Over the past few weeks, City Manager Rod Gould has been meeting with different neighborhood groups (six in all) to discuss Santa Monica’s economic outlook, problems, and solutions.
With the meetings now over the process of analyzing the problems of each neighborhood begins.
“I had been told early on, as I was researching Santa Monica, that people enjoyed these meetings with the City manager and staff each year and that they were well-attended,” Gould said. “That proved to be accurate. Each meeting brought out 30 or 40 people or more. I was also impressed that so many City employees came of their own volition.”
Each of the six meetings began with a basic presentation by Gould, who described the city’s overall economy as “very sluggish” with only slow economic growth and continued unemployment into 2014 and beyond.
While the state has a chronic budget deficit, Santa Monica’s revenue outlook shows a few glimmers. Sales tax declines have bottomed out and revenues have begun a slow increase, thanks to the opening of Santa Monica Place, a half-cent transaction and use tax, and tourism- related revenues.
When balanced against the City’s $555.8 million total budget, however, the small gains will not be enough to stave off a projected $13 million deficit in the general fund unless money-saving measures, such as a selective hiring freeze and a $2 million reduction in capital improvement projects prove effective.
Gould was able to list some positive achievements for Santa Monica in 2010. “Part 1” crime is down nine percent; water quality at the beach and Pier scored an “A” on the Water Quality Report Card; library circulation is at an all-time high; the homeless count shows a 25 percent reduction since 2007; and the Los Angeles Marathon and Glow events drew large crowds.
Following the basic presentation, each neighborhood expressed its particular concerns.
At the NOMO (North of Montana) meeting, major concerns included measures that can be taken to increase availability of parking; “sharrows” for bike/pedestrian access on roads; bike safety; the impact of repairing/replacing the California Incline; and whether or not Proposition Y revenues will affect local shopping and merchants on Montana Avenue.
At the Pico Neighborhood Meeting, concerns included gang violence and at-risk youth; the planned building of a maintenance yard for the Expo Line that will bring noise and pollution to the residents nearby; the Resource Recovery facility in the area (described by Gould himself as “too big and too expensive – it’s back to the drawing board”); too much Santa Monica College (SMC) student traffic; noise from the City Yards; the need for more police patrols; ideas for the Pico Branch Library now being planned; and the need for graffiti removal.
At the Sunset Park meeting, Friends of Sunset Park (FOSP) gave their highest attention to the Santa Monica Airport problem, wanting the City to explore solutions such as working with agencies to develop toxicity standards; retaining a City aviation consultant; limiting the number of flight schools that use the airport on weekends; and implementing runway safety standards. FOSP also had complaints about traffic crises in the area around SMC, with too much traffic on 20th Street and Pearl Street (the eastern and southern boundaries of the campus), and problems caused by continued construction of new SMC buildings.
Ocean Park’s residents spoke about the dumping of trash in alleys; airport noise; the greening project for Ocean Park Boulevard; a desire to see the smoking ban enforced on Main Street; rowdy bars causing noise on Main Street; and interest in a pilot program to provide door-to-door pickup of hazardous waste.
Wilshire/Montana Neighborhood Coalition neighbors were concerned about development in the area and availability of parking for residents.
Mid-City Neighbors were concerned about noise and trash from local sports bars; trash in alleys and “dumpster diving;” abandoned buildings; leaf blowers; overdevelopment; and a problem with parking needs at St. John’s Hospital, which will be coming up before the City Council this spring.
But despite what might look like an overwhelming list of issues, Gould said “I also came to conclude that our general municipal services are well-received and appreciated in Santa Monica. There were relatively few comments on major public services such as police and law enforcement, fire suppression, parks and recreation, and cultural activities. Instead, we heard more targeted interests… and how the community can have a say in development issues.
“Overall our residents are very engaged. They monitor their city very closely. They have high expectations of their City government and they enjoy the one-on-one communications that they are able to get.”
Gould said the information collected will go to the City Council to help in planning next year’s budget. “We were able to resolve some issues at these meetings and we will have work to do in some other areas.”