Prominent men's deaths stun city
By Paul Eakins, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/16/2011 08:02:15 PM PDT
Updated: 03/17/2011 07:28:37 AM PDT
Mark Bixby was on the plane that crashed at the Long Beach Airport Wednesday morning. He was killed along with four others.
LONG BEACH - The tragic news of Wednesday's plane crash at Long Beach Airport grew only more shocking once the community learned who had been on the plane.
Not only had Mark Bixby, a bicycle advocate and member of one of Long Beach's founding families, been killed, but so too were a pair of prominent developers who last year were part of a historic wetlands preservation deal.
Tom Dean and Jeff Berger, the developers who were involved in last year's city land swap for the Los Cerritos Wetlands, and Bixby were among five people who died in Wednesday's crash. Friends and community leaders reflected on the trio Wednesday.
"It's awful," said Mike Murchison, a spokesman for Dean and friend of the victims. "They were family men. They were fathers first and foremost. It's devastating."
The other victims were Bruce Krall, Dean's banker and an Orange County resident, and a pilot whose name wasn't known, said.
The community was still holding out hope that the lone survivor of the crash, Mike Jensen, the owner of Pacific Retail Partners in Long Beach, would survive.
Multiple sources identified the men as the victims, but the Coroner's Office hadn't yet officially identified the bodies.
Bixby, Dean and Berger were in their 40s and were married with children, as is Jensen, sources said. No details were available about Krall after his name was announced late Wednesday afternoon. Dean and Berger were best known for a
controversial wetlands exchange between their company, LCW Partners, and the city of Long Beach last year.
LCW Partners traded 33.7acres of its 175-acre Los Cerritos Wetlands in southeast Long Beach for part of the city's public service yard along the east side of the Los Angeles River. The land swap was lauded by environmentalists and city officials as a way to put the wetlands in public hands for preservation and restoration, but critics said it was a giveaway of public assets.
Ironically, it was Bixby's previous company, the family-owned Bixby Land Co., that sold the wetlands to Dean and Berger three years ago.
Bixby had since left that business and was working for Jensen's real estate company.
Mark Bixby remembered
It was the death of a Bixby, who was well-known around Long Beach, that particularly stunned the community.
"I am saddened that an incredible human being that has done so much for this community has been taken from us at such a young age," said Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Randy Gordon, who said he has known Bixby for 17 years. "Mark Bixby has done so much for this community, and there was such a bright future for this unbelievably talented young man who was well-liked by so many people."
Bixby was past president of Long Beach Rotary and was instrumental in raising money to build Rotary's Centennial Park at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Junipero Avenue, Gordon said.
While real estate and development were Bixby's career, bicycling was his passion.
Bixby was director of the Long Beach Bike Festival and most recently was a vocal proponent of adding bike lanes to the planned new Gerald Desmond Bridge.
"I had been working with Mark Bixby to ensure bicycle and pedestrian access to the new Gerald Desmond Bridge," City Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal said in a statement. "Among his many ideas to improve our community, I know this was very important to him, so I will work tirelessly toward the fulfillment of his vision as a fitting legacy for a person so committed to advocating for cyclists."
Allan Crawford was a member of bicycle advocacy group Off the Front with Bixby and the pair were in the process of starting a nonprofit bicycle organization, he said.
"Mark just believed in the idea that cycling is a way to connect people and to connect communities," Crawford said. "He saw it as an avenue to improve lives for people throughout Long Beach and the world."
Crawford said that he went bike riding with Bixby and other members of their regular riding group early Wednesday morning just hours before the plane crash.
He said that Bixby was proud of his prominent family's history but was "modest" and "unassuming."
"He was the most giving person that I know," Crawford said. "He would do anything for you and for the community."
Crawford said Bixby is survived by his wife, Theresa, and three children.
Tom Dean, Jeff Berger
While Bixby was well known around town, Dean and Berger kept a much lower profile.
Dean lived in Naples and Berger was a Manhattan Beach resident.
Gordon said that in his 17 years in Long Beach, "I've seen Tom (Dean) at maybe two or three events."
"Tom, he was a very quiet, behind-the-scenes guy," Gordon said. "There's no doubt he's been a very successful business person and quite an entrepreneur."
Murchison and others said that Dean and Berger were both family men.
"I can't express enough how much time they spent with their family," said Murchison, who said that Dean had four sons and Berger had three children.
Former City Manager Jerry Miller said he got to know Berger in particular while working for the developers' company.
"What a fine guy. Just a really good human being," Miller said of Berger. "Jeff was an exemplary family man."
He noted that Dean and Berger had been meeting with the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy and the California State Coastal Conservancy to work out a deal to put the rest of the wetlands into public hands.
"He (Berger) was really working toward the right objective, to make that property available to the public," Miller said.
Councilman Gary DeLong shared that view of the developers, but said their deaths put the wetlands' future at risk. "These were the first landowners that were willing and able to work with the city to begin the process of moving the wetlands into the public domain," DeLong said. "It wouldn't have happened without those guys, and now I'm concerned. Obviously, (the plane crash) was a personal tragedy, but it's a setback for the city as well."