March 2, 2022 10:47 AM
by David White
The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce and the City of Santa Monica hosted the annual State of the City on February 15, 2022. In this two-part blog series, we share excerpts from City Manager David White’s address, which can be viewed on YouTube. First, we look back at 2021 before exploring what lies ahead.
As your City Manager, I had the opportunity to speak at Santa Monica’s annual State of the City in February and while the event’s theme focused on Envisioning Our Future, I took an initial step back to acknowledge the foundation from which Santa Monica’s future will be built.
Financial Forecast and Services Post Restructuring
Our financial position is an important factor in the state of our city. Santa Monica is in the initial phase of economic recovery, but we still have a lot of uncertainty ahead of us.
In 2019, the City projected a loss of revenues in our General Fund of about $220 million over three years. Due to sound financial planning and tough decisions on restructuring our services, our Finance Director Gigi Decavalles-Hughes recently provided our Council with an updated financial forecast that reflects our revenue loss to be closer to $188 million. This is still devastating, but it is nice to see improvement.
Sales tax, parking revenue, hotel bed taxes, and documentary transfer taxes are projected to perform better than anticipated and FY 2021 – 2022 General Fund revenues are projected to be $30.7 million higher than budgeted. However, many of our revenues continue to underperform in comparison to the levels attained before the pandemic. This has had very real impacts on how we can deliver services.
- The Council-adopted midyear budget approved modest and sustainable service restorations, adding back 24.8 full-time equivalent General Fund positions. This will allow us to strengthen our administrative capacity to deliver citywide services, provide some service enhancements, and deepen our commitment to building a Santa Monica for all.
- Council allocated $11 million of unassigned revenue to replenish our General Fund reserves. Reserves are so important in times of crisis, and we had to heavily rely on these resources early in the pandemic to maintain our operations.
- With this, reserves remain 59% less than what they were immediately prior to the pandemic.
- The restructuring required us to cut our capital program budget by more than 50%, and even with some increases, our capital program remains severely underfunded and infrastructure needs remain deferred.
- While it has been painful, thanks to all the actions taken by the City Council over the past couple of years, the City continues to receive the highest credit rating.
We are slowly, strategically, and thoughtfully restoring services as funding becomes available.
- My goal is to support our workforce to meet Council’s expectation to provide the highest level of service to our community.
- Yet restoring services back to the levels that meet our community’s expectations will take time, as the public sector is facing many of the same challenges as most business sectors, including staffing shortages and service disruptions due to COVID.
- Despite all of the challenges that they have experienced over the past couple of years, it is obvious and impressive to me that our public employees remained focused, steadfast, and are committed to providing tremendous service to the community.
Emergency Operations Center: COVID-19 Pandemic
As we approach the third year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Santa Monica remains committed to keeping our community and city staff safe and our Emergency Operations Center continues to lead our emergency response efforts.
This includes providing access to local vaccine resources. Our emergency operations center hosted 10 public COVID-19 vaccination clinics, helping contribute to over 72,800 Santa Monica residents and almost 1,800 City staff receiving their COVID-19 vaccine in 2021. As cases increased with the Delta and Omicron variants, the team identified the community’s need for access to COVID-19 testing and launched the Clover Park testing site in partnership with the County. They also continued to adapt City operations to protect staff and the public by distributing personal protective equipment to help minimize COVID-19 transmission. The City issued 10 emergency orders in 2021 and regularly communicated LA County and City changes to residents and businesses via local media, emergency alerts, community newsletters and social media.
Maintaining a Clean and Safe Santa Monica
The restructuring of our city services had a noticeable impact on our ability to provide cleaning services in our public spaces. I know how important a clean Santa Monica is to our community and I share your conviction. The dedicated team in our Public Works Department have reported to work each day and continue to do their all to deliver on this important priority. During the restructure, we took hits in areas like graffiti removal, paint maintenance, custodial, and our trade shops. While this impacted service delivery response times, our crews have been working tirelessly to maintain our beaches, parks, and public facilities. I’m so pleased to have named Rick Valte to be our public works director and I am confident his leadership will provide the support this team needs to continue to keep our community clean.
Homelessness and the impact of homelessness is one of the biggest issues facing our nation and our city. Santa Monica continues to work with LA County partners, and to invest in programs that offer services to those in need. In 2021, the three City-funded multidisciplinary outreach teams made more than 11,000 contacts with people experiencing homelessness and provided direct medical or psychiatric services to 808 participants. Last year, these teams placed 57 people into interim housing and 24 individuals into permanent housing. In December alone, the multidisciplinary teams made 990 contacts, providing direct medical or psychiatric care to 55 vulnerable individuals on our streets, in our parks and on our beach. Additionally:
- 237 people were served in local interim housing programs. 103 participants exited these programs.
- 485 formerly homeless Santa Monica residents received housing retention services and 97% maintained their permanent housing.
- 590 Santa Monica residents received legal assistance that supported them in maintaining their housing last fiscal year.
- Approximately $80,000 issued to 45 households to secure and retain housing through City Flex Funds.
- 640 households economically impacted by COVID-19 received assistance through the Santa Monica Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
- Santa Monica Housing Authority issued 382 vouchers to new participating households.
Equitable and Inclusive Economic Recovery
The pandemic has impacted our businesses, our households, and our local economy. As I mentioned earlier, I am excited to see that we are beginning to see signs of stabilization and recovery and there is much that we have done to support the recovery that is taking hold, including:
- Retaining existing and attracting new businesses to our city. We are seeing new businesses open in our community and existing businesses reinvest.
