Now into his fourth year as mayor of Long Beach, Dr. Robert Garcia’s enthusiasm for his post and his city has not waned. If anything, it has grown. Leading the City of Long Beach is “the best job in the country,” according to our mayor – and it is one he intends to continue for another four years, assuming he wins over voters again in 2018.
Mayor Dr. Robert Garcia, center, is pictured with his staff at the Colorado Lagoon, which reopened this past spring after several years of clean up, renovation, storm drain improvements, dredging, planting of native vegetation and more. A final phase calls for building an open channel to connect the lagoon to Marine Stadium. For more information about the restoration project, visit the Friends of the Colorado Lagoon website: www.coloradolagoon.org. Pictured from left are: Mark Taylor, chief of staff; Rhonda Love, scheduler; Lauren Vargas, director of innovation delivery and special projects; Luke Klipp, special projects officer at Long Beach Public Works; Marisol Samayoa, communications deputy; Mayor Garcia; Tim Patton, senior administrative deputy; Sharon Weissman, transportation deputy; Justin Ramirez, legislative director, Abigail Mejia, field deputy; Maria Banegas, administrative services manager; Tyler Curley, legislative deputy; Esmeralda Agredano-Salazar and Blessing Omolafe, legislative interns. (Business Journal photograph by Caught In The Moment Photography)
During his tenure, the city’s unemployment rate has reached historic lows, the Queen Mary has landed a developer with dazzling plans, more than 200 former redevelopment agency properties have been sold, and the downtown is literally rising up with cranes dotting its skyline. He even helped convince voters to pay more in sales taxes with the promise of infrastructure and public safety investments – promises that are visibly coming to fruition throughout the city. And, if his official Twitter account is any indication, the only thing Garcia is such a big cheerleader for – second to Long Beach, of course – is DC Comics.
Still, Garcia is not so “rah-rah” about Long Beach as to not recognize its challenges, some of which he discussed at length with the Business Journal during his fourth annual interview since he was elected.
Each year, the mayor of Long Beach visits the Business Journal’s office for a question-and-answer style interview about everything from current city issues to local politics to policy priorities. This year, Garcia joined Business Journal staff on August 16 for an interview touching on crime, homelessness, public safety, transparency in government, commission appointments, city infrastructure projects, the Long Beach Airport, the impending advent of marijuana businesses, economic development, his future career plans and more.
LBBJ: It seems certain you are going to be reelected. The question we have is, are you going to serve the full four-year term?
Garcia: That’s my intention. Absolutely. This is the best job I could ever have. When I first ran for mayor, I ran because I wanted to be mayor. And I am running for reelection because I want to be mayor. You never say never about anything, but it’s absolutely my intention to serve as mayor. I have a lot that I want to get done.
LBBJ: OK, so your plans are to stay for the full four years?
Garcia: My plan is I am running for mayor to be mayor for a term. Absolutely.
LBBJ: Since you have a strong relationship with Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti, do you have a desire to oversee the 2028 Olympic committee after completing your second term? Is that something you’d be interested in?
Garcia: I plan to be very involved in the Olympic committee. And I think over the next few months you are going to hear a lot about how we’re going to organize locally. I’ll do whatever I can to help with the Olympic committee.
LBBJ: But if he asked you?
Garcia: I haven’t even thought about it. To be honest, there are a lot of qualified people who could run the Olympics. We’ll see.
Fundraising And The Upcoming Election Season
LBBJ: You sent out another fundraising letter.
Garcia: Absolutely. I’m always fundraising.
LBBJ: But you have no opposition, so why do you need money?
Garcia: You always have to be prepared. The election is still a long way from now, and it’s important to raise money to be able to power a campaign. . . . I have raised more than any mayoral candidate in the history of this city at this point in the election cycle.
LBBJ: Can you use the money you raise for other campaigns?
Garcia: The law allows you to use it for other campaigns. I don’t know the exact law. It’s limiting. I think that you can use campaign dollars, for example, to assist in other campaigns that are happening in that cycle. But again, you’ve got to follow whatever the state law and municipal code say.
LBBJ: Do you want to make one or more changes to the city charter? And if that’s the case, you could use the money you raised to push a change next April.
