LB Council moves forward with considering Billie Jean King as eponym of new main library

Council also calls for special election to fill vacant 1st District seat.


Second District Councilmember Jeannine Pearce speaks about the possible naming of the new main library after tennis pro and Long Beach native Billie Jean King during a Long Beach City Council meeting on July 9.

During a two-hour meeting on July 9, the Long Beach City Council focused primarily on two particular issues: the possible naming of the new main library after tennis pro and Long Beach native Billie Jean King; and calling for a special election to fill the seat vacated by 1st District Councilmember Lena Gonzalez, who was elected last month to replace Ricardo Lara in the state senate.

Library name

The city council conducted a rather lengthy discussion, including significant public comment, on considering requests from community members to name the new main library the Billie Jean King Main Library and refer the item to the Housing and Neighborhoods Committee for its consideration.

Second District Councilmember Jeannine Pearce, who introduced the item, called King “a Long Beach and national hero who’s paved the way to fight for fair wages, gender equality and freedom of sexual orientation and equality for everyone.”

Pearce said that, in January, when her office began fundraising for the library, numerous people asked about the name.

“Because we had such strong interest in it, we decided to open up a process,” she said. “So, in March and June, we solicited [ideas] through social media and our email list, which has over 4,000 contacts.”

Pearce said more than 1,000 people suggested the library be named after King.

Vice Mayor Dee Andrews joked about how King, who was his classmate at Poly High School, had tried to get him and future NFL player Willie Brown to play tennis, but Andrews was more interested in participating in football, which, he said, drew more attendance.

“So, Willie and I moved on with our career. Little did we know that she would go that far,” Andrews said. “If I would have known that, I would have had a tennis racket in my hand right now. […] She would have beat us like she beat Bobby Riggs.”

Mayor Robert Garcia also expressed support for King as the choice for the library’s name.

“Billie Jean King, in my opinion, is the most decorated and well respected and most impactful person that we have grown from our community and taken forward to the national stage,” he said.

Fifth District Councilmember Stacy Mungo, who said she played tennis as a kid at Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Long Beach, said she has received numerous emails both in support of and against naming the library after King. She said the disparity in opinions led her to conduct more research on the athlete.

“She really is committed to our community, and she really is an international person who believes in this one thing that I believe in so much– ‘Playing fair is the same in both sports and life. If everyone doesn’t get the same chance, you’ll never find out who truly is the best,’” Mungo said.

So many residents signed up to speak on the matter during public comment that Garcia was compelled to reduce the time limit for each speaker to 90 seconds, from the usual three minutes.

About half the speakers voiced support for naming the facility after King, but others cited various reasons for being against it, including the fact that King’s name is not synonymous with libraries, that the main library– like other main city libraries around the country– should not be named after anyone at all, that King is being honored because of her fame, and that there are others who have indeed been affiliated with the Long Beach library system and are more deserving of the honor.

One speaker criticized the council for appearing to have already made the decision in favor of the King naming. However, after public comment, 4th District Councilmember Daryl Supernaw emphasized that the council was merely voting whether or not to continue the process of deciding who the eponym should be.

Responding to criticisms that King’s name is not associated with literacy and education, Garcia said he believes that “sports is education and […] creates scholars every single day.”

The motion passed 7-0.

1st District
Lena Gonzalez, former 1st District Councilmember

In a 5-0 vote, the council adopted a resolution declaring a vacancy in the 1st District council office and calling for a special municipal election in that district on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, to fill that seat for the remainder of the term of office, which will end on Dec. 3, 2022.

With that vote, the council also adopted a resolution to request that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors render specified services to the city relating to the election.

The 1st District seat was vacated last month after Lena Gonzalez won the run-off election to replace Ricardo Lara, who was elected as the insurance commissioner for the state last November.

The next Long Beach City Council meeting will be Tuesday, July 16 at 5pm in council chamber, 333 W. Ocean Blvd.