By Nick Diamantides
Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster was definitely upbeat in his “State of the City” speech Tuesday night, but he warned that the ongoing economic recession will continue to negatively impact the city’s revenues for the next several years.
Foster spoke to a crowd of about 1,200 people who came to the 1,700-seat Terrace Theater in downtown Long Beach to hear his fourth annual State of the City address. Council members and administrative staff from Long Beach and several surrounding cities also attended the event.
Foster noted that most people were probably glad to see 2009 come to an end. “It was a year of economic turmoil unknown in most of our lifetimes. We witnessed the collapse of our credit markets, driven by greed and unbridled self-interest on a global scale,” he said. “In all, the Great Recession tested our resolve, our habits and our character. It also showed us what is important and brought us closer together.”
Several nonprofit groups had set up tables with their literature in the theater lobby, and Foster praised them for their efforts. “On your way out tonight, stop and see how you can help,” he said. “And say ‘thank you’ because the work of those organizations and others like them weave the fabric of our community; whether delivering food, helping fund after school programs or offering compassion and kindness in an hour of need.”
Foster told the audience that there will be difficult times during the next 12 months and the pre-recession prosperity will probably not return for several years. “But unlike this time last year, the prospect of the months ahead is brighter,” he said. “Personal savings rates in America continue to climb, the markets are up, credit is beginning to flow again.”
The mayor said he was encouraged by the fact that retail sales were up in December and that imports (that create port-related jobs) also increased last month¬– their first gain in 28 months.
“In the fall, for the first time in months, the jobs report saw a glimmer of hope,” he added. “But the important fact is this: While much more needs to be done to return to economic health, we are at least off life-support.”
The mayor noted that the city reduced staffing levels and cut back expenditures in every city department in order to produce a balanced budget. “I want to thank our firefighters, police officers and all our city employees for their understanding and cooperation during these very difficult times,” he said.
Foster also took a few minutes to chastise the California legislature for its failure to manage the state budget. “On this point let me be very clear: the most immediate threat to the financial stability of this city is raids on our general fund by Sacramento,” he said. “”It’s time to put the state’s fiscal house in order rather than make it a constant contest for survival.”
The mayor’s approximately 45-minute speech was interrupted by audience applause several times. He talked about a long-term growth in city revenues that will result from increased, modern, environmentally friendly oil extraction in the Wilmington Oil Field. He mentioned the important contributions the Boeing Company, the medical community, and the Port of Long Beach make to employment and the regional economy. He talked about the success of job-training programs, a continuing reduction in violent crimes, and the city’s ongoing efforts to improve its infrastructure.
“We still need a well-funded program to fix our infrastructure– the very thing robust commerce depends on,” Foster warned. “I will say again that we will not be a great city without improvement to our bones: our streets and roads, our sidewalks, our storm drains, our public structures.”
The mayor noted that he took heart that the city managed to come through a very tough economic year and that the budget process proceeded with common purpose and little rancor. “On the big issues, we demonstrated that we could disagree and still be civil and recognize that we are all neighbors in Long Beach,” he said, adding that he is proud of the fact that Long Beach practices inclusion and embraces diversity as an asset.
Foster encouraged the audience to be optimistic about 2010 because the “Great Recession” had honed the city’s character. The mayor said he expects the city government and residents to work together to make the new year and succeeding years better for everyone. “I believe we have a bright and prosperous future and the state of our city is healthy and sustainable,” he said. “I am proud of the kind of people we are and how we live together. I would choose to live in no other place.”