As Mayor Robert Garcia and the majority of the Long Beach City Council start into the homestretch of re-election bids, Garcia delivered an annual address on the city that has boomed with development since he took the reigns in 2014, but one that he admitted still faces steep challenges.
Garcia touted the $3 billion in construction projects that have sprung up throughout the city, including a glut of approved high-rise apartments and condo projects in downtown, a new civic center and city hall, but also large retail projects like those at Douglas Park and 2nd and PCH on the city’s east side.
The state of the city is strong, and getting stronger, Garcia said, echoing the sentiment of his previous addresses to the city.
The city’s unemployment figures this year showed the lowest rate in the city’s history (4.4 percent) and last week the city announced that the number of murders in the city had dropped to the lowest total since the city began recording those figures. Overall crime dropped by 7 percent in 2017, something that the mayor and police chief have attributed to Measure A dollars that have paid for additional officers and overtime. . Despite progress in parts of the city, the mayor admitted that more must be done to include the entire city in the successes seen over the past three years.
“In my first state of the city speech I said that in order for Long Beach to be successful, all of our neighborhoods need to succeed, including Central Long Beach, where we still have pockets of extreme poverty,” Garcia said. “I am pleased to report that three years later, our citywide poverty rate has dropped to 18.8 percent.”
He also announced Tuesday night that the city would be forming a citywide economic development corporation that will focus on supporting good jobs, small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Garcia also announced that with funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies the city would be introducing a “justice lab” which will use data to try and address what he said are the same persons cycling in and out of the legal system and tying up city resources. The initiative will include placing a mental health clinician inside the city’s jail, something that it currently lacks.
Garcia also announced that options from the United States Army Corps of Engineers could be presented early next year, of which breakwater reconfiguration could be on the table at the end of the three-year study conducted by the Corps and the city.
Garcia pointed to the recently updated Clean Air Action Plan by the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and a council ban on styrofoam as his continued effort to keep the city committed in the fight against climate change.
However, this year the city approved a land swap in Southeast Long Beach that will include restorations made to the Los Cerritos Wetlands but also new oil wells.In last year’s address, Garcia stated he wanted the city to break free from its reliance on fossil fuels, something that the city relies on for revenue in its Tidelands Fund.
The city’s budget recently took a major hit after it settled a lawsuit with a resident who had sued the city for its practice of charging water and sewer pipe fees to its water department and then transferring the money into the general fund to finance city operations. The settlement saw the city drastically cut the amount of money it will transfer to the general fund going forward, something that has increased projected budget deficits in the immediate future, which could necessitate cuts in city services.
Garcia acknowledged the challenge the settlement represents and he and the council will meet tonight to discuss options to address the nearly $16 million shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year, more than half of which has been attributed to the settlement by the city’s financial management team.
“I am confident that our city council can work together to overcome the issues ahead of us,” Garcia said.
Despite the progress made in the first three and a half years under Garcia, the city still faces ongoing challenges of combating the growing housing crisis, and the rising rents and displacement caused by it, as well as homelessness.
Long Beach was not among the majority of the county that saw its homeless count grow this year, but Garcia said that it’s still a “tragic reality” in the city and needs to be addressed stating that the city’s winter shelter needs to be made into a year-round homeless shelter.
The housing shortage, and the rising costs of rent and homeownership, is something the city has sought to address through a variety of avenues. The downtown developments have created thousands of units but only a fraction of them are considered affordable with many of the rents in the luxury high rises out of reach for most of the working class in Long Beach.
A controversial land use element update has worked its way through public meetings and planning commission hearings and now heads to the city council where it will have its try at amending a guiding document that could determine how much density the city could add over the next few decades. The proposed building heights and parking requirements angered some homeowners and the document still faces likely revisions from individual council districts.
However, a newly introduced state senate bill, if passed, (SB-35) could overrule some elements of local zoning in favor of developing density near transit centers exempting those areas from local control.
Garcia said the council will begin discussions next week on an item that will look into ways to keep people in housing, provide rental assistance for seniors and even offer support to current renters to make the transition into home ownership.
Lastly, the mayor pledged to continue to stick up for every member of the Long Beach community regardless of creed, sexual identity, income level or immigration status. Garcia said that it’s not only the right thing to do, but also a way to ensure that the city remains successful.
“Across the world and throughout history, societies that are open and value inclusion have always provided more for their people and had strong economies,” Garcia said. “A city of half a million, one of America’s largest, must lead with a strong vision, a sense of justice and kindness for all its people.”
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