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©2010 Bob Foster
Watch the 2014 State of the City and read Mayor Foster’s speech
State of the City

Good evening.

 

To the City Management team, the City Council, elected officials and community leaders, thank you each and all for being here to take part in our democracy.

 

To friends new and old, thank you for joining us tonight inside the Long Beach Arena as part of the 2014 State of the City address.

 

A very special welcome and thank you to my wife and your first lady, Nancy. I think we all can agree that she has been a great force and an outstanding First Lady. I believe you could not have ask for a better person to help lead this City.

 

I also want to welcome my oldest son Kenny and his wife Cheryl, and my grandchildren Taylor, Bobby, and Ryan. Thank you for being here and for the joy you bring me everyday.

 

Serving as your Mayor these past 7.5 years has been exhilarating; it’s been uplifting, and in truth, it has at times been exhausting.

 

For me, tonight is the first of many lasts as your Mayor. While it is not without some regret, it is time for me to move on from this job. I have given it every ounce of my energy. In thinking through that decision, it was clear that to continue to do this job properly conflicted with obligations to my family and my personal needs. So, as with the old Roman, Cincinattus, the crisis having been averted, it is time to return to the plow.

 

Nearly everywhere I go someone will thank me for serving and then invariably shake their head and say, “I don’t know how you put up with it all.”

 

Trust me, there were moments …

 

But I can tell you without question it has been worth every minute. Those times when something just would not have turned out as well had you not been in the chair; it is those moments, often small and usually with little fanfare, that improved the life of another. Those are the times that put “IT ALL” in its proper place.

 

So, as this is my last State of the City address, please allow me to thank you for the privilege and honor of having served you these past 7 years.

 

A very special thank you to Oscar Garcia from the ACE Academy. It’s students like you who will take this City to the next level. Good luck to you at Long Beach City College. I am sure you’re going to be a fantastic architect who will continue to play a mean bass guitar.

 

I would also like to thank the Inspirational Glee from Poly High School for singing the National Anthem and leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance.

 

Inspirational Glee from Poly High School

Inspirational Glee from Poly High School

 

Oscar, the kids from the Poly High Choir were all much younger when I first took office; let’s face it, we were all much younger when I took office.

 

Many of you will recall that I have often said that I keep a 10-year old child in mind whenever confronted with an issue or opportunity. I chose this guidepost because it is a way of forcing a future orientation; something we need much more of in our public life.

 

How will the City’s action affect that child? Will it impose future debt for this child without real benefits? Will it provide more opportunity? Will it enhance or diminish that child’s future?

 

To maintain that focus on the future is to uphold the special trust that you placed in me when I was elected Mayor. Above all the daily noise threatening to overtake it, I must be true to the responsibility for making the right call in the era of modern politics that confuses “loud” with “correct.”

 

All of us instinctively know that we need to provide for a better tomorrow. There is always a tension between the now and the future. The pressure to improve things today is immutable and constant. As an elected official, there is not only the personal desire to deliver more services or benefits today, but also the public demand for things right now.

 

The dilemma is truly confronted when the pressure of today could impair the future. Too often, that is how public policy is shaped.

 

Unsustainable public- pensions are a great example of beggaring the future for benefits today; as are using one-time cash infusions to cover on-going costs; the elimination of Redevelopment, another.

 

I have always seen it as my obligation to improve the future: To leave this City better than I found it and enhance opportunities for that 10 year-old child. I think I have done this in my seven and half years as your Mayor.

 

We are stronger today by almost any measurement – from our fiscal balance sheet to our community fabric. We chose to make tough political decisions that were in the long-term interests of the City’s health but didn’t leave anyone behind. And that is an important lesson to carry forward into a new era of surplus and growth.

 

So, measured by my own yardstick, lets see how the City has performed over the past several years.

 

Financially, we are in much better shape. We have resisted calls to raise taxes. We have resisted calls to use one-time revenue for ongoing expenses. We have resisted calls to increase debt. We have managed our finances the way you should your own, by living within our means.

 

As a result, we have moved from deficits to a surplus. This year, for the first time in 10 years we have started the fiscal year with a $3.5 million surplus. And the projections show a balanced budget for the next three years.

 

Even the adults who act like 10-year-olds are happy with this one.

 

Perhaps the most important issue for our young people is the debt the City carries and its obligations in the form of unfunded or under-funded liabilities. The single largest liability is our pension obligation. The pension spikes that occurred in 2002 carried with them devastating financial effects. The cost of the benefits given at that time is a staggering $375 million.

