Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia’s fourth State of the City address went the way most would typically expect– a sense of fulfillment of the city’s accomplishments in the past year and flowing optimism for the challenges ahead.
The feeling of gratification is not without merit, seeing as 2017 featured Long Beach’s all-time lowest homicides and unemployment rate, the best year on record for tourism and the largest record of cargo volume at the Port of Long Beach in the city’s history, according to the mayor Tuesday night inside the Terrace Theater at the Long Beach Convention Center.
Regardless of the city’s historic positives, Garcia did acknowledge the need to continue fighting a seemingly never-ending homelessness battle, fixing the trucking crisis at the Port of Long Beach, addressing the closure of east Long Beach’s Community Hospital and debating the proposed land-use element (LUE), among other issues, this calendar year.
“Supporting all of our residents is not only the right thing do, but it will ensure that we remain a vibrant and successful city 20 and 30 years from now,” Garcia said during his address. “See, across the world and throughout history, societies that are open and value inclusion have always provided more for their people and had stronger economies.”
Part of being supportive, as the mayor mentioned, is by addressing two issues– poverty and housing.
Garcia said the poverty rate has dropped to 18.8 percent, compared to 21 percent in 2015, when he was first elected. Reinforcing neighborhoods, such as central Long Beach, which the mayor mentioned still has “extreme pockets of poverty,” is critical in reducing the citywide disparities even further, a challenge the Long Beach City Council will continue to tackle in 2018, he said.
In 2017, more than 3,500 units of housing were completed or approved, but the mayor affirmed that it is not enough, citing California as an example of not building enough housing to sustain the growth of its population.
“We need housing of all types, but especially for seniors on a fixed income, working families, college students and those experiencing homelessness,” he said, adding that the city council has already adopted a plan to preserve and build more affordable housing.
The plan, approved by the council in May, includes policies that would encourage the assembly of “granny flats,” study inclusive affordable housing for new developments and preserve feasible housing units for seniors.
The housing epidemic also extends to those in school. “These college students are telling me directly that affordable housing is their biggest impediment to completing their education,” Garcia said, adding that it is difficult to rent or purchase a home due to high demands on the market.
He said the council will introduce new policies this year that will assist residents in keeping their homes, provide rental assistance for seniors and support renters who seek home ownership.
Video by: City of Long Beach
The full Long Beach 2018 State of the City address
Problems with poverty and housing both often converge to create homelessness, as aforementioned. Although the mayor noted that Long Beach has seen a decrease in homelessness– a 21-percent decrease in 2017 compared to 2015, per the City of Long Beach’s homelessness count, which identified 1,863 homeless people– the problem persists in the surrounding communities of Los Angeles County.
Garcia expressed his hope for LA County to provide the resources for its homeless population, but he also communicated his desire for Long Beach to find a permanent location for a year-round homeless shelter.
Currently, the city has a winter shelter, but its location has changed year-to-year, most recently to a former library in north Long Beach, and does not have a fixed schedule of its availability.
“We need to give people who are sleeping on our streets the opportunity of a roof over their heads,” the mayor said.
The way homes and other buildings are structured will also be debated at an unspecified city council meeting after the Long Beach Planning Commission in December voted to recommend and pass the LUE, which would set new precedents for building sizes throughout local neighborhoods.
Garcia said schools are also getting upgrades and new buildings this year. Moreover, construction projects will continue in the downtown area– including a new library and civic center– and new ones will commence at Douglas Park, Queen Mary Island and the intersection of 2nd Street and Pacific Coast Highway.
Measure A, a tax-ballot initiative passed in 2016, has allowed the City to approve a $380-million investment plan in infrastructure and public safety throughout the next decade. In addition to funding the reparation of streets, sidewalks and public buildings and parks, the measure also allowed for the expansion of police divisions and new fire units in the city.
In June, the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) began patrolling the city’s portion of the Metro Blue Line, something Garcia attributed to Measure A.
The LBPD, with Garcia, announced at a press conference last week that 2017 ended with the least number of murders in the city’s history in half a century. Statistics show that gang-related murders decreased by 42.1 percent and citywide murders decreased by 33.3 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year.
