Mayor Robert Garcia visited the Business Journal’s offices on August 29 to sit down for his sixth annual interview as mayor of Long Beach. In an interview with the newsmagazine’s staff, Garcia laid out a picture of a city that is at once full of momentum, yet hindered by chronic challenges.

It is no secret to anyone who visits or lives in Long Beach that it is a city on the rise – literally. Cranes dot the cityscape, erecting residences, massive warehouses and new retail centers. Streets are being torn up and repaved throughout the city, with “Your Measure A Dollars At Work” signs reminding residents of the ballot measure they approved that made the improvements possible.

Mayor Robert Garcia’s first, and now his second, terms as mayor have been defined by a city under development. Pictured here, Garcia and his staff gather outside what is likely to be the decade’s crown jewel of local public investment, the new Long Beach Civic Center. Pictured from left are: Sharon L. Weissman, senior advisor to the mayor; Abigail Mejia, legislative deputy; Randy Rawlings, field deputy; Isaac Romero, executive administrator; Daniel Brezenoff, senior advisor to the mayor; Detrick Manning, communications deputy; Lauren Vargas, director of innovation delivery and special projects; Mayor Robert Garcia; Mark Taylor, chief of staff; Maria Banegas, administrative aide; Tim Patton, senior administrative deputy; Justin Ramirez, deputy chief of staff; and Luke Klipp, special projects officer. (Photograph by Brandon Richardson)

While some residents are moving up, others are struggling. Like many other California cities, Long Beach suffers from a need for affordable housing, and struggles, despite persistent efforts, to keep at-risk individuals from falling into homelessness.

Meanwhile, the wellbeing of one of the city’s largest industries, trade and transportation, hangs in the balance as a trade dispute with China – the greatest source of goods movement through the Port of Long Beach – continues to escalate.

But as much as Garcia expounds upon the need to address these issues – and the ways the city is doing so – he emphasizes Long Beach’s successes as well as bright spots to look forward to: decreasing crime, a balanced city budget, upcoming redistricting, additional support for small businesses and much more.

With an election year coming up, these successes and challenges are sure to become fodder for debate as the city prepares to align its municipal elections with those of the state – a new policy the mayor believes will boost voter turnout and lend to a more competitive political atmosphere. For now, here’s what the mayor has to say on these, and other, topics.

The Budget, Measure A And City Finances

LBBJ: Let’s start with the budget. You made numerous recommendations for the city budget. Walk us through some of those and why you proposed them.

Garcia: The budget is structurally balanced like all the budgets have been. It’s also important to note that the city is in strong financial health. We have an AA credit rating. . . . Our reserves continue to be full and our liabilities continue to decrease. So the budget continues to head in the right direction. I am really proud of our fiscal policies and am really thankful that the city council has both made investments and also ensured that we have lived within our means. As far as the budget recommendations this year, the budget itself is really focused around public safety, which is where most of our resources go – making sure people are safe. There are enormous . . . resources in [the budget] to address our city’s largest challenge and the state’s largest challenge, which is homelessness. We also have, and are increasing, our clean teams to ensure that we are proactively going through and cleaning up trash and blight. We have dramatically increased that department of the city over the last few years, and continue to do so. I have also proposed a college promise transit pass that will be a new partnership with Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach City so that students will have access to either free or highly discounted transit if they are a part of the Long Beach College Promise program.

I have included a couple other items that are important. I have ensured that we have enough resources within the health department to deal with STIs [sexually transmitted infections] and any issues that folks have from a health perspective, [that we] make sure we are expanding our tree canopies across the city, [and] that we are also focused on supporting programs around infrastructure and increasing street and sidewalk construction. Those are most of the highlights of the budget.

LBBJ: Your budget recommendations will cost an additional $2,255,000. How will they be paid for?

Garcia: That’s where the budget oversight committee of the city council comes in. They have already made recommendations, [which] will come from different sources. For example, the ‘Promise Pass’ is going to be a partnership with us and Long Beach Transit. They set aside the money. For the clean team, we have a refuse fund in public works that is used for these types of projects. It just depends on the pot [of funds]. But they are all going to be structurally balanced. We’re not cutting or scaling back on services for the community. We are actually modestly increasing them.

