According to Mayor Robert Garcia’s office, a record number of people watched/listened to his State of the City speech, delivered virtually on several online platforms.
Were you one of them? I was.
By my count, this is the 38th State of the City speech I’ve heard in Long Beach. I’ve watched it evolve over the years, and I have to say this was one of the strangest I’ve experienced.
That’s totally due to the unprecedented (yes, I used that word again) situation facing Long Beach and the world today. Not a single round of applause, not a single chuckle, not a chance to see and be seen. Thanks a bunch, coronavirus.
One thing for sure — this State of the City was considerably less expensive to put on than Garcia’s last six events. Those were high-tech extravaganzas, with parties before and after.
This year’s speech was appropriately somber and sparce. It was a nice touch to have the city’s health officer, Dr. Anissa Davis, introduce the mayor — she’s been in the crosshairs for months, and deserved some recognition. It also set the tone for the pandemic-centric speech.
I’ve heard the line before, but I honestly believe him when he says “For me, personally and professionally, this has been the most difficult year of my life.” The man lost his mother and step-father to COVID-19, for crying out loud.
He’s also had to come up with ways to respond to the direct and indirect results of the pandemic, and convince the City Council and the community to follow through. Much of the speech focused on those initiatives.
He talked about the testing program put together by the city’s health department, skipping past the semi-slow rollout and going directly to the robust system in place today. He did acknowledge the stutter steps when the vaccinations began, but had some good news regarding vaccinations in the future — seniors older than 75 getting shots beginning this weekend and creation of a mega-vaccination site at the Convention and Entertainment Center (I think he means the surface parking lot, but that’s not real clear).
He said he and the city “followed the science.” What he didn’t say is that he followed Eric Garcetti in LA, the county and Gov. Gavin Newsom in Sacramento.
Which leads us to the Stay At Home orders and its ramifications.
Garcia did say, “The decisions to close businesses in order to save lives have been heartbreaking and devastating to workers and small business owners.” What he didn’t address was the yo-yo approach to closing and opening and closing small businesses while mega-stores stayed open.
He did note that the City Council has promised $10 million in grants to restaurant owners and personal service businesses, with more on the way. He didn’t say much about the fact the money has to come from the federal government.
Garcia spent more time on the suffering of workers and renters. He alluded to the eviction moratorium put in place early on, and the tenant assistance program that followed, as well as guaranteed income programs for artists and others.
He announced new spending for rent relief and direct payments to students. He didn’t talk about how landlords were supposed to pay mortgages.
He said new jobs would be created with more infrastructure work, and a pointed to a requirement to pay grocery workers an extra $4 an hour. What he didn’t say was how the city has the right to tell grocery owners what to do, or how they would find the extra money.
The other major component of the speech talked about the Black Lives Matter movement and the need for equity and elimination of systemic racism. He pointed to the city’s 100 initiatives to address structural racism and promote equity. He endorsed a ballot initiative to reform the Citizens Police Complaint Commission.
The topic also brought his most lyrical line of the speech. “But there’s no question the arc of justice in this country is bending towards equity.”
What he didn’t say was that this issue also sparked a riot on Sunday, May 31, in downtown Long Beach. What he didn’t address was the fear, boarded up windows and millions of dollars in damage that followed. To be fair, he also didn’t take credit for the grant program for business owners who suffered damage that night.
Any State of the City speech has to leave things out — even the wonkiest of us lose focus after 20 minutes or so.
But it’s important to note that what’s left out is just as meaningful as what is said.
I’ll see you at the 2022 State of the City — hopefully, in person.