The Long Beach City Council on Tuesday adopted a $3.2 billion budget that will stave off cuts and attempt to grow new revenue streams to make up for the eventual loss of oil revenue and a $38 million shortfall that must be reconciled in coming years.
Councilmembers adopted the budget after weeks of briefings from individual city departments on their proposed budgets to help retain and attract employees amid a shortage of workers, as well as ambitious construction plans to revamp the city ahead of the 2028 Olympics.
The budget vote Tuesday was completed with little council deliberation and nearly no adoption-night additions to the document that will guide the city’s spending for the next 12 months, likely an indicator of how inflexible the city’s finances are with COVID relief funding running out and the increasing cost of providing city services.
Mayor Rex Richardson said that the budget shared the values of the broad and diverse city and said it showed the city was taking significant steps to address its challenges.
“I always say government builds structure, the community tells you where you got it wrong,” Richardson said. “The only way to get it right is clear communication.”
Plenty of community members turned out Tuesday night to urge the council to not only adopt proposed investments in things like a tenant right-to-counsel program, which will help pay for lawyers to represent renters facing eviction, but also asked the council to expand that program and make the funding permanent.
Last month, the council’s Budget Oversight Committee pledged to add $500,000 to the program that the city had already proposed giving $1 million, however, that additional money will only come if there is additional money found after the current year’s budget closes.
Advocates had pushed for an additional $900,000 this year and hoped the city would continue to build on it in the future. Advocates say that cost could rise to as much as $9.5 million annually but it could save the city even more money by not having to pay for emergency shelters or other homeless services because people could remain housed.
The budget also included funding for studies to look at how the city could reconfigure the Long Beach Convention Center, potentially to make room for a stadium or other attraction, as well as the potential for adding a concert venue in the parking lot of the Queen Mary.
Those two items were recommendations made by Richardson, who has pushed for the city to expand its tax revenue base because of the looming loss of oil in 2035 or sooner.
A statewide law that could be reaffirmed by voters next year threatens about half of the city’s oil production, according to officials, and could cost the city tens of millions per year in lost production. Drawing more tourists and businesses to the city is part of Richardson’s “Opportunity Beach” plan to offset the loss of oil money.
Richardson’s recommendations also included a call to invest in West Long Beach by potentially creating a “promise zone” in the area, which could include a business improvement district for the area and efforts to reduce pollution in the area and add green space to the park-starved area of the city.
People also turned out Tuesday to enter last-minute demands for things like a coordinator position to implement the city’s “Vision Zero” plan to eliminate traffic deaths as well as additional funding for translation services and the city’s animal shelter.
Advocates pointed to the 45 traffic deaths recorded in the city in 2022 and the still unfilled position and questioned if enough was being done. Public Works officials said the department was restructuring its department and has added traffic engineers and other positions to help focus on street safety.
“These changes will help us do that and give us more resources than we’ve had,” said Public Works Director Eric Lopez.
City Manager Tom Modica said the city offers about $2 million in skill pay annually to employees who speak other languages, which helps the city communicate with non-English speakers and said the city will look to bill individual departments in the future so there is more financial support for the city’s language access program.
A request from Councilmember Daryl Supernaw could add an additional $250,000 for the shelter’s spay and neuter services. Similarly to the tenant-right-to-counsel funding, the additional dollars for the shelter will be contingent on the current year’s budget over-performing.
One big unknown remains for the city despite the council adopting the budget Tuesday night. The city’s largest employee union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, has yet to reach an agreement with the city on a new contract.
Union members were at Tuesday’s meeting holding up signs reading “We Run This City” and called for a fair contract as city employees were “trying to survive.”
“Your employees are seeking a fair contract, not to live in El Dorado Park Estates, not to drive a Lamborghini, a new car, not to send their kids to private school, not to live in the Virginia Country Club,” said Sheridan Cazarez, a city library employee and IAM shop steward. “Your employees are seeking wages to survive.”
The union of nearly 3,000 members represents employees across multiple city departments and its contract has been under negotiation since the beginning of the year.
Long Beach’s new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. The City Council will take another procedural vote to approve the budget at its Sept. 12 meeting before the new spending plan can take effect.
Editors note: An original version of the story said City Manager Tom Modica proposed the additional shelter funding. It was proposed by Councilmember Supernaw and Modica helped with the language of the request.