‘Our city is getting even stronger,’ says LB mayor

Mayor Garcia highlights progress, sets new fiscal and housing goals at State of the City address Jan. 15


Anita W. Harris | Signal Tribune

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia speaks during his State of the City address Jan. 15 at the Terrace Theater.

During his State of the City address Tuesday night at the Terrace Theater, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia focused on success.

He enumerated specific milestones Long Beach has achieved since 2014, including: lowering the unemployment rate to 4.1 percent from 9.8 percent; building 5,000 new homes; achieving a record-low homicide rate; increasing cargo shipments to the Port of Long Beach; and repairing street, sidewalk, buildings and park infrastructure.

He also introduced new goals for the city, including increasing municipal reserves to $75 million, creating a year-round homeless shelter, constructing 3,000 additional homes by 2024 and envisioning a 2030 strategic plan.

Garcia began by thanking Long Beach employees for these achievements, especially in light of the current federal-government shutdown and the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) teachers’ strike.

“The tremendous progress over the last four years would not be possible without the City employees who pick up our trash, provide gas and water service and maintain our parks,” he said.

Garcia identified housing affordability and homelessness as among the biggest challenges the City must address in 2019.

“Early last year, the city council adopted a new land-use element that created additional housing density across the city,” Garcia said. “This up-zoning across the city was not without controversy, but it was necessary.”

Garcia announced a new target for the city of 3,000 additional homes by 2024, for a total of 8,000 additional homes built over 10 years.

“We must build more quality housing– especially affordable housing– so our low-income neighbors, seniors, students and those experiencing homelessness have the ability to live in our city,” he said.

Garcia also called on the city council to adopt an “inclusionary housing” policy.

Photo by Diana Lejins
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia during the State of the City address Jan. 15 at the Terrace Theater

“Let’s ensure every new project we build includes quality affordable units,” he said. “Or, the developer pays into an affordable-housing trust-fund the City can use to create new homes for those who need them.”

Garcia added that the City is developing a new tenant-assistance policy.

“This new policy is being developed with input from both apartment-owners and tenants and will be in front of the city council in February,” he said. “We will ensure that [the] community gets sufficient time to give input before adoption.”

In terms of homelessness, Garcia cited the City’s Continuum of Care program that housed more than 1,100 people in 2018.

He also said the City launched a taskforce in 2018 called Everyone Home Long Beach that identified the actionable need for 1,250 additional rent-stable homes, 225 additional emergency-shelter beds and 200 permanent supportive-housing units.

Finally, Garcia noted that the city council will vote in February to establish a year-round shelter with 125 beds that provides workforce training.

New construction
More than $5 billion in public and private investment over the past few years has led to 70 major projects under construction or in development, Garcia said.
Among them, Garcia identified a 36-story tower at Alamitos Avenue and Ocean Boulevard as the tallest building in Long Beach.

Other projects to be completed in 2019 include a Park-Broadway project, Aquarium of the Pacific expansion and the Douglas Park Long Beach Exchange project, he said.

A new city hall, port headquarters and Main Library will also be completed in 2019, Garcia said.

The city saw an 8.4-percent decrease in overall crime and 16.5-percent drop in violent crime in 2018, with crime levels among the lowest ever, Garcia said.

He said that the police and fire departments responded to 280,000 service calls in 2018, averaging 767 calls per day, with a response time of 4.5 minutes for high priority calls, among the fastest in the nation.

Garcia also said that the City launched a Restoration Initiative for Safety and Employment (RISE) in 2018.

“[RISE] will provide free assistance to seal low-level misdemeanor or felony records, clear a minor warrant, or expunge a marijuana conviction,” Garcia said. “This new program will help residents get back to work and take care of themselves and their families.”

Garcia also said he introduced, last year, Justice Lab, which allows first-responders to divert residents in need out of the criminal-justice system and into treatment.

“We are one of the only cities in the nation to have a mental-health professional in our jail to assess and provide support,” he said.

As a Metro board member, Garcia said he has pushed for investing in the Blue Line, which runs through Long Beach.

“The line, which is the oldest in LA County, will soon shut down for months of upgrades, refurbished stations [and] new trains,” Garcia said.

To help commuters during construction, Garcia said the board created a network of shuttles and buses, including an express shuttle to carry riders from downtown Long Beach to downtown LA– which he would like to make permanent.

Garcia further said he would also like the board to refurbish local bus stops.

“Riders should not be waiting for their bus in the dark or without a bench to sit on,” he said.

2018 also saw development of city parks and environmental initiatives, Garcia said.

“Our parks department was again recognized as a Top 25 Park System in the U.S.,” Garcia said. “We are creating new open spaces across the city, including wetlands restoration, playgrounds, soccer fields and dog parks.”

Long Beach has 16 miles of new bikeway, including a “bike boulevard” that runs 10 miles from north Long Beach to downtown, Garcia said.

Contrary to the federal government’s roll-back of sustainability efforts, Long Beach launched a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan in 2018 and is addressing illegal dumping, Garcia said.

He thanked Councilmember Lena Gonzalez for establishing a new Green Business Certification Program and for leading the ban on polystyrene containers.
The city’s airport and seaport are also continuing their “green” initiatives, Garcia said.

“Long Beach Airport has embarked on a plan to become the most sustainable airport in the nation, building on the example set by the Port of Long Beach, which continues to be recognized as one of the greenest seaports in the world,” he said.

Ballot measures
Garcia cited the success of eight ballot measures he put to voters during his two terms to generate tax revenue and change municipal policy.

Garcia said that Measure A, passed in 2016, has already generated $140 million to rebuild public infrastructure and create 41 new positions in the police and fire departments.

Measure B, also passed in 2016, has generated $1.5 million for the city’s reserve fund, he said.

Garcia also recapped four amendments passed in November 2018: Measure AAA strengthens the authority of the city auditor; Measure BBB limits mayor and city-council terms to three; Measure CCC establishes an ethics commission; and Measure DDD requires voter-redistricting after each census.

“Together, these eight measures represent historic changes to how our government is funded and structured,” Garcia said.

Pre-K education
A new Educare Center opened at Barton Elementary School in north Long Beach last year, providing pre-kindergarten care for about 200 infants and toddlers, Garcia said.

While such progress falls short of his goal for universal preschool in Long Beach, Garcia said he is heartened that it’s on California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide agenda.

Arts funding
During Garcia’s time as mayor, public funding for the arts has increased four-fold to support the city’s museums, arts council, municipal band and the two historic ranchos, he said.

A new One-Percent for the Arts policy has generated more than $300,000 in additional funding for local theater and music organizations, Garcia said.

He further noted that the city has more than 150 new murals– “an extensive outdoor art collection”– compared to four years ago.

Inclusive vision
Looking ahead, Garcia called on the city council to increase the City’s reserve fund over the next few years from about $55 million to $75 million to prepare for future contingencies.

He also called for developing a new strategic plan, since the previous one is 20 years old.

“We need to engage the community and create a comprehensive plan for 2030 that addresses major challenges such as climate change, housing, infrastructure, transportation and education,” Garcia said.

He emphasized that Long Beach’s vision should be inclusive.

“We should not be a nation that builds walls, dehumanizes our neighbors, attacks refugees and immigrants or devalues women,” he said.

Garcia commended the city’s perfect score on a national LGBTQ City Index and a new City Justice Fund to assist immigrants. He also noted that, for the first time in Long Beach history, women represent a majority on the City’s boards and commissions.

“While we cannot directly change federal policy from Long Beach city hall, we can fight to protect our civil rights and democratic values,” Garcia said. “And I promise you, we will.”