“We are rebuilding the streets, rebuilding the sidewalks. You see it in every neighborhood in every district.”

LBBJ: Why should voters support a permanent extension of the Measure A sales tax?

Garcia: I think that the original Measure A has been a complete success. If you look around the city, it’s under construction and we’re doing more street work than we have in a generation. Measure A is the public works initiative of this era for the City of Long Beach. We are rebuilding the streets, rebuilding the sidewalks. You see it in every neighborhood in every district. You’re seeing the benefits of adding fire engines and rescues, and improving response times across the city as well because of the fire and police component.

Now, looking towards next year . . . if we do not extend Measure A for ourselves, it will be extended by another agency. The choice voters have is, would you rather continue paying what you’re paying today and [have] it going back into rebuilding the city, or would you prefer to continue paying what you’re paying today but the portion that goes to Measure A now will instead go to the AQMD [Air Quality Management District] or the county or another [outside] agency? I think the answer to that is clear. I think voters would much rather see their resources going back into their city than [to an outside] agency. Voters are going to pay this amount; whether or not they want to keep it in Long Beach is the key question for next year.

LBBJ: We just ran an analysis of city salaries illustrating that about one-third of city staff make more than $100,000, and 40 make $200,000 or more. Those numbers are likely to spike following negotiations with the city employee unions. We understand that the city has to offer competitive wages to attract good talent – but do you think these ever-increasing salaries are sustainable?

Garcia: It’s important to note that a majority of our salaries that are on the higher end of the scale are public safety salaries. We are talking mostly about firefighters and police officers. A majority of our higher salaries are not, for example, managers. There are certainly a small group of top department heads that are compensated well, and they should be. But if we want to have the best police officers and the best firefighters, we have to stay competitive with the market, as you said. And Long Beach is in no way an outlier on this. We are not on the high end of salaries, and we’re not on the lower end. We’re pretty much in the middle when it comes to salaries. If you’re not paying your police officers and your firefighters a competitive wage and benefit package, then you are not recruiting the best talent. We want to make sure that first and foremost we have the absolute best police and firefighters in Long Beach.

Now, the second part of your question: is it sustainable? Professional wages, in general, continue over time to increase. I think that firefighters and police officers are paid currently what they deserve to be paid. It’s a dangerous job. If you look at, for example, what our top department heads and city manager make, it’s actually less than other city managers of much smaller cities. So we are definitely competitive, but we are not paying the [highest] salaries. This is a trend that is happening across public agencies. . . . We have to be competitive [to attract] great managers. Many of our department heads or top managers could be earning two, three or four times as much in the private sector. But we’re fortunate they’re working for our city [and] bring their talents here. We’re certainly paying them what they deserve.

Where we need to do better is in other professions. I have always been more concerned with low wage workers and ensuring that they are being paid a fairer wage. Teachers across our community and the region are not being paid enough. There are public workers who need to be paid more, but I think ours are being paid fairly – we’re not some sort of outlier, we are right in the middle.

LBBJ: We’re in good economic times right now. There are some indications that this could change in the future. We don’t know when. If the cost of living keeps going up and wages keep going up, how is the city going to approach that situation?

Garcia: First, you always plan for a recession, which is why our reserves are full. It’s also why when we passed Measure A, we [also] passed Measure B, which puts 1% of any new [general tax] revenue into a reserve account. . . . We are prepared if there is an eventual recession. And if there is, every public agency will have to tighten the belt. But we’re strongly positioned. We also know that many economic shifts are out of our control. The port is an example. The trade war with China and tariffs are having an impact on the port. That’s a global economic trend that we have little control over. . . . We’re prepared, and we know if a recession comes, we’ll have to tighten the belt – and it’ll take [the city] and our employee groups altogether to do so.

Housing And Homelessness

LBBJ: Do you feel the city has enough resources, financial or otherwise, to address the issue of homelessness comprehensively?

