CITY HALL — City officials are working to find ways to hang on to 57 employees who would otherwise be left out in the cold after the loss of the local redevelopment agency and decision to close the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.
Those that can’t find other placement within the city government and are not ready to retire are getting what help the Human Resources Department can give to prep them to look for work elsewhere, according to an information item released by HR officials.
Any job losses would represent the first time that Santa Monica has had to let full-time staffers go in two decades, despite the economic collapse in 2008.
That stability is part of what makes Santa Monica special, both as an employer and as a place that provides top services to its residents, said City Councilmember Kevin McKeown.
“Job stability has long been a lure helping us hire the very best workers for city jobs, and it is only because the state raided our redevelopment funds that we find ourselves having to print up pink slips, which we haven’t used in over 20 years,” McKeown said.
That’s almost unheard of in California, a state that shed 1.4 percent of its state and local government workforce between June 2011 and June 2012 alone, according to a report by the California Budget Project.
That was over twice the rate of the nation as a whole.
At the same time, California’s private sector put on jobs quicker than the rest of the nation, with a 2.7 percent increase compared to the 1.8 percent seen across the country.
Santa Monica avoided becoming just another negative statistic until it became clear in December 2011 that its redevelopment agency would join the nearly 400 others across the state on the budgetary chopping block.
By Feb. 1, actions by the governor, legislature and California Supreme Court brought about the end of redevelopment agencies and the Department of Finance began taking back money held by those agencies that had not been previously committed in contracts and other obligations.
That unwinding process is ongoing, with $43 million still in dispute, according to a staff report.
Redevelopment money funded staff costs, but it was also meant to pay for a $50 million renovation to the Civic Auditorium, a project that was the centerpiece of a deal between City Hall and the Nederlander organization, which manages and books for event venues like the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood.
With that money no longer available, the City Council voted in October to mothball the Civic beginning July 1, 2013, ending the need for employees at that site.
That left a total of 57 positions — 30 previously funded by redevelopment money and 27 who staffed the Civic — without a foreseeable future.
City Hall has been working since that time to find new places for those employees through a number of methods, including raising fees associated with some development work to cover staffing costs and finding new jobs for qualified staff in different departments.
Of the 30 RDA-funded positions, seven transferred to jobs backed with other sources of funding and one resigned. Another two jobs were reclassified so they could be filled by employees that were lower on the totem pole with commensurately less expensive salaries.
Others were put to work on capital projects that are funded past June 30, although what happens after that hasn’t yet been worked out, said Donna Peter, director of the Human Resources Department.
In total, City Hall has to find roughly $2 million to pay for these positions, said Gigi Decavalles-Hughes, director of the Finance Department.
Some will come from existing budget allocations, like those for capital improvement projects that are funded through June, while other money will flow from administrative allowances leftover from the dissolution of the redevelopment agency and residuals from housing loans, according to a staff report.
Decavalles-Hughes expects the general fund to take a $1.3 million hit from the remaining employee costs along with rent, insurance payments and other expenditures formerly covered by redevelopment funds.
There are still 23 employees that were impacted by the closing of the Civic Auditorium that, at this point, have no other recourse but to look for jobs elsewhere, according to the report.
The Human Resources Department has created monthly programs for those people to help them find other jobs, including workshops to assess their skills and update their resumes.
Some still see hope that the City Council’s decision to shutter the Civic Auditorium was premature.
Jonathan Wolf, who accepted an award from the Chamber of Commerce on behalf of the American Film Market, told hundreds of Santa Monica’s business and civic leaders that the market’s future plans in Santa Monica relied on the Civic Auditorium as a spot to conduct red carpet premieres.
That gave a boost to Civic supporters like McKeown.
“Our Civic Auditorium is an architecturally significant landmark that has hosted historic events from the Academy Awards to the T.A.M.I. show, and AFM’s interest in future opportunities there might be a wake up call for us to focus some overdue love on the Civic now, while we still have it,” he said.