For the first time in Mayor Robert Garcia’s tenure, accomplishments took precedence over challenges in his State of the City address.
Garcia spoke for about 45 minutes Tuesday night to an audience of about 1,500 (heavy rain cut into the expected 2,000 people) at the Terrace Theater downtown. The mayor talked of a few new initiatives, but most, like affordable housing and a year-round shelter for homeless people, were amplifications of programs unveiled in his first four years in office.
Garcia spent the first part of the speech touting accomplishments including the lowest unemployment rate — 4.1 percent — ever seen in Long Beach, crime rates at all-time lows and more than 4,000 housing units under construction or in the planning stage.
Prominent in the list was the capital improvements program funded by Measure A revenue. Measure A is a 10-year sales tax hike promised to be spent for public safety and city infrastructure repairs including streets, sidewalks and public buildings.
Sprinkled through the speech were updates of previously stated goals.
“In my first State of the City address, I set a goal for us of providing universal preschool in Long Beach,” Garcia said. “And while Long Beach Unified and other providers have served hundreds of additional pre-school students, we still have more work to do to close the gap.
“As a member of Governor Gavin Newsom’s transition team, I am confident we are close to a state and local solution for a major expansion of pre-k. In fact, just last week, Governor Newsom called for universal preschool for all eligible 4-year olds. Let’s commit tonight to redoubling our efforts and make universal coverage a right for all our kids.”
He also announced a new goal of 8,000 new housing units by 2023, and asked the City Council to pass an ordinance requiring inclusionary housing as part of any new project.
Inclusionary housing means developers must include a percentage of affordable housing units in a project, or pay into the city’s affordable housing fund, which is used to build more housing. This policy was a part of Redevelopment Agency regulations, but was dropped when the state ended tax increment redevelopment agencies.
Garcia pointed to the string of balanced budgets as proof of fiscally strong policies. He said that city reserves have held steady between $53 million and $56 million, but called for that to increase to $75 million.
“While Long Beach is doing well and our revenues continue to increase, we aren’t immune to a national recession, or a citywide emergency, Garcia said.
“Now is the time to start planning for the future… Tonight, I am calling on the City Council to increase our reserves to $75 million. This will take a few years, but is an important new goal for us to meet.”
Two of Garcia’s self-confessed favorite issues — universal preschool and the Main Library — received significant attention in the speech. He announced that the Long Beach Public Library Foundation had reached the $2 million fund-raising mark for the new library, and the campaign will now go public to hit the $3 million goal.
Garcia also addressed an ongoing campaign by No-Kill advocates against the city’s Animal Care Services Bureau. The group picketed at the Terrace Theater entrance despite the heavy rain.
He said that the city’s euthanasia rate for animals at the shelter has declined every year for the last five, and dropped below 1,000 for the first time in 2018. He praised the bureau for continuing to work toward placing all animals in homes.
Garcia did talk about homelessness, pointing to the Everyone Home Long Beach task force’s work setting concrete goals for housing and shelter beds. He said the city is fulfilling a promise he made in last year’s State of the City speech to create a year-round homeless center to help meet the goal of 225 new shelter beds.
“Last year on this stage, I called for the creation of a permanent year-round municipal shelter,” he said. “Tonight, I am pleased to report we have reached an agreement to purchase a site to create a 125-bed, year-round city shelter. The purchase agreement and the location will be before the City Council for approval in February.”
There were several other accomplishments and goals listed by the mayor in his speech. Here are a few:
• Start a new strategic planning process with a 2030 Plan for Long Beach.
• Maintain and expand the 1% for arts program.
• Approve a tenant assistance policy to help renters faced with large rent increases.
• Reopen Community Hospital sometime in 2019.
• Complete and move in to the new Civic Center, including City Hall, a port headquarters building and the Main Library.
• Continue expanding the city’s “multi-modal” transportation system.
• Expand the Justice Lab diversion program.
To end the speech, Garcia talked again of the city’s resistance to federal government policies, particularly on immigration and the government shutdown.
“We should not be a nation that builds walls, dehumanizes our neighbors, attacks refugees and immigrants, or devalues women.
I am so proud Long Beach remains a city that welcomes everyone and embraces our diversity.
“While we cannot directly change federal policy from Long Beach City Hall, we can fight to protect our civil rights and democratic values. And I promise you, we will.”