Garcia: We always could use more resources on this issue. There is about $30 million in the budget this year to address homelessness. It is the number one issue that we face. If you look at every other city in the State of California in the homeless count this year, [there are] double-digit increases. Orange County I think was at 40%, L.A. and L.A. County around 15%, and San Francisco and San Jose had large numbers. In Long Beach’s case, we were relatively flat. That doesn’t mean that we should be celebrating, because there are still over 1,800 folks in Long Beach on any given day that are experiencing homelessness. But it does mean that we are managing our challenge as best we can with the resources we have. There is right now no magic solution in the State of California to solve this challenge, or we would be doing it. We have many issues happening at once. We don’t have enough housing. We have a mental health crisis. And we don’t have the infrastructure in place to deal with this challenge happening across the state.

People don’t realize that the City of Long Beach has housed 5,000 homeless individuals in the last five years. We house about 1,000 a year. But . . . folks continue to fall into homelessness. These are low income people who are one paycheck away from not being able to pay the rent. People falling into homelessness are young LGBTQ students who are maybe being kicked out of their house because their parents won’t accept them. People who [become] homeless are [often] mentally ill . . . . And if you’re on the street, your ability to take care of yourself and your health becomes dramatically harder. We also focus on issues of wages and assisting renters and low-income people and students because they are vulnerable populations that can fall into homelessness. If we don’t help that population, then we are going to be in even worse shape. It is a balance, and we will continue to work on this challenge. The state is doing more. They could always do more. But we are also building our city’s first citywide homeless shelter. We’re building a navigation center. We’re building innovative programs to put homeless folks to work in our public works department. So there is a lot happening.

LBBJ: What is a navigation center?

Garcia: A navigation center is a center where homeless individuals – it’s opening in the western part of our city – can leave their belongings as they go look for work or try to transition out of homelessness. They also can get services there and get direction as to where to get [additional] services.

LBBJ: There are many factors at play when we talk about working families and working people at risk of becoming homeless, and three at the top of the list are often housing affordability, wage disparity and health care costs. What is the city doing to address those issues in respect to this population?

Garcia: I think we have done a lot. If you look a few years back, the city raised the minimum wage before the state did. We were pioneers in raising the minimum wage on the pathway to $15. The city has been active in building housing that’s affordable. We’re building a lot of projects with affordable housing across the city. The council recently adopted protections for tenants that were on the verge of eviction. We have focused on issues to support good jobs in the city . . . so that people have benefits and health care and are investing back in the community. We continue to implement local hiring policies to hire folks from our community. . . . The strength of our public school system at Long Beach Unified [School District] and [our city] college and university continue to uplift people. There is a lot happening, but there has to be more.

The poverty rate in Long Beach has actually gone down some. We were at about 20%. We’re probably at about 18% now. But there are still a lot of folks who need help. The whole city cannot succeed until the poorest amongst us have success as well. We have to always think about [how] we are all so fortunate and blessed to live in a middle-class community. But there are folks who really need our help, and I think it’s all of our jobs to help them.

“I hope that a redistricting commission will be able to clean up some of the lines in the city so that neighborhoods stay together. We shouldn’t be dividing up neighborhoods.”

LBBJ: There are numerous projects underway creating luxury housing, and also some to create low-income housing. What is being done to address the need for affordable middle-class housing?

Garcia: Luxury housing is really market-rate housing, right? It just so happens that the market right now is slanted in calling for very high rents, so there is a lot of higher-end housing that’s happening. We’re also building a lot of affordable housing. But one of the challenges that we have, and the state has, is the missing middle. We have to attract more construction for middle class families, working class people: a teacher [who has just] graduated out of the university, or a couple working construction jobs and trying to start a family. The development community builds those types of projects less [often], and we have to encourage them to do more of those projects. We actually have some plans in the works. For example, the private housing development that we will be building at the civic center [will have] hundreds of units. A lot of that is going to be middle class workforce housing. We have got some exciting announcements coming up. But we do need to build more.

I want students who are graduating from Cal State or young families to be able to purchase a home in Long Beach, and it’s just very hard right now. . . . We encourage that kind of development, but there aren’t enough state incentives to build that type of housing. There are a lot of state incentives to build low-income housing, or housing for veterans or those experiencing homelessness. Certainly, if developers choose to build market-rate housing, they’re going to get high rents. So where is the incentive to build that middle-class housing? That is something that I think the state needs to help us solve, and [that] all cities are facing right now.