Garcia: I could. I think that’s unlikely. If I want to propose changes to the city charter, I would just raise that money separately. I mean, when we ran the campaign for Measures A and B, we raised significant dollars and had a separate campaign committee. If at some point there are changes to the charter, that would be a separate campaign. I don’t envision me using these funds for that.
LBBJ: Can we expect charter change suggestions for next April?
Garcia: To be honest, I don’t know. I think there isn’t anything that is concrete out there. I think there are a lot of proposals. I have heard you say some things. I have heard councilmembers have other proposals.
LBBJ: We proposed several things. One was reducing the councilmembers to eight, giving the mayor a vote. He’d be the ninth vote. . . . Part of it was six districts and three [citywide] councilmembers. Then we said six districts and two citywide councilmembers with the mayor voting as the ninth person. That would allow voters to vote for four of the nine people who make policy decisions. Voters deserve a stronger voice in elections.
Garcia: There are different models out there. It depends on the model you go with. Having the person who is running the meeting also voting could be problematic. It becomes problematic when you walk in. When the person chairing the meeting is not chairing a fair meeting because they are already going to vote a certain way, it can complicate things. So I would have to look at that proposal.
LBBJ: One of the things we’re concerned about is voter turnout. Let’s assume you have no opposition and that four of the five councilmembers running for reelection have no opposition. Voters have to wait eight years to vote for a councilmember. That doesn’t encourage voter participation.
Garcia: First, that’s highly unlikely. . . . I think that all the councilmembers will have legitimate candidates, as will I. . . . . It’s early in a campaign cycle. People will come forward.
“ . . . any councilmember should get input from the public on I hope most decisions, whether it is the naming of a public building or whether it’s a new policy. So I would expect that to come from the community.”
The Decision-Making Process
LBBJ: Let’s talk about process. The Business Journal is big on process and transparency. The naming of a public facility is a good example. Councilmembers make a decision without public input, decide to float their choice, then bring it the council for a vote. That’s not a process, and only results in dividing people. Asking for public input first should be automatic.
Garcia: There isn’t one way to do it. The city charter gives councilmembers the ability to set a process [of] however they come up with that in their district. Let’s take Vice Mayor Rex Richardson and the Michelle Obama Library. An idea is brought forward by youth from Jordan High School. The vice mayor and others liked the idea. It is brought to the community. There is debate and discussion about it. It’s brought to the council committee. Some people loved it. Other people didn’t love it. But it started from kids in North Long Beach.
There have been other processes to name other things in the community. For example, when we named the Beverly O’Neill Theater in Downtown Long Beach, Vice Mayor [Suja] Lowenthal brought it forward. She said this is the right thing to do. I don’t know that she went out and talked to a lot of folks about it. I think she heard from folks. But she thought it was the right thing to do. And the council and the committees agreed.
And there is what you’re talking about, which would be another model which would go out and say we want to name something for someone. In the current process, the one that you’re referring to, I think that’s where it’s going now. It was an initial idea by the councilwoman to name a certain building. After hearing from the community, she decided that she would go out and let the community have a conversation about what that should be.
LBBJ: It doesn’t matter to us what the final decision is as long as there is a process that’s followed to arrive at that decision, and input is allowed.
Garcia: Well I think that there is a process. And if we want to make it a strong process, that’s something the council should look at. But the process is pretty clear. It’s got to be proposed by a councilmember, it has got to go to a committee for public input, and it has to go back to the council. That is the process.
LBBJ: So you feel that the proposal by the councilmember should come before input from the community?
Garcia: I didn’t say that. I would hope that before any proposal to name buildings, that that councilmember has been having conversations within the community and with members of the community to name something.
LBBJ: But not a formal meeting where they’re taking input? You’re just saying, have a conversation.
Garcia: No, I don’t know how – I mean, I think every councilmember takes input differently. There are formal meetings. There are online surveys. There is talking in the community. So I think any councilmember should get input from the public on I hope most decisions, whether it is the naming of a public building or whether it’s a new policy. So I would expect that to come from the community.
