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Essential Voices from the Field

January 7, 2021 8:54 AM
by Constance Farrell

Essential Voices from the Field

Essential workers and those on the frontline in hospitals, grocery stores, and providing delivery services were the backbone of 2020. The week of January 4, 2021, the Santa Monica Daily Press profiled five members of the City of Santa Monica team who have been out in the community filling roles that contribute to a clean, beautiful, and thriving Santa Monica.  

Here are excerpts from interviews with James, Jon, Kym, Paul, and Nicole that offer a window into their roles and lives that have been redefined by the COVID-19 pandemic. Click through to read the full profiles on smdp.com 

To all frontlines heroes of 2020, thank you for your dedication! 

James Welch, Groundskeeper for Public Landscape 

The main thing is trying to make a safe place safer and more beautiful as the day progresses. Getting the park ready for the public can consist of making sure the toddler play area is debris free, picking up trash, and making sure there is no broken glass.  

Because there are more people visiting the parks there is more trash to pick up and I have to work quicker. For me, the challenge isn’t too big of a challenge. I’m meeting more people and running into people I haven’t ran into before, because more people are at home so they are utilizing the park more. 

You learn who has what dogs and what children—I can’t beat that. More > 


Jon Sly, Captain, Santa Monica Fire Department 

After transporting the patients to the hospital each company has to go out of service just to decontaminate, which takes us 30 minutes. Then we have to come back and the entire crew has to shower. If you are running 10 calls a day several of those have suspected COVID, so we have to shower sometimes five or six times a day. 

It’s something we’ve adapted to, so we’re used to it. We sign up to potentially risk life and limb just by doing this job. More > 


Paul Jamar, Equipment Operator for Resource, Recovery and Recycling 

I really enjoy seeing the children waving at you, wanting you to do something for them like honk the horn or raise the bin up. That makes me feel a lot better knowing that I’m making somebody else happy. I’ve met a lot of people on my route that really make me happy. They come out and they speak to you, thank you, say ‘you’re doing a good job’. More >


Kym Otterstedt, Farmers Market Coordinator, Pico Market

Because we had so much collaboration with other City departments and such an amazing team of market managers we were able to very quickly switch our operations into emergency mode and keep the markets going.

I feel that prior to the pandemic a lot of people didn’t know about farmers markets or didn’t frequent farmers markets. Because this is an opportunity to get food in a safe outdoor environment, more people are coming to the market. We’ve gone from a weekend outing for some people to an absolutely vital part of what they need to do to sustain themselves.

I love the community, especially my Pico Market where people know each other, talk to each other and look out for each other. More >


Nicole Honaker-Hwang, Motor Coach Operator, Big Blue Bus 

I remember a man had to come on the front of my bus with his walker and he thanked me and said ‘well life goes on for me’ as he still had to go to his dialysis appointment. I think that was the moment where it became clear to me that we are doing a really important job and people really need us. It’s helped me keep looking forward, really hang in there, even though it can be stressful at times.

A lot of my customers thank me every day, especially those that require a little assistance. I always try to be really patient and make sure they get on and off safely. In the beginning of the pandemic one of my customers came up to me and specifically thanked me for risking my life. At the beginning of this I didn’t really know the severity of the virus. It just stopped me and I thought ‘wow am I doing that?’ It was really nice to be acknowledged and appreciated. More >


Jake Buryn, Community Services Officer, Santa Monica Police Department

The biggest way our job changed is we try to do as many things over the phone as we can. We still have to go to car accidents and other types of crime reports in person, but the department provides N95 masks and we do everything we can to stay safe. It’s always been a dangerous job but during these COVID times it definitely feels even more dangerous.

Without a doubt my favorite part of the job is showing up to a situation where somebody is having a top five worst day of their life and I get to come help. There is no better feeling than helping someone navigate that, trying to calm them down and give them the support they need while also getting the job done. More >

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