LBBJ: How is the city doing in regard to achieving its state mandated regional housing need allocation (RHNA) numbers? (Editor’s note: dictated by the California Department of Housing and Community Development, RHNA numbers mandate how many homes need to be built and how affordable they need to be in order to meet a city’s housing needs.)

Garcia: We never meet it. Cities never meet their numbers, but we’re doing much better than most. Long Beach is certainly not on the naughty list the state has of those cities that are not building affordable housing. We build. Could we be building more? Absolutely. But we’re also a built-out community. There is only so much density we can add to the downtown and to the center of the city. We will continue to build, but we also don’t have a lot of open land like other communities do, so we’re not going to build 500-unit apartments in Los Altos or Cal Heights. It’s not appropriate. Our historic and suburban communities deserve to be maintained. . . . I don’t support overly densifying those neighborhoods. I do support adding units and density in the downtown core and along the [Metro] Blue Line. There are some areas of North Long Beach and Central Long Beach that can take additional units. We’re doing what we can, but it’s very hard for us to meet that annual goal, because that would basically change many of our neighborhoods across the city.

LBBJ: There is quite a bit of back and forth between the state and municipal governments in terms of state versus local control. It sounds like you are still supporting Long Beach being able to make those decisions for itself.

Garcia: Absolutely. One hundred percent. Long Beach should retain its local control over planning and zoning. What I do think is that the state should absolutely be engaged with mechanisms to encourage cities that are not building affordable housing. For cities that are building like Long Beach, the state should continue to remain a partner in helping us do that. And they are; we have a great relationship with the state.

Politics And Elections

LBBJ: Let’s switch gears and talk politics and local elections. The city council races are already heating up. Are you going to endorse in each district?

Garcia: Yes. I imagine that I will endorse in all of the 2020 council elections. I haven’t endorsed in all of them yet. I have endorsed in three of them.

LBBJ: What about the school board and city college board races?

Garcia: The only endorsement I have made is Doug Otto in his race for the [Long Beach Unified School District] school board. I have not made any other endorsements in the community college or in Long Beach Unified [board elections]. Obviously, there are many months between now and the election.

LBBJ: What’s your overall impression of how residents are feeling about their elected leadership?

Garcia: I have certainly seen public polling on that question, and it’s actually very good. Listen, certain communities are going to find certain representatives that they like and others they may not like. Some folks might like their councilmember more than [others] for whatever reason. That’s always going to exist. If you’re trying to make positive change and if you’re really pushing for growth, you’re going to have folks who don’t agree with things you do. That’s part of it. But it’s not smart to govern by being worried about what every single person is going to say all the time. You’ve got to do your research, do your homework and talk to the community, get input and then make the very best decision in the best interests of the city and as many people as possible.

Also, there is a very sour national mood about what’s happening in government. I think what’s happening at the federal level does impact a lot of anxiety and emotions in people at the local level. But I think overall, if you ask people – and we have – how [they] feel about the direction of Long Beach, you have strong majorities and supermajorities that say the direction of Long Beach is strong and is going in the right direction.

LBBJ: Last year you said it was “unlikely” that you would run for a third term if Measure BBB passed. Have your feelings changed?

Garcia: I don’t know. I am in the first year of my second term right now. That is so far off. . . . But like I said last year as well, never say never. It’s not a decision I would make today. I love being mayor. It has been a great five years, and there are a lot of challenges. But I also love other things. I often miss being back in the classroom and teaching, which is really where my passion is. I can see myself going back and doing that. But you never know. Things happen and things change, and we’ll see. I will be able to answer that question in a couple years.

LBBJ: You moved funds around and created a fund to run for Lieutenant Governor in 2026. Is this what you view as your next step? Or is it more of a placeholder for now?

Garcia: Long Beach law makes it pretty clear that excess campaign funds have to be moved to a state account. I had to move it [to a state account], and it was a good chunk of funds. . . . Is it something I would consider in the future? Sure. But it’s certainly no indication, no decision, about what I am going to do next. I imagine that’s a decision [I will make] in the next couple of years.

LBBJ: How much did you move?

Garcia: It’s about $160,000.

LBBJ: Are you allowed to touch that at all?

