By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia painted a rose colored picture over a gloomy forecast at his Jan. 13 state of the city address.
Speaking to a full house at the Terrace Theatre Mayor Garcia focused on successes in economic development, education and action on crime reduction.
The 28th mayor of Long Beach emphasized themes of fiscal restraint and responsibility for the city’s balanced budget and modest surplus this year.
Included in the highlights of Garcia’s address:
- Unemployment at 6.5 percent, the lowest since 2007.
- Workforce Development Department served more than 3,000 job seekers and permanently placed more than 1,900 into jobs in 2015
Garcia also touted the latest tenants to occupy the newly renovated Pike, including the H&M, The Gap, Forever 21, Converse and Nike. He also noted that Virgin Galactic, Mercedes-Benz USA and Shimadzu Instruments have also recently found a home in Long Beach.
The last Boeing C-17 cargo plane left Long Beach this past November. Garcia put a positive spin on a sad event. Garcia noted that the city received $4 billion to repurpose the Boeing C-17 site and retrain workers.
“Aerospace is alive and well in Long Beach!” Garcia said. “I am confident that Long Beach—the birthplace of the commercial aircraft industry—is becoming a center of commercial space industry.
He also cited thriving occupancy rates at local hotels and months-long advanced booking at the Long Beach Convention Center.
Garcia articulated a long-term vision of poverty reduction as he touted the city’s efforts in expanding access to preschool education and internships for local students in local industries.
“In just 18 months, we have increased internship by more than 50 percent, adding more than 750 internships to 1,500 already being offered,” said Garcia, thanking Long Beach CALL, the Pacific Workforce Investment Network, Long Beach Unified School District and Long Beach City College.
He noted that LBUSD has added more than 800 new preschool seats, and is expected to open a preschool center in north Long Beach in 2017.
“Helping our neighbors requires a focus on education, retraining, jobs, and yes, fair wages,” he said.
In 2014, the city joined LBUSD, Long Beach City College and Cal State University Long Beach as a full partner in the Long Beach College Promise, which provides guaranteed admission to CSULB, and early outreach and intensive support.
Long Beach City College is now offering a full year of tuition-free for every LBUSD graduate in good standing.
Garcia endorsed the city’s Economic Development Commission’s recommendation to raise the minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019 rather than the $15 that has been passed by both the city and the county of Los Angeles.
A week after the State of the City address, the Long Beach City Council passed the $13 per hour minimum with a “pathway” to a $15 minimum wage by 2021.
The commission also recommended giving small businesses and nonprofits an extra year to comply with the new minimum wage.
Garcia also touted the preservation or construction of 1,500 affordable housing units for families, workers, seniors and veterans; and that chronic veteran homelessness is officially ended and that he’s seeking federal certification for the feat.
The mayor, like other elected officials, did not define affordable housing, saying only that his office is holding meetings with housing advocates and developers to discuss possible affordable housing policies.
Although he never mentioned the occupancy level at downtown residential units, he set a goal to construct 4,000 new residential units in the 10 years that follow. About 224 units are under construction and 1,700 more are entitled for construction. Whether these units successfully will be sold and occupied remains to be seen.
The mayor also congratulated the Long Beach City Council for moving forward with the controversial Civic Center. While the project is expected to create 8,000 jobs, provide and expanded Lincoln Park, a more accessible library, residences, a new city hall and headquarters for the Port of Long Beach, some people question the motive and need to move forward with that project.
Garcia took the time to tout some of the port’s accomplishments for the year.
- 3,000 new jobs created as a result of construction projects at the port, including the $1.5 billion Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement project.
- 5.4 percent increase in cargo volume
- 21 percent decrease in greenhouse emissions over 10 years.
Although he did not mention the number of officer-involved shootings this past year, Garcia did say that public safety must be supported by working with the city’s police, rather than against them.
He outlined six things the city is doing to improve its police force:
- Funding expansion for the city’s police academy
- Fighting human trafficking
- Maintaining positive community relation- ships
- Implementing a body camera program
- Developing mental health diversion programs
- Enhancing officer training to assist homeless or mentally ill people
He said those are approaches are working by minimizing response times to 4.9 minutes and answering 93 percent of emergency calls within 10 seconds.
While crime has increased in the city and across the country, he noted that 2015’s numbers were similar to 2011—the lowest crime level in a generation.
Garcia said he is confident that the city will meet the many challenges of the present and the future.
“The most important reason we will do this is our people,” he said. “It’s the people in Long Beach that make this city great and keep us moving forward.”