With City Hall facing a possible $29 million shortfall in five years, it‚Äôs clear that several moves have to be made to raise revenues and cut costs so that residents can continue to receive the essential services they expect and deserve.
This newspaper is in favor of a balanced approach that will require some difficult decisions, such as forcing public employees to contribute more toward their retirement and healthcare; eliminating positions in city government that are obsolete (read Santa Monica Civic Auditorium jobs); cutting the number and or size of grants to nonprofits and money spent on affordable housing production; and increasing fees on non-residents, who use facilities like the Santa Monica Swim Center and Main Library. (Currently anyone can get a library card and check out materials for free, with residents footing the bill to the tune of roughly $110 a year per resident, and with no reimbursement coming from the state because of its own financial woes).
While being a progressive city that takes pride in protecting the environment and helping the less fortunate is laudable, City Hall has to go back to the basics, like making sure residents feel secure and have access to safe drinking water, that streets are clean and free of potholes, that parks are well manicured and trash is collected and recycled properly.
It‚Äôs time for residents to re-evaluate their priorities and come to grips with the fact that with the loss of redevelopment agency money Santa Monica can no longer spend as freely as it once did. It‚Äôs time to make the minor cuts and slight fee increases so that residents are not faced with the prospect of having to approve another parcel tax or sales tax increase ‚Äî two things this newspaper currently cannot support as property owners and merchants are already facing hefty tax bills thanks to previous tax and bond measures for Santa Monica College and the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
The call to charge non-residents more is one that seemed to gain the most traction at a recent City Council meeting. It should be done in tiers, with those who work in the city getting a slight discount since they frequent local businesses, pay for parking and contribute to the tax base. Workers could provide pay stubs once a year to lock in the savings.
For nonprofits, grants should first be reduced for those organizations that provide non-essential services such as programs that support the arts. Those that provide counseling, drug and alcohol recovery and emergency housing for the less fortunate should be considered last.
Increasing penalties for parking at an expired meter or for littering or adding another room on a home without getting the proper permits should also be considered ‚Äî anything that keeps the City Council from considering another sales or parcel tax increase. Officials should also demand more money from developers as part of the development agreement process instead of feel-good amenities like community rooms and public art. Cash should be king. And those who violate agreements, such as the folks who once illegally leased parking spaces at the former Yahoo! Center, need to be penalized with fines. It would help close the budget gap and keep people honest.
And then there‚Äôs branding. City officials should look at bringing in more revenue through the selling of naming rights or pushing merchandise at the Visitors Center. Every little bit helps.
City Hall‚Äôs finance director is calling for a mix of cuts and revenue increases totaling 5 percent of the total budget. Compared to other cities, that is a relatively small pill to swallow. If we all sacrifice a little we can make this as painless as possible. It‚Äôs time to get a haircut.
What took you so long?¬†
Work began last week to improve markings and signage along the beach bike path to make it easier for cyclists and pedestrians to co-exist. Over the decades there have been many accidents where cyclists or inline skaters have collided with pedestrians who were illegally walking along the beach bike path instead of the pedestrian path farther from the surf.
This newspaper has been calling for improvements for years, as have members of the Recreation and Parks Commission and others who were fearful that someone would be killed in an accident and City Hall sued for millions.
The changes include painting a pedestrian path along the bike path so that clueless or indifferent people know where to walk instead of taking over an entire lane. While this should have happened sooner, this newspaper is pleased that City Hall has stepped up and made the changes.
But simply painting lines on a path will not be enough. There must be an education component as part of the effort, which means stationing Community Service Officers at key points along the path in Santa Monica to stop and talk with pedestrians who are not following the rules. This doesn‚Äôt mean they need to be cited. That‚Äôs bad publicity. But handing out a one-sheet explaining the rules would be another layer to help maintain safety along the path. These same officers could also provide cyclists with another one-sheet informing them about the rules of the road. It certainly goes both ways. All parties need to be more respectful of one another, follow the rules and ‚Äî if need be ‚Äî slow down. We all have to share our streets and paths.