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Feature Stories

Mayoral Candidate Garcia on Police, Pensions, Partnerships

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 20

By Steve Propes

A USC professor of communication studies and public policy for the past five years, Long Beach Vice Mayor and First District Councilman Robert Garcia, 35, was one of several politicos who announced their candidacy for mayor after Mayor Bob Foster announced he would not run as a write-in for a third term.

Garcia called Foster’s announcement “A little unexpected. I have been a strong supporter of Mayor Foster and had already pledged my support to him. I was ready to work hard on his campaign when he decided. I had to make a quick decision.”

As chair of the council’s public safety committee, Garcia was asked about police staffing levels and the restored police academy. “Current back to back police academies aren’t going to grow the force by a large margin. When we lose officers, what we gain is the energy and excitement you get when you bring new recruits on the force. It’s important to have that new energy and new policing, that kind of pride in the department, you can’t measure that.

“I know that from talking to the command staff. It’s my intention to continue academies moving forward, increase the number of boots on the ground. Senior ranks have that institutional memory, an abundance of knowledge and support. Even when they retire, they volunteer.”

Referring to the “huge city budget,” Garcia said, “There are ongoing pension and other discussions in closed sessions about contracts, not just managers, but smaller unions, lifeguards and such. I think they are good discussions; pension agreements are going to save the city over $200 million over the next ten years. Long Beach is the largest city in the state to reform pensions.

“When I came on board four years ago, I was faced with a $40 million deficit. We had to unravel decisions made in the past. We were on a road to un-sustainability. Had we not been able to reform pensions, we would have created a situation for massive layoffs and reduction of services. It meant leaning government. In some parts of the city, it’s been tough, we’re going to see some growth. We need to put money away and save money.”

However, at a June council meeting, Garcia suggested a contrary plan for a recent windfall. “I think we have to be careful about not spending the money as quickly as possible. As much as we can spend, the quicker we can I think is good for the city, for the workers to get people to work, so I would be concerned if we’re holding any pots of money for too long.”

About the need for a new city hall, Garcia said, “There may be partnerships on the table. I’m talking to the mayor and staff about public partnerships (new San Jose library is a partnership between San Jose State and the city),” creating the possibility of a partnership between the city and CSULB.

“I think city hall should remain in downtown. It’s been downtown since the early days of the city. I don’t see any good reason to change that. We have to think about creating a virtual, 24-hour city hall. Our online system should be advanced. You don’t have to go to city hall. I also proposed to put wi-fi in public parks this fall and in all public libraries with “GoLB” apps.

In 2007, Garcia co-founded LBPost. When he took office, to avoid a conflict of interest, placed all assets of LBPost in a blind trust. According to a statement published by LBPost, “Robert has no knowledge of the holdings of the trust and no right to intervene in its handling at any time.”

However, earlier this year, it was alleged that he intervened in a matter between LBPost and one of its writers. To this allegation, Garcia said that the writer “has been a friend of mine for years, we’ve even taken vacations together. I was the one who talked to him about it because he’s been a friend of mine for so long. I’m not going to supply details of that conversation.”

Council speakers have been known to harshly rebuke Garcia as he presides over council meetings. “I don’t mind outrageous comments at council meetings. What’s not okay is personally attacking the mayor, or profanity, attacking someone’s personal life.”

Comparing himself to Fifth District Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Gerrie Schipske, Garcia said: “We have a different style. She’s a fighter for her district. I have tried to work with every member of the council, you need to get five.”

“I’m running because I love Long Beach,” Garcia said. “We have done some great things in the past year, but we can do better. We need a robust link with our educational system and to promote Long Beach is open for business. We’re meeting those challenges.”