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Stepping Into Our Recovery

March 15, 2021 9:47 AM
by Lane Dilg

Stepping Into Our Recovery

Interim City Manager Lane Dilg shared these words to open the March 13 special City Council retreat focused on community priorities to guide the City’s biennial budget process as we mark one year of our lives in the pandemic. This press release outlines Council's priorities. 

Council, we are here at the beginning our biennial budget process for you as the elected representatives of the City to set the community priorities that will guide us in the budget process and in the work that follows. Council has gathered regularly for this community priority setting meeting in the recent past. But seldom have we held this meeting amidst so much change.  

This week, we mark the one-year anniversary of our lives in the pandemic. And, in the strong mix of emotions and grief that anniversary brings, we also mark the moment in which we will begin to see our recovery in earnest.    

Council, in the first months of the pandemic, staff came forward to the City Council with projections about what this global emergency would mean for our local community and for our City budget.   

The projections included:  

  • That Parking, sales, and tourism revenue streams would all be dramatically reduced during the pandemic and would not immediately recover;  
  • That a second surge of the pandemic was likely in the late Winter of 2020; and 
  • That we were unlikely to see any meaningful federal aid directly to small city governments like ours.   

Based on these projections, we responded – swiftly and strongly.  We: 

  • Stopped capital projects,  
  • Utilized $117 million in one-time funds to fill gaps, and  
  • Most importantly, restructured the City government to reduce the size of our staff and expenditures, and to align our resources to respond to the community’s needs in the pandemic. This was a grueling, painful, and frankly terrible process. 

But by July 1, 2020, we had reduced the City’s total budget by $192 million, closed the projected deficit, and balanced the City budget. We had put the City in a place to weather the storm. In the end, your Finance team’s projections bore out. As one person put it -- for the finance industry -- the projections were like an arrow splitting an arrow. Our revenues were impacted as projected, the winter surge and second shutdown came, and we did not receive federal stabilization aid in 2020. 

Because we had already projected these conditions and responded: our fiscal health is intact, our finances are stable, and we retain our AAA bond rating.   

Since July 1, 2020, I am happy to say that we have not been responding to financial impacts of the pandemic.  We have been serving our community and stabilizing a City government that is operating within a significantly reduced budget. We have been providing the services on which the community relies: from public safety, clean drinking water, public space and public right of way maintenance, to public transit, and Farmers Markets, children’s recreation, and Library Services.

We have been supporting economic recovery across our cross section of: planning, mobility, inspection and permitting, and economic development work.

And, we have already begun to transform the City government to: 

  • Spend the more limited funds that we have wisely and strategically, 
  • Focus our most precious resources – our people – on collaborative, efficient work to serve the community’s most pressing needs, 
  • Utilize new virtual services and customer service tools to become more nimble and responsive to our community’s ever-changing needs,  
  • Ensure that our values of equity and inclusion become central to all of the work that we do, 
  • Ask at all times not what the City government can do alone but what we as a community can do together. 

Council, when I shared this slide amidst some of the hardest days of the pandemic, I said with conviction that Santa Monica had a bright future ahead.  

Today, at the one-year mark, we are finally stepping into the very earliest days of our recovery.    

Vaccination has begun in earnest with high-risk populations and key essential services providers now eligible. The President has stated that all adults in America will be eligible for vaccination as of May 1 and able to gather in small groups by Independence Day. 

As vaccination has expanded, so has reopening. LA County has announced that we will move to the Red Tier – allowing the earliest return of indoor dining, movie theaters, indoor fitness, and other signs of recovery.  Soon, we will even see our beloved Ferris Wheel start turning. 

And, perhaps most importantly, the President signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.  We will discuss the impacts of this bill on our City budget, but what is more important to see is what this federal package does for our community recovery – because the work we do is always, always about the community that we serve.  The American Rescue Plan: 

  • Speeds up vaccination; 
  • Supports school reopening; 
  • Provides immediate financial relief to strugglingcommunity members to address unemployment, food, housing, and financial insecurity; and 
  • Provides billions of dollars in federal funds to: 
  • Keep tenants in their homes 
  • Provide vouchers and fund investments to house the unsheltered  
  • Rebuild local economies, including travel and tourism sectors 
  • Revitalize struggling restaurants 
  • Support small businesses 
  • Support public transit 
  • Address learning gaps 

These three things – Vaccination, Reopening, and the American Rescue Plan – are unfathomably huge steps forward for our community recovery.   

So, today, it is in this context that we ask you to set our community priorities: with respect and grief for where we have been, with appreciation for the slow but steady recovery that we will now become more and more evident with each and every day that passes, and with clear eyes to the bright future that – while not yet immediately before us – lies now visible on the horizon.   

As a City government, our recovery will not be immediate. In this biennial budget process, as in the fiscal year in which we are now, we will have far more limited resources than we did in prior years.   

But we will do everything in our power to work smartly, strategically, and together with our community to make progress in the key areas that you identify as the community’s priorities, even as we continue to work together in partnership toward our community’s broader recovery. 

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