Mayor Robert Garcia painted a picture of a Long Beach that had grown tremendously during the past decade but still faced challenges as it marches into the new decade.
Tuesday marked Garcia’s sixth State of the City speech, and the message was similar to the previous five: The city is trending upward, crime is down and development is booming.
Garcia dedicated over a quarter of his speech on the past before getting to the present situation of the City of Long Beach.
He highlighted the billions of dollars invested in the Downtown core that has changed the skyline, and the developments of 2nd + PCH as well as the Aquarium of the Pacific. He also praised the $110 million that the city sunk into infrastructure and public safety through Measure A in 2019.
However, the mayor also addressed the problems of homelessness and affordable housing. He said the rate of affordable housing production was not at the level it needed to be at and asked the City Council to approve an inclusionary housing ordinance to create more affordable housing in the coming months.
“It’s not enough and we’re not building fast enough,” Garcia said of the city’s pace of construction.
The city has been working toward approving such an ordinance over the past few years but has yet to vote on one. Other inclusionary housing ordinances have required developers to pledge a certain percentage of their buildings to be affordable units or pay fees to exclude them with those dollars going into pools of money that pay for affordable housing projects.
Any inclusionary housing ordinance adopted by the City Council would likely not include the projects that have been approved by the council in the last decade. The City Council last week voted to deny a bond measure from moving closer toward being placed on the November ballot that could have raised property taxes on Long Beach residents to fund affordable housing projects and fund homeless shelters and services, among other things.
Garcia also said that he would push for an updated Downtown plan, which was updated to allow for the building boom that occurred in during the past decade, to include more density, taller buildings, more climate resilient structures and protections for workers.
“It’s been successful, it’s had some challenges, but it’s also almost obsolete and it’s time for a reinvention,” Garcia said.
Garcia announced that the city’s smartphone app that allows residents to report everything from potholes to abandoned couches would soon get an upgrade. He heralded the over 23,000 plus requests made from smartphones in 2019. He said that in addition to the app upgrade the city would be switching to a new one number service.
“This new app will be receiving a huge upgrade with new services and features,” Garcia said. “It’s going to be a 24-hour online city hall right in your hand.”
Lastly, Garcia addressed the Queen Mary. The historic ship has been hounded by reports of its failing physical structure over the past few years. The ship is in disrepair and the mayor said that he’s committed to restoring the ship.
He said that first and foremost the ship should move forward being treated as a historical location worthy of public investment. It entered into a contract with Urban Commons in 2016 in a 66-year lease that saw the private company assume command of the ship with a deferred maintenance plan that had the city fronting $23 million up front.
Garcia said the Urban Commons has committed to three new conditions: An economic impact study in the next 60 days, a historic preservation blueprint in the next 90 days and releasing new plans surrounding the development of the land around the historic ship.
“The Queen Mary is bringing people from across the world to Long Beach,” Garcia said. “And we must preserve it, honor it, and live up to the promise that we made 50 years ago.”