Do you remember your first visit to Santa Monica? Share your (and get your friends to do the same) story at santamonicatourism.com or via social media using the hashtag #SMFirstVisit. A winner will be selected at random on September 1, 2017 to win an Apple iPad mini and Santa Monica-themed prize basket. As part of our Tourism Talks column series, we’ll be sharing “First Visit” stories from community leaders.

Departing Assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek’s first visit to Santa Monica was in Summer 1984. She arrived in Southern California from Canada and was staying with her sister in the San Fernando Valley. In search of a job, she headed down to Santa Monica. “It was just as the Olympics were happening,” she recalls. “I had heard there might be some positions with the City government. I got here and noticed immediately that it was about 30 degrees cooler than the Valley. I fell in love with the ocean and the beach, and I thought, ‘This is where I want to be!’”

Polachek ended up finding work with the newly formed Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corporation, a non-profit organization dedicated to the aging landmark’s redevelopment. “At that time the pier was in a state of disrepair; its reputation had been tarnished a bit and it wasn’t the safest or most attractive place,” Polachek explains. “But it always had great bones and great character, so the goal was to revive it and bring it back to the important destination it has become. It took about 20 years, but these kinds of things take time.”

In 2000, after spending 11 years on the pier project and a three-year stint as VP of marketing at the Pacific Design Center, Polachek finally found that job with the City government. She started as part-time Interim Beach Manager, and worked her way up through the ranks to Open Space Manager, Director of the Community Maintenance Department, and Deputy City Manager, before being named Assistant City Manager in July of 2010. She even served for a while as Interim City Manager.

This past May, at Santa Monica Travel & Tourism’s 8th annual Travel & Tourism Summit, Polachek became the first recipient of SMTT’s new “Tourism Champion of the Year” Award. She was honored for her creativity and leadership in fostering a positive visitor experience and Santa Monica community pride. “That was lovely,” she says. “I was truly thrilled to receive that.”

Polachek believes it’s essential that the City strike a balance between the needs of residents and visitors. “Tourism is part of Santa Monica’s life blood. Many residents of Santa Monica started out as visitors. We came, we loved it and we stayed. We can’t forget that people live here and people work here, but people also visit. So the goal is to make Santa Monica a dynamic, interesting and vibrant community for everyone. We want everybody to feel welcome here and feel a part of this community, whether they’re here for an hour, or a day, or they decide to spend their lives here. “

Polachek steps down from her current post this month, saying goodbye to a 28-year career with the pier and the City. “I’m leaving the City, but I’m not retiring quite yet,” she says. “I have a few more things I want to do, so I’m not quite ready to hang ’em up. It’s been an honor and a privilege to serve this community, but it’s time to try something different.”

Although Polachek is not ready to announce her next venture, we have no doubt she will bring the same passion and focus she brought to helping turn Santa Monica into a world-class city for locals and visitors alike. We wish her all the best in the next chapter of her career.

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