On The Right Course
Some of the reasons why we should feel good about the direction our community is traveling, indicate why the state of our city is right on course.
One year ago our city was suffering from incredibly high natural gas rates that put a terrible burden on many households and small business owners.
The City negotiated an 18-month natural gas supply agreement that protects our residents against that unprecedented increase from ever occurring again.
We also renegotiated a new gas agreement with the State Lands Commission for locally produced natural gas that saved our customers more than $20 million in the past year.
These efforts and others by our city staff have been so successful that as of January 1st, Long Beach now has the lowest gas utility prices in the State of California.
During the year the City re-focused its efforts to encourage consumers to "Buy Long Beach" and supported the effort with advertisements in local newspapers to re-Discover Long Beach.
We created a position of Diversity Outreach Officer to implement the program, and to work with local businesses on how to do business with the City.
More than 670,000 square feet of retail projects were newly built or refurbished during 2001. Eight new or refurbished shopping areas have been added to Long Beach since 1995.
Retail sales jumped more than 28 percent over 1999, almost triple the Los Angeles County average, and now exceed $2.6 billion.
For the third consecutive year, we have a balanced budget without resorting to reserves or one-time payments, and we continue to sustain a prudent reserve level.
We were the first community in the nation to achieve a Triple A investment portfolio credit rating as determined by Standard & Poor’s, and we also have a Double A
Three rating from Moody’s indicating our strong creditworthiness.
The City continues to invest in its neighborhood businesses. During 2001, 95 grants of $2,000 each were given to new retail businesses to help them become established in designated Community Block Grant areas.
We also addressed a business economic stimulus package by introducing an amnesty program for owners of unlicensed businesses, and a 15 percent discount for business license renewals paid within 30 days.
Property values within the City remain strong as evidenced by increased property tax revenue of 8% over 2000 and 16% since 1994.
Transit occupancy tax has grown by more than 4% since 2000, and has risen 114% since 1994.
Downtown office vacancy rates decreased to 14.8% and to 7.4% in the suburbs.
We have increased our commercial and industrial business community with the addition of over 750 new jobs during 2001.
We broke ground on our new 911 communications center and it should be completed in 2003.
We have now fully funded, from sources outside the City budget, 12 family learning centers at all of our library branches.
$20 million of street construction has recently been completed or is under way, with an additional $12 million about to begin.
None of that work would have been possible without the growth of our general fund, fueled by increases in sales tax, property tax and the transit occupancy tax.
This is why the revitalization of our downtown and our retail centers has been so important to the future growth of our community.
As we finish other retail projects such as City Place and Queensway Bay, our general fund will continue to grow giving us even more resources to address neighborhood issues.
And finally, a long anticipated day arrived last Friday, when approximately 38,000 property owners will no longer have to pay mandatory flood insurance. We thank Supervisor Knabe and Congressman Horn for their leadership in this effort, decreasing estimated construction time from ten to five years.
Continued Tourism Growth
The continued growth of tourism in Long Beach will help to build an even stronger economy. Over 5 million visitors come to our city each year, many of them repeat visitors, and that figure is growing. This is true because we are adding two major components to our tourism mix.
Carnival Cruises will add an element of the tourism business that Long Beach has never experienced. Two ships transitioning to Long Beach from San Pedro will attract over 500,000 visitors annually visiting our city in addition to the 1,600 crewmembers that will be home-based in Long Beach.
Carnival Cruises will also complement the growth potential of the Long Beach Airport and the arrival of JetBlue. The marketing possibilities that exist between JetBlue, Carnival Cruises, other tourist-related events and the Convention and Visitors Bureau are limitless.
The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach continues to bring thousands of race fans to Long Beach each year as it retains its stature as the second largest automobile race in America.
And even though we are losing Chris Pook to CART, the Grand Prix’s sanctioning body, I am confident that the Grand Prix will continue, under Jim Michaelian’s talented leadership, to be one of the highlights of the year for racing fans and a giant economic boost to our city.