Planning Commission Appointment
LBBJ: You have been catching some heat about one of your appointments to the planning commission.
LBBJ: He lived in Long Beach less than two months when you made the appointment. Do you want to explain your decision?
Garcia: Sure. His name is Josh LaFarga and he is going to be a great planning commissioner. First, I have appointed probably 250 commissioners as mayor. Of the 250, a vast majority, 95%, have been probably around Long Beach for a long time. I don’t believe that our folks who represent us on commissions, [that] there should be a residency requirement of being involved in the city for 10, 20 years. In fact, the charter specifically states and sets what the resident requirements are. Our founding document is specifically written in a way so it’s a combination of people who have been here for a long time, people that don’t even live in the city. We have exemptions for certain commissions so that there are people who have business experience who may not live in the city but who can still serve on commissions. And for folks who are recently also a part of the community.
So if you look at the 250 commissioners that have applied, it’s a diverse group of people. It’s people who have lived here a long time. It’s folks who have been involved in business who maybe don’t live in Long Beach but spend all their time in Long Beach. And it’s people like Josh who have been working in Long Beach for as long – for 10-plus years, involved in the community, involved in hearings and recently chose to live here. And when he told me that he was moving to Long Beach, I was very excited about that, and I said we have got to get you involved in the community.
LBBJ: How do you know this gentleman?
Garcia: I have known him for years. He is involved in the local Labor’s [International Union of North America as an executive committee member]. He is very involved in crafting our project labor agreements. And a big part of the planning commission is building and construction. I think it is important to have folks that understand not just the development side but the men and women who are actually building our skyscrapers and our homes and what it takes to actually build a building. And he brings that perspective. So I think he is going to be great.
Mayor Dr. Robert Garcia and his staff stroll through parts of the renovated Colorado Lagoon. Pictured from left are: Tim Patton, senior administrative deputy; Sharon Weissman, transportation deputy; Justin Ramirez, legislative director; Abigail Mejia, field deputy; Rhoda Love, scheduler; Marisol Samayoa, communications deputy; Mayor Garcia; Maria Banegas, administrative services manager; Blessing Omolafe, legislative intern; Mark Taylor, chief of staff; Esmeralda Agredano-Salazar, legislative intern; Lauren Vargas, director of innovation delivery and special projects; Tyler Curley, legislative deputy; and Luke Klipp, special projects officer at Long Beach Public Works. (Business Journal photograph by Caught In The Moment Photography)
Long Beach Airport
LBBJ: What is the status of the former C-17 buildings on the westside of the airport? Is there a study underway to determine future use?
Garcia: That’s a very important property for us. We are talking to a lot of partners that are interested in that site. But that site obviously has restrictions. We have to work with our federal partners and in the defense department and other places to find the right fit for the C-17 site. We have undergone an extensive study on that site with a bunch of partners. We are now in the process of working with our federal partners as well as interested parties in reusing that site. My hope is that whatever we put on that site really can be an economic driver for the airport and for Long Beach. But it’s not as easy as waving a magic wand. It has to go through a pretty extensive process through the federal government.
LBBJ: When might we see some movement on that?
Garcia: Our hope is that by next year we’re going to have a better idea of what’s possible on the site. It’s obviously not our site. So we are working with a bunch of people for that site.
LBBJ: Boeing still owns it?
LBBJ: An August 11 L.A. Times headline stated, “A soaring demand for cross-border air travel; airlines add flights amid deepening U.S.-Mexico ties.” So there is obviously a demand for international travel. Is Long Beach going to revisit the possibility of international flights?
Garcia: I don’t believe so, [not] anytime in the near future. That would have to be driven by the council. And I think the council overwhelmingly, by a vote of eight to one, rejected the idea. So that’s not coming back to the council. . . . But what is important is, let’s look at what actually is happening at the airport. We’re flying at capacity. There is such a demand for domestic air travel. We are flying all of our slots. We are filling up all of our seats. And the airport is bustling with activity. I mean, there has been a dramatic increase in the domestic sector. The airport is succeeding and it is full and we’re proud of what’s going on. There is a lot of investment happening, which I think is the exciting part about the airport right now. We’re redoing the baggage carry areas. We’re about to open up a new parking structure. We’re creating new areas for car share pick up and drop off. We’re going to be restructuring the way we do ticketing. All of those improvements are going to improve the customer experience. If you ask the airport director, they are very happy with the numbers right now. We are supportive of that.
