Santa Monica’s Year In Review for 2021

March 2, 2022 10:47 AM

by David White

The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce and the City of Santa Monica hosted the annual State of the City on February 15, 2022.  In this two-part blog series, we share excerpts from City Manager David White’s address, which can be viewed on YouTube. First, we look back at 2021 before exploring what lies ahead.

As
your City Manager, I had the opportunity to speak at Santa Monica’s annual
State of the City in February and while the
event’s
theme focused on Envisioning Our Future, I took an initial step back to
acknowledge the foundation from which Santa Monica’s future will be built.

Financial Forecast
and Services Post Restructuring

Our
financial position is an important factor in the state of our city.
Santa Monica is in the initial phase of economic recovery,
but we still have a lot of uncertainty ahead of us.

In 2019, the City projected a loss of revenues in our
General Fund of about $220 million over three years. Due to sound financial
planning and tough decisions on restructuring our services, our Finance
Director Gigi Decavalles-Hughes recently provided our C
ouncil with an updated financial forecast
that reflects our revenue loss to be closer to $188 million.  This is still devastating, but it is nice to
see improvement.

Sales tax, parking revenue, hotel bed taxes,
and documentary transfer taxes are projected to perform better than anticipated
and FY 2021 – 2022 General Fund revenues are projected to be $30.7 million
higher than budgeted. However, many of our revenues continue to underperform
in comparison to the levels attained before the pandemic.  This has had very real impacts on how we can
deliver services.

  • The Council-adopted
    midyear budget approved modest and sustainable service restorations, adding
    back 24.8 full-time equivalent General Fund positions. This will allow us to
    strengthen our administrative capacity to deliver citywide services,
    provide some service enhancements, and deepen our commitment to building a
    Santa Monica for all.
  • Council allocated $11
    million of unassigned revenue to replenish our General Fund reserves.
    Reserves are so important in times of crisis, and we had to heavily rely on
    these resources early in the pandemic to maintain our operations.
  • With this, reserves
    remain 59% less than what they were immediately prior to the pandemic.
  • The restructuring required us to cut our capital program budget by more
    than 50%, and even with some increases, our capital program remains severely
    underfunded and infrastructure needs remain deferred.
  • While it has been painful,
    thanks to all the actions taken by the City Council over the past couple of
    years, the City continues to receive the highest credit rating.

We are slowly, strategically, and thoughtfully restoring
services as funding becomes available.

  • My goal is to
    support our workforce to meet Council’s expectation to provide the highest
    level of service to our community.
  • Yet restoring
    services back to the levels that meet our community’s expectations will take
    time, as the public sector is facing many of the same challenges as most business
    sectors, including staffing shortages and service disruptions due to COVID.
  • Despite all of the
    challenges that they have experienced over the past couple of years, it is
    obvious and impressive to me that our public employees remained focused, steadfast,
    and are committed to providing tremendous service to the community.  

Emergency Operations Center: COVID-19
Pandemic

As we approach the third year since the
COVID-19 pandemic began, Santa Monica remains committed to keeping our
community and city staff safe and our Emergency Operations Center continues to
lead our emergency response efforts.

This includes
providing access to local vaccine resources. Our emergency operations center
hosted 10 public COVID-19 vaccination clinics, helping contribute to
over 72,800 Santa Monica residents and almost 1,800 City staff receiving
their COVID-19 vaccine in 2021. As cases increased with the Delta and
Omicron variants, the team identified the community’s need for access to
COVID-19 testing and launched the Clover Park testing site in partnership with
the County. They also continued to adapt City operations to protect staff and
the public by distributing personal protective equipment to help minimize
COVID-19 transmission.
The City issued 10 emergency orders in 2021 and regularly
communicated LA County and City changes to residents and businesses via local
media, emergency alerts, community newsletters and social media.