During the year the Aquarium of the Pacific reached another milestone by being named a Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center.
The federal designation allows the aquarium to invite in visiting scholars, traveling exhibits and new educational programs. The California Department of Transportation will be placing signage on the 405 freeway directing motorists to the 710 freeway and the aquarium.
This summer the children will have a new shark lagoon to look forward to.
In March, we will welcome the internationally known Cirque Du Soleil to Long Beach for a four-week engagement next to the Queen Mary. This will be the first Southern California appearance of the Cirque Du Soleil in three years.
This past year also saw the Convention and Visitors Bureau launch its Visit Long Beach website which has 1,500 pages detailing the events and attractions occurring in Long Beach.
With the growth of any business sector, there are challenges. Tourism is no exception. We have reached a point where our ability to grow convention business is being constricted by a lack of hotel rooms.
We have recently lost some events simply because of the lack of additional convenient hotel rooms. Hotels have been in the planning stage for some time now and we need to get them under way.
Diverse Urban Environment
In addition to attractions and hotel rooms, people look for places to shop. In recent years we have either added or refurbished more than two million square feet, encompassing 150 new stores at eight different locations throughout the city.
City Place is well under way, replacing the old Plaza, and will add 454,000 square feet of additional retail to our downtown. This development will also include a badly needed supermarket to service existing downtown residents, and the new ones attracted to the most recent residential living spaces being completed.
The 350 residential units and other loft developments being created at the Walker Building, Masonic Temple and Insurance Exchange building will change downtown into an urban environment.
That urban environment will be greatly enhanced by the further development of West Gateway.
This project, encompassing portions of nine blocks and 13 acres between Golden Avenue, Cedar, Broadway and Fourth Streets will add more than 750 residential units. The Redevelopment Agency will be soliciting development bids this month.
There is little I need to say about the success of Towne Center. With the recent completion of the final phase of the 605/Carson interchange project, it is now even more convenient to shop at one of the region’s largest retail centers. It has been one of Long Beach’s greatest economic development success stories. But it won’t be the last one.
In addition to tourism, the other area of our economy that is becoming more and more attractive to customers worldwide is international trade.
Alameda Corridor a Vital Tool
In April the Alameda Corridor will be completed, and shippers will be able to triple the speed of cargo from the Port to the transcontinental rail yards.
The Alameda Corridor is a vital tool for our port remaining competitive and positions it for the rapid trade growth expected over the next decade.
Rapid Trade Growth
With our strategic location, shipping lines are sending their largest ships to Long Beach-ships carrying as many as 6,000 containers.
This summer the first phase of the new 375-acre Hanjin Shipping Company’s terminal will be completed.
Mediterranean Shipping, the world’s fourth largest container shipping line, will be relocating to Long Beach from the Port of Los Angeles in the old Hanjin terminal. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, Mediterranean Shipping is new to transpacific trade.
The Port of Long Beach will expend $300 million this year as part of its terminal expansion efforts. These efforts will once again return the Port to its rightful position as the constantly busiest container port in North America. In addition to the growth we can expect from global trade in the near future, we also expect robust expansion from our technology business sector.
Remarkable Progress in Technology
We have made remarkable progress in the past couple of years in regards to our technology initiative. We have seen technology committees formed by the Chamber of Commerce, by Strategic Marketing, Inc in addition to the Mayor’s Technology Advisory Group formed almost two years ago.
That group, in one of our earliest meetings, said that Long Beach needed to make available more residential living spaces downtown for young professionals that we hope to attract to Long Beach.
On the South side of Ocean Boulevard, across from City Hall, you can see the construction of the Park at Harbour View-the Camden Project. There will be 500 apartments, 246 condominiums and eventually a new hotel. All of the units will have the latest in fiber technology, allowing immediate access to the Internet. Phase One including the apartments will be completed this summer.
