CITY HALL — Steps taken to slash City Hall’s projected five-year budget deficit could be derailed by uncertainties resulting from the recent California Supreme Court decision to end redevelopment agencies in the state, city officials said Tuesday.
Savings on employees’ retirement and health care costs and unexpected revenue cut a projected structural deficit by $14.7 million between now and 2016, but city coffers may be forced to take on an additional $1.5 million to pay for housing vouchers for 82 low-income seniors as well as an unknown amount in staff costs when the Redevelopment Agency is dissolved in February.
Any additional costs will throw spending into the red, City Manager Rod Gould said in a report to the City Council.
The housing vouchers and employee salaries and benefits are currently paid by the Redevelopment Agency, which was dissolved by a bill passed by the California Legislature in January and upheld by the courts in December.
The full effect on City Hall’s finances won’t be known for months, if not years, but a more complete report will be available by the end of the month, said acting finance director Gigi Decavalles-Hughes.
Staff also recommended that City Hall increase a rainy day fund to $9.7 million, increase its contingency fund from 10 percent of expenditures to 15 percent for a total of $41.5 million and earmark $11 million to purchase land in the city for a new fire station in Downtown and an expansion of the City Yards, which is the location of recycling and waste management services and serves as a training ground for firefighters.
That money was not appropriated for land purchases Tuesday, just flagged for potential use.
City Councilman Bobby Shriver was the sole dissenting vote on the series of proposals. He did not want to alter the budget without knowing the full impact of the loss of the Redevelopment Agency.
Universally accessible playground
The council also directed staff to move forward with the design and development of a universally accessible playground on Ocean Front Walk over objections by residents of a nearby condominium complex.
The play area, described by Community Services Director Karen Ginsberg as a “multi-sensory play experience for children of all abilities,” is envisioned shaped as a clipper ship with a sand play area to the north and a water play area to the south. The play area would be located immediately south of the southernmost beach parking lot of the city.
The concept was opposed by residents of the Sea Colony condominium complex who contended that the placement of the playground near a busy beach bike path was dangerous to the children who are expected to play there.
Children would have to cross the bike path to get to restrooms, an observation that also caused council members some concern.
“It’s not universally safe, not easy to access and not ready to move forward,” said resident Bob Friday.
Residents also expressed concern that the park would attract the homeless, gang members and create noise and traffic, which proponents of the playground called “NIMBY-ism,” or “not in my back yard.”
The council filled two vacant seats on the Recreation and Parks Commission and the last empty seat on the Planning Commission.
Alan Toy, who served on the Rent Control Board and Social Services Commission, will fill the position on the Recreation and Parks Commission left vacant by Richard McKinnon, who was appointed to the Planning Commission. He will serve a six-month term.
Nishith Nalin Bhatt, head of public affairs and development for Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services and volunteer on Santa Monica’s Community for Excellent Public Schools, was appointed to a two-year term.
Council members appointed Amy Nancy Anderson, a current member of the Housing Commission, to the vacant seat on the Planning Commission.