Maintaining
a Clean and Safe Santa Monica

The restructuring of
our city services had a noticeable impact on our ability to provide cleaning
services in our public spaces.  I know
how important a clean Santa Monica is to our community and I share your
conviction. The dedicated team in our Public Works Department have reported to
work each day and continue to do their all to deliver on this important
priority. During the restructure, we took hits in areas like graffiti removal,
paint maintenance, custodial, and our trade shops. While this impacted service
delivery response times, our crews have been working tirelessly to maintain our
beaches, parks, and public facilities. I’m so pleased to have named Rick
Valte to be our public works director and I am confident his leadership
will provide the support this team needs to continue to keep our community
clean.

Addressing Homelessness

Homelessness and the impact of homelessness
is one of the biggest issues facing our nation and our city. Santa Monica
continues to work with LA County partners, and to invest in programs that offer
services to those in need. In 2021, the three City-funded multidisciplinary
outreach teams made more than 11,000 contacts with people experiencing
homelessness and provided direct medical or psychiatric services to 808
participants. Last year, these teams placed 57 people into interim
housing and 24 individuals into permanent housing. In December
alone, the multidisciplinary teams made 990 contacts, providing direct medical
or psychiatric care to 55 vulnerable individuals on our streets, in our parks
and on our beach. Additionally:

  • 237 people
    were served in local interim housing programs. 103 participants exited these
    programs.
  • 485 formerly
    homeless Santa Monica residents received housing retention services and 97%
    maintained their permanent housing.
  • 590 Santa
    Monica residents received legal assistance that supported them in maintaining
    their housing last fiscal year.
  • Approximately
    $80,000 issued to 45 households to secure and retain housing through City Flex
    Funds.
  • 640 households economically impacted by
    COVID-19 received assistance through the Santa Monica Emergency Rental
    Assistance Program. 
  • Santa Monica
    Housing Authority issued 382 vouchers to new participating households.

Equitable and Inclusive
Economic Recovery

The pandemic has impacted
our businesses, our households, and our local economy. As I mentioned earlier,
I am excited to see that we are beginning to see signs of stabilization and
recovery and there is much that we have done to support the recovery that is
taking hold, including:

  • Retaining
    existing and attracting new businesses to our city. We are seeing new
    businesses open in our community and existing businesses reinvest.
  • Issuing over 170 outdoor permits and 15 “kit of parts” were provided to local businesses to make sure no one was held back, and now we’re working to make the outdoor dining and retail program permanent.
  • Funding 24 art projects
    through Art of Recovery, hiring over 100 artists during a pandemic, and
    harnessing the power of the arts in the City’s economic, community, and health
    recovery efforts.
  • Keeping
    people housed and fed by making the emergency food pantry at Virginia Avenue
    Park permanent through a partnership with the Westside Food Bank to feed over 200
    local families every week. 
  • Providing
    subsidies to 195 Santa Monica families.

Housing

We
have a lot of work to address our housing crisis.  Many of our friends and neighbors are priced
out of living in our city, and for many that work in Santa Monica, living here
is only a dream.

There
are many existing housing projects and programs the City is committed to
driving forward including the support our Rent Control department provides to
residents. Last year alone, this team had approximately 11,000 constituent
interactions by phone, email, and in-person. Other highlights include:

  • Investing $11.4
    million to help fund the opening of 39 affordable housing units at
    Magnolia Villas for seniors
    earning low income.
  • Providing
    financial assistance to 150 low-income seniors who are long-term Santa
    Monica renters experiencing financial hardship through the City’s Preserving
    Our Diversity program.
  • Maintaining our strong commitment to the production of affordable
    housing through Council’s approval of mixed-use affordable housing on a
    City-owned parcel located at 1318 Fourth Street in Downtown Santa Monica.

