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SM Budget Talk:

Frank Loweree Special to the Mirror I recently met with City Manager P. Lamont Ewell to discuss some questions that have come up from various sectors concerning the proposed $444.8 million 2006-07 City budget and the allocation and distribution of certain funds. Around his office walls stretch detailed organizational charts on each of the City’s 14 departments, 60 sites and 2,000 employees. “That’s what we have planned for the summer,” says Ewell. “We’ll be going over each and every position, looking at areas that can be reorganized, so that the City is more customer service driven.” The following excerpts give a general sense of the City Manager’s responses to various budget questions. Mirror: At the 1st City Council study session on May 23, one resident suggested the development of a “commission on youth.” What is the City providing for its youth at this point? Ewell: At present we have the Pico Family Youth Center, the Police Athletic League, the Boys & Girls Club and the Teen Center. Of course, we are always open to suggestions as to what additional services might better serve our youth. Mirror: That same resident made the suggestion that there be more use of “local consultants” for City studies and services. Ewell: In fact I do agree that we have been too dependent on outside consultants in the past. We have a very competent City staff here in place, and we are looking to make more use of them in the future. Mirror: Has the Pier maintenance budget been decreased at the expense of the increased budget for the Bayside District Corporation? And, does the Bayside District Corporation focus on the Third Street Promenade to the detriment of the business needs of the Montana Avenue Shopping District? Ewell: The Pier maintenance budget has no relationship with the Bayside District budget. Actually, I met with the Pier Director yesterday to see what we can do to address their needs. As to the Bayside District and the Montana District, they are funded separately. Mirror: It has been said that the $700 to $1,000 per month City Affordable Housing rent range is unaffordable for 25 percent of Santa Monicans. Ewell: Unfortunately the City has to meet the specifications of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Section 8 housing and the California rent deregulation requirements, all of which strictly regulate the amount of rent that a resident has to pay for the City’s Affordable Housing. Mirror: Have any specific actions been taken to heighten the security at the Ocean Park and Fairview library branches? Ewell: At the Ocean Park branch we have improved the interior and exterior lighting, put alarm systems on the lower doors, put special controls in the elevators, increased the neighborhood police patrols and increased the frequency of library service officer rotation. It should also be noted that we are conducting a comprehensive security review of all of the City’s 60 sites, many of which are in highly impacted downtown areas. Mirror: How does the 2006-07 budget address the City’s traffic problem? Ewell: The Planning Department is continuously looking for new ways to improve the City’s traffic flow by improving signal timing, using a new model for traffic counts and readjusting to the Environmental Impact Report. We are also in the process of developing our Land Use Circulation Element – the charter cities’ required general plan which includes land use, zoning codes and density plans – which will chart our course for the next 20 years regarding such elements as traffic. This should be completed in a year-and-a-half. Mirror: How does the 2006-07 budget address the City’s homelessness problem? Ewell: This budget provides more than $2 million to address the homeless situation, including the renewal of advisor Ed Edelman’s contract, the hiring of two additional City staff and the increased funding of nonprofit social service agencies like OPCC, Step Up on Second, and St. Joseph Center. Mirror: If a resident felt that a particular City department was too large, too expensive or not doing its job right, what would be the process through which that question would be addressed? Ewell: Contact me, contact any City Council member or come to the City Council meetings the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month and voice your opinion. This office encourages feedback at any time on any issue. Mirror: We notice that of the $34.5 million increase in funds in the 2006-07 budget, 76 percent ($26.1 million) is allocated to capital projects and only 24 percent ($8.4 million) is allocated to operating expenses? Does this result in putting buildings before people? Ewell: I encourage everyone to go on our website at www.santa-monica.org to see how these capital funds are being spent. You will find street, sidewalk and pothole repair; street and building lighting improvements; graffiti removal and tree replacement. This is the first time in the City’s history that budget money is being spent on tree replacement. I consider this City to be our “living room.” The people of Santa Monica deserve to have a nice one. City Manager Ewell has been with the City of Santa Monica for less than six months, and the proposed budget he has prepared will come up for approval in the upcoming City Council meeting of June 20th. If you have questions or comments call 310.458.8301 or visit www.santa-monica.org.

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