LBBJ: Have you spoken to JetBlue officials about the late-night flights and the fines that they have racked up?
Garcia: Yeah. That has been a conversation between our airport staff and all the airlines. The truth is, we have rules and we have curfews in place to avoid what’s currently happening. And you can’t have the number of violations that are happening continue. So, our attorneys – city attorney, our prosecutor and others – are working with the airlines to ensure that the rules that we have in place for our noise ordinance are being followed. There are a lot of people that live under the flight path that expect a certain level of comfort in their community. They are aware that on occasion there are going to be instances where we are going to have a late-night airplane come in or out. We expect that, and that’s why we have these fines in place. What’s happening now in some cases is something much more than that. Which is, it is a huge increase in those violations. So we are looking at that and trying to address it.
Public Safety – Body Cameras, Crime Statistics
LBBJ: Let’s talk about body worn cameras. What’s your take? Do you think we should have body cameras for police officers?
Garcia: I don’t expect there to be any agency in the next few years that’s not going to have their officers with body cameras. We’ve already made the decision to move in that direction by having this pilot program [that] is almost over, so I believe by the end of November of this year, we’re going to have a full report and a pretty extensive conversation with the council about our pilot program. We’ve learned a lot. There have been challenges with the technology. The first big thing we learned is that the biggest part about body cameras is not so much the infrastructure of the camera itself, it’s how do you maintain it? How do you store what you’re recording? It’s the cost and the technology. So our hope is to get a full report back at the end of this year on the success of our pilot program and then figure out how we’re actually going to implement body cameras across the department.
LBBJ: We did some research and found that in the first year of body camera use the Rialto Police Department – out in the San Bernardino area with 107 officers – the number of complaints against police were down 88% and the use of excessive force by police decreased by 60%. Impressive.
Garcia: Part of having a pilot program is to see what worked, what didn’t work. What’s happening, is a lot of the agencies that actually implemented it are having a lot of difficulty because they may have picked the wrong vendor or technology. The videos are being deleted. We want to make sure when we do this, that we do it right, that we pick the right partner, the right vendor, and that it’s actually working. So the absolute worst thing we can do is go with a system that’s not going to work or that’s not going to be reliable.
LBBJ: It appears that several of the cities Long Beach uses for police salary comparisons, such as Pasadena and Anaheim, are using the same vendor [Axon] for body cameras, and that Santa Ana and Los Angeles will soon be using that company. There’s a track record there.
Garcia: There is, except I think if you talk to our police chief, he’ll tell you that some of those agencies are having problems. I’m not saying that there’s an issue with this company, but we are moving and we are going in that direction, but I can’t prejudge what that pilot program is going to be.
LBBJ: So cameras could be approved in the new fiscal year beginning October 1, but not funded for the fiscal year?
Garcia: My expectation is, once we get the report back at the end of this year, we will spend a couple months discussing and debating, and just because something isn’t funded per se in a fiscal year, it doesn’t mean you can’t start a program. There are always funds that are moving within any department. Our goal is to get the report back from the pilot program and make a decision about who and how we go forward.
LBBJ: The June statistics show citywide crime fell by 5.4% year-to-date compared to 2016, but violent crime was up 10.4% compared to last year. Violent crime in the West and North Divisions increased by about 26%, while violent crime in the South and East Divisions decreased by 8% and 3.1%, respectively. What is going on with some of those disparities?
Garcia: First, the single most important number is the overall crime rate, so I think that what we do is we compare year to year to year, even though we release it quarterly. So quarterly numbers are always going to fluctuate. There’s always going to be a little more crime at one end with certain activity in one part of town or folks are getting out of school, or it could be something that’s going on that’s related to an event. Numbers will always go up and down depending on the quarter. But when you compare year to year to year, what’s important is, overall, this year compared to last year, crime is down.
