In a Year Rife With Challenges, Our Santa Monica Community Rallied to Support One Another
December 28, 2020 3:27 PM
by Constance Farrell
In 2020, the City of Santa Monica focused on saving lives and supporting our entire community through the COVID-19 public health emergency. 97.5% of Santa Monicans have not contracted the virus due to our community’s commitment to following state and county health and safety protocols in all facets of our daily lives. Through early, difficult budgetary action, the City closed a $224 million anticipated deficit caused by the severe economic impacts of the pandemic, and focused on our community’s essential needs and protecting those most vulnerable by quickly implementing a residential and commercial eviction moratorium, distributing over 4,000 boxes of free food, and supporting over 600 vulnerable households with rent relief. New economic recovery measures like no-cost expanded outdoor commercial zones and fee deferment programs jumpstarted our business community despite the devastating consequences of COVID-19.
We look forward to working together in 2021 as we begin to stabilize after the winter COVID-19 surge, advance racial equity projects underway, and make progress on the regional challenges of homelessness and affordability exacerbated by the pandemic. While we have much work ahead, this year has demonstrated that our community can get through anything, in partnership with one another. Here are some key highlights from 2020.
COVID-19 PANDEMIC RESPONSE
- 97.5% of Santa Monicans have not contracted COVID-19 due to the community’s commitment to implementing strict health and safety protocols like wearing a face covering, physical distancing, staying home when sick, and regular hand washing.
- The Emergency Operations Center swiftly closed dozens of City facilities and public services to keep the community safe under LA County guidelines, and reopened when appropriate with significant signage, cleaning protocols and staff protections in place.
- 250,000 pairs of gloves and 77,826 masks distributed to City frontline essential workers to protect them in order to continue essential services to local residents and businesses.
- Emergency Operations Center coordination with local hospitals and essential businesses to ensure continuity of operations to provide for the community’s most essential needs throughout the pandemic.
- 46,027 COVID-19 tests have been administered to Santa Monicans.
- 31 supplements to Santa Monica’s emergency declaration have been issued, including a residential eviction moratorium through March 31, 2020 to keep residents housed.
- 151 COVID-19 business citations, 171 stop work orders, and over 48,000 business compliance checks by Code Enforcement Officers.
- 18,070 face covering checks, 936 face coverings distributed, and 1,886 people directed to leave a business because they refused to wear a face covering.
- Four Health Ambassadors were added to the Code Enforcement team to expand face covering education and business compliance.
- Provided direct rental relief of over $3.7 million in deferred rent and $403,000 in rent abatements for Santa Monica businesses operating from City-owned property.
- Distributed over 80,000 pounds of food in partnership with the Westside Food Bank through the Santa Monica Virginia Avenue Park Food Pantry. The temporary food pantry has provided over 4,000 food boxes to food insecure community members, supporting an average of 200 low-income households each week.
- Distributed food to 5,059 households through three food distribution events in partnership with LA County and Santa Monica College.
- Created an emergency motel shelter project, which served 26 high-risk people experiencing homelessness from May 29 through July 1. Deployed 1,260 meals and 200 hygiene kits to peoples experiencing homelessness while local businesses were closed during the pandemic. Through the pandemic, Santa Monica’s homeless street teams continue to engage and support the unhoused in Santa Monica.
- Assisted 20,000 callers and 4,000 residents by email through the COVID-19 customer service line. Developed the santamonica.gov/coronavirus website to host Santa Monica specific information about COVID-19, with over 784,000 page views.
- Over 300 businesses partnered with the City to create safe and beautiful outdoor commercial zones including temporary dining, personal care, and fitness areas in accordance with LA County guidelines (which will reopen once “stay at home” health orders are lifted). Main Street was completely redesigned to provide more outdoor space for businesses, and free parklet materials were provided to 14 businesses citywide including railings, planters, and safety equipment.
- Gyms and fitness studios are utilizing new pop-up fitness zones at the Santa Monica Pier, the Beach, in City parks and parking lots (e.g. 5th and Arizona), as well as in parklet spaces across Santa Monica to attend to the health and wellbeing of our community.
- A free curbside pickup program allows for temporary free parking adjacent to restaurants, and third-party delivery fees have been capped to put more money in the pocket of the restaurants.
- The City approved zoning changes to expedite business recovery citywide by lowering restrictions on parking, restaurant size, and alcohol service. Over 120 business are taking advantage of the City’s Business License Tax Extension Program.
- 25,000 face coverings distributed to local business patrons to ensure customers feel safe shopping in their stores, and over 5,000 health and safety signs displayed.
- Over 200 Santa Monica businesses and 475 employees participated in the Santa Monica Shines COVID-19 Business Assurance Program showing their commitment to going above and beyond to ensure customers feel safe and comfortable.
