Mayor Robert Garcia shakes hands with some of his younger constituents at Tincher Preparatory School on Tuesday, May 22. Photos by Jason Ruiz.
When Mayor Robert Garcia was elected to another four-year term in April he announced he would soon embark on a walking tour of all nine districts in Long Beach as he sought to spend more time in the neighborhoods rather than inside city hall leading up to his swearing in.
District by district the mayor has been knocking on doors, reading to school children and visiting with local business owners to gauge what issues are concerning them and how the city can try and work toward fixing them in the coming years.
Why did he devise this tour when he won roughly 80 percent of the vote and was told by many that a nine-week journey through the city was unnecessary? Because doing this better connects him to the city. He swears he’s not campaigning, but adds that he always feels like he’s campaigning for the city.
“Long Beach is not what happens every Tuesday night,” Garcia said. “I think sometimes you sit there and interpret what people are thinking about in that moment by who’s showing up to the council meeting and what’s on the agenda. That shouldn’t drive overall policy and the direction of the city. I get a better idea of how people feel when I’m in coffee shops and knocking on doors than sitting inside council meetings.”
One of Garcia’s days in the Third District started at Tincher Preparatory School on the city’s Southeastern-most flank. He arrived Tuesday morning with his staff and immediately began shaking hands with his young audience who he was scheduled to read to.
He took a seat in front of a class of 3- and 4-year-old students sitting cross-legged in front of him and introduced himself.
“My name is Robert Garcia,” he said.
To which he was met with a resounding “we know!”
“Do you know what I do, what my job is?” Garcia asked.
“Your job is to tell people what to do,” responded a girl seated on the carpet.
After a quick read through of “The Very Cranky Bear”—a tale of a bear in need of a pillow—he took questions from the students. One girl informed him that her parents plan on voting for him. Another student interrupted Garcia’s message about how hard the city’s employees are working to keep Long Beach safe and clean to let the mayor know that he has about “a million, billion toys.”
Garcia said these classroom visits are meant to gauge how schools are performing, which pre-school programs have room for enrollment and which ones are oversaturated, something he hopes to publicize to parents soon so they have a better idea of where their children could potentially be enrolled.
He says that in visits to other schools in previous districts a large part of the conversation with administrators has revolved around school safety. Namely, what could and should be done to prevent the unspeakable from happening at a Long Beach school. Arming teachers, he said, “would be a bad idea.”
After the conclusion of The Very Cranky Bear—the bear gets the pillow—Garcia headed to the 2nd Street corridor in Belmont Shore to walk and meet local business owners and to host a business owners’ roundtable to hear their concerns and provide updates from the city.
Garcia explains that over the years he’s lived at a few different homes along the route and 2nd Street used to be a daily walk for him. He’s seen things change with store closures, openings and renovations to facades and medians.
Along the way Garcia pops into various shops and asks how long the current tenants have been in operation, how long they’ve lived in the city and, at some stores, makes a small purchase. A coffee mug from the 49er shop, a bag of Sour Patch Kids—his all time favorite candy—from Rocket Fizz.
The mayor’s questions remain consistent. How is everything going? How is business?
Garcia walks into Connected Cannabis, one of the area’s newest tenants.The industry had been shunned by the city for the last half-decade but after a voter initiative approved medical cannabis sales in Long Beach again dispensaries are starting to sprout up. Garcia remarks that he brought high-level city staff to this location to show them how far the industry has come.
With the city set to take up the other side of the coin in recreational sales later this year, the mayor says that he supports recreational sales, and that the performance of the medicinal shops that have opened already have done little to hurt the chances of the city allowing recreational operators from entering the fold as well.
Garcia’s last stop on a truncated day about town—Tuesdays are council days—is a business roundtable meeting over lunch at Open Sesame, another long-time favorite of his. After the Lebanese buffet of chicken tawook, hummus and fried potatoes are finished the attendees launch into the main dish: how do they attract more business to a business corridor that is being flanked by so much new development?
Their concerns focused on the fact that so much residential and retail development is taking place downtown combined with a large retail development underway at 2nd and Pacific Coast Highway, that the popular tourist destination could be relegated to third-fiddle, or forgotten entirely. Amazon, by the way, is taking over and swallowing up the very retail shops that call the corridor home, voiced attendees.
Some proposed that opening up the parking lots at the beaches could help support the customers that want to visit Belmont Shore but choose not to because they know finding parking will be an issue. Others proposed figuring out a way to get a hotel built in Belmont Shore to get more out-of-town people staying there rather than downtown or working with Long Beach Transit to provide shuttle opportunities to the corridor.
Garcia said the development downtown could be part of the key to keeping Belmont Shore active.
“We’re building high-rises, mid-rises, tons of density with folks that will come down here,” Garcia said. “My partner and I, we own a loft downtown and we’re here all the time. We have to multiply people like me and my partner as much as possible and get them to be supportive of what’s happening down here.”
Every district has its successes and its needs. Homelessness will be an issue that needs tackling for every district for the next four years and beyond and Garcia has assured those he’s met on this tour that the city is doing what it can to address it. He remarks that one of the most surprising things he found was in visiting his old council district where the consensus was that the neighborhood was safer, a sentiment he didn’t feel about a decade ago.
In touring Long Beach district by district the mayor says it’s going to better equip him to serve the city going forward as he’s reminded of what matters to residents and what they want their city to improve on.
I just hope that when I’m done I get a better idea of where Long Beach is at,” Garcia said. “What the challenges are. It’s been a really good reminder for me of what people care about. They want to be safe, they want the streets to be clean, they want their trash picked up and I think that’s been pretty consistent and I feel good about that.”
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