Long Beach has a lot to tout these days — and its fair share of challenges.
Mayor Robert Garcia gave wide-ranging remarks in his annual State of the City address Tuesday, Jan. 14. In addition to outlining the city’s history, the speech touched on crime, the animal shelter, the city’s Measure A sales tax, the recent influx of space technology companies, upcoming development projects, homelessness and the Queen Mary, among myriad other topics.
The biggest news in Garcia’s address — other than a new management strategy for the Queen Mary — included the introduction of the city’s first safe parking program next month, the ongoing creation of “one of the largest satellite space eco-systems in the United States,” and the development of a new Downtown Plan, “one that includes even more density and taller buildings, climate resilient structures, more incentives to build, new protections for lower-income residents and centered around our new downtown CSULB campus.”
In the more than 50 years that Long Beach has owned the historic Queen Mary, the city and the operators it has tasked with managing the ship have always sought to earn a profit from it.
Garcia announced Tuesday that he has “been convinced this strategy alone will not work.” From here on out, Garcia said, Long Beach will focus primarily on preserving the ship as a piece of history.
“The Queen Mary is bringing people from across the world to Long Beach,” Garcia said, “and we must preserve it, honor it, and live up to the promise we made 50 years ago.”
To fulfill the shift in strategy, Garcia laid out three initiatives that the Queen Mary’s operator, Urban Commons, has agreed to:
• Urban Commons will release a study within the next 60 days analyzing the economic impact the Queen Mary has in Long Beach and the region;
• The operator will release a Historic Preservation Blueprint in the next 90 days to outline the progress on preservation projects and critical repairs; and
• The firm will present new ideas and revised plans for the 40 surrounding acres — the location for the long-awaited Queen Mary Island development — to the city and the public by this fall.
The safe-parking program, which would offer people who live in their cars with a secure place to park and sleep overnight, has been in the works for years. Although Garcia did not provide details on the program during his speech, Long Beach’s Health and Human Services director Kelly Colopy has previously said the concept would launch as a small pilot.
Multiple parking lots will provide a specific number of spots for the program, Colopy said in June, although she was not yet aware of the total number. The pilot program will last a year.
As for the burgeoning local space technology industry, Garcia focused on three major companies that have invested in Long Beach in recent years: Virgin Orbit, SpinLaunch and Rocket Lab.
Rocket Lab is the newest addition to the city. The company, currently based in Huntington Beach, has already begun construction on a new headquarters in Douglas Park and expects to wrap up the process by the end of June.
“Long Beach is an ideal location for our team; it has a vibrant space community, it’s close to many of our suppliers and offers room to grow as our operations do,” founder and CEO Peter Beck said in a Tuesday, Jan. 14, statement. “The city of Long Beach has been incredibly welcoming, and we look forward to working with them to continue growing the local space economy.”
Garcia, for his part, said the boom in satellite space businesses is an extension of Long Beach’s history.
“Just as we led on aviation decades ago,” he said, “we are now leading the future of space with some of America’s leading innovation and technology companies.”
The new Downtown Plan that Garcia proposed, meanwhile, would reshape the neighborhood just as its predecessor did eight years ago.
“It’s been successful. It’s had some challenges. But it’s also now almost obsolete,” Garcia said, “and it’s time for a reinvention.”
The plan would center around the forthcoming CSULB University Village. The development, at Long Beach Boulevard and Fifth Street, has already received approval for 14 new classrooms.
Other news Garcia highlighted in his speech included the city’s lowest crime rate in decades, the anticipated opening later this year of the new Gerald Desmond Bridge and a potential new policy that would require new developments to include affordable housing, which is expected to go before the Planning Commission next month.
“Our progress in these last few years is visible from every neighborhood across our city,” he said. “It’s the start of a new decade, and I’m proud to report to all of you tonight, that the state of this city is strong.”