Community-Facing Services

Santa Monica has
always been a place with a high quality of life, which is attributable to our
exceptional service delivery. The City provides important services that our
residents rely on every day. In 2021:

  • We served over 1,400 youth
    at our parks and through our after-school programs.
  • The Santa Monica Public Library reopened
    the Main Library and Pico Branch. We expanded online and in-person
    programming with a focus on youth and the Montana Branch reopens March 1.
  • Our Public Works team trimmed 7,465
    trees and planted 415 new trees, removed 700 tons of trash from
    the beach, completed 32,120 beach restroom cleanings, and diverted 14,399
    tons of recyclables and 11,393 tons of organic waste from landfills.
  • We issued 2,719 permits both
    through our online portal and front counter and our building inspectors
    completed 17,554 inspections.
  • Code Enforcement addressed 863
    complaints and performed 12,347  COVID-19
    business checks.
  • Our City Clerk’s team completed 615
    passport applications after re-establishing Passport Services in July 2021
    and processed 4,819 public records requests.

Infrastructure

Investing in our
infrastructure and public spaces remains a key element to serving the community
and ensuring a safe, clean, and sustainable Santa Monica for years to come.
With the leadership of our Public Works Department, the City made huge leaps
toward completing major projects.

  • Opening and unveiling of Historic Belmar Park,
    Santa Monica’s newest open space.
  • Opening of the Early
    Childhood Lab School to the first cohort of early learners, supporting more
    Santa Monica families in getting back to normal rhythms of life.
  • Improving the
    existing Santa Monica Pier parking deck which will safely support large
    emergency vehicles and be a benefit for future events and activities.
  • Nearing
    completion of the first full phase of the City Yards Modernization Project.

Environmental Action

Santa Monica has taken great pride in our commitment to
protecting the natural environment. Santa Monica is advancing a bold agenda
that will help us achieve water self-sufficiency, reduce CO2 emissions, and
preserve and enhance our environment. This work includes:

  • Expansion of
    the Arcadia Water Treatment Plant and restoration of the Olympic
    Well Field last month.
  • The Sustainable
    Water Infrastructure Project set for completion in
    September
    2022.
  • Becoming water
    self-sufficient by 2023 to withstand intermittent rain and prolonged periods
    of drought, which is a major milestone for our community and environment.
  • The new
    mandatory organics recycling ordinance that aligns with the State’s
    mandate.
  • Launching the first zero-emissions
    delivery zone in partnership with Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, the
    first in the nation. In this zone, smaller and
    cleaner technologies are relied upon to deliver goods, instead of the large
    diesel-fueled trucks that we’re used to seeing on our streets.
  • Completing the fifth year of the
    Santa Monica Beach Restoration Pilot Project with the Bay Foundation to restrict
    grooming in an approximately 3-acre area to bring back rare coastal habitat.

Moving Around Town

With the merger of
Big Blue Bus and Mobility team, the Santa Monica Department of Transportation
emerged.  The department’s achievements
include:

  • Expanding
    the City’s bike network with a new protected bike lane on Broadway and
    Ocean Ave.
  • Resuming fare collection and reopening the
    Transit Store, serving 16,000 customers since February 2021, and
    providing real-time information on bus arrivals.
  • Overseeing infrastructure construction and
    installation of chargers for 20 battery electric buses. 
  • Launching our 2nd Shared
    Mobility Pilot Program, and the Open Main Street event series.
  • Completing Safe Routes to Schools
    projects at four schools in concert with our Public Works Department. 
  • Beginning construction on $12.5+ millions
    of projects including improvement on 20th Street and Michigan
    Avenue, and 17th Street; and
  • Obtaining grant funding for $8
    million worth of projects that improve our mobility.

Investment in Communications
and Engagement

We continue to double
down on customer service improvements throughout the pandemic period to offer
digital-first options, stronger direct communication, and easier ways to find
information. Examples include:

  • Upgrades to our website
    to make information easier to find and easier to access across all devices.
  • Over 380,000 visits to our blog and newsroom alone, driving
    awareness to timely community information.
  • Launched Santa Monica
    311, with services in English and Spanish, is an integrated program
    accessible via phone, email, and web.
  • Re-opened the front doors to City Hall,
    welcoming back in-person services at all our city facilities.

To
view the full 2022 State of the City program, visit Santa Monica’s YouTube channel.

And read on as we look at what lies ahead in the second part of this blog series.

Authored By

David White
City Manager

Categories

Your City Hall

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