Garcia: Absolutely. It’s moved, it’s in a state account and it will stay there until I decide what to do with it.

LBBJ: What is your greatest political ambition? Or if you aren’t sure, how far could you imagine yourself going?

Garcia: My greatest political ambition is to be a really good mayor. One piece of advice that I got early on from the former mayor, which I totally try to live by, is to try to live in the moment and do the best you can in the job you’re in. I really love this job, so it was great advice. . . . My biggest political ambition has always been to do this job and get re-elected, and I did. I want to continue doing a great job. Beyond that, I don’t know. I just want to be a good mayor. And we’ll see about the rest.

LBBJ: Has there been any difficulty in this transition period without a councilmember representing the 1st District?

Garcia: No. I think there is a great group of candidates. I am supporting Mary Zendejas, who I got to know when we were both students at Cal State Long Beach. I think she has been great on the Long Beach Transit board. I think we will end up with a good councilmember and we will continue to move forward.

LBBJ: One more quick question on elections. Do you think now that we’re aligning with the state on elections that we are going to see a more competitive environment and more participation?

Garcia: Yes. I think you see it now. We are going to have much higher turnouts.

The Economy And Business

LBBJ: We touched on some of these topics already, but let’s go more in depth. The trade dispute with China has been going on for quite some time now. While those most affected by the trade war with China have been in agriculture and other industries, tariffs are now expanded to consumer goods. The situation doesn’t appear to be de-escalating any time soon. What are your concerns about what this could mean for the Port of Long Beach and our local economy?

Garcia: The Port of Long Beach is our single-biggest creator of good jobs in the city. Having this irregular and irrational trade policy is not helpful to Long Beach or to any city that relies on goods movement. I have a hard time understanding our trade policy in the United States because it changes depending on the week or on the mood of the president. Folks should be very concerned about the future of trade in the United States. From the port perspective, we are gearing up for what could be some disruptive years, because we’re not sure what to expect. I have talked to farmers in other parts of the United States who are never going to get their business back because they have lost it forever to South America or other places. This is business that used to come through the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports. Now we’re seeing goods and the price of goods change. We’re seeing the impact on steel and construction and development. It’s very concerning, and we have to get back to a point where we have trade that is open and inclusive, and certainly that protects workers. That’s critical as well. But I don’t think there is anyone in this country, maybe besides some folks in the White House, who think we have a rational trade policy right now.

“There are still over 1,800 folks in Long Beach on any given day that are experiencing homelessness. But . . . we are managing our challenge as best we can with the resources we have.”

LBBJ: Some economists think a prolonged trade dispute could tip us into a recession. If that happens, is the city ready for it?

Garcia: We are as ready as we can be for a recession. We’re always planning because we have reserves and we’re conservative about it. The port is planning for that as well. But it’s something that can be averted. I think this trade war can be averted by having rational adults implement trade policies. We have walked away from trade agreements and are currently unable to renegotiate a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, who are critical to our success, because of dysfunction in Washington, D.C. NAFTA, which could have been a better agreement – and certainly there should have been more labor protections in it – but NAFTA helped develop so much of the middle class and working class in Southern California but also in Mexico and in Canada. It strengthened ties between our countries. Now, we can’t even have a responsible conversation with the leaders of these countries. I think we have to be much more thoughtful and responsible in our language as a country and in projecting American strength and American trade and foreign policy.

LBBJ: What is the city doing to support small businesses in Long Beach?

Garcia: There’s a lot. One is, we’ve revamped our entire permitting system and process to make it more accessible. It’s more of a one-stop shop now. It’s all on the same floor as part of the new civic center. We’ve hired more people to do this work. We’ve formed an economic development commission. We have an economic development blueprint, which is a great document that maps out support for small businesses. . . . There is a lot going on for small businesses. But one thing that cities always can do better is support small businesses. I owned a small business at one point. These are hard to operate. You have to make sure that workers get their paycheck, and you’ve got to survive economic recessions. It’s very difficult. We should always try to do more, but I think we’re doing a lot.

LBBJ: What industry or industries would you like to attract or expand here?