Overall, is crime going in the right direction? The answer is obviously yes. That is on top of the fact that we have experienced, over the last few years, the lowest amount of crime in the last 40 years. So if you look from here, the last 5 years, and you match those last 5 years with any 5 years in the history of the city, we’re experiencing some of the safest levels of crime that we’ve ever had. That being said, that doesn’t mean that we also don’t have real crime challenges in some neighborhoods, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have property crimes that happen in communities.
What we do know, though, is as a community we are more aware of crimes that are happening because of social media, because we are all communicating with each other now. It used to be when someone stole a bike from a neighbor down the street, you may never hear about it. Now, if someone steals a bike from a neighbor down the street, even though there are fewer bikes being stolen, it’s a neighbor everyone on the block knows because of social media. That’s actually a good thing that we are all talking to each other, but it also makes us more aware of the crimes that are happening. So overall crime is down, we will have fluctuations in different parts of the city depending on the year, and our police department is working to address all those.
LBBJ: What about the Westside and North Long Beach? The 26% increases in violent crimes – which were specific to robbery and aggravated assault . . .
Garcia: I believe that for North Long Beach, if you look at the most violent crimes, those are actually going down. There are fewer people being killed and murdered in North Long Beach; it has decreased. If you compare Long Beach today, there have been 13 homicides compared to 16 or 17 from this time last year. So I want to make sure that we save every single life possible and every single homicide is a real person and has a family and it’s sad, I’m just glad that there are fewer of them.
Homeless Issues, Housing, Density
LBBJ: Where are we as a city when it comes to homeless issues?
Garcia: We’re better positioned than other cities to deal with the issue, but it’s still a very serious challenge. [Because of] the federal homeless count that goes across all cities [was] just completed, we know that Long Beach had a decrease in homelessness over the last count. But we also know that people are feeling that there are more folks on the street.
What has happened is that overall homelessness in Long Beach has decreased, but it has changed and the population has shifted so certain neighborhoods that in the past didn’t interact with homeless individuals are now seeing homeless individuals, or some communities that may have had one or two homeless folks now have more. That’s also partly a direct result of the $2.5 billion in construction happening in the downtown. All those empty lots and the old civic center and Lincoln Park and all those locations where the homeless community used to live in, are now all construction sites so it’s moved the population. We believe this is a serious issue. We know most of these folks have severe mental health challenges, but it’s a math problem. We, in California, have grown our population and have not built enough housing to match that growth. As our population increases and our housing does not increase at the level it used to, more and more folks are having a hard time finding a home or renting a home. . . . Because there’s such a small vacancy rate, it’s getting hard to house individuals . . . It is a serious challenge. We’re working in Long Beach on the production side so we’re trying to build more affordable housing. We broke ground just this week on 160 units of affordable housing for seniors and veterans.
LBBJ: What do you consider affordable? What are the rates?
Garcia: They’re the federal affordable rates for the very low income. We’re expanding housing for our homeless veterans over at Villages at Cabrillo, so the city is actually producing more units, but this is a statewide crisis. For decades we haven’t built enough and now we’re trying to do the best we can.
LBBJ: And if neighboring cities aren’t doing their fair share, are we not then attracting more homeless to come here?
Garcia: I think that every single city has to . . . There are homeless folks now everywhere. Go down to Newport Beach, go up to Cerritos, or you can see what’s happening in San Diego. I was just in San Diego in the Gaslamp District and I walked by streets where there were rows and rows of tents. I’m thankful that in Long Beach we are trying in a way that’s human, that respects everyone, to address the problem. But it’s a challenge and we’ll continue to build housing . . . we’ve housed, just in the last two years, over 800 homeless veterans that have served our country. I’m proud of that, the city’s proud of that, and we will continue to do that.
LBBJ: Is there anything else you want to add on what the city’s doing to address affordable housing concerns?
Garcia: We’re building more housing. The only way to address affordable housing is to build housing of all types. . . . We’re building a lot of market rate housing because you get folks into those homes which then open up other homes that can be affordable. We need to build housing of all types.
LBBJ: There are many residential projects under construction or planned for downtown. Where else would you like to see more development and higher density in the city?