 

Unfortunately, we cannot alter that decision and its effect will be an ever-increasing budget drain. What we can do and we have already DONE is reform pensions across all employee groups so that current employees pay their full share (from 2% to 8 or 9% of salary) and that new employees retire later and with more manageable benefits. The next decade should see nearly $250 million in savings from these reforms.

 

Our unfunded pension liability has dropped in one year from $1.1 billion to under $700 million. We have accomplished this through a combination of investment growth and reform. And most important, we have lowered the burden on our children who would have had to pay this bill. While by no means resolved and subject to fluctuations, the trend for this liability is heading in the right direction.

 

In addition to a budget surplus, we also put aside funds for other unfunded liabilities such as employee health programs and sick leave reserves. I want to give great credit to those on the City Council that voted to reserve these funds. It was an action demonstrating a real understanding of the need to sacrifice today so tomorrow can be stronger, but it is also something for which they will never get credit.

 

To make things even better, we were able to realize $51 million in one-time revenue to use for infrastructure improvements, technology upgrades, and other purposes. For the first time in many years we have serious dollars to fix our City.

 

Indeed, over the past seven years we have collectively reduced the general fund budget by more than $130 million. Because of our discipline, we have been able to spend nearly $140 million in one-time revenue for infrastructure and other needs.

 

Rabbi Steven Moskowitz from Temple Israel, Long Beach delivers the 2014 State of the City Invocation.

Rabbi Steven Moskowitz, from Temple Israel of Long Beach, delivers the Invocation at the 2014 State of the City.

 

Perhaps nothing is more important to our young people and to our collective future than education. Here, while not having direct responsibility for education, we have helped create an academy at Jordan High School. Most of you know that I came out of a trades background. I worked my way through school as a carpet installer; a trade I learned from my father. Perhaps nothing prepared me for a job in politics more than spending 8 hours a day on my knees.

 

What it did for me was give me a skill to use or fall back upon if other initiatives failed. Having a trade skill is a real advantage, especially for those young people who will not attend college. I wanted our children to have that opportunity; To have a skill that pays well and is a career, not just a job.

 

The ACE Academy (Architecture, Construction, and Engineering) does just that. In its four-year program, high school students learn every facet of construction; from the business of construction to the fundamentals of design and building.

 

It has been a great success. From its beginning class in 2007-08 of 57 students it has grown to over 300. It has a 98% graduation rate and an average of 94% success rate on the CAHSEE examine. A significant number of students go on to post secondary education along with the many that enter the trades.

 

These are well prepared young people. They are ready for work and careers. This program has given them a brighter future. It’s the focus we should have in many other areas.

 

ACE was a pledge I made when I ran for this office and with the great cooperation of LBUSD, LBCC and CSULB it has become a great success. The popularity of such career-oriented academics has exploded and LBUSD has expanded offerings including a new curriculum at McBride High School in East Long Beach. I want to take a moment and give my heartfelt thanks to Superintendent Chris Steinhauser and the Board of LBUSD, LBCC President Eloy Oakley, former CSULB King Alexander and Engineering Dean Forshan Golshani for their commitment to and great assistance in this program’s success.

 

I want to give special thanks to Melissa Brookman who passionately runs ACE on the Jordan campus.

 

Opportunity and education are important to the future, but health is vital for all of us. And nothing is more impactful on our health than the Port of Long Beach.

 

Just before I became Mayor, the Port had adopted the Clean Air Action Plan. And it was an ambitious set of goals intended to allow growth at the port but not increase air pollution. I am very proud that through the clean trucks program, the vessel speed reduction program, and the use of distillate fuels, we have done much better than we hoped. Diesel pollution at the port is down nearly 81 percent over the past six years even with growth.

 

An added benefit to many local families has been the success of the clean trucks program. It has not only cleaned the air but many of the drivers, contrary to doomsday claims by political opponents, are now proud owners of the clean trucks they drive. I was at a ceremony recently at Progressive Transportation where some 68 drivers received the keys to their trucks; So far, there are more than 100 drivers are now proud small-business owners with greater opportunities for a better and healthier life.

 

Seeing the joy in the eyes of these drivers and the elation of their families made the struggle for this program worthwhile. It was particularly gratifying to me personally since I fought so hard for this program to remain focused on delivering cleaner air, not getting distracted by the agenda of one particular labor union.

