The city will convert the Long Beach Convention Center into a vaccine distribution site starting next week, the mayor announced Tuesday in his State of the City address.
The annual event was hosted remotely as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the city. Long Beach surpassed 40,000 positive cases Tuesday and 484 residents have died as a result of contracting the virus with hundreds more remaining hospitalized.
Garcia, who lost his mother and stepfather to the virus, said there can be strength in loss.
“It’s painful but it can make you stronger,” Garcia said. “I’ve never felt more determined or more confident in leading this city through this crisis.”
Garcia said that help could soon be on the way as the city continues to ramp up its vaccine rollout. Starting Tuesday, the city will begin extending vaccinations to essential workers like police officers and grocery workers.
“If you are one of these workers, a hero, please contact your employers and sign up for an appointment,” Garcia urged.
Garcia also announced a number of new economic programs. The first was a new basic income program for low income students at Long Beach City College, like the ones the city has adopted last year to benefit artists and low-income residents.The other will come in the form of a mandated pay increase for grocery workers like the “Hero Pay” law enacted by Los Angeles last year.
The Long Beach version, which Garcia said he’d ask the City Council to adopt next week, would require Long Beach grocery chains to pay their employees an additional $4 per hour during the health crisis.
For tenants who have struggled to pay their rents over the past nine months due to job loss because of the pandemic, Garcia announced the city would be creating a $15 million fund to help them pay their back rents and hopefully stave off an eviction crisis that experts have warned was looming in 2021.
“This will be the single largest tenant assistance program we have ever launched in our city’s history, and it’s necessary,” Garcia said.
The city had previously approved a $5 million program over the summer that paid up to $1,000 in rent for three months but tenants who qualified had to enter a lottery system to gain access to the funds.
The mayor’s remarks come in the wake of one of the city’s darkest years, in which civil unrest filled the streets throughout the summer and hundreds of residents died as a result of COVID-19. The global pandemic also thrust the city’s finances into the red.
In September the City Council was forced to close a $30 million budget deficit attributed in large part to the COVID-19 economic shutdown. The city may still need to use reserve funds to reconcile its previous fiscal year’s budget, which saw a $41 million shortfall due to the virus. Budget problems are expected for several years to come.
Garcia addressed the civil unrest toward the end of his speech, calling it one of the largest political movements in history. Thousands of people filled the streets of Long Beach in late May calling for defunding of the police and fundamental changes to the city’s law enforcement tactics and structure.
The protests led to the city’s release of a “Framework for Reconciliation” plan that included overhauling the city’s police complaint commission, which has failed to live up to its founders’ vision. Next week, Garcia said he would ask the city’s public safety commission to begin the process of fixing the city’s Citizens Police Complaint Commission.
“Black lives matter,” Garcia said. “They matter to this city and they matter to me.”
Garcia closed by addressing the siege on the United States Capitol last week, calling it an attempted coup and a “direct attack on our country and our values.”
“We’re an imperfect country but we must strive toward truth and justice,” he said. “We must call out wrongs when we see them. I’m hopeful that a new America, together, healthy and focused on equity can become a reality in the years ahead.”
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