- Raised over $150,000 through the We Are Santa Monica Fund to meet basic needs related to food insecurity, personal protective equipment, shelter, and to support volunteer relief efforts.
- Launched the Art of Recovery initiative to harness the power of the arts in the City’s economic, community, and health recovery efforts to bring joy to our streets. 2020 projects included art projects at some of the City’s most notable locations including Main Street, Santa Monica Pier, and Downtown. Local artists transformed the plain k-rail concrete safety dividers that line Main Street’s al fresco dining and retail experience into colorful works of art to create a vibrant destination and corridor. To celebrate Dia de Los Muertos, Santa Monica Pier and Downtown Santa Monica featured larger than life sculptures of La Catrina, the grand dame and iconic holiday figure, by Los Angeles-based artist Ricardo Soltero. The Windows of Wonderment are now live at the Santa Monica Pier featuring The Bob Baker Marionette Theater and their precocious puppets that have taken over our merry-go-round windows for a one-of-a-kind installation.
- Over 90 families have been helped by finding childcare and over 90 people have received career support.
- Developed the santamonica.gov/economicrecovery site, sent weekly communication and updates via social media and to over 10,000 local businesses, resulting in over 40,000 views of our websites and 200,000 impressions on social media.
- In the first weeks of the pandemic, City staff recognized the significant impacts of COVID-19 on the economy and City revenues and took action to close what was projected to be a $224 million deficit over three years. Unlike other cities now grappling with dire deficits, Santa Monica’s quick work to shrink the budget by 24%, while painful, ensured a sustainable and strong fiscal health for the City, and realigned operations across every City department to adjust to the impacts and realities of COVID-19.
- The North Beach Trail Improvement Project opened for pedestrians and cyclists to use and enjoy, improving safety and circulation by creating separate paths for walking and biking between the northern city limits and Bay Street with expanded space, new paving, lighting, landscaping, markings, signage, and artwork murals made out of sandblasted concrete depicting local marine wildlife.
- Fire Station 1, an essential services building and new home for Santa Monica Fire’s busiest station serving the downtown area, completed construction and hosted a drive-by art event to safely mark the moment with the community in July.
- City Hall East, an extension of historic City Hall, unites City staff on one campus, eliminating costly leases, saving the City in the long-term. The building represents the highest standards of sustainable building as a Living Building by harvesting its own water on site, producing power on site through solar, zero waste and with no utility bill.
- Over 16,000 customer requests for service were responded to with top requests being graffiti removal, parking meter repairs, and illegal dumping.
- Santa Monica Police Department responded to 118,000 incidents.
- So far this year the Santa Monica Fire Department has responded to over 14,000 calls for service and were deployed to 17 wildfires to provide mutual aid.
- Worked with Los Angeles County to ensure a safe and fair election with unprecedented turnout and wait times never exceeding 15 minutes in all Santa Monica polling locations.
- Continued City Planning functions amidst the pandemic, including bringing forward the redevelopment of the historic Miramar Hotel, adopting new leasing rules to protect housing for residents through a Medium-Term Rental Ordinance, and beginning the public engagement process for the Housing Element.
- Upgraded the City to a cloud-based computer infrastructure, implemented best-in-class network security services, and rolled out over 300 laptops as part of the City’s Total Workplace project that together ensured business continuity and continued service delivery while City Hall remained physically closed to the public.
- Over 217,000 (+250%) views on the refreshed city website including new customer service directory, improved search capabilities, and a mobile-friendly design.
- 8,984 building inspections completed since July.
- Public Works emptied 489 trash cans at least once per day citywide across 38 daily routes.
- Public Landscape cared for 118,000 trees city-wide.
- The Santa Monica Farmers Market stayed open throughout the pandemic to provide essential food to the community and to support the livelihoods of regional farmers.
- 842 community members provided public comment at Council meetings.
- 2,233 public records requests were filled.
- The Center for Digital Government (CDG) recognized the City as a winner of the 2020 Digital Cities Survey.
- More than 600 households served through City of Santa Monica Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
- 180 housing vouchers distributed since March 1.
- 38 affordable apartments constructed for senior households at Greenway Meadows, affordable senior apartments built with $10 million in City housing trust funds. Another 39 affordable apartments for seniors is under construction involving $11.4 million in City funding.
- 145 senior households received cash based assistance through the Preserving Our Diversity Program, which expanded despite a loss in revenues.
- 57 new affordable apartments came online in 2020 as a result of the City’s affordable housing requirements for developers of multi-family housing, and several hundred Santa Monica priority households were referred from the City’s waitlist to these housing opportunities.
- 8,921 customers were supported by Rent Control by phone or email since March 13.
ADVANCING EQUITY & INCLUSION
- Community members came together to create the Black Agenda in Santa Monica, a comprehensive blueprint for change across a wide range of priority areas: economic development, mental health and wellbeing, police reform, education, COVID-19 recovery, the arts, housing, along with civic and political engagement.