Garcia: I think most of the density that’s going to happen is going to happen in the downtown. The truth is that most of our suburban neighborhoods, particularly in East Long Beach, we’re not going to build density because it’s not appropriate, it’s a suburban community. Density is going to have to remain in the downtown core, along transit – some of the areas along the Blue Line – and I think there are opportunities in areas of North Long Beach to also build some great units and we’ll do what we can there. But we have to be – I told the council this – we have to be honest with ourselves and realistic and tell the public where we can actually build and where we can’t. We’re not going to build more housing out in East Long Beach and in Belmont Shore and in the Heights and in Bixby Knolls because those are suburban communities and you can’t just place a bunch of housing in those areas. But, can we build more in the downtown? Absolutely. Can we build more in some parts of North Long Beach? Absolutely. And that’s where we are going to build.
“ I don’t expect there to be any agency in the next few years that’s not going to have their officers with body cameras. We’ve already made the decision to move in that direction by having this pilot program [that] is almost over . . .”
LBBJ: The city has been a part of the Long Beach College Promise for a while now and we know that’s something you’re passionate about. How is the program doing?
Garcia: I think it’s going great. Obviously, there have been a lot of things that have improved. I’ll talk about a few things that we’re involved with. I set a goal when I became mayor to double the number of internships that we have annually. We’ve gone from 1,500 internships per year to 4,000 internships a year. So, we more than doubled the number of internships. As you might recall, we have 75,000 public school students and now there are thousands of more students getting access to internships – these are paid internships, by the way. We’ve also increased preschool seats. Now, when you’re at Long Beach City College, you get your first full year paid for, for any Long Beach Unified student. We’re trying to improve student success at the college. Cal State Long Beach still has the promise where if you are in Long Beach Unified you can get into Cal State Long Beach. So, I think the promise is stronger than ever. There will be future iterations of the promise. We have a new president at Long Beach City College, which we are very excited about. We are working with her on new programs. So, I think the college promise is strong. Ninety thousand students applied to go to Cal State Long Beach last year – it’s the 5th most applied to university in the United States. They’re from all over and when I talk to them, they want to stay in Long Beach. They love the area and they want to be part of the community.
LBBJ: How is the promise different than the Mayor’s Fund for Education that you started?
Garcia: The mayor’s fund is very separate. The mayor’s fund is specifically there to support our education partners and provide funding in areas where it would be difficult for them to do some of the work. For example, the mayor’s fund is really focused on preschool, which is something the institutions don’t directly do; it’s not one of their core things. So the fund is providing support to the preschool community to do forums, to expand seats, to provide funding to hopefully do scholarships and other work.
LBBJ: Where are we with marijuana-related businesses opening their doors?
Garcia: I think the process is going very well, from what I understand. Staff has obviously been working with all the applicants. We have to follow, of course, the voter-approved laws. The voters made it very easy for us because they said, “This is how we want you to do it.” Now we are implementing what the voters approved. I expect that a lot of the businesses from the first round are in the process of receiving their licenses right now, and I expect that over the course of the next few months they will be opening.
LBBJ: What’s the expected impact to the city and police?
Garcia: We always expected there would be an impact. That’s why we passed Measure MA, which was the companion tax on marijuana and marijuana products. Those dollars will be used for additional public safety and health services.
LBBJ: Is there an estimate on how much revenue the city will receive?
Garcia: It’s a little soon to know. At minimum, we want revenue to pay for what we believe will be the costs – the public health and public safety costs. But we’re really hoping that . . . you know, this issue has gone so far in the state – it’s night and day from where it was four or five years ago. This is happening across California and we are learning and adjusting as we go. The city is doing a good job of trying to be as cautious as possible to get it done right, but we will have to adjust as we go. It’s important for the voters to know that where these marijuana dispensaries end up and how many we have, is all dictated by the law that voters approved in huge numbers in Long Beach. So, we’re limited as to that.
Queen Mary, Civic Center, Molina Healthcare
LBBJ: Let’s talk about the Queen Mary. Urban Commons has very ambitious plans for the site and for the ship. Do you have confidence that they will be able to deliver on those plans?
