As 2020 draws to a close, I think most of us can’t wait for it to be over, and won’t be sad to see it go. This was an extremely difficult year, full of challenge and tragedy, and there’s no doubt 2021 is already looking much brighter.
But that’s not the whole story of 2020. A crisis of this magnitude comes perhaps once in a generation, and it calls on us all to step up, find our deepest strengths, and rise to the occasion. At every turn, Long Beach has done that. The people of this city have shown courage, compassion, and incredible perseverance. Our community continues to amaze me with its commitment to social justice, and its willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of others.
2020 was surely the hardest year of my life. But, thanks to the people of this city, it has also been one of the most inspiring.
In response to COVID-19, Long Beach led and modeled a responsible approach. When we asked folks to wear masks, most did. Out of concern for small businesses, neighbors shopped locally, ordered from their favorite restaurants, and bought gift cards to give our economy a boost. Long Beach overwhelmingly supported the science on slowing the spread, and countless residents have gone out of their way to look out for people who might need assistance during the Stay at Home orders.
Long Beach’s COVID testing program is also a national model, with free testing widely available, mobile outreach to impacted neighborhoods, and dual flu testing, which is an important additional support for our frontline healthcare workers.
In response to ongoing injustices against Black lives across the nation, thousands marched and demonstrated for months. Those demonstrations were largely peaceful and helped usher in a national movement towards breaking down systemic racism in our public and private institutions. That work must continue.
Racial and economic justice are priorities for Long Beach, and I’m thankful that our City Council recognized this need. This year we enacted our first guaranteed income program, providing financial assistance to hundreds of families. We passed one of the nation’s first eviction moratoriums, opened our first municipal shelter for people experiencing homelessness, and worked with the state and county to initiate Project Homekey, bringing thousands of potential new units of shelter and housing on line.
All of these initiatives stem from our city’s shared and persistent values of equality and justice.
Yet, despite the great work of our peers and efforts made by our city, Long Beach continues to be hit hard by this lasting pandemic. But we’ve persevered before.
In 1933, as the Great Depression hit and fascism began its rise in Europe, a massive earthquake hit Long Beach, leveling buildings, and taking at least 115 lives. It was the city’s worst catastrophe.
Just 10 years later, the Long Beach Naval Shipyard began its 56 years of operation at our Port, ushering in a new heyday for this city — and showing how resilient a great city and its people can be.
Of course, the Navy eventually left, and Long Beach saw hard times in that era as well, including high crime and struggling schools. But here we are, 23 years later. Our city has grown into a hub of culture and commerce, one the world’s most diverse cities, and a unique place to live and work. Crime continues to remain near record lows. And our schools are national leaders in urban education.
Now, the end of this pandemic era appears to be around the corner too.
Long Beach is still the best city in the world. I am confident that not only will we bounce back from this moment, but we will bounce back stronger, smarter and more compassionate.
As hard as 2020 has been, it has shown us who we are. In 2021, with a new year, a new decade, and a new perspective on life, we have the opportunity to usher in the best days this city has ever seen.
I can’t wait to get to work.
Robert Garcia is mayor of Long Beach.