- Issuing over 170 outdoor permits and 15 “kit of parts” were provided to local businesses to make sure no one was held back, and now we’re working to make the outdoor dining and retail program permanent.
- Funding 24 art projects through Art of Recovery, hiring over 100 artists during a pandemic, and harnessing the power of the arts in the City’s economic, community, and health recovery efforts.
- Keeping people housed and fed by making the emergency food pantry at Virginia Avenue Park permanent through a partnership with the Westside Food Bank to feed over 200 local families every week.
- Providing subsidies to 195 Santa Monica families.
have a lot of work to address our housing crisis. Many of our friends and neighbors are priced
out of living in our city, and for many that work in Santa Monica, living here
is only a dream.
There are many existing housing projects and programs the City is committed to driving forward including the support our Rent Control department provides to residents. Last year alone, this team had approximately 11,000 constituent interactions by phone, email, and in-person. Other highlights include:
- Investing $11.4 million to help fund the opening of 39 affordable housing units at Magnolia Villas for seniors earning low income.
- Providing financial assistance to 150 low-income seniors who are long-term Santa Monica renters experiencing financial hardship through the City’s Preserving Our Diversity program.
- Maintaining our strong commitment to the production of affordable housing through Council’s approval of mixed-use affordable housing on a City-owned parcel located at 1318 Fourth Street in Downtown Santa Monica.
Santa Monica has always been a place with a high quality of life, which is attributable to our exceptional service delivery. The City provides important services that our residents rely on every day. In 2021:
- We served over 1,400 youth at our parks and through our after-school programs.
- The Santa Monica Public Library reopened the Main Library and Pico Branch. We expanded online and in-person programming with a focus on youth and the Montana Branch reopens March 1.
- Our Public Works team trimmed 7,465 trees and planted 415 new trees, removed 700 tons of trash from the beach, completed 32,120 beach restroom cleanings, and diverted 14,399 tons of recyclables and 11,393 tons of organic waste from landfills.
- We issued 2,719 permits both through our online portal and front counter and our building inspectors completed 17,554 inspections.
- Code Enforcement addressed 863 complaints and performed 12,347 COVID-19 business checks.
- Our City Clerk’s team completed 615 passport applications after re-establishing Passport Services in July 2021 and processed 4,819 public records requests.
Investing in our infrastructure and public spaces remains a key element to serving the community and ensuring a safe, clean, and sustainable Santa Monica for years to come. With the leadership of our Public Works Department, the City made huge leaps toward completing major projects.
- Opening and unveiling of Historic Belmar Park,
Santa Monica’s newest open space.
- Opening of the Early Childhood Lab School to the first cohort of early learners, supporting more Santa Monica families in getting back to normal rhythms of life.
- Improving the existing Santa Monica Pier parking deck which will safely support large emergency vehicles and be a benefit for future events and activities.
- Nearing completion of the first full phase of the City Yards Modernization Project.
Santa Monica has taken great pride in our commitment to protecting the natural environment. Santa Monica is advancing a bold agenda that will help us achieve water self-sufficiency, reduce CO2 emissions, and preserve and enhance our environment. This work includes:
- Expansion of the Arcadia Water Treatment Plant and restoration of the Olympic Well Field last month.
- The Sustainable Water Infrastructure Project set for completion in September 2022.
- Becoming water self-sufficient by 2023 to withstand intermittent rain and prolonged periods of drought, which is a major milestone for our community and environment.
- The new mandatory organics recycling ordinance that aligns with the State’s mandate.
- Launching the first zero-emissions delivery zone in partnership with Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, the first in the nation. In this zone, smaller and cleaner technologies are relied upon to deliver goods, instead of the large diesel-fueled trucks that we're used to seeing on our streets.
- Completing the fifth year of the Santa Monica Beach Restoration Pilot Project with the Bay Foundation to restrict grooming in an approximately 3-acre area to bring back rare coastal habitat.
Moving Around Town
With the merger of Big Blue Bus and Mobility team, the Santa Monica Department of Transportation emerged. The department's achievements include:
- Expanding the City’s bike network with a new protected bike lane on Broadway and Ocean Ave.
- Resuming fare collection and reopening the Transit Store, serving 16,000 customers since February 2021, and providing real-time information on bus arrivals.
- Overseeing infrastructure construction and installation of chargers for 20 battery electric buses.
- Launching our 2nd Shared Mobility Pilot Program, and the Open Main Street event series.
- Completing Safe Routes to Schools projects at four schools in concert with our Public Works Department.
- Beginning construction on $12.5+ millions of projects including improvement on 20th Street and Michigan Avenue, and 17th Street; and
- Obtaining grant funding for $8 million worth of projects that improve our mobility.
Investment in Communications and Engagement
We continue to double down on customer service improvements throughout the pandemic period to offer digital-first options, stronger direct communication, and easier ways to find information. Examples include:
- Upgrades to our website to make information easier to find and easier to access across all devices.
- Over 380,000 visits to our blog and newsroom alone, driving awareness to timely community information.
- Launched Santa Monica 311, with services in English and Spanish, is an integrated program accessible via phone, email, and web.
- Re-opened the front doors to City Hall, welcoming back in-person services at all our city facilities.
To view the full 2022 State of the City program, visit Santa Monica’s YouTube channel.
And read on as we look at what lies ahead in the second part of this blog series.