 

In sum, we can all breathe a little easier, as these changes should produce an improvement in our collective health. We should see fewer asthma cases, fewer missed work and school days, and much healthier 10 years olds.

 

But this is an issue of vital importance that can never again be pushed aside or set on secondary footing to the blind chase of increased cargo volumes. And frankly, our work is not yet complete; the two ports still remain the largest fixed source of air pollution in Southern California.

 

Recognizing this, the Harbor Department and the Development Services Department are working together on a West Long Beach Livability Implementation Plan that will move quickly and bring the community’s vision for enhanced neighborhoods to fruition.

 

So, let’s talk a little more about the Harbor Department. The Port is one of the region’s largest economic assets. When you count the 15,000 ILWU members and 9,000 truck drivers, it is our City’s largest employer. It has embarked on the largest construction program in its history, over $4 billion over the next decade. Even with the important gains I spoke of earlier, it has substantial environmental health impacts on our residents.

 

How it manages its operations matters and its relationship with the City matters. For many years the Harbor Department was run as if it were not a department of the City. Its impact on the City was often an afterthought.

 

This is an unhealthy situation. Everything the Port does affects the City. The City should be able to work with the Port for their mutual benefit. Issues like locating its offices in downtown or engaging in joint purchasing programs are important and can be mutually beneficial – its simply a smart way to do business.

 

The level of fiscal discipline matters not only to the Harbor Department, but the City’s reputation. Port commissioners are appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Council. They are expected to exercise oversight of Harbor Department management and harmonize City and Port interests.

 

But appointing a commissioner does not end my responsibility for governance. It is my responsibility to assure that Port governance is effective and responsible to the City. A cultural antipathy toward the City is unhealthy and the lack of effective oversight can, and has, led to complacent financial management. At times, commissioners seemed more concerned with their next international trip than cost overruns.

 

Whenever you attempt to change culture, you will get turmoil and controversy. The status quo hates change. Defenders will claim things are working just fine. In truth, no one benefits by denying or avoiding problems. The first rule of business is to attack problems when they arise.

 

I’m confident that this Commission will pay closer attention to construction projects and provide greater harmony with city interests and continue to improve its financial discipline.

 

The Port will continue to be a great asset and will be an even better City partner in the future. Yes, there may be controversy, but let’s remember the dangers of confusing the “loud” with the “important.”

 

And before we move on, it is very important to note that the proposal to build a massive rail yard adjacent to West Long Beach is not going away. Neither is the threat to air quality that comes with it.

 

The Harbor Department has opposed it. This City Council, the Long Beach Unified School District, the Air Quality Management District and 15 other organizations have come together to file suit in court to stop that development. This community and the stakeholders at the port have worked too hard over the past 7 years at improving the air we breathe to see a project in Los Angeles take that back. Long Beach deserves meaningful environmental progress and quite simply, deserves better from the City of Los Angeles and BNSF.

 

We continue to keep a focus on another nagging environmental concern: cleaner beach water. Last year, 90 percent of our coastal waters received an A or B grade during the summer. This is the culmination of an effort that began in 2007 with the creation of the Mayor’s Water Quality Task Force. We fought hard to fund thousands of trash-capturing devices in storm drains all along the LA River –12,000 drains were equipped with these traps. The Termino drain has been completed and the Colorado Lagoon restored. All of this has had the effect of greatly improved beach water quality.

 

We also completed our gray water pilot project, diverting over 200,000 gallons of water annually. And the year would not be complete without mentioning the construction of the 600 foot-long “Great Wall of Mulch” near the Terminal Island Freeway. It would be complete, of course, but isn’t it amazing how much attention a compost pile can get in this town?

 

Public safety is job one for any city and I’m proud to say that with the great effort of our men and women in LBPD, under the leadership of Chief Jim McDonnell, we have achieved remarkable results on crime.

 

We are a safer city than at any time in recent memory. Violent crime is at a 41-year low. That is 13.5% reduction from 2012. We’ve had an 8.5% decrease in property crime and a 9.3% drop in total Part I crime.

 

Those are statistics we can all be proud of in the face of the early release of thousands of prisoners under the State’s plan to shift costs back to local governments.

 

Please join me in a round of applause for the officers and staff of LBPD.

