Interview with Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia

By: David J. Buckner
Premier Realty Associates / RE-Insider Contributor

RE-Insider was one of the first publications to get access to the new mayor of Long Beach, Robert Garcia. The youngest mayor ever elected to the office, he’s also the first Hispanic and openly gay mayor to direct the political priorities of the state’s seventh largest city. I asked him to reflect on what makes Long Beach uniquely attractive, his leadership style, and a proposed new initiative connecting educators with Realtors.


Q: Where did you grow up, and what was your first job as a teenager?

Born in Lima Peru, I came to the US when I was 4 or 5 years old. I grew up in SG Valley and my first job as a teenager was working at Arby’s Restaurant. Afterwards, I quickly landed a job at a movie theater and worked there for about a year and a half.

Q: What brought you to Long Beach, CA?

I was accepted to Cal State Long Beach as an undergrad. After graduation, I pursued a Masters degree in Communication Management at USC and returned to CSULB for a Doctorate in Education.

Q: What makes LB such a nice place to live, and also make it an ideal place to invest in real property?

I think Long Beach has got it all, in my opinion. Places by the water like San Francisco, it’s got historic neighborhoods, it’s a very safe city – we are at a 4 year low in terms of crime, it’s got one of the best school districts in the country. There is also a lot of infrastructure investment here. We have a lot of healthcare manufacturing happening right now, and light industrial manufacturing coming together near the Boeing plant. There’s a lot of retail and hotel opportunity attached to that as well. It’s happening organically too, which is good. Transportation options are multiplying: Now you can walk, take the train, take the Passport bus, bike through the city via bike lanes, the Blue Line etc. There is so much rich character and diversity in the various neighborhoods throughout the city. Long Beach has got an amazing climate. And the shopping possibilities with clothing shops and coffee houses continue to grow. Retro Row on 4th street has blossomed in the past few years, and it’s continuing to bring in people from all over the LA/OC area.

Q: Upper Pine has been struggling a bit the past few years, can you tell me about any plans you have for that section of downtown?

That’s developing really well, actually. Right now we are spending about 3 million on infrastructure repairs on Pine Ave. All new facades, landscaping, street furniture, scrambled crosswalks, all new Date Palms. It’s a matter now of getting some additional retail. Molina Healthcare just bought up two new buildings on 7th and Pine and plans to build a third structure. In the coming months you’re going to see new small businesses opening up, along with new retail stores.

Q: As the new mayor, how would you describe your leadership style? How do you plan to keep talent in your orbit, and continually keep your staff motivated?

Well, my leadership style is very collaborative. I grew up with a background in education, which is all about working things out. Collaboration, listening with input from all sides. I’m not a believer in (air quotes) “bulldozing your way to success.” I think you have to build success together. It may take more time and a little more understanding, but that’s worth the effort if all sides are acting in good faith.


Q: What motivates you?

Great question. I’m motivated to give back to my country. As an immigrant, I’m aware of what this country has given to me and my family through the years. I want everybody to have what I had growing up. To get a good education, get a good job after you obtain your degree, and help make Long Beach, or whatever town in which they live, to be the best city it can be. So I’m motivated by a sense of gratitude and fulfilling the possibilities that are out there. When people understand your vision, and believe in at least certain aspects of it, a lot can get done.

Q: Where in Long Beach is your favorite place for a breakfast or lunch meeting?

The Potholder on Broadway. I also like the lobby of the Renaissance Hotel. Where else… Let’s see, oh – Berlin Coffeehouse.

Q: You were a Republican at one time. Can you tell me what led to the change of political parties?

I have become more progressive as I’ve grown older. When my family became citizens everybody was registered Republican. Because it was Ronald Reagan who signed the amnesty bill for immigrants and gave us the ability to become citizens, we naturally gravitated toward the Republican party. When I was old enough to make my own decisions about politics, I began to see that the Democrat party was a more natural fit.

Q: My editor is wondering about an initiative to connect teachers with Realtors in order to buy their homes. How does that work?

I have an initiative that looks at creating some affordable housing for teachers and faculty. So I would like to do two things. First, we are looking to build some new construction housing for teachers and faculty. Second, I will be looking at other incentives such as rebates and tax credits that teachers could use toward purchasing property in Long Beach. To qualify, you would need to be a part of the unified school district or a member of the University or community college employee.

The way it is right now, if two faculty members decide to get married and then buy a house, it’s almost impossible. It didn’t used to be that way. So I am going to do everything I can, and influence thinking in a direction that will make housing more affordable and options plentiful for those that have devoted their professional lives to education. And Realtors that have experience and know Long Beach are the bridge to connect the two.

Q: Regarding the mortgage interest deduction, the US Congress is considering its elimination. How important is it for homeowners and future home buyers?

I know there is a lot of discussion about housing legislation that could affect us on a federal level, but I’m not ready to say one way or the other until I have more information on that. I’m generally not in favor of a change in the law that would reduce the value of anyone’s home. At the same time we have to weigh the costs against the benefits both long term and in the interim.

Q: The majority of the people who use that mortgage interest deduction make less than $65k per year. I’d say it’s advantageous to a pretty broad base of voters. Don’t you think it’s also a pretty good incentive to transition people up the socio-economic ladder by becoming a home owner.

I do. But……you know, right now I don’t really have an opinion on that specific legislation. But I absolutely agree that those that can afford to buy property will benefit in many ways, and tax benefits are one aspect of that. I need to look at it more closely before I offer an opinion.

Q: Finally, how do you get your news? Online, newspapers, television?

There is a steady stream of news that I consume. I like to read a lot of news magazines online. I also scan the political blogs.

Q: Some examples?

The best blog is probably Politico. Other websites… I love the New Yorker, NY Times Magazine, I love the Economist. I love all of those. There are a lot more.

Q: And do you ever glance at the reader comments section?

Sometimes, yeah. But I think that the comments have become less relevant. I mean, it’s not a good reflection of what people are thinking. It’s more a reflection of extremes.

Q: Especially when they start shouting and typing in ALL CAPS.

Yes, that’s true. Well, I have to get to my next meeting. Thanks for the opportunity to speak to the Realtor community.