The following summarizes a community discussion with Mayor Garcia organized by the BHCA. Approximately 66 members of the community were in attendance. Food for the meeting was provided by the On Broadway Business Association; local Boy Scout troop 14 helped set up the meeting place and led the audience in the flag salute.
The Mayor has been in office two years and started the conversation by looking at three “bright spots” in the City.
- LBUSD is considered one of the leading urban school districts
- CSULB had 90,000 applications for freshman class, the 5th highest number of applications for enrollment in US; it is now one of the most difficult colleges to get admission to
- LBCC’s performance and student success continues to improve; the Long Beach “College Promise” guarantees that any student who graduates from a LBUSD High School and is admitted to LBCC has tuition paid for the first year (these monies come from grants, fundraising etc)
- Recognizing the importance of early education, the City has added 1,000 new pre-school seats
- Two years ago, the City lagged in internships for high school students with 1,500 interns for 90,000 students. In comparison, Boston has 15,000 internships for 50,000 students. The City has increased intern positions to 3,000
- Generally, the City is trending in the right direction with a strong economy
- In 2008/2009, unemployment in the City was 15%; today it stands at 5.4 – 5.5%
- 3,000 new jobs added in the last couple of years: new businesses in Douglas Park, Port, Health Care, Education
- Property values have increased; rents are higher with a 2-3% rental vacancy rate (rate which is essentially considered “at full capacity”)
- Low vacancy rate has spurred private investment in rental market especially in the downtown core area but also put a strain on the rental market
Public Infrastructure/ Safety
- Measure A – passed by a 60% vote and takes effect January 1, 2017
- Represents the largest public infrastructure investment in the City in the last 50 years
- The City has at least $1 billion of unfunded infrastructure needs; work has been delayed for many years
- Monies will target parks, storm water, libraries, streets, roads, public safety
- Adding police and firefighter positions. Next year positions will be added to the PD for the first time in 10 years.
The Mayor identified the following challenges: In spite of these challenges he is optimistic about the future of the City.
- State Mandates – safety, housing etc
- Lack of affordable housing for 1st time buyers
QUESTIONS TO THE MAYOR FROM RESIDENTS SUBMITTED BOTH PRIOR TO, AND AT THE MEETING:
How does the Mayor view plans for density, what will it look like: how much density and where will it be located?
- Although there are both Federal and State mandates for housing, Long Beach is an independent City and can operate autonomously and not meet State and County mandates for housing.
- According to the State, we are behind in our housing goals and not doing our part to ease the housing needs in the State. This scenario creates pressure on the City to do more. However, the Mayor stated that although we would like to meet the State targets we will not be able to do so. The targets are impossible to meet and would not result in appropriate growth for the City.
- There is an imbalance between housing and population; there is not sufficient housing for people who live, or want to live, in Long Beach.
- He anticipates that housing will not be built in the vast majority of east and north Long Beach. These are well established suburban communities with little open land.
- Targeted areas for housing: downtown core east of Alamitos, along the transit Blue line, and some parts of central and north Long Beach.
- Housing growth is estimated to be 4,000 – 5,000 units; Long Beach won’t hit the target of 11,000 new housing units. (Target by 2035)
What does the Mayor see happening in the downtown corridor?
- Sees more density in the downtown area. For downtown to succeed and continue on a positive path, more building must occur.
- Crime is lower and there are more high quality retailers. Household income has increased thus supporting higher end retailers.
- An example of the demographic and income change from 10 years ago is demonstrated in the fact that Wal-Mart closed their downtown location last year because it was not profitable. Ten years ago it was a very profitable location.
Where will water come from to support the growth of housing and people?
- Census growth is not expected to be dramatic or exponential. He feels that with everything the City is doing as far as “green” development, water will not be an issue for the anticipated growth.
The development of PCH and 2nd Street will result in an 8-fold increase in traffic. What are his thoughts on traffic management?
- Each project has some degree of traffic impacts.
- The project currently proposed for the 2nd and PCH intersection falls within current zoning guidelines.
- Current college students are changing driving habits – not rushing to buy cars, using drive-sharing modes of transport etc.
- Believes we will see 100’s of driverless (self-driving) cars in Long Beach in the next decade.
- The City is trying to get control of the Blue Line in order to make improvements that will encourage more residents to use public transportation. Cleanliness and safety issues on the line discourage ridership.
Have Measure A funds been allocated/budgeted?
- Funds have been partly budgeted with certain projects identified.
- City Council will direct those funds.
- Details of how the funds will be spent can be found on the City’s website: www.longbeach.gov
- The Marine Stadium to Colorado Lagoon open channel project will cost $15M; the Port of LB is being asked to fund a significant portion of the cost as a mitigation project.
- Measure A funds include a re-working of Broadway from Redondo to downtown. Included are street and sidewalk improvements etc.
What is the Mayor’s position on the Breakwater Study?
- The breakwater structure is owned by the Army Corp of Engineers.
- The structure has changed the ecosystem along the entire shoreline and impacted water quality.
- The City received the OK from the Federal government to do an official study of the impacts of the structure. It’s a three year study and we are 9 months into it. The Corp will come back to the City by the end of 2017 with potential options. At that time the City will have to decide what, if anything, it can do to restore the coast. If some changes can be made, it would definitely increase home values and have a positive economic impact.
- The City has made a commitment to residents of the Peninsula to not do anything that would damage that location.
What is the Mayor’s position on affordable housing? What impact does Airbnb and other self-rental businesses have on available housing and what is the City doing to address the issue?
- The City has a huge need for market priced and high-end as well as affordable housing.
- WeWork, one of the hottest businesses in the country that offers co-working space, has located downtown and is structure to offer 700 work spaces to “incubator” businesses. In the last month, 75% of those spaces have been sold. These businesses add to the demand for high-end housing.
- The Mayor supports affordable, quality housing but does not support rent control.
- A Task Force is studying options for affordable housing.
- The Mayor is considering the right balance for businesses such as Airbnb and VRBO. The City has rules in place but those rules aren’t being followed. These businesses also have tax implications. The City Council will be discussing this issue in the next few months.
- CSULB art graduate student housing is planned for downtown.
What impact might the policies of the new President have on Long Beach?
- Mayor stated that his job is to get as much support as possible for the City regardless of who is President.
- California Mayors are meeting to ensure California gets its fair share of infrastructure funds which could benefit the City.
- New policies could potentially create a loss of funding which will need to be addressed when, and if, that happens.
What is the Mayor’s position on using outside consultants vs. City staff?
- City staff positions were reduced by 680 in the last 10 years.
- Each project is evaluated for the use of in-house vs. outside consulting staff. He does not want to go back to doing business in a way the City could not afford.
- The pension liability is getting smaller.
How is the Civic Center project proceeding?
- The project is going well, is ahead of schedule and at budget.
- We’ll not be able to do a final assessment on acceptability until the project is completed. However, he does believe we will have one of the best libraries in the county.
Comment from the Mayor on the financial health of the City:
- Deficits are lower, reserves are higher, unfunded pensions are lower and will continue to be lower each year.