Civically Speaking is a weekly newsletter on the latest local government news from the lens of the Long Beach Post’s City Hall reporter, who sits through so many city meetings for us.
From oil town to slick tourism destination
When the city releases its budget, there’s always so much to parse through, and quite honestly, I’m not even close to understanding the full document that was released Tuesday.
It’s 660-pages of line items, positions being removed, programs being added and what park playgrounds will get “Gold Medal” treatment over the next five years (part of the city’s Olympics-themed Public Works budget).
But what is clear is that the city plans to become a bigger tourist destination. It has to.
Yes, the city has an airport and hosts conventions and other events already, but it appears it’s preparing to lean into that identity even further to prepare for the financial cliff that’s approaching.
For decades, Long Beach has benefited from the oil that is extracted and sold, netting tens of millions of dollars to the city’s Tidelands Fund.
While that fund can only pay for things in the city’s coastal zone like lifeguards, police and fire services and large projects, like the reconstruction of the Belmont Pool, it has allowed the city to focus its general fund money outside of that zone.
However, with oil revenue drying up, and a state law threatening to cut off the supply even sooner than the city’s stated goal of 2035, Long Beach needs to pursue new sources of revenue.
That was a focus of Mayor Rex Richardson’s state of the city address in January, where he said the city needed to expand its revenue base to compensate for the impending loss of oil money.
The budget released Tuesday sets the stage for Long Beach to start leaning into becoming an attraction town rather than a petroleum municipality.
Two big studies the city is proposing to fund could lead to dramatic changes for Downtown.
One would look at the possibility of finally developing the land surrounding the Queen Mary. This time, the city is not looking at creating a new shopping and restaurant district like developers sold it in 2017, it could look to return to “its music roots’” and make way for a music amphitheater, Richardson said Tuesday.
Richardson and city officials say the plan seeks to deliver something to the area, specifically a “Long Beach bowl” structure by 2028, when the Olympics will come to the region.
The mayor is also asking for a 10-year vision plan to potentially reposition the Convention Center to allow for more large events, including sporting events.
If you remember, when the city had brief talks with the Los Angeles Angels about moving here, one of the big issues raised was how a new stadium would fit in the footprint of the Elephant Lot.
Potentially knocking down the arena, the convention center, or both, would provide more flexibility to build a new arena. How it will be paid for, who will pay for it, the flow of traffic in and out of the area and if a sports team even wants to play in Long Beach are questions that are hopefully answered before any of that work moves forward.
The Tidelands Fund is not an insignificant amount of money to replace.
In the past five years it has produced at least $100 million in revenue with a good portion of that being injected into the general fund, which has helped pay for things like keeping the city’s beaches clean and the shoreline intact.
Losing oil presents a problem for the city, but perhaps not an insolvable one if city leaders can execute their plans to draw more businesses here and expand the tax base by bringing more visitors to the city.
This budget is putting money toward those causes, but it could be years before the seeds Richardson hopes to plant through these initiatives grow into the types of cash cows Long Beach will need in the not-so-distant future.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS WEEK:
Do you remember the old Legends of Aviation restaurant on the second floor of the Long Beach Airport’s historic terminal building? It closed in 2014, but before that it provided travelers, and even those not jet-setting, a space to eat or grab a drink and watch the planes takeoff from the runway in Long Beach. Soon, there could be a new vendor to fill that void as the airport announced this week that it’s looking to fill three pre-security locations at the airport. One would be the old Legends space on the second floor and two other spaces would be on the ground floor and outside the terminal building, which could provide a nicer place to wait for family and friends you might be picking up from the airport in the future. The city expects these spaces to potentially open by next year.
PAY ATTENTION TO THIS NEXT WEEK:
While the budget was revealed this week, the real jockeying for funds will begin in earnest next week. The City Council will get its first department-specific presentations Tuesday night with the city’s police, fire and disaster preparedness departments scheduled to tell the council how it plans to spend its money this year. All three departments have had issues with staffing in recent years and there are a few proposed fixes in this year’s budget aimed at helping that. City management has proposed hiring more dispatchers, providing more incentives for locals to join the police force and providing more funding to keep all the current city fire stations running at the same levels as they were last year. The police budget specifically is typically controversial. It gets the largest share of the general fund—over twice the size of the fire department—and will likely be targeted by activists calling on the city to invest in other parts of the city.