poly and Wilson High Schools, several representatives from Long Beach State, and LGBTQ advocates.
“Who else from Long Beach can compare to Billie Jean King’s life accomplishments?” asked Jacobson-Guzy, who finished her comment by quoting from King’s Presidential Medal of Freedom acceptance speech, where she discussed the importance of her upbringing in Long Beach.
A theme of the four speakers who were opposed to the renaming and of the speakers who spoke against it at the City Council meeting last week was frustration about not feeling included in the renaming process, with a Friends of the Library representative saying, “We didn’t even know there was a renaming issue until the Grunion published an article on June 13. None of us on the Friends knew. The process by which this has happened has been stunningly fast.”
Austin and Supernaw both said they were sensitive to and open to modifying the city’s policy on renaming, but pushed back against the idea that the process was rushed or exclusionary.
“This process is consistent with all the other renamings that have come before,” he said. “There has been a lot of back and forth–we’ve done naming with far less input. This has had a lot of discussion.”
Austin also lauded King as a “true American trailblazer” and cited more than 100 emails that the committee received over the weekend in support of the renaming.
“We received letters from state senator Tom Umberg, assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, County Supervisor Janice Hahn, Juan Benitez and Megan Kerr of the school board, the Century Club, we have a letter from Magic Johnson, Billie Jean King herself, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Jeanie Buss of the Lakers,” he said. “Something that I’m clear on is that most people are very in support of this–this is going to be something that our young people and our entire community can be proud of.”