At the address, Garcia added that overall crime in 2017 was reported to have decreased by 7.9 percent from 2016. He said that the LBPD has sustained a 4.8-minute response time to crime incidents, which Garcia said is among the best in the country.
In addition to law enforcement, Garcia acknowledged the work of neighborhood-watch groups and community-neighborhood associations who “are on the front lines of safety every day.”
Garcia also announced a new initiative of the City’s Innovation Team (i-team)– the Long Beach Justice Lab. The mayor explained that the i-team has been cooperating with public-safety officials to create data-sharing platforms about various services provided in the city.
The program aims to benefit those who are repeatedly committing crimes, getting incarcerated indefinitely and consuming city resources.
The initiative would attempt to break the cycle. Garcia said the Justice Lab complements programs such as the Promising Adults, Tomorrow’s Hope (PATH) initiative, which provides youth facing criminal prosecution the opportunity to complete job training or educational programs.
He also said the Justice Lab will be establishing a mental-health clinician in the Long Beach Jail, which currently has no such services.
The City is also making attempts in various areas to be environmentally conscious.
In the fall of 2017, both LA ports and the Board of Harbor Commissioners approved the final update of the Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP), which identifies strategies to reduce pollution of every vehicle and equipment in the port complexes by 2035, Garcia said.
One of the biggest economic challenges the city will face is the trucking crisis at the Port of Long Beach, where the mayor said the system currently in place is not sustainable and is inefficient. He asked the city council and the State Legislature to work on creating a better system and supporting workers who are not making sufficient wages.
“We currently have a broken system,” he said. “Trucks are not moving in and out of our terminal efficiently. This slows the movement of goods and creates major truck congestion at our ports. Many drivers are also working for poverty wages. We have some great trucking companies at the ports, and they do really great work, but we also have others who misclassify their employees and who must pay their workers a living wage.”
In October, the Long Beach City Council voted to end the citywide use of polystyrene, a plastic that is commonly used for food and drink containers. The mayor also said the City is equipping all street lights with LED bulbs, which are energy efficient.
In March, Long Beach Transit began converting its buses to zero-emissions, electric-powered vehicles. Ten of those buses are currently operating in the city. The mayor said LA Metro is also investing more than $1 billion into the Blue Line, which would include synchronized traffic signals, new tracks and the replacement or refurbishment of all trains by 2020.
The City also partnered with Long Beach Transit and ride-share services to provide more options to get to Long Beach Airport, which the City recently announced will be providing direct flights to Honolulu via Hawaiian Airlines this year.
Garcia announced that, after two years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will release its proposed options of restoring the San Pedro Bay and the feasibility of removing the Long Beach breakwater, an 8.5-mile man-made structure that stretches along San Pedro and Long Beach.
“We will make sure that any project we undertake to restore the ecosystem at our beaches also protects every single home and business that we have along the coast,” he said.
In spite of recent criticisms of Long Beach Animal Care Services, namely from local watchdog groups who claim the adoption program is not run as well as it can be, Garcia said he was proud of the work of the City’s animal-shelter team. He mentioned euthanasia rates have decreased and adoption rates have increased steadily in recent years.
Garcia asked the council during his address to discuss the issue at a future meeting and to implement the recommendations made in a recent audit of the shelter immediately.
The Go Long Beach application, home to 15,000 active users, received nearly 50,000 requests to report issues around the city, such as illegally dumped items or graffiti, in 2017. The Clean Team Initiative was launched later that year to keep the city blight-free.
Garcia said the clean teams have collected more than 600 tons of litter and illegally dumped items and nearly 16,000 mattresses in one year.
Los Angeles-based organization Vision to Learn is also partnering with the Long Beach Unified School District to provide more than 8,000 pairs of glasses to students who need visual aids.
Furthermore, the mayor said he will work closely with 4th District Councilmember Daryl Supernaw to address the closure plans of Community Hospital in east Long Beach, which is slated to close because of its location on an unstable fault line that poses a safety hazard.
In his concluding remarks, Mayor Garcia encouraged residents to continue being kind to one another in an attempt to build a better city, both literally and figuratively.
“A city of half a million, one of America’s largest,” he said, “must lead with a strong vision, a sense of justice and kindness for all its people.”