2023 State of the City: Speech by City Manager David White

February 8, 2023 7:01 AM
by David White

The City of Santa Monica broadcast its annual State of the City on February 7, 2023. The complete video is available on YouTube. In this blog post, we share the text of City Manager David White's address. See Mayor Gleam Davis's address here.

It is wonderful to be delivering my second State of the City. When I came to you last year, I had been with the organization four months. This year’s address is meaningful to me because I have seen the commitment and care of our workforce firsthand, I have been able to meet and interact with many residents, businesses, and community leaders that care deeply about Santa Monica, and I’ve worked closely with our City Council to shape Santa Monica’s future.

In reflecting on the past year, 2022 was busy with some very exciting moments:

This barely scratches the surface of some of the highlights from 2022. Tonight, I am excited to tell you more about the state of our city.

After what is likely the hardest three years in this organization’s history, I’m proud to share that we are rebuilding and recovering. We have a talented leadership team with Assistant City Manager Susan Cline supporting me in the City Manager’s Office; Chief Ramón Batista leading our Police Department; Fire Chief Danny Alvarez now with almost one year in the role; City Attorney Doug Sloan; and dedicated Directors across multiple departments.

With a talented set of leaders and a committed workforce, we are poised to make progress on our community priorities: addressing homelessness, safe and clean neighborhoods, and an equitable economic recovery. And as Mayor Davis shared, we will do this while advancing equity and inclusion, our longstanding commitment to environmental sustainability, and with transparency and accountability central to how we do business.

I have a finance background, so I would like to lay the foundation of where we are as an organization by looking at the numbers and digging into our economic recovery.

Equitable Economic Recovery

We are very fortunate to have Gigi Decavalles-Hughes and her team at the helm of our Finance Department, which has retained Santa Monica’s AAA credit rating for decades. In 2022, the Government Finance Officers Association awarded Santa Monica the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.

Over the past 3 years, this community has invested over $5 million in 25 city programs to accelerate our economy. From prioritizing basic needs like housing, food and public health, to keeping our businesses open and workers employed by implementing permanent outdoor dining and zoning changes, our work has gone above and beyond what other cities of our size could accomplish, and we remain in a period of positive economic recovery.

Sales tax across a number of sectors continue to show strong growth. 2022 Q3 sales tax revenues show many of our business sectors recovering, with particularly strong year-over-year growth among restaurants, hotels, building and construction, and auto sales, which showed increases of up to 14%. People want to eat here and are enjoying outdoor dining opportunities citywide along with our mix of casual and fine dining venues.

Revenue from restaurants and hotels increased 97% from a year ago and occupancy levels at local hotels continue to rise while room rates across the board exceed pre-pandemic levels.

In the past year, 103 restaurants and coffee bars, 92 health and wellness businesses, 73 retailers, 65 beauty and personal care businesses, 35 fitness/gym businesses, and 17 auto-related businesses have opened in Santa Monica. What an accomplishment!

The total number of monthly employees has steadily increased from 75,000 to 83,045, with noticeable increases in Accommodation, Food Services, Arts/Recreation, and Entertainment. The total number of businesses is 9,845.

While undoubtedly some of the growth is due to inflation, the reality is that our results genuinely reflect our local economic recovery.

In addition to all the businesses that have recently opened, our hospitality and tourism sector is poised for success and bringing new life and energy into our downtown and shopping districts as we look toward exciting events like 2026 FIFA World Cup and LA28. There are new hotels in the works such as the Miramar Santa Monica, and the recently approved Frank Gehry multi-use project on Ocean Avenue. Frank Gehry is world-renowned and the planned project will include a hotel, commercial space, residential units including rent-controlled and affordable housing, a museum, plus a public rooftop deck, interlaced by pedestrian paseos that will be open to the public.

Along with these new investments, existing hotels are deploying significant resources in upgrades and improvements and there are at least 14 major new investments in the Downtown that will accelerate our recovery including the Georgian Hotel, The Pierside Hotel, and Loews Santa Monica.

This speaks volumes and shows me we are moving forward. Many thanks to the Chamber, DTSM, SMTT, and all of our Business Improvement Districts, we could not have gotten through these difficult days without you and our recovery continues to hinge on our strong partnership.

Revenues are steadily increasing, but to be economically resilient, we need to continue to diversify our economic base and attract a mix of businesses, leaning into the traits that set our community apart – our commitment to the environment and diversity, equity and inclusion; our beachside locale; creativity and the arts; and our dynamism as an innovative, multi-modal community.

The arts are an essential part of our recovery and it’s been inspiring to see new art popping up around town, including the new Shepard Fairey mural that just went up at the Pierside Hotel.

