Mayor Rex Richardson highlighted some of the biggest developments that have come to Long Beach over the past year and several more on the horizon, but he also underscored challenges that lie ahead as he delivered the 2024 State of the City on Tuesday night.

Long Beach’s local economy is at a pivotal point, as oil money begins to dry up. That means the city is now looking to expand its revenue streams by attracting new businesses while combating a homelessness issue that has become a point of contention among existing business owners.

Richardson announced big plans Tuesday night to convert a space near the Queen Mary into a music venue and destination in the near future, as well as some other business growth news. But Richardson also noted that there is still a lot of work to be done before the city is on steady footing for the future.

Here are three takeaways from Richardson’s address:

A changing approach to homelessness

Last month, city officials indicated that the year-long declared emergency for homelessness could come to an end before March, but have provided few details of what the city’s approach would be going forward. On Tuesday, Richardson put a name to the new office that the city intends to launch: Homeless Coordination and Strategy.

While the city could end its formal declaration in the coming weeks, the new office is expected to have dedicated staff members to help drive the city’s response to homelessness rather than borrowing employees across multiple departments to staff the emergency response.

This year’s homeless count is scheduled to be completed at the end of the month, and when those figures are released it will shed some light on how much the emergency declaration has done to help the issue over the past year.

Richardson also called on the City Council, the county and educational institutions to commit to ending youth homelessness. According to the city’s last homeless count, there were 193 people under the age of 24 living in some state of homelessness.

“By working together, we can assure that every young person has the opportunity to grow up and thrive in a safe and stable community,” Richardson said.

Long Beach City College is already considering a $990 million bond measure that could end up on this year’s ballot. College leaders say they intend to spend some of those funds on building affordable student housing.

Year two of “Grow Long Beach” 

During last year’s address, Richardson unveiled his “Grow Long Beach” initiative, which he said would propel the city into a new economic reality that would focus on tourism and new industries like space companies moving to the city.

Richardson announced Tuesday that four new companies, Swing Set, MLT Fab, BioGas and JetZero would be growing their operations to Long Beach in the coming year. The largest of the four, JetZero, which was founded in Long Beach, is taking over the Gulfstream space at the airport, where it will work on developing commercial and military planes.

The company recently received a $235 million contract from the U.S. Air Force, and JetZero co-founder and CEO Tom O’Leary said the company will spend that in Long Beach. The jobs it will bring will help replace the 700 that left the city when Gulfstream left in 2021.

Perhaps the largest announcement of the night came when Richardson announced that the city will build a temporary amphitheater near the Queen Mary as it develops plans for a permanent “Long Beach Bowl” music venue.

The temporary structure could fit about 8,000-10,000 spectators and help put Long Beach back on the map as a music destination, something Richardson pushed for when the city’s budget was released last summer.

The site could be open by 2025, Richardson said.

Weaning the city off oil 

The new economic development will be needed as the city heads into a future where, at some point, it will no longer be able to benefit from oil revenue. The question is, how soon will that be?

For decades, oil revenue has provided the city’s general fund with an annual cushion of tens of millions of dollars that went toward city services and projects. Such revenue made it so the city didn’t always have to dip into its main coffers.

Long Beach officials have already set course for a 2035 end-date to oil production in the city, something that has roiled environmental activists who say the city should cease production sooner. However, a state law threatens to expedite the end of oil in Long Beach, if voters re-affirm a statewide law in November.

Richardson has called on the City Council and city manager to work to rid the city’s budget of expected oil revenue by 2030.

“We have more work to do to build toward a strong financial future,” Richardson said. “We have tough financial realities ahead that we need to confront.”

Oil revenue largely ends up in the Tidelands Fund, which the city uses to pay for things like police, fire and lifeguard salaries along the coast, but also large projects like the Belmont Pool replacement project, which is currently projected to cost $72.4 million.

However, once it’s gone, the city will have to pay for these things with other funds or cut back services and projects.

The pool project has already been scaled back because of the uncertainty surrounding Senate Bill 1137, a statewide law that would create health buffers around oil operations and threatens to impact about half of the wells in the city, according to a city estimate.

An early projection from the city said that if the bill is affirmed by voters in November it could cost the city as much as $20 million per year through 2030. Richardson’s request seeks to get ahead of that and the council could be presented with budget projections for upcoming years in the next few months.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.