 

We are now able to replenish the ranks of our public safety departments. We graduated 40 new police officers from our police academy. And we have 28 new Long Beach Firefighters from our fire academy. New academies are planned for both departments this year, adding even more resources to our public safety efforts.

 

Our firefighters continue to provide world-class service and response to fire and medical calls. In 2013, Long Beach Fire responded to nearly 70,000 calls for service. Response times for structure fires are about 4.5 minutes and we are able to confine a fire to the room or object of origin 92 percent of the time. Please join me in a round of applause for Chief Mike Duree and all of our Long Beach Firefighters.

 

Mayor Foster with Fire Chief Mike DuRee (left), Deputy Fire Chief / Fire Marshal Rich Brant (center), and Marine Safety Chief Randy Foster (right).

Mayor Foster with Fire Chief Mike DuRee (left), Deputy Fire Chief / Fire Marshal Rich Brant (center), and Marine Safety Chief Randy Foster (right).

 

Construction and infrastructure work continues nearly everywhere you look. We are all incredibly proud of the brand new state of the art airport terminal, completed on time and on budget. It is a terminal that makes a great first impression of our City and I want to publicly thank Airport Director Mario Rodriguez and his team for their efforts.

 

Foremost among the new projects is the stunning Deukmejian Courthouse; a great addition to our Downtown and a fitting tribute to one of our finest citizens. Congratulations, Governor.

 

Long Beach’s own Molina Health Care completed the renovation of the Press-Telegram Building for their new corporate offices and is moving through a period of unprecedented growth. We are moving forward with the reuse of Schroeder Hall as a new Eastside Police Station. We approved the entitlements for Shoreline Gateway, a 17-story residential tower nearly cancelled due to the dissolution of Redevelopment. And finally, Mercedes Benz USA has leased 1.1 million square feet in the former 717 facility. Across Lakewood Boulevard, Douglas Park is nearing full occupancy.

 

I want to again use this speech as an opportunity to bring special attention to the fantastic work going on in each and every neighborhood through our business improvement districts. These folks are the real voice of business in Long Beach, activating our commercial corridors and energizing every part of the City. Thank you to the BID staff and the boards for all that you do.

 

Over the past seven years, we have done much to help our residents on a personal level. From 2006 through 2013 we helped over 27,000 people with workforce training. Over 14,000 found employment and over 4,000 received new training to acquire new skills or upgrade existing skills.

 

Over that period, we’ve helped nearly 900 young people get jobs in our “hire-a-youth” program. And over 5,300 young people received work based learning or internships. From 2009 to now, more than 3,100 companies received assistance through our Enterprise Zone.

 

We also continued to focus on the bread and butter projects that mean so much to our everyday quality of life. From fiscal year 2007 to 2013, we resurfaced 175 lane miles of major and secondary streets, repaired 163 lane miles of residential streets and slurry sealed 75 lane miles.

 

Finally, Fire Station 12 was completed in North Long Beach. And take a walk down the completed Promenade in Downtown to check out any of the new restaurants and breweries calling Long Beach home. And not to be left out, we completed this amazing, industry leading, state-of-the-art “Pacific Ballroom” here inside the Long Beach Arena.

 

To list all the parks and other additions would take too much time, but I will simply say that nearly 60 park projects or acquisitions were completed in the past seven years. From Admiral Kidd Park, to Rosa Parks Park, to Rosie’s Dog Park, to Willow Springs Park, our City has dramatically increased its open space. These are the kinds of improvements that pay benefits for generations to come.

 

These improvements demonstrate that we kept faith with the next generation. We have improved our finances, reformed our long-term obligations, cleaned the environment, created a safer city, expanded opportunity, and repaired much of our infrastructure. Those who were 10 years old in 2006 have more opportunity and a smaller burden today and they have reason to be optimistic about their future.

 

I’m certainly optimistic about our City’s future. Spend a few minutes around today’s young people and you cannot help but be encouraged by their intelligence, energy, passion, and spirit. For the most part, these young people are accomplished and dynamic, eager to work and engage. Yes, they are growing up in a very different world, but despite reports to the contrary, the future is in good hands. Just look at a young man like Oscar Garcia.

 

2014 State of the City

Mayor Foster with Kathy Alvarez (left) and Oscar Garcia (right). Oscar, an ACE Academy graduate, introduced Mayor Foster at the 2014 State of the City.

