– By Cheantay Jensen

The Downtown Long Beach Alliance’s Board of Directors is made up of a passionate, forward-thinking group of individuals working in the private and public sectors. But it’s not without note that among its Executive Committee are some remarkable women figures, three of whom have served as the Board of Director’s Chair—the key leadership figure—in the last three years. It can be a thankless job, running behind the scenes, with long (and unpaid) hours helping plan, strategize and organize just how to help keep Downtown thriving, while also keeping the pulse on the needs of its residents and stakeholders.

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we thought it was time to spotlight these three incredible leaders. Read on to learn more about their time as chairperson with the Downtown Long Beach Alliance’s Board and their advice to other women looking to lead.



Serving as the Executive Committee’s newest Chair this year, Denise Carter says stepping up for the role felt like a natural growth having been on the board since 2018.

“I think I got involved in leadership by dint of having been here for a while and being impressed with the people that are part of the organization and wanting to work more closely with them,” she said.

A proud Downtown resident for over 20 years, Carter said she has always appreciated the unique atmosphere and lifestyle that living and working in Downtown presents. She loves the area’s diverse food and shopping scene and its incredible walkability. But most of all, it’s the people.

“It’s a very diverse community, it’s a great community for a variety of different people,” she said.

Carter’s lightbulb moment to join the Downtown Long Beach Alliance happened one day while at home, sorting through her mail. In the stack was a flier inviting people to get involved with the organization.

“And I thought: I live in this community, and I love this community, but I’m not as involved in this community as I would like to be,” she said. “And so that’s kind of how my journey started.”

What’s special about being part of the board, she says, is that each member can bring their own independent expertise to the table. One of her proudest achievements, she says, was championing the creation and implementation of the DLBA’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access plan, also known as the DEIA, in 2022. Professionally as a lawyer and communications strategist, Carter has led several similar initiatives in Southern California, including Long Beach’s own Designory where she developed and led DEI programs across Designory’s global offices.

Upholding the DEIA standards is an aspect of her work as chair that she intends to continue to fortify, but also just as important, she says, is keeping a pulse on the needs of the community.

“I think a lot of my role has been in really helping provide that support and guidance. Being a listening ear and knowing what the residents and business folks have going on and what they say about the many changes that we’re experiencing right now during these—I don’t want to say turbulent times, that makes it sound negative—but there’s a lot happening,” she said. “The post-pandemic world is very different than the pre-pandemic world and we’re having to navigate that new space.”

Carter’s advice for other women seeking to work their way into leadership roles, takes a cue from Nike’s old slogan: “Just do it.”

“Oftentimes people feel imposter syndrome…and the reality is there’s so much more inside you that is so exciting for other people to see, especially when we’re talking about spaces like the DLBA,” she said. “It’s a really warm and inviting space. So there’s all kinds of places where you’re able to showcase your talents and your skills in a way that’s not frightening and really just do it.”



For the last decade Debra Fixen has been keenly invested in the success of Downtown. She’s the Director of Property Management at Pacific Ocean Management, a real estate property management company in Los Angeles County. In Long Beach, her area of purview is Shoreline Village where she not only oversees and maintains the properties there, but also strategizes how to creatively improve the area as a local attraction.

“Having a vibrant Downtown is essential for the economic development of a city. We’ve got a waterfront, a convention center…It’s important that it remains a place that is desirable for everyone to go, that you’re recognizing the arts, tourism, transportation, all of that,” she said.

Becoming part of the executive committee, she says, was a necessary step to achieving her goals of seeing Shoreline Village thrive.

“It was kind of out of necessity,” she said. “Long Beach is not like other cities where you manage a property and you may or may not join the chamber, they’re not connected the way Downtown Long Beach is.”

In her eight years on the board, Fixen has served in a variety of roles. She’d been on the economic development committee, then treasurer in 2019 and when COVID struck in 2020, was asked to serve another consecutive term to help maintain stability during the volatile period. In her position as chair in 2022-2023, Fixen recalls the period as being both rewarding and intensive.

That year the organization not only moved offices but also saw the initiation of the nonprofit’s new president and CEO, Austin Metoyer. It was a big change for the organization, with its last president having served for 25 years.

“I think I was able to provide a lot of guidance and experience to Austin, who was new in his role,” she said.

Over the course of her years with the board, Fixen says she’s seen a tremendous amount of perseverance and ingenuity on behalf of the organization she helps advise and serve.

“During Covid, the DLBA was able to be a resource for the businesses when you had restrictions changing weekly, I mean literally weekly,” she said.

From helping businesses streamline sidewalk dining permits, to helping support businesses in the aftermath of the social justice protests and creating new events to bring the public back into the area, Fixen says she’s proud to have been part of those efforts.

“I feel like the DLBA was really there for its constituents during that time,” she said.

Her advice to women seeking their place in the world of leadership? Set your goals and make those small steps to getting there.

“This may sound cheesy…but I’m going to say it anyway. What I say to my younger managers or younger people I’m training, this quote and I don’t know who said it, but it’s ‘the cave you fear holds the treasure you seek.’ And what I try to tell them is, set your dreams..and then start making the steps to get there.”



Loara Cadavona has long understood the value and importance of being involved in her community. A 15-year resident of Downtown, Cadavona was part of a few neighborhood associations (such as the Pine Neighborhood Alliance and the Downtown Residential Council) before she joined the board of directors in 2012. She served on the board for a year before leaving to pursue her Master’s degree in business administration.

“I was fortunate enough to join back again in 2018 and I’ve been on the board ever since,” she said.

Cadavona remembers her term as chair in 2021-2022 as a transitional year. COVID-19 protocols were regularly shifting and so were the needs of its Downtown businesses and residents.

“Originally the DLBA was known for producing large-scale events,” she said, noting that the DLBA was quick to pivot to a more supportive role by providing guidance, education and other financial resources. “I really liked their ability to be more adaptable to the needs of their various stakeholders.”

Then, towards the end of her term in 2022, was another huge shift. Then DLBA president Kraig Kojian had stepped down after serving for 25 years, she was an integral organizer in helping the board align on a new leader and navigate operations through that process. Her near decade-long experience in healthcare as a director of strategy and business integration was a particular boon at the time.

“I was really involved in operations, which typically that role would stay at a governance level, but I just wanted to provide some additional leadership support to the executive team and the staff,” she said.

Renewing the Property Based Improvement District plan, or PBID, was a crucial part of her year, she remembers, as the revised plan would be responsible for providing enhanced maintenance, public safety, beautification, marketing and economic development programs in the area for the next decade. She was glad to help see it through.

“I think what I came away with in my role as chair was not about what my opinion was about certain topics or issues, but really taking a pulse of the board and stakeholders and really coming to a consensus based on what was in the best interest of the organization,” she said.

These days, as Cadavona continues to serve on the board of directors, you may also find her and her husband running around downtown or dining out.

“We belong to a downtown runner’s group,” she said. “And I love to explore different types of cuisine both in and outside of Downtown and Long Beach.”

Her advice to women? Lean into that uncomfortability.

“The advice I would give to someone is, if you feel uncomfortable going into a leadership position, it just means that there’s an opportunity to grow,” she said. “I would say, just embrace it and step into it.”