In the weeks, months and years ahead, Long Beach residents can look forward to a mass coronavirus vaccination site at the Convention Center, a guaranteed income program for low-income college students, a $15 million tenant assistance program and a ballot initiative to reform the Citizen Police Complaint Commission.
Those were among the major announcements Mayor Robert Garcia made in his annual State of the City address on Tuesday, Jan. 12, which he delivered virtually because of the pandemic.
Even as Garcia emphasized the strength and resilience that Long Beach has shown over the last year amid the worst health and economic crises in a century, his speech focused on the work that still needs to be done.
“Long Beach will rebuild and grow and remain the best city in the world,” he said, “but it will never be the same.”
The coronavirus pandemic and the nearly 500 residents who have died as a result loomed large throughout the address.
“Personally and professionally, this has been the most difficult year of my life,” he said, noting that the loss of his mother and stepfather to the coronavirus was “beyond devastating.
“But here’s the thing about loss,” Garcia added. “It’s painful, but it can make you stronger. I have never felt more determined or more confident in leading this city through this crisis.”
And part of leading the city through the crisis will include opening up the Long Beach Convention Center as a mass vaccination site, he said, where grocery and food distribution workers can get inoculated starting next week.
But the pandemic has not only affected public health. The business closures that have been necessary to stem the further spread of the virus have had “heartbreaking” impacts on workers and business owners, Garcia said.
To help address that, he said Long Beach workers can look forward to more direct relief from the city, thanks to another anticipated stimulus package from the incoming Biden administration. In addition to guaranteed income pilot programs that are already in the works, Garcia said the city is set to launch a similar pilot that will provide income to low-income students at Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach.
And while Long Beach has already offered financial help to tenants who have struggled to pay their rent because of the pandemic and its economic effects, Garcia said he will propose a new $15 million tenant assistance program that would be funded with money from a new federal stimulus package.
“This new program will help renters get caught up on their rent and avert mass evictions across our city,” he said. “This will be the single largest tenant assistance program we have ever launched in our city’s history, and it’s necessary.”
The crises Long Beach has faced over the last year, though, have not only been wrought by the coronavirus. Over the summer, the city — like other cities across the country — faced protests and calls to address systemic racism and inequality.
“First, we must acknowledge that structural racism exists in all our institutions,” Garcia said, “in policing, in education, in the workplace and in health care.”
But, he added, “words alone won’t address racial injustice.”
So to help address and correct structural racism in Long Beach, and particularly in its Police Department, a ballot initiative to reform the Citizen Police Complaint Commission — which has come under fire because of limitations on its ability to hold officers accountable — “needs to go forward to voters in 2022,” Garcia said.
“We have to recognize the harms of systemic injustice,” he added, “and make it the work of our generation to right these wrongs.”
But even as Garcia noted the many hurdles that Long Beach still must overcome, he said the city’s tenacity through the pandemic so far has made him optimistic about what lies ahead.
“These challenges have required us to lead with compassion and a sense of justice,” Garcia said. “Now, I’m proud that our city has worked hard to do the right thing: prioritizing public health, following the science and supporting our most vulnerable residents.
“Our response to this crisis and our heroic workers who continue on despite this challenge have made it crystal clear,” he added, “the state of our city is strong.”