 

In the future, I see Long Beach advancing on so many fronts. We will continue to benefit from an increasingly robust economy and job opportunities that are far more diverse than today. Projects such as Gateway East and Gateway West will add to our skyline and our commerce. The Port will expand and have greater volumes and a world-class facility in Middle Harbor and an iconic new bridge – with a bicycle lane. Our medical community will continue to expand. Our schools will improve and be reenergized with new resources.

 

Through the use of advanced cleanup technologies, we will improve our air and water quality. I’ll bet there will even be a few tech start-ups that make it big.

 

The characteristic openness and tolerance of our City attracts people who want to live in a place that values the diversity of contributions, and energetic entrepreneurs, without the lifestyle constraints seen in other areas. We are a magnet for creative people. All over the city, there are creative corridors growing in neighborhoods most of you only know because you drive through them.

 

People with talent, ideas, and exciting business ventures are establishing themselves in Long Beach. Our weather, civic harmony, vibrancy, and opportunity are an effective lure for this new class of residents.

 

This country has crossed a job market threshold unlike we have ever seen as a society. We are just beginning to understand the impacts and can only just imagine what the trajectory will be.

 

But this is certain: Employers need a skilled workforce that is trained in languages and skill sets that the majority of the people in this room don’t have. Heck, we don’t even know what we don’t know. Stop and think about it – there was no such thing as an “app” 6 years ago. Last year, they accounted for $10 billion in sales for Apple alone.

 

The technology of the future will astound us. Everything from manufacturing to transportation, to energy production and use will change. We will have to manage this change wisely and use it to our advantage, but here too is another reason for optimism in Long Beach.

 

Employers need access to the graduates of LBUSD’s recently announced California Math and Science Academy II campus, the ACE Academy and the growing stream of highly-educated engineers, science and math candidates coming out of Cal State Long Beach.

 

Employers need programs offered through our Workforce Development teams and Long Beach City College. They can re-train existing employees in evolving and advancing disciplines within manufacturing, design and construction. And LBCC can tailor and scale those programs to the needs of small, specialized firms or large corporate entities.

 

The City’s job is to continue to ensure that its finances, environment and physical plant are sound, providing these great young people – and their prospective employers — with the assets to be successful. The robust job centers of the future will be those that provide education, diversity, openness, strong physical structure, and a real sense of community. The employers of the future will look for these characteristics because that’s where their employees want to live. These characteristics will more than outweigh the antiquated calls for publicly funded subsidies.

 

If we preserve the fiscal structure and principles we have today, these changes will enhance the lives of our residents. Those who are 10 years old today will be thankful for our prudence and our grandchildren will have a chance at better and more productive lives.

 

That, of course, is the job we all share. It’s no different in cities than in is in families. We live, plan, work, and educate to make things better for the next generation. To make the road a little wider and smoother for those follow us; to provide for a more productive, richer, fuller, and more rewarding life for the next generation.

 

All of us have this job; either in our families, our work, or in my case our City. I have taken this job very seriously. At times I may have appeared hard, forceful, direct, and determined to achieve. But I believe I have done the job you elected me to do. I have fulfilled the responsibility you gave me and honored the trust you placed in me. I believe our City, our children, our families, and our future are better because of the job we did.

 

My hope is that the leaders that follow me will learn from both my accomplishments and mistakes in their effort to make this an even better City.

 

If I had one wish to be granted when I leave office it would be that those who come after me would preserve the standards and principles that allowed us to thrive during these difficult times. To place immediate personal or political gain behind the needs of the public. To, indeed, sacrifice their self-interest for that of their city. A big ask, and perhaps not very realistic, but it is my wish.

 

You the residents of this City have a role in this as well. What kind of city do you want? There are calls for increased resources in almost every area; parks, recreation, public safety, streets, housing, and many more all with legitimate demands. Do you want your present concerns to outweigh the future of the 10-year-olds? Do you want to obligate the 10-year-old to pay for things that will benefit you but will never benefit them? You, too, need to think before you demand.

 

Your demands have an affect, one to which office-holders often respond. I would ask you to consider the 10-year-old before you ask for benefits.

 

This position has been an honor Nancy and I will never forget and an experience we will treasure for the rest of our lives. Nancy and I thank you for the marvelous opportunity you gave us. We hope we have lived up to your expectations. We know we have given you our best and we hope that those who were 10 in 2006 and are now young adults believe we have kept faith with our obligation to them.

 

Thank you and may God bless you and bless our City.

 

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2014 State of the City

2014 State of the City

2014 State of the City

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