Garcia: What I would like [is] to have some larger corporate businesses move in. We are working on that and we are, I think, on the verge. . . . Like Virgin Orbit and Zwift and some of these other tech companies that are coming in and expanding their presence. – that’s what we want more of. We’re working on that, and that’s the next big goal for us.

Community Issues

LBBJ: Let’s get into some community issues. The Census is coming up, and you’ve been vocal about making sure everyone here in Long Beach is counted. The city is soon going to be forming a redistricting commission to figure out what to make of those results. Do you think the city’s districts are representative of actual communities here in Long Beach? What do you hope to see at the end of that process?

Garcia: I think generally the districts are representative of their communities, but we also have some districts that are a bit gerrymandered. There is no one who can look at, for example, the 7th District, and think that it makes complete sense to go from one end of West Long Beach all the way past Bixby Knolls. There are some districts that over time have been carved up in odd ways, but overall most of the districts are I think pretty well representative and compact as they should be, per court opinion. So I hope that a redistricting commission will be able to clean up some of the lines in the city so that neighborhoods stay together. We shouldn’t be dividing up neighborhoods. [For example], Wrigley is divided up into two districts, and it should be one district. . . . I hope the redistricting commission will . . . bring neighborhoods together and keep communities of interest together.

LBBJ: The way that works, if I remember correctly, is first you form the ethics commission and then the ethics commission helps form the redistricting commission, is that right?

Garcia: The way it works is first the ethics commission – which is four members now – will pick three more [members . . . for] a total of seven. Then the ethics commission, along with the [city] clerk, will do the first screening of applicants for the redistricting commission . . . [to determine if] they are eligible to be commissioners. Then all those commissioners essentially go into a pool and the clerk basically picks at random citizens from this pool to serve on the redistricting commission.

LBBJ: When will the process be finalized?

Garcia: Because the Census will happen next year, it will be some time next year, I imagine.

LBBJ: We’ll be interested to see what happens there. Let’s talk about crime. What do you see as the city’s top challenges in this area?

Garcia: There’s a couple. First, we’ve got to be honest about what’s going on with crime across the city. Crime is the lowest it has been in 40 years. We’re averaging around 30 homicides a year. We used to average 50 homicides a year. Before that we averaged 80 homicides a year. And there was a point where we were averaging 100 homicides a year. So every decade in the city’s history, the worst type of crime – which is homicide, or murder – has decreased. Overall, crime this year is lower than it was last year, and crime last year was lower than it was 10 years ago. That’s the overall trend, and the data is very clear. However, when I share that, some folks will say, “That’s surprising to me, how is that the case?” The reason is because our perception of crime is much higher. It used to be that if someone stole a bike or broke into a neighbor’s house two or three blocks from you 10 years ago, you probably didn’t hear about it. If someone steals a bike from you today down the street from you, you’re going to hear about it on Facebook, Nextdoor or whatever social media you have. Residents today are hyper aware of every crime that happens, not just in their neighborhood but across the entire city. Ten years ago, that was not the case. So even though crime is lower, more folks today know about every single instance of crime. That’s actually a good thing. It’s good that people are more informed today. . . .

Beyond that though, it’s not to say that we don’t have some serious issues. We do know that there are assaults that happen with folks who are mentally ill. There are folks within the homeless community who are also committing crimes. We also have residuals from a long battle with many gangs across the city. We finally have made great progress, but sometimes there are flare-ups. The city itself continues to get safer. . . .

We have to do more. Would I love to see more police officers? Absolutely. Would I love to see more programming to help address some of this stuff? Absolutely. But we’re also dealing with this new challenge of what’s happening with jails and overcrowding, and [criminals] being let out [early]. We are trying to manage the best we can with all of these reforms, and I think our police officers are doing a pretty good job.

LBBJ: A mass shooting was recently prevented here in the city at the Long Beach Marriott. What do you think needs to be done to prevent more mass shootings?