Garcia: I do. I have been impressed with Urban Commons and the Urban Commons team. They are investing a lot of dollars in the ship itself. I mean, if you go by the ship today, there’s construction happening everywhere, it’s being painted for the first time in 15 years – they’re putting a lot of love into that ship. And we’re working with them to develop the 40-plus acres around the ship. I understand there have been a lot of attempts in the past to do this and they haven’t worked. Well, you know, just because it hasn’t worked in the past doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying. So, we’re trying and we’re giving the best effort we can to make this work and get a project there.
LBBJ: It’s tough to get rid of the ship . . .
Garcia: We’re not going to get rid of the ship. It’s a big part of the city and it’s going to stay.
LBBJ: How’s the civic center coming along and is it on schedule to open in mid 2019?
Garcia: It’s going great. We’re on schedule. The civic buildings are coming out of the ground. The library is beginning to take shape. It’s on schedule for completion in early 2019. It’s going to be something pretty special. So, we’re really excited about that.
LBBJ: What is going on now with the support team the city council approved to work with Molina Healthcare?
Garcia: Molina has always been a big part of the city and a big private employer, so anytime there is a loss of jobs it’s always concerning. I think Molina will continue to have a bright future in Long Beach and be a big part of our employment picture, but that company is going through changes. Like any business that is in our city, we expect businesses to have their ups and downs and change and make adjustments. It’s unfortunate for the folks who lose their positions, but we know that Molina is going to go through changes over the next few years. We work with them very closely. Our workforce development team works directly with Molina; we’ve been working with employees that need relocation assistance . . .
LBBJ: Has the city put together the support team?
Garcia: Yeah, that support team is really being led out of our Pacific Gateway, our workforce investment group. So that group is talking to Molina regularly and trying to work on the issues around Molina. But it’s a work in progress and everyone is kind of working on it together.
Economic Development Efforts
LBBJ: You brought the economic development department back to life, and you formed the commission. It’s been about two years now. Are you happy with the progress?
Garcia: I’m happy with where economic development is in the city. I mean, we have record low unemployment numbers, thousands of jobs are being created, we have an economic development plan, we have an active commission, we have sold 200 properties and have $3 billion of construction happening in the city.
LBBJ: By 200 properties, you mean the former redevelopment agency properties?
Garcia: Yeah. The economy is an unqualified success in Long Beach. It’s booming. When you have the lowest unemployment rate ever recorded in the history of this city, thousands of jobs and companies like Virgin Orbit moving into your community, when you have $3 billion of construction (I don’t know the last time we had $3 billion of construction happening at once in the city of Long Beach), thousands of residential units being built, the university interacting with the city like it hasn’t before – I think it’s very exciting. And the commission has done a great job with our blueprint. I think our blueprint is excellent. To me, it’s a very, very good plan for the future. But I think we’re also very interested because of all of the excitement we are able to focus on the folks who are unemployed. There are still people in our community that need a job, that are hardworking and can’t find work. So we are focused on that as well. But I am very satisfied with the economy.
LBBJ: Are you happy thus far as to how the city has been using Measure A revenue?
Garcia: I think that we’re using the revenue exactly how we said we were going to use it, which is very important. You know, we’ve launched the largest public infrastructure plan in the city’s history. This year alone, we are paving 50 miles of streets, we’re fixing community centers and fire stations across the city. We’re making improvements to the police academy. We are doing things like fixing our senior center. We just approved the replacement plan to fix our tot lots and playgrounds in many of our parks. I think people are seeing the activity happening across the city and it’s exciting. We’re restoring fire services. We’re restoring paramedic services. We went back to four police divisions. We’re fully funding a new police academy training bureau. We told folks we’d spend the money on public safety and infrastructure and that’s where we’re spending the money. So, I think people are seeing their investment.
LBBJ: Here’s a question from a reader regarding Measure A who said there should be more transparency: “Why is reporting on Measure A done by data sheets, only tri-annually, and not done online in real time using DataLB’s applications, which were supposed to be used on visualizing the impacts of initiatives like Measure A?”
