“We need the federal government to step up and fund cities,” says Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown.
By Sam Catanzaro
Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown appeared on CNN over the weekend and made the case for a bailout for the city from the federal government.
“Things are financially pretty grim. We want to get the city reopened as quickly as we can, but we need to protect people not only from each other, but from themselves. Our local economy has tanked. We are a tourism town. People have been coming here for over 100 years. Tourism has ended, for the time being, our hotels are empty, our restaurants are doing just pickup and delivery, the City revenue there has, therefore, cratered and we have done an estimate that over the next two years, we are down by $224 million in this city,” McKeown told CNN.
It should be noted that CNN incorrectly listed the deficit as $224 billion instead of $224 million.
Earlier this month, facing a $224 million budget deficit, Santa Monica City Council approved plans to layoff over 400 employees and implement sweeping service reductions.
“That’s money we need to provide police, fire, to pick up the trash and have clean, pure water in the pipes. So that is going to mean other services in this city have to be cut, and that is very hard to do,” McKeown told CNN. “Trying to figure out how to run a city on roughly 40 percent less revenue is a real challenge.”
It should be noted that with $448 million in unfunded pension liability and flattening revenues, Santa Monica was already projected to be $72 million in the red by 2030.
Under the federal CARES Act passed in March, cities and counties with a population 500,000 or greater are eligible for a direct payment from the federal government. While Santa Monica could receive some funds from Los Angeles County, the County itself is facing a budget shortfall. Any amount of money that would make it down to cities like Santa Monica would therefore likely not close any deficits.
“This is a really tough time for this city and we need help. We need the federal government to step up and fund cities because that is not happening right now,” McKeown told CNN. “U.S. Senate, what are you doing going on break before you pass this bill that sends money to cities across the county? We are the local governments who provide needed services to people and if we don’t have the ability to spend money we don’t have (we have to balance our budget), we have to turn to Washington and Washington needs to listen to what’s happening at the local level.”
The City of Santa Monica has received some funds from the federal government. Through the CARES Act, the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has allocated additional community development block grant funding and issued waivers that will allow for broad use of funds for eligible activities.
Council is set to vote to use all $1.6 million in available HUD block grant resources to fund a limited-term financial assistance program to support keeping 21 low-to-moderate income persons impacted by COVID-19 in their homes.
Other programs set to be restored, through non-federal funds, include the Preserving Our Diversity (POD) Program, the CREST Club afterschool program, PAL Youth Center and a Playground Partnership with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD).
Council will vote on restoring a total of $6.4 million in funding to certain services and programs at their meeting Tuesday night. Full coverage of the meeting will be available Wednesday.