By Kevin McKeown, Santa Monica City Councilmember
A recent opinion piece in this paper compared local politics to Trump’s Washington. Given that Santa Monica is about as far from Trump’s Washington as one can get, geographically and politically, a more realistic assessment is called for.
Let’s start with the environmental and climate crisis, the overriding existential threat, which Trump both ignores and exacerbates. Meanwhile, Santa Monica’s commitment and policies are acknowledged, admired, and emulated worldwide.
As our Mayor in 2015 I was invited to make a presentation at the United Nations climate change conference, COP 21 in Paris. We were the only small city so honored. We have had an evolving City Sustainability Plan for 25 years, with continuing progress. We now run on 100% renewably sourced electricity, and will be water self-sufficient in just a few years. Our first fully electric Big Blue Bus hit the streets two weeks ago.
Trump pulled our country out of the Paris climate accords. Santa Monica stayed in and continues to lead.
Our new City Services Building opens on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day next April, a significant and deliberately chosen date. Besides being net zero on energy and water, the resident-friendly centralized offices will save money on operations and maintenance, costing taxpayers less over the life of the building. That kind of long-term fiscal responsibility is a hallmark of Santa Monica’s budgeting.
We limited new pension obligations years ago, and this year have made the difficult choice to pay down ahead of time our portion of the pension obligations borne by all governmental bodies in California. That advance payment will save taxpayers $100 million. Santa Monica’s responsible financial policies create further savings, as we continue to earn top bond ratings from all three ranking agencies.
New and expanded parks grace Santa Monica’s neighborhoods, from Tongva Park on the west to Airport Park on the east. When we are able to close the entire airport in 2028, those 227 acres of Santa Monica-owned land are slated to become the great park residents have envisioned. Improved sports fields are coming to Memorial Park, and we just broke ground on the long-awaited sports field in our Civic Center. Oh, and please don’t forget the beach!
Electric scooters are both loved and reviled, but Santa Monica was where opportunistic entrepreneurs first tested the concept, and we were the first to create a pilot program to see if it’s possible to integrate them into local mobility options while discouraging abuse and protecting public safety.
Our vacation rental law is the strongest in the country, and we had it on the books years before other cities reacted to the loss of long-term housing and the erosion of neighborhood character. Our bold leadership paid off. Courts have upheld our ordinance, and we continue to fine-tune it. We still grapple with enforcement challenges, and with closing loopholes as they’re revealed, but that puts us far ahead of other impacted cities whose residents are still wholly at the mercy of profit-driven disregard for local neighbors.
Santa Monica’s housing policies are the most progressive in the country. To maintain the affordability of existing neighborhoods and occupied housing, our zoning diverts development pressures away from established residential areas to downtown and to our major boulevards served by mass transit. Our hard-won requirements for deed-restricted affordable housing in new multi-family buildings downtown are the highest in the entire state of California.
We further subsidize 100%-affordable housing constructed by nonprofits, and our newly expanded Preserve Our Diversity program keeps seniors here in their hometown with direct rent subsidies. We can’t yet override the Ellis Act, a devastating state law that gives property owners the ironclad right to empty entire buildings of renters, but Santa Monica has led attempts to get that cruel law repealed or at least amended.
Meanwhile, we require the maximum relocation benefits court rulings allow for displaced renters, and give low-income residents who’ve suffered no-fault eviction top priority for available affordable housing. We protect our noncitizen neighbors from federal family-busting, and shield them from discrimination.
Does all that sound like Trump’s Washington to you? We can be proud to be Santa Monicans!
Kevin McKeown is a Santa Monica Councilmember.
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