In his first State of the City address Tuesday evening, Mayor Rex Richardson outlined a broad agenda that included tackling the city’s homelessness crisis and looking to the future of city by rethinking its economy and investing in the community.
Richardson, who was elected mayor in November, inherited a city that has multiple active housing construction sites, but has struggled to create the kinds of jobs required to afford market-rate housing or keep pace with the number of affordable units needed to stave off a growing housing affordability crisis that city officials say has contributed to a homeless population that grew by 62% in 2022.
The City Council declared a state of emergency for homelessness earlier Tuesday, something that could allow city management to move more quickly into agreements to help provide services for the unhoused in the city, but could require the City Council to make tough budgetary decisions because the funding would likely have to come from within the city, not from federal and state sources like it did during the COVID-19 emergency.
“When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority,” Richardson said of the declaration.
While he began with the city’s efforts to battle homelessness in the city, Richardson’s roughly 30-minute address at the Terrace Theater Downtown covered his vision for the city’s economy, climate change and how he hopes to empower communities by investing in them and their residents.
Here are some takeaways from Richardson’s speech:
First, there was “Space Beach;” now there is “Opportunity Beach.”
Richardson unveiled his Opportunity Beach Agenda Tuesday night that outlined his goals for everything ranging from economic recovery to public safety and creating opportunities for youth to succeed.
A 47-page program distributed to attendees showed the numerous goals in his agenda including a new Downtown Plan that could result in more affordable housing production and partnering with educational institutions and others to create the “Long Beach Housing Promise,” which could create more workforce housing across the city and reduce displacement.
It includes plans to call for funding for the creation of a number of cultural districts across the city for the Latino, Cambodian and LGBTQ populations.
The agenda also outlines goals to expand park space in park-poor areas of the city and call on the Port of Long Beach to speed up the deployment of clean vehicles used at its facilities and to invest in public charging stations.
The city’s economy
One of the bigger announcements of the night was that of Vast Space opening in Long Beach, adding to the “Space Beach” collection of companies in the growing space exploration sector in the city.
Vast is trying to develop artificial gravity technology that would allow humans to visit space for longer periods of time without the biological deterioration that happens from prolonged exposure to weightless environments. Vast is opening shop at a campus located north of Willow Springs Park in the center of the city.
Richardson noted that in order for the city to move forward, it must change the types of revenues the city has historically relied on like oil, which the city says will be phased out by 2035. It’s phase-out, and the city’s budget retraction because of it, could be sped up by a new state law that has yet to go into effect.
City jobs could become easier to land for area college students through Richardson’s proposed Public Service Pathways Program that could give hiring preferences and provide waivers or exemptions to students who want to work for the city after college.
The program would apply to graduates of Cal State Long Beach, Long Beach City College and Cal State Dominguez Hills, where Richardson graduated.
“Every day thousands of Long Beach residents who live in our community, they attend world-class institutions in our city. We should hire them,” Richardson said.
Richardson also pledged to visit 100 small businesses in 100 days to assess their needs and what the city can do to help, and said he would push city departments to aim for “substantially higher” procurement rates from small businesses in the city.
Investing in Community
While on the City Council, Richardson championed a number of programs that were aimed at providing youth with greater opportunities, including those that diverted young offenders away from the court system and into job training and taxing oil production to fund youth programs.
Richardson doubled down on that approach Tuesday night, pledging to work to remove employment barriers created by prior offenses that were committed before the age of 25 for people applying for work with the city.
He said he would also propose agreements with trade schools and other apprenticeship programs that would guarantee admission to LBUSD students who meet certain academic requirements.
The Opportunity Beach plan also calls for the creation of internships and fellowship programs for youth looking to work in the city as well as the exploration of creating a youth council and the potential creation of a $1 million youth fund.
Richardson said he would also host a citywide meeting of neighborhood association leaders to create a shared vision and understand what communities’ priorities are.
“This summit will engage a rich network of neighborhood associations to identify policy needs and opportunities that the city can act on and offer civic engagement training to our residents so they can speak up for themselves,” Richardson said.
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