Santa Monica City Council to vote on Plan for the Future
By Sam Catanzaro
On Tuesday, Santa Monica City Council will vote on eliminating over 400 positions and a reduction in services as part of budget cuts brought on by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Using a combination of one-time funds and ongoing budget reductions, the city is proposing reductions totaling $86.2 million, including 337.2 permanent full-time positions and around 150 as-needed full-time positions. In the General Fund, the staff has identified $60.6 million, 159 permanent, and 125 as-needed full-time positions for elimination.
According to Interim City Manager Lane Dilg, these cuts will result in changes that have the potential to permanently change the face of Santa Monica.
“I think we have a new future and I think we are building that future now. I don’t think we ever return to exactly what it looked like before,” Dilg said. “It will not be just like it was in January 2020. It will be some year in the future and it will be a future civic life that we have built. So I don’t anticipate that we ever walk back out to the world just like it was before.”
While the proposed budget cuts, totaling $203.2 million, impact every sector of Santa Monica, here are five areas that stand to be particularly impacted. To read the full staff proposal on “A Plan for the Future”, visit http://santamonicacityca.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=125
Big Blue Bus
The Big Blue Bus’ (BBB) drop in ridership, and suspension of fare collection until July 1, 2020 is anticipated to result in a $12.5 million deficit if operational changes are not made, according to the City. While some lines will be eliminated or have modified service due to new social distancing requirements for passengers, the Big Blue Bus will retain 70 percent of its summer schedule that will go into effect in late May.
Routes selected for complete elimination were chosen based on the ability of customers to absorb the absence of service with as little effect as possible upon their riding experience, according to the City. Duplicative Rapid bus routes that run atop local routes were eliminated, as were Routes 42 and 44 which primarily serve Santa Monica College riders, and which also run on top of other routes for their entire length. In addition to routes that were completely eliminated, on weekdays some routes were reduced to run on Saturday schedules during the Summer.
Under the proposed plan, a Santa Monica Public Library (SMPL) location will be open every day of the week, except Sunday. Hours and locations convenient for families and students, working residents and neighbors will be as follows:
- Main Library: Monday -Thursday, Noon-8:00 p.m. Saturday 10:00 a.m. -5:00 p.m.
- Pico Branch: Tuesday – Thursday, Noon-8:00 p.m. and Saturday 10:00am-5:00 p.m.
- Montana Branch: Monday and Wednesday, Noon-8:00 p.m.
- The Fairview and Ocean Park branches will not host direct library services in the near-term,
At the Main Library, there would be first-floor access only with an emphasis on concierge delivery of materials, curbside service and limited walk-in use of freestanding computers for Internet access.
The total restructured Library Department will result in a reduction of 166 open hours, $5.5 million and 65 full-time equivalent positions.
Santa Monica Police Department Public Services Officers, Traffic Control Officers, Records Technicians, Staff Assistant, Crime Prevention Coordinator and Police Officer positions have all been reduced by varying numbers.
With a decreased workforce, the SMPD will suspend certain, expected, events that require increased staffing levels to accommodate, such as Coast and Twilight Concert Series.
The one program the SMPD may eliminate in functional totality is crossing guard services, aside from SMPD has retained one position with expertise in the field of crossing guard services to work with the Santa Monica-Malibu School District (SMMUSD) in researching, constructing and implementing replacement models that could be viable here in our city.
“Very hard choices had to be made. These cuts are deeper than we would want them to be,” Dilg said. “We believe that we are in a position to support finding a way for there to be crossing guards in the future but we simply are not in a place where we can be directly providing those crossing guards under our prior model.”
In addition, the Code Enforcement Division will also be reassigned to the SMPD.
“So many of the spaces in which code enforcement does enforcement overlap with the SMPD criminal enforcement. This will allow us to align enforcement in ways that just make sense for an organization. So in many cities code enforcement is with the police department. We believe that having those enforcement resources align makes sense. It absolutely won’t reduce what the police department is doing now and it shouldn’t fundamentally change the way code enforcement does their work,” Dilg said.
The restructured SMPD will have a reduction of $3.5M and around 45 full-time equivalent positions.
