Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia stopped by the Los Altos Neighborhood Library Saturday afternoon as part of a new “Meet the Mayor” tour and to discuss the state of the city with residents from District Four.
Recently, the mayor faced intense criticism from Long Beach residents over his handling of recent tragedy and housing insecurity. Although Saturday’s meeting was much more casual and free from chanting activists, the mayor still faced tough questions from the crowd.
“Oftentimes as mayor you get to do a lot of speeches with a lot of people,” Garcia said, “but you don’t often get the opportunity to be asked questions in smaller groups where people feel more comfortable.”
Garcia also shared his thoughts on the recent shooting and drunk driving manslaughter and praised police response to both tragedies. He praised the ongoing police response and claimed they were working hard on the case but declined to share any updates.
In his speech, Garcia praised the current state of the Long Beach economy, including record unemployment numbers, new development in the port and downtown areas, and shopping centers such as 2nd and PCH and Douglas Park.
“Right now, under construction in the city, there is almost $4 billion of construction,” Garcia said. “That includes over 75 development projects. The amount of private investment happening right now is the largest happening in decades.”
He also touted the success of the Long Beach College Promise program. Enacted in 2016, it gives Long Beach Unified School District graduates two free years of tuition to Long Beach City College and preferential selection to Long Beach State.
Garcia also addressed local crime, which has fallen consistently since the 70s, according to data from the city.
“If you look at, back in the 1980s the city of Long Beach had up to 125 murders or homicides a year,” he said. “Last year and this year has had the lowest number of homicides in the city’s history. The overall trend in violent crime is also going down. The crime rates are lower than they were 10, 20, 30 years ago.”
The mayor ended his prepared remarks with what he described as the city’s greatest challenge: homelessness. While admitting that the homeless are “not one monolithic group,” Garcia said individuals who chose to be homeless are part of the problem.
“We also have a newer population who are coming from different parts of the country who are choosing to have a more bohemian lifestyle,” Garcia said.
“When someone says we need to get these folks housing I say, ‘I agree’ but where do they go? There is no housing,” he added. “How do you build housing in a city that is built out? We have to be realistic about what we can build and where.”
After turning it over to the audience to ask questions, one audience member challenged Garcia’s vision of economic success for the city. He asked the mayor if turning Douglas Park into a retail center, formerly the largest undeveloped lot in the city would ultimately drive out current residents.
Another audience member challenged Garcia on his assertion that there is no housing in Long Beach. The man claimed that there are currently between 5,500 and 6,000 units in the city which are currently empty and available to rent, a claim the mayor did not contest, and said that Long Beach was at risk of overdevelopment.
“Personally I don’t think we’re overbuilding,” Garcia said. “We need to do our piece in providing more housing. I want to make sure there is housing for everyone without over densifying suburban neighborhoods.”
Before leaving, the mayor also faced questions on Long Beach’s efforts to combat climate change, a city bank, space rent control, ICE and what it was like to be mayor. The event ended just before 1 p.m. as Garcia left for another “Meet the Mayor” event at Bayshore Neighborhood Library.