A little farther west at the end of the Navy Mole is the homeport for Sea Launch. No program represents technology better for Long Beach than this multi-national commercial satellite launching effort. They have had six successful launches to date, and are planning five more this year. Sea Launch brings international exposure to Long Beach, as not only its homeport, but also its world headquarters. Much of what Long Beach does in the area of technology is linked to transportation. One of the recent success stories within the Pentagon is the C-17 Globemaster military transport aircraft.
The C-17 is California’s only military production aircraft program. Last month it was announced that Congress had approved monies for 60 additional aircraft.
This buy and others expected to follow, will keep the production program in Long Beach throughout this decade.
California’s only production program for commercial airliners is also in Long Beach with the development of the 717 twinjet.
While sales of commercial aircraft have slumped since September, Boeing officials are keeping the production line open and are optimistic that the performance of the 717 will lead to additional orders. We are proud of all the work that Boeing is doing in Long Beach.
Boeing is also going to make a major impact on the city’s technology future with the development of the 260-acre PacifiCenter complex at the airport. Boeing will turn PacifiCenter into a campus environment for technology-driven firms. This is a unique opportunity for a city like ours that is running out of space for development.
We can already offer strategic location, great climate, labor market and affordable office space.
We can now attract companies requiring administrative offices and production facilities at the same location with technology infrastructure and residential units.
The decision by JetBlue Airways to create a west coast business center in Long Beach, securing 27 slots, will enable airline passengers to connect to major eastern cities from Long Beach, the most convenient airport in Southern California. They have established an outstanding reputation here and their business is growing.
JetBlue has two years to fill those slots. We will not exceed the 41 flights imposed as part of the court settlement.
Reaching the 41-flight ceiling at the airport will require city staff to address some major issues regarding development of facilities for passenger comfort and refurbishment of aging areas of the airport.
Location, Location, Location
In June, the Tech Coast Alliance introduced its Tech Coast Magazine, and its strategy for branding the Southern California area from Santa Barbara to San Diego, as the most dynamic and vigorous technology region in the world.
It was not by accident that this event was held in Long Beach, as we are located in the middle of that region.
A recent study by Carnegie Mellon and the Urban Institute shows that high technology workers are flocking to communities that openly embrace diversity, foreign cultures and the arts community. We certainly qualify in all those areas.
A recent Technology Symposium held last November discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the City’s technology initiative. We were pleased by the positives we heard, but we have issues that need addressing.
We need to create an image of Long Beach as a technology center by creating a fiber network so that firms moving into Long Beach know they will have accessibility to data networks.
Our newest technology company addition to Long Beach was motivated by what they heard at the Tech Coast kickoff regarding what Long Beach has to offer companies. Laser Fiche, a document-imaging firm, previously based in Torrance, recently moved l00 employees and its world headquarters to Bixby Knolls. Their customer base includes over 16,000 firms and government agencies around the world.
A City Rich in Arts and Culture
No list of Long Beach accomplishments would be complete without a discussion of arts and culture.
We should be proud of what our community offers in this regard. Each year over two million people visit Long Beach art and cultural organizations. We have our own Symphony, resident theater, ballet and opera. The arts are alive and well in Long Beach.
East Village arts district continues to expand with live/work and loft projects.
We are still the only city in America with a program affiliation with the Smithsonian, and the Public Corporation for the Arts will once again host Smithsonian Week in Long Beach, bringing Smithsonian scholars into area schools to discuss spiders, space and musical theater.
In sports last year over 3,000 young golf enthusiasts from our community benefited from participating in the Tiger Woods Foundation clinic last April. Other sports enthusiasts enjoyed watching the Long Beach Ice Dogs, and during the summer baseball fans watched the Long Beach Breakers win the Western League baseball championship, and boy, do we have terrific high school and college teams.
CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE
Up to this point I have been discussing the achievements and accomplishments that we have enjoyed during the past year, and there are more that could be mentioned. But no city can attain its destiny without facing its challenges straight on. We are facing a future of challenging opportunities-and we need to take advantage of it.
There is a strong link between the achievements I’ve mentioned and our quality of life in Long Beach. How it enhances life for the nearly 462,000 citizens that live and work here and allows us to stay on course with our vision for the future.
Our Strategic Plan approved two years ago, clearly defined a path for our community. It is a path that builds stronger and safer neighborhoods, that puts more emphasis on youth and education, encourages economic growth, that focuses on environmental concerns and uses technology to empower our citizens and link our neighborhoods.
We are moving down that path and while we are making progress in many areas, there is still much to do.
Five Vital Areas
We have five vital areas that require immediate attention and all the resources that we can assemble. They are housing, neighborhoods and public safety, education, health, sustainability and transportation.
We are a comprehensive city. We pay for all of our city services. So a positive direction in our economy bodes well for the maintenance of our quality of life.
Investing in Housing and Strong and Safe Neighborhoods
We need more housing, with the increased population that all of California faces, all housing services will be stressed. Not only do we need more housing, but also we need more affordable housing.
During the past year we did make home ownership available to more citizens.
We completed the sale of all the homes for first time buyers at Renaissance Walk on Atlantic Avenue.
We are rehabilitating 4-unit apartment buildings for low-income households.
During the year we were able to increase the number of housing vouchers that resulted in assisting 172 additional low-income households.
Along with making more housing available is the critical need to clean up and enhance our neighborhoods. The City partnered with neighborhood associations and community groups to conduct 147 clean-up projects citywide.
Hundreds of tons of trash and illegally dumped items were removed from our neighborhoods.
We are working hard to empower our neighborhoods. We are actively engaged in identifying and training citizens so they are prepared to become neighborhood leaders.
We have trained 165 people throughout the community and hopefully will find ways of expanding the program this year to train up to 120 additional leaders. Neighborhood empowerment is vital to the strength of any community.
Enhancing our neighborhoods and making them more livable also involves street and alley repairs. The neighborhood street repair work that I previously mentioned includes 63 miles of local neighborhood street repairs.
The City is doing more neighborhood street repairs than it has ever done before. Rapid street maintenance is also an area of concern for all of us, and during the year we created for the first time a pothole patrol that responds to a hot line call within 24 hours.
We need to ensure that when money is made available for street repairs, the money is spent in a timely fashion. If that means hiring additional people within Public Works, then we should do it.
Education is Key to the Future
Our challenges associated with education are that 33 percent of our population has minimal reading skills, and the fact that many of our school children do not own a book or have access to magazines in their homes.
There cannot be any kind of quality of life without a high degree of literacy among our citizens. At the same time we have much to be proud of regarding our school system.
It has become a model district for a myriad of school reforms such as school uniforms, single-gender middle school classes and high school juniors being given the opportunity to take college classes.
This year the Long Beach Unified School District had the greatest gains on state testing among all the large urban school districts in California.
Quality of life affects the health and well being of our citizens. We have a health department second to none, who also rose to the challenge in days and weeks after September 11th.
Last year doctors, community members and volunteers valiantly re-opened Community Hospital of Long Beach to address the health needs of our eastside residents. Also this year, we dedicated the P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village through a unique public-private partnership with the SPCA-Los Angeles.
We need to continue to address the problems of our homeless population.
The Villages of Cabrillo is a model program for transitional housing for the homeless, and our Multi-Service Center, offering services from many agencies, is now offering no-cost child care for the homeless and a free health clinic for women and children including immunizations.
We need to continue to explore all avenues for resources so that we can address this continuum of care issue.
A Sustainable Future
Sustainability involves leisure, recreation and open space. During the past year, Parks, Recreation & Marine received a number of grants for the purpose of acquiring and developing parkland.