Garcia: I think that we actually do have Measure A on DataLB. As part of Measure A, part of the vote was to approve a citizens’ tax advisory commission, which is in place, which does meet. It’s all a public process, which gets reviewed by that group. There are great people in that group. It also comes to the council in regular reports. So, I think it actually is very transparent. In fact, it is so transparent that you can go online right now and pull up the map of every single project that is going to be done this year. You can pull up the map of every single project that’s going to be done over the next four or five years. Measure A projects are the most transparent projects we have in the community because we let everyone know what’s happening, it’s all online, you can pull up the master infrastructure map. We have a whole website on Measure A that’s got tons of information about the committee, tons of informational documents that are all downloadable, and the actual capital projects are available on DataLB.
“I hope I can look back when my two terms as mayor are over and go, “We had an incredible eight years of growth. Economic growth, investment and the city is stronger, safer and a great place for families to live.”
Moving Long Beach Forward
LBBJ: How do you believe you’ve changed the city since you became mayor?
Garcia: I think that, and I hope that, I’ve been a strong ambassador for the city, both here at home and across the country. I promote Long Beach wherever I am, to the business community, to our international partners that we need at the port. And I have tried to remind folks across the world that Long Beach is a big city. We have more people in population than Atlanta, St. Louis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Miami. That means we are a big city. We have everything that we need to be successful economically. We have an airport that’s well run. Just last month we recorded the highest trade numbers in the history of the port. We have a city that’s safer than in was 10-20 years ago. And we have billions of dollars of construction. So I believe that we have led and opened the door to investment. We’re moving the city into the 21st century when it comes to technology. We are leading in a way that’s also compassionate. We’re looking out for those in the community who need our support, whether it’s very low income, whether it’s veterans, whether it’s the homeless. We have also tried to make government more efficient and financially stable.
This is an era of investment and growth. On the private sector side, we have the investment going on and internally this city has never reconstructed as many streets, sidewalks and public buildings as we are doing now. So, we’re rebuilding our city and you’re seeing a lot of construction out there and you’re going to see a lot more.
LBBJ: What are your priorities for your second term?
Garcia: My priorities are going to be similar to the first. It’s going to be ensuring that we stay strong in economic development. Ensuring that we stay strong financially, that we don’t overspend and we’re managing year to year. Continue to transform Long Beach to a more 21st century, forward-thinking city so more is available. Our newer residents and residents coming into the community want their services faster, leaner, more online and we’ve got to address the needs of that growing population. And we’ll continue to do things such as lead on issues like climate change. I mean, we’re leading the country on issues around climate change and we’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to push industry, like at the port, to become greener. Sometimes that causes some growing pains but that’s the right thing to do long term.
I hope I can look back when my two terms as mayor are over and go, “We had an incredible eight years of growth. Economic growth, investment and the city is stronger, safer and a great place for families to live.”
LBBJ: Is there one moment in your first term that stands out more than others or that had a strong impact on you?
Garcia: A really tough moment was when we had the blackouts [Southern California Edison lost power in parts of Downtown Long Beach, stranding many people in high rises]. That really stands out. Those were some really, really tough days just because I saw so many people in real need and we were so angry and upset at what was going on.
LBBJ: And helpless in a way, right?
Garcia: In many ways, we were dependent on our utility partner to get the system back up. We’ve learned a lot of lessons. I think we’ve improved the system. I think the state has come in and rightly forced investment into the system. But that was a tough couple of days and it happened early on.
LBBJ: Some people living in high rises couldn’t get down . . .
Garcia: Couldn’t get down. We had seniors that had serious medical conditions that couldn’t get out of their apartments. It was all hands on deck for a few days.
LBBJ: Is there anything else that you want to discuss?
Garcia: We are collecting more data and using data more effectively than we ever have. I’m data driven, so I think that’s something that is very exciting that is going on with the city.
LBBJ: Some of that data is going to be used on the business side.
Garcia: Absolutely. Tourism is at a record high. Hundreds of millions of dollars. We’re expanding the [Carnival Cruise] terminal. The future of Long Beach is very bright and I wake up every morning just excited to go to work. I love being mayor. It’s the best job in the country.
LBBJ: And the most important question: are you going to get married in Long Beach?
Garcia: Absolutely. I wouldn’t do it anywhere else.