While COVID-19 brought development to a halt in cities across the country and the world, construction continued to hum in Long Beach—albeit at a slower pace.
“One thing we did really early on, which was not the case in other big cities: When the pandemic hit, we made a direct appeal to the governor, as did a couple of mayors in California, to not stop construction of projects,” Mayor Robert Garcia told me over the phone last week, “and we got that.”
These days, construction across the city is nearing its pre-pandemic level. There are about $500 million worth of projects that have been permitted and are under construction and about 4,000 residential units currently in the pipeline.
Garcia attributes the ongoing momentum to Long Beach’s early action in 2020.
“Having that conversation [with Gov. Gavin Newsom] and him giving us the authority to still put into place really strong protections,” he said, which included testing, social distancing and other requirements for construction workers, allowed the city to safely continue to build. “Certainly we had to shut down businesses and restaurants, but construction actually didn’t stop.”
“If construction were to stop, we could have killed and permanently stopped dozens of projects,” Garcia added. So while the pandemic “did slow down construction in some cases, it didn’t stop projects.”
Now, there are two dozen major projects currently under construction in Long Beach, while 13 more have been approved and 14 more are under review.
The Downtown area has been a major focus for developers in recent years, as the city’s skyline continues to grow. Just last year, a new tower—Shoreline Gateway—claimed the title of the tallest building in Long Beach.
But some of the most exciting projects looking forward are slated for other areas of the city. Four new developments have been proposed near 2ND & PCH in Southeast Long Beach that will offer more retail space and more than 1,300 new residential units.
Of course, those new units are sorely needed. As the city continues to build, housing remains a key concern. Under the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, Long Beach has been tasked with building 26,502 units between 2021 and 2029—even as the city failed to meet its previous housing needs goal of 7,048.
And while the Southeast Long Beach projects will contribute to that lofty goal, Garcia said he still expects most of the housing growth to continue closer to Downtown.
“The single most important part of what we’re doing is more housing,” he told me. “California is in a housing crisis, and we need a lot more housing. We need a lot more density in areas that can take the density—particularly in Downtown and Midtown.”
The city’s list of ongoing development projects bears that out. In Downtown alone, the long-awaited Broadway Block, which is slated for completion next year, will offer 432 units, while a slate of other forthcoming projects like the Civic Center Mid-Block, West Gateway/World Trade Center and Third + Pacific will add over 1,500 more.
To be clear, COVID-19 did slow down progress on several projects. But it’s significant that those developments are still moving forward. The city is continuing to reinvent itself in ways that will, ideally, ease the burden of rising housing costs while offering better amenities and a more diverse array of businesses, shops and restaurants for the community.
We’re not there yet, but together we’re rebounding from the worst of the pandemic. Together, we’re building a better Long Beach.