- City Council provided $125,000 in seed funding to the Santa Monica Black Lives Association, a nonprofit entity that would take the lead on these initiatives.
- The Interim City Manager appointed a 15 member Public Safety Advisory Reform Committee to review the Santa Monica Police Department’s use of force policies; engage the community by including a diverse range of input, experiences, and stories in the process, and to review broader proposals for financial strategies to better achieve public safety and wellbeing for all in the Santa Monica community. At the end of the review process, Council approved the committee’s recommendations.
- The Council adopted the racial equity statement developed by staff and approved the formation of a Racial Equity Committee which includes the appointment of existing staff as Equity and Inclusion Officers to lead change within the City organization and to advance equity goals that are being developed following a series of social justice forums where staff provided input.
- Hosted the City’s first Black History Month celebration, including recognizing Black leaders in Santa Monica. Virtual events for 2021 will center on the theme “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.”
- Santa Monica received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, which measures how inclusive city laws, policies, and services are for LGBTQ people who live and work in our community.
- Launched series profiliing Black-Owned Businesses in Santa Monica with 13 highlighted so far.
MOBILITY & TRANSPORTATION
- Completed an in-depth safety study of Wilshire Boulevard to bring us closer to our goal of eliminating fatal and severe-injury crashes from our streets.
- 287 fare-free days on Big Blue Bus.
- 64% of BBB’s frequent riders (those who ride 4 or more days per week) are essential workers.
- During the pandemic, BBB has served over 16,000 customers daily.
- During the pandemic, BBB’s MODE program has provided 1,500 rides monthly to 400 unique customers.
- Installed protected bike lanes on Broadway in March, as well as a two-way cycle track on Ocean Avenue in November, creating a safe connection to the recently widened and improved beach bike path.
- 18 additional miles of protected bike lanes approved for construction over the next three years through an update to the Bike Action Plan.
- Earned a Gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists.
LEARNING & RECREATION
- Historic Belmar Park was completed and named, and will open in 2021. Santa Monica’s newest 3.5 acre open space commemorates the site that was home to a thriving African American community until the 1950s.
- 22 fitness trainers licensed to offer outdoor instruction in City parks.
- 14,223 lap-swimmer visits to the Santa Monica Swim Center since reopening.
- 65 parklets now exist across Santa Monica.
- 12,523 Library patrons received curbside service, totaling over 209,633 items checked out at curbside, despite the closure of library buildings. Library staff answered 11,650 calls from the public and issued 2,965 new e-cards, which allowed patrons to access library materials electronically and quickly place holds for curbside pickup.
- The Night Fire by Michael Connelly was the most popular title of 2020 with 343 checkouts.
- The Library hosted a total of 460 programs (326 in-person before March and 134 virtual) and reached 23,334 attendees (9,265 in-person and 14,069 virtual), including programs supporting children and families with distance learning.
- Developed SMPL Online Digital Library webpage as a “one-stop shop” for library resources and access to materials, while addressing the informational needs of patrons of all ages, from children and families to seniors.
- Direct Service programs (CREST, PAL, VAP) provided in-person after school care for 82 children and 100 children in virtual programs.
- 6,658 hours of field space permitted to over 30 different SM youth sports organizations
- 5,526 visits to the Cove Skatepark by 781 unique members.
- 8,172 permitted lane hours to youth and adult aquatic permit groups.
- 47 Community Recreation classes with 363 participants.
- In the last year, 93% of all electricity customers converted to grid-supplied renewable energy through the Clean Power Alliance.
- 17% reduction in community-wide GHG emissions thanks to community participation in the Clean Power Alliance.
- The City received the 2020 Leadership in Sustainability Award from the International Code Council.
- Adopted Energy Reach Code requiring new construction to include onsite solar energy and encouraging all-electric (zero-emissions) buildings.
- 90 solar photovoltaic systems were installed on rooftops City-wide, adding over 800 kW of distributed energy resources.
- 24 public electric vehicle charging stations were added (and the utility boxes serving these stations were painted by a local artist).
- The EV Reach Code was adopted, which ensures that all new parking facilities include electric vehicle chargers and the electrical capacity to support growing EV adoption.
- City Hall East was awarded Project of the Year from the U.S. Green Building Council LA Chapter.
- The City was selected by the LA Cleantech Incubator to host the first the Zero-Emissions Delivery Zone pilot in the region.
- 30 new Certified Green Businesses.
- Eliminated the City application of Glyphosate (Round-Up) in public spaces.
- 10,000 lbs. of food grown in community gardens served 120 families.
- The first Sustainability Rights Report was published.
- The Sustainability Poster Contest received submissions from 185 students.