Throughout 2022, the Art of Recovery program continued to put artists to work on Santa Monica’s recovery efforts. Since November 2020, 35 projects have been funded, which have supported 215 artists and 84 arts producers and other creatives. Over 60 additional partners were engaged in collaboration on Art of Recovery projects, with 91% of grantees saying that their project connected them to Santa Monica partners they hadn’t worked with before, which is a key goal of the program.

Santa Monica is a place people want to be!

Looking at the recovery of City services, we will continue to recover and restore vital City programs that have had service level cuts and reduced staffing over the last three years as resources become available. As we do this, we also must address one-time financial liabilities on the horizon. These liabilities stem from:

We are developing plans to address these one-time budget impacts. The plan centers on preserving community services and programs and the jobs that fuel those services. As resolution of our liabilities becomes more clear, we will communicate the impacts, as our recovery will be hampered.

Given the constraints on our budget, I’d like to pause here to weave in the themes Mayor Davis shared.

As your City Manager, I am focused on making progress on our priority areas. To see the kind of improvements I know the community expects, we will need to stay focused. I know the community is eager to see the expansion of Library hours and after school camps and clubs. I am too! I know our turnaround time on roadway and streetlight repairs is not what it was before the pandemic. The list of areas where there is a need for more from this organization is not insignificant and it is something we watch closely.

This is a time when we need the community’s understanding and support as we rebuild our operations as finances and staffing allow. And hiring in today’s market is a challenge experienced across industries, and we are not at all immune. Our staff vacancy rate is also high, and we know you are feeling that.

Thank you for reinvesting in this organization and in the other two City priorities of a clean and safe community and addressing homelessness.

In 2022, Santa Monica voters supported Measures CS, GS, and HMP. Over time, these Measures will bring in much needed resources to support community priorities.

Measure CS will provide the fuel to expand services to address homelessness, support and grow our Police Department to address public safety, and improvements to the safety and cleanliness of our public spaces.

Measure GS creates a new funding stream to support homelessness prevention, affordable housing, local schools, and the creation of an 11-member Oversight Committee to advise Council on expenditure guidelines and priorities.

Measure HMP establishes a business tax on licensed cannabis businesses and our Community Development Department is in the beginning stages of developing and bringing forward land use changes needed to allow uses such as nonmedicinal cannabis retailers to operate in the City.

The new funds generated by these tax measures come at a critical moment and are a financial lifeline that will ensure Santa Monica sees results on the community’s top three priorities.

Now let’s turn to an update on our two remaining community priorities.

Clean and Safe Santa Monica

There is no priority greater than keeping Santa Monica clean and safe. But it’s not just about statistics, we care about perceptions of safety, as well. We want everyone to feel and be safe when they are carrying out their daily routines or visiting one of our vibrant neighborhoods.

The Santa Monica Police Department under the leadership of Chief Ramón Batista is hard at work preventing and addressing crime when it occurs. We have a skilled and responsive Police Department that is incorporating new technology and deployment measures to meet evolving community needs. I am grateful for their courage, determination, and ingenuity.

Some of the things I am particularly proud of from the last year include:

The results from strategic deployments.

When we heard from community members about the prevalence of unpermitted vending activity, including the use of open flames on our wooden Pier, our Police, Fire, Public Works, Code Enforcement, and City Attorney teams worked together to direct unpermitted operations, to a pathway to become permitted.

During the busy summer months and then during the holiday season, this strategic deployment approach brought forward a higher level of visibility and proved to reduce instances of crime in high-traffic areas, including in the Downtown and Third Street Promenade. During the six-week holiday deployment period, we saw 95 fewer crimes than the six weeks prior.

We know that catalytic converter and vehicle theft overall are challenges in every major city. In response, our police department has set up special operations targeting these types of thefts. This is the type of responsiveness and innovation our police department delivers and will continue to deliver in 2023.

We welcomed 28 new officers in 2022 and we are recruiting more. If you are looking for a way to be of service, working for the Santa Monica Police Department is an excellent opportunity.

In 2020 and 2021, instances of crime were down compared to pre-pandemic levels. Our focused efforts in specific areas have shown measurable results. Santa Monica’s crime picture overall is tracking closely with countywide data with a 13% increase in Part 1 crimes in 2022 compared to 2021. The biggest contributing factors are property crimes, including larceny and auto theft. Incidents of aggravated assault and robbery have also increased.

We take these matters seriously and you will continue to see our focus on recruitment, officer deployment, and smart technology solutions. Santa Monica is not addressing this in isolation. I am convening with city managers in other westside cities to collaborate on public safety issues.

