LONG BEACH - Mayor Bob Foster heralded a return to stable fiscal health during his State of the City address Tuesday, but urged Long Beach to resist "borrowing from the future" by overspending.
Foster, the city's 27th mayor, delivered the remarks during his seventh State of the City in front of about 800 people at the Center Theater of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center.
The mayor spoke just two hours after the City Council voted to approve a capstone pension reform deal with Long Beach's largest union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, reducing city outlays by $125.
Coupled with previous retirement concessions by other unions, including the police and firefighter associations, taxpayers will save $250 million over the next decade, city officials say.
Foster thanked IAM members for voting to pay more toward their pensions and to lower benefits for future employees, which he said spared "draconian cuts" to services diminished by years of budget-balancing reductions.
"These actions put our finances on a stable path, one that protects both the city and employee in the future," said Foster.
The reforms, along with improving economic indicators, give reason to be hopeful that the city can now begin the task of rebuilding, Foster told the audience.
"While the economy does not yet have the strength we all desire, growth has returned, employment is modestly up, business activity is increasing and this city continues on the road to better financial footing," Foster said.
Though it seems Long Beach is moving out of financial crisis, Foster said officials should not make the "easy" choices made in the past decade, like when council members retroactively increased pension benefits.
"Strong character is needed to resist these temptations and prioritize the greater good over your own political benefit," Foster said. "The public deserves that you treat its money with more care than you would your own."
Despite the challenges of the past year, the mayor found many achievements to celebrate, some in the coming months, and many from 2012, including 32 local Olympic athletes earning 15 medals at the London Olympics.
Accomplishments included a new, $45 million concourse at the Long Beach Airport, the continuing billion-dollar Middle Harbor project at the Port of Long Beach, the start earlier this month of the $1 billion replacement of the Gerald Desmond Bridge and the pending completion later this year of the $395 million Gov. George Deukmejian Courthouse.
Road crews repaired 42 miles of street - compared to 19 miles noted in last year's speech - trimmed 28,000 trees, cleaned 226,500 graffiti sites and filled more than 48,000 potholes.
Foster also touted upgrades at parks such as Orizaba Park, McBride Park and the El Dorado Nature Center, as well as Heal the Bay giving 93 percent of city beaches an `A' grade in its annual water quality report card.
The city's tourism industry also prospered in 2012, Foster said, with the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau reporting hotel occupancy rates exceeding 2007 levels, which had been the historic high.
On public safety, the Long Beach Common Operating Picture, known as LBCOP, gave more information to emergency officials through a network of real-time camera feeds, the mayor said.
This winter, the Long Beach Fire Department will also launch a new paramedic service model that officials say will result in faster response times, while electronic patient care reporting is expected to reduce work hours spent on paperwork by 40 percent. The changes were approved last year in an effort to reduce expenses.
"None of this is meant to say we are not without our challenges," Foster said. "Our public safety resources, like every department in this city, have been under tremendous financial strain."
Looking to the future, Foster urged officials to use technology to streamline operations, most notably in an integrated command center where city departments work together in the same room on an advanced electronic system.
Foster observed such technology during a visit to Rio de Janeiro, where city departments collaborate in real time to deliver services utilizing an 80-meter segmented screen, he said.
City staff will be asked this year to explore bringing such a system to Long Beach, the mayor said.
"There is no doubt that it would benefit our city and move us into the 21st century," said Foster. "So let's not only imagine how such a system could work for us, let's learn how to make it a reality."
Continuing cleaning port pollution should also be a priority, Foster said, along with other environmental projects such as the expansion of public land within the Los Cerritos Wetlands and the restoration of that habitat.
Foster, an admirer of the Roman Republic, ended his speech with a reflection on government, saying the American system was made with checks and balances to prevent tyranny by one faction or individual.
The price paid for the preservation of the Constitution is sometimes "conflict, frustration and near glacial speed of government," he said.
"What is important, however, is never to divert from the path of improving the lives of the people you serve," said Foster.
As he begins the final full year of his term, Foster said he looks forward to the future with optimism.
"I know that together we can make this city one that adheres to the first moral principle of government: make better the future for those who follow."