Parks, Recreation and Programming
The Santa Monica Swim Center, Memorial Park Gym and Skate Park will continue to operate, but hours will be reduced. Cultural and recreational programming offerings will be scaled back considerably. Access to courts, and fields will be greatly reduced and will be eliminated in the case of public use of school sites during non-school hours. The Annenberg Community Beach House pool will remain closed in FY20-21.
The proposal calls for reductions in the total number of open baseball fields citywide from 7 to 3, softball fields from 6 to 3, tennis courts from 24 to 12 and basketball courts from 9 to five.
The plan would defer the reopening of Airport Park field until funding is available to support the repair of the field’s infill. The new Civic Center Multipurpose Field would open as planned after the current restrictions are lifted.
Miles Playhouse would close and eliminate all programs, including Downbeat 720, Fireside, and Meet Me at Reed.
The Camera Obscura Art Lab would close and eliminate all programs, including artist residencies and art workshops.
Many annual citywide events are set to be canceled, including COAST, Dia de los Muertos, Airport Art Walk, Jazz on the Lawn. The city would also eliminate support and subsidy for Make Music LA, 4th of July fireworks and Martin Luther King Day.
Under the plan, the Architectural Review Board would be eliminated and replaced with an alternative design review process with review at staff level.
In addition, the Housing and Economic Development Department would no longer exist and its programs and services would be split between Planning and Community Development (now called Community Development) and Community and Cultural Services (now called Community Services). The restructured Housing and Economic Department will experience a reduction of $4.5 million and around 11 full-time equivalent positions.
Likewise, a restructured Public Works Department will experience a reduction of $21.8 million and 105 full-time equivalent positions.
Under these Public Works changes, the city would see an elimination of sustainability education programs with Santa Monica College and other local schools, community events such as film screenings, sustainable food events, sustainable fashion and business networking and green business certification.
In addition, the operation, maintenance and repairs of all Citywide water features will stop.
18 capital improvement projects would be postponed indefinitely that would collectively result in $16.2 million in General Fund savings. The postponed projects include $5.2 million for the Streetlight Modernization Program, $2.3 million for parking structure railing replacements, $2.1 million for Memorial Park Expansion design, $1.5 million for Electric Vehicle Action Plan implementation, $1.0 million for Lincoln Blvd Streetscape project, and $.7 million for Bergamot Station connectivity. The remaining 12 projects proposed for cancellation or deferment would collectively result in $3.4 million of General Fund project savings.
The plan would consolidate into two new departments the prior Housing and Economic Development Department, Planning and Community Development Department, and Community and Cultural Services Department. The two new departments proposed are:
• The Community Development Department, consisting of the Building & Safety, Economic Development, Planning, and Mobility Divisions; and
• The Community Services Department, consisting of the Community Recreation, Cultural Affairs and Housing and Human Services Divisions.
The new Community Development Department will include Building & Safety, City Planning, Economic Development and Mobility. The Code Enforcement Division will move to the Police Department.
The plan proposes to reduce the size of the City Manager’s Office. Under the plan, the Office of Emergency Management, which oversees the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and Public Safety Communications Center, will be reassigned from the City Manager’s Office to day-today supervision by the SMFD and SMPD
The Interim City Manager will remain the Director of Emergency Services for purposes of responding to COVID-19 and any emergency of similar scale requiring activation of the EOC. The Office of Civic Wellbeing and Office of Performance Management will be sunset. The Office of Communications will be reduced in scope and size and will be integrated into the streamlined, single-division City Manager’s Office with Chief Communications Officer Debbie Lee and four communications staff reporting to Deputy City Manager Gupta.
By reducing staff, eliminating programs, and relocating the Office of Emergency Management, the proposed changes will reduce the City Manager’s Office from around 66 to 13 full-time positions. The restructured office will include 13 full-time equivalent positions. The restructuring will result in an overall reduction to the City budget of $3M and around 17 fulltime equivalent positions.
According to the City, City leadership staff have agreed to take pay reductions for FY 2020-2. The Interim City Manager and the Interim City Attorney have each taken a 20 percent pay cut. Department Heads earning over $200,000 have agreed to a 15 percent pay cut based on terms to be negotiated with the City Council, and those making less than $200,000 have agreed to take up to a 10 percent pay cut. The Chiefs of the Police and Fire Departments have similarly offered pay reductions on terms to be negotiated with the City Council.