Garcia: Our police officers and the Marriott did a great job. Our police officers stop these types of incidents, unfortunately, too often. There is a lot that needs to happen. One of the things that I do not understand about Washington and Congress is the inaction on the issue of guns. There is wide consensus in this country about three or four reforms that, to me, are just very common sense. One is we should have universal background checks. That is not a lot to ask for. We should implement some red flag laws so we’re aware when there are concerns. We should absolutely be investing in research around mental illness and its connection to guns and violence, and we have completely defunded that type of work. We absolutely should look at making weapons of war less accessible to folks. And if you’re going to have access to certain types of guns, you should have a licensing process. It’s strange to me that to drive a car you have to go through an extensive process and take a test; I don’t see why we can’t have a similar process of licensing particularly for some of these weapons that can cause major damage to people. My mom and my dad have a gun. That’s fine, and that’s their decision, and they have a right to it. I absolutely support their right to have it. . . . No one wants to take people’s guns away. What we want to do is ensure that people that are mentally ill and are a danger to society don’t have access to them.

“We are prepared if there is an eventual recession. And if there is, every public agency will have to tighten the belt. But we’re strongly positioned.”

LBBJ: Still on the topic of community issues, but moving away from crime: It seems like each time a new road diet is put in place, there’s a lot of pushback from residents and businesses. Do you think there is anything the city can do to better communicate the planning process for these projects to the public?

Garcia: We should always be improving and increasing outreach on our projects, So the answer to that is yes. We also hear from a lot of folks that are supportive of these projects, [although] they may not be as vocal about . . . [their support]. But I do think the city should be more aggressive in getting information and bringing community members in [regarding] projects that change the street. As we try to make the city safer and increase multi-modal transit and other ways of getting around, and try our best to meet our climate change goals, there are going to be some growing pains. But we know for a fact that young people . . . are asking for a different type of public place. Our future as a city, the folks who are coming out of Cal State Long Beach, young people who are renting their first apartment . . . are very different in their needs and the kind of city they’d like to see. We’re trying our best to meet everyone’s interest.

LBBJ: What do you view as the city’s greatest challenges with respect to climate change, and how is the city working to responsibly address those issues?

Garcia: The biggest challenge as it relates to climate change is rising temperature. We expect it to get hotter in the next 50 years. That really affects Central Long Beach and areas that are denser, that have more seniors, that may not have access to air conditioning units, [and] low-income people. That is where our biggest challenge is going to be. Climate change disproportionately affects those who are low income, because they have less access to technology or [the ability] to move. Sea level rise is also a concern, but most scientists that have looked at climate change as it relates to Long Beach are really focused on the temperature issue. That is something we’re addressing. We’re in the middle of a Climate Change Action Plan right now. We really hope that people understand that climate change is real. It’s not some fantasy – it is happening. We should all be horrified about what’s happening in the Amazon rainforest and what’s happening in the Artic and what is happening here on the coast of California. So that’s the biggest challenge.

LBBJ: What is the city doing to address some of the things you’re talking about here? Is it going to be laid out in this plan?

Garcia: It is. The Climate Change Action Plan is going to be very extensive. It’s going to set climate goals. It’s going to talk about planning and how we build the city. It’s going to talk about how we address heat and temperatures rising. It’s pretty comprehensive, and it’s also going to set up how we meet some of these larger climate goals set by larger agencies like the Paris Accord [also known as the Paris Agreement] and others.

The Future Of Long Beach

LBBJ: What is going on with Queen Mary Island? Are we ever going to see anything happen there? Or even upgrades to the ship?

Garcia: Upgrades to the ship continue to happen. As far as the development project, I hope that we have more on that over the course of the next few months. Our planning department and the development team have been working on a plan, and it has gone through a couple of iterations, so . . . I am hopeful in the next few months that we are going to get some information on that.

LBBJ: What are you looking for in a new city manager?

Garcia: I am looking for someone who is going to love Long Beach and be invested in our community. I am looking for somebody who is going to be an excellent manager and leader. I am looking for somebody that knows our city enough, that can move it forward, and I am looking for somebody that has got new ideas. [We want] someone in that position that can implement new things and look at things differently. We are doing a national search . . . for the absolute best person that we can possibly find. While there will be external candidates, I expect that we’ll also have internal candidates, and we will pick the best person.

LBBJ: Is there anything you would like to add or emphasize?

Garcia: Just that it’s always an honor that people give me this chance to lead our city and be part of a great team. We have the best city and I am very proud of it. We will continue to grow and have growing pains, and that’s all part of it.