Long Beach unveiled its $3.2 billion proposed budget Tuesday morning at Admiral Kidd Park in West Long Beach, a portion of the city where Mayor Rex Richardson is asking the city to make focused investments over the next decade to improve the quality of life for residents.
While the city had projected a nearly $6 million budget deficit, it is using leftover American Rescue Plan Act dollars to close the gap this year and next—but that funding is expected to be gone by 2026.
City Manager Tom Modica said there will be no service reductions in the city because of that, but the city still faces significant challenges in delivering city services, including an ambitious new plan to beautify the city before the 2028 Olympics with 64 new projects from the Public Works Department that include massive street improvement plans and the construction of the new Belmont Pool among them.
The city will have to hire more employees to fill vacancies across all departments, and the proposed budget includes a number of hiring incentives, retention bonuses and even down payment assistance for homes and child care for some employees. The city’s vacancy rate for positions sits above 20%, according to its most recent analysis.
“That’s our biggest challenge right now,” Modica said during Tuesday’s press conference.
The budget that was unveiled Tuesday is a starting point for discussion among the community and the City Council, which must approve the final budget by Sept. 12. The city’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Here are four things to know about the city’s proposed budget.
Public Works already had a lot on its plate. The department released its five-year investment plan last year, and the clock is ticking on bonds the city issued to repair roads in Long Beach. Now, the department could get even busier.
A big part of Tuesday’s budget release was what the city is calling the “Elevate 28” plan, which includes 64 new initiatives ranging from park improvements, cultural center developments and water quality projects that the city hopes to complete before the 2028 Olympics.
The plan adds to the 2022 $533 million investment plan by putting an additional $55.7 million in Measure A funds and $158.9 million in grants and other funding toward projects like replacing pumps in Alamitos Bay to enhance water quality ($30 million), upgrading the Long Beach Convention Center ($50 million) and potentially issuing more bonds to complete the rebuild of Fire Station 9 ($20 million).
“I’m proud of this map, and I’m proud of the investments we’re making in our city,” Public Works Director Eric Lopez said Tuesday, referring to a massive map showing the dozens of new projects the city unveiled in this year’s budget.
Some of the projects are focused on the city’s entryways, like a potential overhaul of how people enter the Downtown area through Shoreline Drive and the creation of a buffer against port pollution for Westside residents through the greening of the Terminal Island Freeway.
Other large investments could be made into the city’s signature assets like the airport ($8 million), the Queen Mary ($11 million) and the Belmont Pool ($8 million). (City officials recently released scaled-back rendering of the pool project as the city prepares for less oil revenue to be available to fund its construction.)
The city is also dedicating $1 million toward the potential completion of a new Belmont Pier before the 2028 games, but it’s not certain that it will be completed. City officials believe not completing a new pier before 2028 will not affect the city’s current allotment of Olympic events.
Big changes to the Downtown waterfront?
Two of Richardson’s long-term recommendations for the Downtown waterfront are to reimagine both the space around the Queen Mary and the Long Beach Convention Center.
Richardson is calling for a five-year development plan to be initiated in advance of the 2028 Olympics, which could include determining if building an amphitheater next to the ship is feasible.
In his first months in office, Richardson said as that as the city pivots away from oil revenue, it must find new ways to generate money, and the Queen Mary parking lot has long been looked at as a potential source of untapped funds.
Richardson is also calling for a 10-year vision for the Convention Center to be initiated, something that could look at the possibility of rearranging the space.
When the city briefly flirted with bringing the Los Angeles Angels to Long Beach in 2019, the ‘Elephant Lot’ next to the Convention Center was looked at as a potential location for a stadium, but the site is limited by the configuration of the existing buildings, including the Long Beach Arena.
The proposed vision plan could look at how to best develop the Elephant Lot, including the partial or full rebuild of the Convention Center and arena if necessary.
Downtown residents could also be asked to approve a new advertising district. Some residents already are taxed to support the Downtown Long Beach Alliance to support local business, and the advertising district could assess more fees to help market the city better.
Housing and homelessness
One of the top priorities for residents and the City Council has been addressing the city’s growing homeless population.
After a dramatic 62% increase in 2022, the city saw a nearly 5% increase this year in the number of people who were unhoused.
The city has worked to acquire motel properties to convert into more permanent housing in the past and is now working to build 33 tiny homes at the city’s Multi-Service Center in West Long Beach. However, big capital projects like that are not included in this year’s budget as the city pivots to operating those sites, which will cost millions per year to staff once they open.
A one-time expense of $550,000 is proposed to help pay for costs at the new year-round winter shelter the city agreed to purchase in June, and Modica said he’s recommending that five new positions be added to the city’s homeless services bureau to help ensure that the grant funding the city receives to help the unhoused is able to be used.
The city is also looking to purchase a bus to provide shuttle services to the Multi-Service Center, which is hard to reach because of its location west of the Los Angeles River, and officials are proposing to purchase and operate a shower and restroom trailer.
A new pilot program that could see the city help purchase pre-fabricated accessory dwelling units for property owners who will rent them to people with housing vouchers is also being proposed. The suggested allocation for that program is $200,000.
‘The Westside Promise’
In an unusual move, Richardson called for direct investment into a specific side of the city: West Long Beach.
The area has struggled to attract new business or other development for decades, and its proximity to the port has put it on the frontline of pollution-related illnesses and the already-present effects of climate change like heat waves.
Richardson’s proposals called for $1.8 million in park investments on the Westside as well as committing $150,000 in funding to help design the Terminal Island greenbelt project, which advocates have pushed the city to pursue for years.
The proposal also calls for the potential creation of a business improvement district along Santa Fe Avenue, which the city recently rezoned in an attempt to attract more community-serving businesses to the area.
Richardson said Tuesday the 10-year community plan he’s asking for comes with a goal to bring amenities to the community like access to fresh and healthy foods, banks and potentially bringing major industries to the area.
“If it works, and we know it works, then it could serve as a model for other areas that we need to invest in,” Richardson said.
Councilmember Roberto Uranga, who represents the district, said he was very grateful when he heard that the city was going to be making substantial and ongoing commitments to West Long Beach.
“It’s a community that needs a lot of attention, and we need to pay attention to it,” Uranga said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the number of new projects associated with the 2028 Olympics.