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2005-06 City Budget In Works: homelessness, gang violence top list of priorities

The Santa Monica City Council outlined priorities for the City’s 2005-2006 budget at last week’s regular meeting, and gave top billing to homelessness and gang violence.

Early on, the Council voted to extend this year’s four community priorities into 2005-06: safety/quality of life in the Pico Neighborhood; the Sustainable City Plan; responsive City customer service/fair and efficient City regulatory processes; and active living. It then made homelessness a priority.

However, Council member Robert Holbrook subsequently said that he believed that the “most attention from the top to the bottom of the City staff and everybody on the Council should be the public safety issues in the Pico Neighborhood … and number two should be the issues of homelessness. After that, I don’t think if it comes to resources, we should expend as much resources on the other ones until we can get some significant improvement in my point of view for one and two. I just don’t think we should take our eye off the ball and to me that’s where the ball is.”

His position was backed by Council member Bobby Shriver who said it was “brave” of Holbrook “to say he has two priorities above the other priorities,” adding that homelessness and gang violence are both public safety issues.

Council member Richard Bloom agreed that homelessness and gang violence should be “dual priorities, but with caution” because “they are also, interestingly enough, two of the significant problems that we have in Santa Monica that in many ways are not within our control. We need to bear that in mind as we address them. Homelessness is a regional issue. The gang issue relates within and outside our community.”

Each Council member also gave City staff his or her own laundry list of budget priorities.

Council member Kevin McKeown called for more work on City sustainability, including additional recycling options and giving residents an opportunity to choose alternative sources of electricity. He also plumped for the creation of an Ocean Park Boulevard plan, the modernization and expansion of the City yards and transfer station, continuing work on the City’s historic preservation element, mobility and access, timeliness on plan check and building inspections, the reduction of taxes on home businesses, “rethinking how we support our neighborhood groups,” and allocating funds for a “renaissance of the arts in Santa Monica,” which would include “expanding public art events in the City.”

Council member Ken Genser echoed McKeown’s support for the City yards expansion, historic preservation, and neighborhood groups. He also spoke in favor of giving a high priority to the acquisition of land in downtown Santa Monica for parking, programs for older youth, a streetscape design for 20th Street and Pico Boulevard and a plan for 16th and 17th Streets on Ocean Park Boulevard.

Mayor Pam O’Connor called for continued focus on the revision of the City General Plan’s land use and circulation elements.

Mayor Pro Tem Herb Katz said development of the City yards and transfer station was long overdue. He also asked for more information on how the City planned to fulfill its financial obligation to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, and, like McKeown, he called for an expedited plan check and building permit process.

In addition to making homelessness and gang violence priorities, Shriver also said that priority should be given to the historic resources inventory, more effective treatment of storm water runoff to make ocean waters safe for swimmers and surfers, improvements to dog parks and a master plan for the Santa Monica College’s airport campus.

Bloom’s other priorities included community shuttles, and, with McKeown, “more music and art in the community.”

The Council will review its priorities, along with a matrix developed by City staff of the priorities noted by members of the community at the January 11 Council meeting, during the City’s budget study sessions in May.

In other business, the Council upheld the Planning Commission’s decision to reject a proposal from the owner of the property at 2901 Ocean Park Boulevard to reconfigure the driveways and traffic circulation on the property.

Council members also appointed Elizabeth Bancroft to the City’s Accessibility Appeals Board and Glenda Berg to the Disabilities Commission.

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