By Mayor Ted Winterer
Summer is officially here and I am sure you’ve noticed the seasonal changes that take shape in our community as we all enjoy the quintessential California lifestyle on our beaches and in our parks and business districts. For me, summer is time to spend with my family and even head off the grid to reset and recharge. It’s a time for which I’m always grateful. As I head off for some fishing, camping, and hiking, I want to share my thoughts on the last six months of the 2017-18 fiscal year as well as what lies ahead.
Homelessness has weighed heavily on the minds and hearts of the entire community. There’s a long way to go as a region to mitigate the impacts on our streets and public spaces and in the lives of the more than 50,000 people living without shelter in Los Angeles County. Luckily, we are seeing the impact of local and regional investments with a dip in the county numbers, down 3 percent this year. Santa Monica has invested local resources on new street teams and in our library and parks. Learn more about that and check out the new toolkit that helps guide you through the most heart wrenching issue of the time at weare.santamonica.gov.
Hiring a new Police Chief who’s tough on crime. Chief Cynthia Renaud comes to Santa Monica with a focus on fighting crime and positively contributing to homelessness. She said, “Throughout my 27-year career, I have been part of hard-working teams that have truly made differences in people’s lives by lowering crime and improving overall quality of life.” Her SMPD team is already more visible in the community deploying “Optimus Crime”.
Moving quickly on a changing shared mobility landscape. Santa Monica is a truly multi-modal City and there’s no better place in the region to get around without a car. When scooters first appeared on our streets we found our existing rules and regulations insufficient, but we have been working to find a reasonable approach that aligns with our values around mobility and sustainability balanced by public safety, our number one priority. We don’t yet have a silver bullet to solve all the challenges in the public right-of-way and with summer upon us it’s crazy out there. However, applications for our pilot program for scooters and dockless bikes opened July 13 and will require a limited number of operators to adhere to higher standards when the pilot is launched in September. We will be looking for the best partners to ensure smart and safe operations.
Building for resilience and long-term fiscal sustainability. On June 12, my colleagues on the Council and I passed the second year of the FY 18 – 20 Biennial Capital Improvement Program Budget, $186.4 million to fund 100 priority projects. This includes the new Fire Station 1 serving Downtown Santa Monica; the City Services Building that will save the City as much as $10 million every year in offsite leases; a new multipurpose sports field at the Civic Center; the North Beach Trail project which will add a separate pedestrian path adjacent to the beach bike path from Bay Street to the northern city limits; and 600 new trees for our urban forest.
A cleaner ocean and groundwater savings. A major project wrapping up is the Clean Beaches Initiative, otherwise known as the giant hole near the Pier in Beach Lot 1. A 1.6 million gallon tank was installed under a portion of the surface parking lot to capture all the wet weather runoff from the Downtown. That dirty water will be diverted from the Pacific and our beach and will be treated and used for non-potable uses like irrigation and toilet flushing.
Fighting to keep our housing stock for long-term residents. Santa Monica continues to prevail in mini-wins on our path to uphold our Home-Sharing Ordinance in the face of legal challenges by megasites AirBnB and HomeAway. While we allow on-site hosts to share their homes with others, housing in Santa Monica is scarce enough without unsupervised de facto hotels in residential neighborhoods.
Taking a hard look at City employee compensation and implementing smart solutions. A citizen panel looked critically at employee compensation over the last year guided by research from Moss Adams, an independent firm. In May, Council approved moving forward with 13 recommendations, including the development of a compensation philosophy currently underway. In recent years, we have negotiated modest cost-of-living adjustments for staff below the rate of inflation while increasing employee contributions to health care and retirement.
Planning driven by the community to make it stronger. In February, Council prioritized a number of planning initiatives with the Pico Neighborhood Plan at the top of the list. On June 30, the Pico-Wellbeing Project kicked off synced with a micro-grants project that seeks to fund community-driven solutions.
Going beyond traditional approaches to helping the vulnerable. This past year we launched the Preserving Our Diversity program to assist rent-burdened seniors with rental subsidies so they can stay housed and not make impossible tradeoffs between healthcare and food and paying rent. Just last month, Council passed a new tenant protection to ensure teachers and families with school-age children are not forced to leave their homes in the middle of the school year due to evictions.
What has been and will continue to be a large focus ahead is our pension liability. Santa Monica is the only city in California, along with Newport Beach, that has paid significant contributions above the required annual payments to decrease our unfunded liability. We will continue to do this and look to new ways to tackle this potential impediment to fiscal sustainability.
Looking ahead to the rest of the year, fighting crime and proactive community policing strategies will continue to remain priorities. Our regional collaboration to continue to turn the tide on homelessness will only gain further momentum, especially with the state’s approval of $500 million budget allocation to homelessness. Major infrastructure projects to maintain exceptional city services and to increase community resilience will be completed in the next two years.
I would enjoy the opportunity to hear from you. What are the things you’d like to know more about or see the City focus on? Are there things you have questions about? Please get in touch at [email protected] I wish you a summer filled with beach days, BBQs and quality time with friends and family. It’s a pleasure and honor to serve as your mayor.