– Envisioning Santa Monica’s Future

March 2, 2022 10:58 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. The complete Event video is available on YouTube. This is the second in a two-part blog series covering City Manager David White’s State of the City address. The first part looked back at 2021.

Since coming to Santa Monica last fall, it’s become abundantly clear that we are transitioning into a phase of stability, recovery, and restoration. As we Envisioning the Future, here is what I believe we have to look forward to.

Optimistic signals

There are many signals our economy is stabilizing and our community is recovering all around us. With the glorious warm weather and the Super Bowl in LA, we’re seeing foot traffic returning to our commercial districts. Downtown, our pier and beachfront are bustling with activity. With spring right around the corner and Omicron infections on a downward trend, we hope to see the return of international travelers and we have new businesses continuing to set their roots here.

We are also stabilizing our operations at City Hall. Over the past several months, I’ve been hard at work building our leadership team and we welcomed our new Police Chief Ramon Batista in July, I appointed Susan Cline as our Assistant City Manager, Rick Valte now leads our Public Works Department, and our new Fire Chief Danny Alvarez has just joined our Fire Department, and our Library Director recruitment is underway.

Now, we look forward to bringing services back and advancing new ideas to meet the needs of the community. This will be hard work as City services will recover more slowly than the economy, requiring us to prioritize our resources, make trade-offs, and work in new and innovative ways.

I don’t have a crystal ball to know exactly what the future holds. As your City Manager, when I envision our future, the certainty I can provide is in how we approach our work.

Santa Monica has never been a city to shy away from a challenge or settle for second best. Our future success hinges on our willingness to adapt to the ever-evolving factors beyond our control and apply new and innovative approaches to tackling our biggest challenges. I’m excited to share that this is already happening in our city. Five key examples include:

1. Our future is adapting our service models to deliver services in collaborative, efficient ways.

Last year, our Fire Department responded to 3,984 low acuity medical calls for service. A standard Paramedic Fire Engine and Ambulance is designed to quickly assess, treat, and transport patients to hospital emergency rooms and then be ready for the next emergency. However, when a 9-1-1 call is less urgent and the solution is not necessarily the emergency room, our new emergency resource known as our Community Response Unit or CRU goes to work and has the latitude to spend more time on scene to help connect those in need with more appropriate resources. Trained to handle mental health emergencies, crisis communications, de-escalation, and substance use disorders, this two-person ambulance unit has the unique distinction of being able to transport people experiencing a behavior health crisis to a psychiatric urgent care center, rather than an emergency room. The CRU team works in collaboration with other city departments, regional agencies, and non-profits to help bridge the gap for housing and other support services. This service model is an example of our future and helps to keep Paramedics, Firefighters, and emergency room resources available for higher acuity care services. This program is making an impact and it wouldn’t be possible without the contributions of Fire Chief Wolfgang Knabe and his team at the Santa Monica Fire Department.

2. Our future is breaking the cycle.

Our City Attorney’s Office partnered with Los Angeles County and Exodus Recovery Inc., to launch a post-arrest, pre-filing diversion program aimed at some of our most vulnerable populations. The Alternatives to Incarceration, or ATI program places a “community navigator” in the Santa Monica jail around the clock to provide immediate access to services for those experiencing homelessness, mental health, and substance-abuse issues. The goal of this program is to provide access to services that will treat the underlying conditions that trigger criminal activity. By diverting participants to services instead of the criminal justice system, the City hopes to help individuals receive services and avoid the far-reaching consequences of criminal convictions. The program launched this winter and in January, we celebrated the first three graduates from the program. Its success is a credit to the efforts led by Jenna Grigsby, our City’s Chief Deputy City Attorney of our Criminal Division, our police officers, and our jail personnel.

3. Our future infuses public service with technology to deliver services.

We are so fortunate to have a 5-star library system that serves our community. Due to the COVID-19 safer at home closures, our library facilities were closed to the public for almost 15 months. Our Library system experienced one of the deepest cuts, resulting in a loss of 49% of their full-time staff, requiring us to make the tough decision.

Still, the library team supported and engaged the public through curbside pickup service at 3 out of our 5 locations and access to library materials and databases via a 24/7 online library. And through the unrelenting efforts of our Interim Library Director Erica Cuyugan and her team, our Ocean Park Branch opened via a grant-funded self-serve program that relies on technology to provide valuable library services for individuals, families, and some of our most vulnerable users. In January, we welcomed about 330 people who self-checked out over 900 books, materials and resources at this branch. Building on these successes we are working towards reopening Montana Branch for in-person service and applying the same technology to open the Fairview Branch with the Open + self-service this summer. However, our library services are far from fully restored, a reminder of the work ahead of us to recover.

4. Our future includes everyone.

Looking both within the organization and working with the community we are committed to programs, practices and policies that warmly embrace our diversity and address the past.

  • We also received wide media coverage on our Right to Return program. This program prioritizes historically displaced residents from the Belmar and Pico area on our affordable housing waitlist.
  • We implemented a language access program to ensure our meetings and materials are available in multiple languages ​​and accessible to all.
  • and many of you may have joined our city staff in celebrating all the diverse cultures of our community. We hosted celebrations for Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian & Pacific Islander Month, Pride Month, and Black History Month. Our future is one that comes together to find common ground yet also celebrates and honors the different cultures that make up our community.
  • We will continue to build upon all of these efforts and it’s our goal to look at all our work through a lens of equity and inclusion and a Santa Monica that is welcoming to all.

5. Our future is building strong public-private partnerships.

It’s clear that government cannot fix all the issues in our community, especially now with our resource constraints. But I believe our future is bright if we come together as a community in partnership to tackle our greatest challenges, drawing on the strengths each of us brings to the table.

An example of this is the We Are Santa Monica Fund. The We Are Santa Monica Fund and Advisory Board was established to meet critical community needs not funded through the general fund. We’ve been overwhelmed by the contributions made by generous individual and business donors. With over $1.3 million raised to date, the We Are Santa Monica Fund provided grants to ambitious projects like the small business recovery grant program, where we partnered with the Chamber and Local Initiatives Support Corporation to deliver over $390,000 in recovery grants to 78 small local businesses. We also funded our emergency food pantry at Virginia Avenue Park, providing fresh groceries to over 200 families experiencing food insecurity each week throughout the pandemic.

We need these kinds of partnerships to grow because there are so many unfunded needs in our city and there is so much potential with the talent and resources in our community.

I want to express my deep gratitude to this community for warmly welcoming me to Santa Monica. Thank you for your patience in helping me understand the community’s history, our triumphs, and our issues. This has required an incredible investment of time and I’m very grateful.

Mayor Pro Tem McCowan said it best – a sentiment that echoes the entire City Council – “Santa Monica is an exceptional community”. We have a lot of recovery work ahead of us to ensure that our resources are deployed wisely to address community needs. Every decision we make will be fraught with trade-offs and I am looking forward to rolling my sleeves up and working with the City Council and community to be successful.

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

Authored By

David White
City manager


Your City Hall

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