Turning to the Santa Monica Fire Department, which under the leadership of Chief Danny Alvarez, received the highest rating a fire department can receive – a class 1 designation from the Insurance Services Office.

Our Fire Department responded to 17,400 calls for service in 2022 with a citywide total response time of 6 minutes, 5 seconds.

The Fire Prevention Division completed over 3,800 building inspections, 1,500 new construction inspections and investigated 21 fires.

In response to the growing fentanyl crisis, the Fire Department initiated the Narcan leave behind program to reduce deaths associated with opioid overdose and our Community Services Department is partnering with our school district to keep our future leaders safe. We are watching this issue very closely and are looking for ways to reduce harm and protect people from this deadly synthetic drug.

The Community Response Unit, which is a special unit within the Fire Department that is specially trained to support people experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable populations had its first full year in operations. The team was deployed to 312 calls for service, relieving 178 engine companies, and providing 185 service referrals.

We welcomed 12 new recruits to our fire ranks and the Department is embarking on a strategic plan to guide how our Fire Department can best serve Santa Monica into the future.

Now let’s talk about the clean aspect of our clean and safe community priority.

When I was first interviewed to become your City Manager, I was immediately impressed by our parks and public spaces. This is an important part of life in Santa Monica and one our dedicated Public Works team addresses daily. As a snapshot, in 2022, this team:

The City’s Promenade Maintenance and Parking Operations Divisions combined with efforts by private businesses and Downtown Santa Monica Ambassadors to provide extensive maintenance, sanitization, and custodial services daily in our Downtown.

I am proud of the work we do and eager to work with our Department leaders to address issues of crime, safety, and cleanliness in our community.

Addressing Homelessness

The number one issue of our time is homelessness. It is an absolute tragedy that we have more than half a million people living without shelter in the United States, more than 66,000 people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County, and about 807 people experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica. These numbers are staggering.

For many years, Santa Monica has treated homelessness as an emergency and our comprehensive approach is effective. During the 2022 homeless count, Santa Monica saw an 11% reduction over the last count that was performed in 2020.

We must do more, and we are at a critical moment with great promise to see positive change across every level of government.

We are eager to seize this moment to work with our government partners. And to also seize the public’s support for our work affirmed through the adoption of Measures CS and GS as I shared earlier. At their upcoming workshop in March, the Council will be considering funding allocations for resources that are available in the foreseeable future to achieve a Clean and Safe Santa Monica and to Address Homelessness, with more to come as these taxes come to life.

So what do we do today to address homelessness? Our approach, which is rooted in best practice, balances compassion and enforcement. We connect people experiencing homelessness to services, we focus on keeping people housed and increasing the supply of affordable housing, and we work hard day in and day out to keep our community clean and respond to issues of public safety.

In 2022, we achieved the following:

We know that without more housing, we have nowhere for people to go. Focusing on housing is proven to work in cities like Houston, which I visited last year along with city managers throughout Los Angeles County and County CEO Fesia Davenport. Here in Santa Monica, we are focused on producing affordable housing with more on the way.

Here’s a roundup of what Santa Monica has done related to housing and rental assistance over the past year:

We continue to secure additional federal funding to support affordable housing production and homelessness. Representative Ted Lieu has been critical in ensuring we tap into federal dollars, including $2 million for the future affordable housing project in Downtown and a behavioral health strategy that is underway.

A recent study completed by our auditor, Moss Adams, validated Santa Monica’s approach to addressing homelessness. The report also provides us with a strong set of recommendations to optimize our work and move us into the future.

I can feel the momentum around this issue, and I can see the path to the positive results I know our community is eager to see.

There is more work to do, and I ask for your continued partnership and thank those of you who came out to our point-in-time count two weeks ago. That kind of collective energy is what we’re going to need as we steadfastly pursue this priority.

Now let’s turn to our social safety net and other programs that support community members from working families to seniors.

Without a doubt, we strive and are eager to do more.

What’s Coming Up

There are a few initiatives on the horizon to keep in mind.

Without a doubt, there is no place to live, work, and play like Santa Monica and there is no better place to be in public service. We are a fun, active, creative, sustainable, and determined City!

For those of you that have met me over the course of the past year, you know the passion and energy I bring to this work. It is fueled by our tremendous, amazing workforce and our passionate, innovative community. We have a lot of work to do – I'm up for it and I hope you are too because when we come together as one city and one community with an open mind we can tackle any issue no matter how big or how small. Thank you!

Authored By

David White
City Manager


Strategic Priorities, Your City Hall