City Manager Lamont Ewell continued his Santa Monica city budget meetings with the residents of the Sunset Park and Wilshire Montana neighborhoods in the last week. Ewell was accompanied at these meetings by a gang of fellow City employees including the chiefs of police and the fire department, city council members and just about everyone from departments as diverse as planning and the libraries.
“These are tough unique times and it means we’re going to have to cut back,” said Ewell. “We just don’t have the capacity to keep the impact from affecting the neighborhoods.”
Which means cutting services. These meetings are about prioritizing which services are most important.
Ewell and the gang met with Sunset Park neighborhood residents and its neighborhood association on Nov. 12. The Friends of Sunset Park, voiced concerns about managing the traffic (particularly from Santa Monica College), Airport related issues (such as noise and air pollution) and maintaining public safety as a priority.
On Nov. 16, Ewell and his band met with the residents of the Wilshire Montana neighborhood, who were particularly concerned with parking in the downtown areas. Also addressed were concerns regarding overdevelopment, bussing and other transit concerns, community safety and maintaining youth services. Biking lanes and safety was also brought up a number of times by attendees, although not reflected in Wilshire Montana’s aggregate concerns survey.
The silver lining, Ewell pointed out, is that cutting down to “core” services in Santa Monica doesn’t mean the same thing it does in other communities. With the City’s $1.5 million budget, Santa Monica can cut down to its “essential” services such as parks, after school programs and strong educational funding that other cites do not have the liberty to remained focused on.
In addition to the large budget and a diversified tax-base, Santa Monica had enough foresight to set aside an $8.2 million economic uncertainty fund, which Ewell said allows the City to make methodical budget adjustments over a two-year period when other cities are forced to quickly take a hatchet to their budgets.
Which is a good thing, because unlike the federal government or the state, the City can’t carry a deficit from year to year.
At all of the meetings thus far, Ewell has mentioned a number of the same issues. One such issue is the approaching relief from Metropolitan Water District re-opening Santa Monica’s water wells will bring. Currently, Santa Monica gets 80 percent of its water from NWD. Once the wells reopen in 2010, that ratio should reverse.
Ewell has also been enticing citizens to attend the Nov. 24 City Council meeting because many of their concerns will be addressed at this meeting. Perhaps the most important issue that will be discussed will be review of the first draft of the Land Use Circulation Element (L.U.C.E.). Draft one is expected to be released online Tuesday or Wednesday.
“This community deserves to get (L.U.C.E.) approved,” said Ewell. “The planning staff did a superb job.”