Long Beach, California Goes Long on Innovation

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Robert Garcia, Mayor of Long Beach, California is known for a lot of firsts. He was the youngest person, the first Latino male, and the first gay person of color to be elected to the Long Beach City Council in 2009. He then went on to become one of the youngest mayors in the country, after he was elected to the office in 2014. Since his election, Garcia has expanded the city’s focus on technology, finding new ways to improve government service delivery and attracting startups.

Last week was Innovation Week in Long Beach, dedicated to highlighting civic innovation throughout the city. Long Beach is a Code for America city and a Bloomberg Philanthropies city, so there is a lot to highlight. “We are squarely focused on the Twenty First Century Cities goals,” Mayor Garcia says in an interview with CivSource. “We are constantly looking for ways to use technology and also to attract technology companies to Long Beach so that they will bring new jobs.”

During Innovation Week, the Mayor held a civic innovation summit that included an awards ceremony, which honored organizations within city government that are taking up civic innovation and running with it. Award winners included the public library system, which recently launched makerspaces in the library and is also building a digital collection. A new online permitting and inspection portal was also recognized.

The city also unveiled a new business portal – BizPort – which was developed after a year of research done by Long Beach’s Code for America fellows. BizPort is a resource for local entrepreneurs and is designed to help them navigate all of the city agencies involved with launching a new business.

Through the city’s partnership with Code for America, Long Beach will also have access to other tools already developed through the Code for America program nationwide.

“We want to be a center for innovation, not just in government but locally in our economy,” Mayor Garcia says. “Technology has changed the way people expect to interact with government and we want to meet those expectations.” To that end, the city recently launched an online inspection reservation system so that business owners can set up inspection appointments online. Officials are also working through a broader project to update all of the city’s web portals in order to expand the services available online and modernize the technology.

Other developments are happening at the physical infrastructure level. “We are currently undertaking an aggressive municipal fiber program so that when we go out and make street repairs, we are also laying fiber for data connections that we can allow private carriers and subscribers access to,” the Mayor adds. “We want to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to attract today’s industries.”

For all that is happening locally, Garcia is also looking outside Long Beach, collaborating with other cities in order to share ideas and learn about plans that have worked elsewhere. He says that the cities that are likely to perform the best in the twenty-first century are the ones that are willing to make leaps in infrastructure and collaboration. “Long Beach has the benefit of being in California and near Los Angeles, so we can work regionally to take advantage of those resources. But we also have to look nationally to understand what’s working and see if we can implement it here. Our City Council understands that and our residents expect it.”