We must be more creative than ever before in searching out locations throughout the city for parks.
We are not like Los Angeles or any other city in Southern California. We are a waterfront community with miles of shoreline, bike paths and spectacular climate. We must maximize these attributes to the fullest extent possible.
That means we must take every precaution to ensure that our water and our beaches are clean.
We have been the recipient of a variety of grants from the federal government, the state and Los Angeles County to help us to clean up our shoreline, fight soil erosion, improve water quality and restore wetlands, and eliminate trash that comes down the Los Angeles River from cities north of us.
This is not an option the city has-this is something we must do to ensure our future. Long Beach is our name, and we must do everything to ensure that the name reflects how we feel about the environment and our beaches.
Transportation A Major Challenge
We have some of the best transportation in Southern California with our Long Beach Transit and the Blue Line, but our greatest challenge in this regard is the 710 Freeway. The congestion that is growing daily affects not only the traffic in and out of the Port, but also the traffic of residents and visitors.
We have worked with CalTrans and real work is under way to make the 710 more drivable south of the 405 with an improved center divider and totally repaved surface by the end of this year.
This is a positive step for the 710, but real success lies in a long-term strategy. We have taken a leading role in working with Caltrans, the Port, Southern California Association of Governments, and the Gateway Cities to complete a major Investment Study of the 710 freeway. Completion of this study will provide innovative solutions to relieve congestion and will qualify us for millions of dollars in federal funding.
We have received outstanding cooperation from our three local state-elected officials-Assembly members Jenny Oropeza and Alan Lowenthal, and Senator Betty Karnette, but it is vital to let everyone in Sacramento know how important the 710 issue is not only to Long Beach, but also to the region and to the nation.
Building a Community Together
Long Beach is a diverse city. We celebrate our diversity, however, diversity also brings its own set of challenges. There’s need for understanding when so many people of different cultures, different faiths, different backgrounds and different points of view come together to build a community.
We have to overcome whatever tensions, and turn it into energy and enthusiasm for the work that needs to be done, and for the challenges that stand before us. The City’s Human Dignity Program and Human Relations Commission educates for awareness and tolerance within the community.
Long Beach is known for many things. Its link to the world of commerce, its location at the center of the Pacific Rim, its climate, its accessibility to all areas of Southern California. We need to work to ensure that it’s also known for its tolerance and its respect. Respect for each other and respect for different ways of life.
We have so much to offer and so much to look forward to. As President of the League of California Cities, I travel throughout the state. The more I see, the more I realize how blessed we are. Not only with what we have, but also our ability to face the future and be able to change. We are at a pivotal moment in our history. We must not slip back - we must build on our foundation.
Forty-one years ago next week, President John F. Kennedy called for the citizens of this nation to stand up and work together in making this a better country. He also challenged freedom-loving people everywhere, to work in harmony for the betterment of mankind.
Today, I challenge everyone in this room and all Long Beach citizens to come together, harmoniously and passionately, and dedicate your selves to making Long Beach a better city.
Just one hour a week of your time can ensure the future of Long Beach- whether it is reading to a child, cleaning up an empty lot, graffiti removal, planting a tree or planning a community event.
Join the thousands of volunteers who are already contributing countless hours to the betterment of our city. Join the hundreds who serve on commissions, boards and committees, and the hundreds serving on homeowner and business organizations.
People depend on the City and the City depends on the people. We have the opportunity to take all that is good about our City-the creative spirit, the optimism, the essential decency and create a community in which all of us will be able to live together in peace and prosperity.
We must all accept responsibility for helping bring about a renaissance of Long Beach. No one is going to do it for us. We have a great future ahead of us. We must stay the course. Our City needs you - those that have a stake in our future.
Only in this way, by embracing our strengths and challenging our weaknesses, can we make Long Beach one of the great cities in America.
Lastly, Remember to
Take care of yourself,
Take care of others, and
Take care of this wonderful place.