Reflections on 2017 So Far

August 31, 2017
by Ted Winterer

Reflections on 2017 So Far

At Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.’s Annual Meeting on August 31, 2017, Mayor Ted Winterer delivered these remarks reflecting on highlights from 2017 so far, as well as the opportunities and challenges ahead.

For the past several years, a lot of us have been engrossed in a debate about building heights and density. There have been many heated discussions in Council Chambers, at community meetings and on the front page of the newspaper. No matter which side of the debate you are on, I want to take a moment to remember one important truth. It’s the people that make a place great. 8.4 million people chose to visit Santa Monica this year, because of you.

Because you create a welcoming space for residents and the world.

Because of your loyalty to this community.

Because you care about this great city we call home.

This is the theme I want to focus on this morning. Each of us play a crucial role in making our city what is it today.  Working together, we’ve accomplished a lot this year, all of which have a direct impact on our community’s living room, our downtown.

We’ve continued our longstanding efforts to protect and nurture our environment. Despite the lack of leadership from Washington, Santa Monica has doubled down on our commitment to fighting Climate Change and doing our part to save our planet. We are on our way to water self-sufficiency by 2020, zero waste by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. This year we required that all new, low-scale residential construction achieve Zero Net Energy, producing sufficient on-site energy production for the home’s needs.

For the water self-sufficiency goal, we established a water neutrality ordinance ensuring all new developments are water neutral. These new buildings can either use less water than the structure being replaced or must pay to install water-saving fixtures and other devices elsewhere in Santa Monica to offset any increased water demand. We know this may require more investment up front, yet are the responsible actions we must take to be good stewards of our limited natural resources.

We have been focused on reducing car trips, particularly single-rider car trips, as they are our city’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.  We’ve established a new model of mobility by offering transit options to break our reliance on cars without sacrificing our ability to move around.

A few big wins on the transportation front: Breeze Bike Share recently passed the one million mile threshold; Big Blue Bus added digital payment options while planning for an all-electric fleet; and Expo Line ridership surpassed its 2030 projections with over 63,000 weekday riders.

We’ve also made big strides in placemaking for the future.

No doubt one of the biggest accomplishment this year has been the approval of our Downtown Community Plan—centered around a housing-first strategy with an emphasis on affordability, preservation of historic structures, dynamic open space and the creation of new cultural venues and experiences. The plan builds on the success that everyone in this room has contributed to. Downtown is a neighborhood with access to almost everything you need within a short walk, bike ride or mass transit trip.

The revitalization of the Bergamot Station Art Center is moving forward as we plan to add a new museum and other space for creative endeavors to this much beloved cultural hub while renovating and preserving existing art galleries. And by year’s end, as a result of our unprecedented Consent Decree with the FAA, we will have shortened the runway at Santa Monica Airport to reduce jet traffic while preparing for its closure in 2028. In the meantime, we are working on adding 12 acres of ballfields and other amenities to the existing Airport Park; have begun the planning for an expansion and renovation of Memorial Park; initiated a new playing field at the Civic Center; and celebrated the opening of Ishihara Park, the latest addition to our public spaces. And we’ve experimented with smaller enhancements to the public realm, such as the new parklets on Main Street.

Of course, we have been vigilant about protecting housing affordability and keeping longtime Santa Monicans in their homes. We’ve prevailed in lawsuits to assert tenants’ rights, enhanced assistance for those using Section 8 rental vouchers, and will soon begin a pilot program to help rent-burdened seniors. An affordable housing waitlist recently opened for middle-income households. Our minimum wage increase provides a boost to our lowest paid workers. And we’ve reached out to inform and assist those in our city who are at risk of being severely impacted by new Federal immigration policies.

All this has been accomplished amidst an enhanced regimen of fiscal responsibility and accountability. Our latest biennial budget uses a new framework based on our Wellbeing Project and our Sustainable City Plan. We are committed to fiscal prudence by using metrics to evaluate what works and what doesn’t. We recently paid down $45 million of our long-term pension liability and have negotiated enhanced employee contributions to retirement and medical coverage in recent bargaining sessions.

Finally, we’ve addressed some significant changes in senior leadership at City Hall. I know I speak for all of my colleagues on the City Council when I say we are delighted to welcome Lane Dilg as our new City Attorney and hope everyone in our community enjoys getting to know her as much as we have. And our City Manager Rick Cole has selected municipal veteran Katie Lichtig as his Assistant City Manager, in a return to her Santa Monica roots. He’s also selected Anuj Gupta as Deputy City Manager. Anuj previously worked for the Obama White House and recently as L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s general counsel for the Office of Immigrant Affairs. Rick is also actively working on hiring a new Chief of Police to replace Chief Seabrooks as she retires this fall.

Is there more work for us to tackle this year? Absolutely.

This morning, I want to highlight two key issues at the top of my list. Both impact every one of us in this room, regardless of who you are, what you do, where you’re from or why you’re here.

The first, is homelessness.

There’s nothing more heartbreaking than women, men and families living on the streets of our city, many of whom are suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues.

Los Angeles County experienced a 23% increase in homelessness this year. Here in Santa Monica, our homeless count reflects a 26% increase. We know permanent housing and jobs are the long-term solution but our region is in the midst of a housing shortage, making ideal solutions a real challenge.

The homeless epidemic we are experiencing in LA County is something we can’t solve at City Hall. I speak on behalf of my colleagues on City Council when I share that we are committed to doing everything we can to connect our most vulnerable to services. We are equally committed to intensify our efforts with both our public sector and private sector partners in the region. Yet this isn’t enough.

Solutions can come from the best thinking of our residents, the business community, transit riders, our faith community and the nonprofit sector. Solutions can come from every single one of you in this room. If we want to make a dent, we must tackle this together and must do it now. So I challenge you: Be informed, get involved and volunteer with and donate to our nonprofit partners who help so much with this generational challenge.

While ending homelessness won’t come easily and big changes will not happen overnight, I’m optimistic that if we work together, we can significantly reduce the number of people living on our streets.

The second issue I’d like to touch on cuts to the core of our most sacred value -- equality. Santa Monica has not been immune to the divisiveness and vitriol infecting parts of our country. Over the past few months, we’ve encountered that same hatred and bigotry right here in our city. It deeply saddens me that Santa Monica is targeted because we champion diversity and inclusion.

While we must strive to graciously tolerate differences of opinion, this is a moment to unite around the essential qualities that make Santa Monica, Santa Monica.

As I look around this room, I see faces that represent the best of our downtown and reflect the diverse community I’m honored to serve.

Working together, I know we can shift the momentum around homelessness.

Working together, we can safeguard our neighbors from hate and bigotry.

And find common ground in our caring for this city we call home.

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