- Greggory Moore
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By Greggory Moore, Contributor
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia’s fourth State of the City speech delivered Jan. 9 to a packed house at the Terrace Theatre, stuck to his tried-and-true formula: a couple of musical numbers, an extensive list of the past year’s achievements, five minutes touching on a couple of challenges, an assurance that just about everything is trending in the right direction and finally a “Go Long Beach!”
While the State of the City is partly one big pep rally, with Garcia as Cheerleader-in-Chief, there were some worthwhile takeaways.
Whoever chose the opening number apparently didn’t realize that the Tomorrow (from Annie), while hopeful, is partly about how dark things are right now. “Just thinking about tomorrow / Clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow […] The sun will come out tomorrow / So ya gotta hang on ‘til tomorrow.” For the next 40 minutes Garcia would say little about Long Beach’s cobwebs and sorrow. Rather, the three-minute LBC sizzle reel of drone-shot aerial footage made it clear what the mayor’s main motif would be: Good development. Development good.
“In my first State of the City and throughout 2015, I asked you to judge our performance by the number of construction cranes in the air and the hard hats you see on the streets,” Garcia said as soon as he hit the stage. “Today there are seven tower cranes across our skyline, $3 billion of developments under construction, and more than 3,500 units of housing have been either completed or approved.” He also pointed to the largest bridge project on the West Coast, upgrades to the Blue Line, expansion of the Aquarium of the Pacific, modernization of the Convention Center, construction of a new civic center, a bunch of infrastructure projects care of Measure A, etc.
“You see, Long Beach is under construction,” he said.
But when it comes to all this development in the LBC, there are three words on everyone’s lips right now: Land Use Element, an aspect of the City of Long Beach’s General Plan that plots how the city will change and grow. There is widespread concern that the push for increased density is unfairly crowding out longtime lower-income residents, a topic addressed in Gentrification, Renters and Displacement, an episode of the documentary series City Rising airing on PBS stations. While Garcia touted “hundreds of new affordable housing units for seniors and working families” and claimed that this past year “the city council adopted an aggressive plan to build and preserve more affordable housing,” he signaled his awareness that not all of his constituents are convinced that it’s enough—and that, in fact, they may be right. “We must take up and debate the proposed Land Use Element,” he said. “[…] We can do more, so thanks to a new initiative by councilmembers Lena Gonzalez, Al Austin and Dee Andrews, the city council will be looking to adopt new policies that help folks stay in their homes, more rental assistance for seniors and support for renters to move into home ownership.” Garcia, who did not reply to Random Length News’ request for examples of such policies, also singled out “a statewide homelessness crisis” as a local challenge, highlighting the need for a year-round homeless shelter, rather than the winter-only shelter that the City operates. He correctly noted, “Long Beach has seen a decrease in homelessness citywide.”
But he saved his strongest language for the need to overhaul the trucking system at the Port of Long Beach, calling it a “crisis.”
“Port leadership and industry experts all agree: we cannot sustain the current trucking system we have in place,” he said. “We currently have a broken system where trucks are not moving in and out of terminals efficiently.” Additionally, many trucking companies are misclassifying their drivers and paying them “poverty wages.” He asked the city council to partner with the state legislature to confront these unfair practices.
The vast majority of Garcia’s speech accentuated the positive: crime trending in the right direction, improved energy efficiency, an increasingly friendly climate for business and the arts. The mayor’s State of the City address has been spinning positive in these areas every year, regardless of the nuances, long before Garcia took office.
Garcia did play some new material. For example, he announced the formation of Long Beach Justice Lab, an initiative aiming to develop new approaches to interrupting the cycle of repeat offending by troubled individuals.
“The research clearly shows that we see many of the same people cycle through our public safety services—and most of them for committing low-level offenses like possessing an open bottle of beer on the street,” he said. “In Long Beach—and in most of the country—it’s a small percentage of people who are repeatedly committing crimes and consuming a tremendous amount of resources. We can continue to arrest them indefinitely, or we can try to understand and help these people break these dangerous cycles. [… This includes] placing a mental health clinician in our city jail. We currently have no mental health services in our jail, yet we know it is a place where we can help people access services and resources.”
Garcia announced that “late this year” the Army Corps of Engineers will finally unveil their preferred options for restoring the San Pedro Bay, including breakwater reconfiguration. But before you could spell “NIMBY,” he hastened to add that “any project we undertake will restore the ecosystem at our beaches while also protecting the homes and businesses along the coast.”
The sizzle reel that prefaced the night’s main event closed with a five-word caption: Building a Better Long Beach. In the city according to Robert Garcia, that is exactly the state of things. Whatever challenges Long Beach faces, according to the mayor, bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be (even more) sun.
Bonus fun facts:
- While introducing Garcia, when Vice-Mayor Rex Richardson quipped that no mayor seems more like a comic-book movie character than Garcia (a reference to Garcia’s well-known Comic-Con side), you could clearly see the spot on his teleprompter script that said “(Laughter).”
- In 2017 Long Beach cleanup crews hauled away almost 16,000 discarded mattresses. That’s about one mattress for every 30 residents—just this past year!
- Garcia spoke with pride about Vision to Learn, an organization that has partnered with the city to provide 8,000 low-income students with eyeglasses. Garcia brought one of the beneficiaries onstage and asked her what she thought of her new glasses. “They’re pretty good,” she said, not exactly overflowing with enthusiasm.