CITY HALL — Santa Monica will compete against 20 cities for up to $5 million to fund a plan to improve the quality of life for all members of the community within five years.

The concept, called the “City of Wellbeing,” snagged a finalist spot in the Mayor’s Challenge, a competition put on by nonprofit Bloomberg Philanthropies, which aims to foster attempts to make local solutions to national problems.

The challenge uses cities as Petri dishes, challenging them to identify a problem and create a proposal that not only fixes it at a local level, but has the flexibility to be used in communities across the country.

Five communities will be selected in spring of 2013 to win prizes. One will receive a $5 million grand prize, and four others will get $1 million to further their plans.

Santa Monica’s proposal was one of 20 selected out of 305 applicants. Other finalists include San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia.

It was an honor to be part of the high-caliber group, said Mayor Richard Bloom.

“We will be providing something that will help Santa Monica, but will also be a tool that can be used across the country,” Bloom said.

City officials worked hand-in-hand with the RAND Corporation to create the proposal, which aims to measure the success of local government based on people’s satisfaction with their lives in many arenas, including social connectedness, civic engagement, health and work.

It’s never been done before, said Julie Rusk, assistant director of Community & Cultural Services with City Hall.

“No city has taken this on as a concept and embedded it in local government, that improving the well-being of residents is a part of city government,” she said. “And that’s what we’re proposing.”

City Hall already partners with other government agencies like the schools to open up facilities to residents and conducts a survey every two years to pinpoint areas for improvement.

What they’re considering is something a bit different.

Staff proposes working in conjunction with RAND to define the ephemeral concept of “well-being,” create Santa Monica-specific criteria and develop tools to both look at existing data and gather new information to create a “well-being index.”

Using those results, they will create a plan of action with targets and methods to inform and involve the public. The information will be included in city decision making, policies and programs.

City Hall has already begun a piece with its Cradle-to-Career initiative, which aims to improve outcomes with youth by weaving resources from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, Santa Monica College District, City Hall and over 20 nonprofits to create a safety net for Santa Monica children.

If selected as a grand prize winner, Santa Monica would have the resources to expand that model to every sector of the population.

“Certainly young people are the foundation, but this is about reaching all members of the Santa Monica community in a very measurable way,” Rusk said.

A team of four from Santa Monica will go to an “ideas camp” next week to hear more about the next phase of the competition. Then city officials and their partners in the community will roll up their sleeves and get to work on the final project.

“This is a really big day for Santa Monica,” Bloom said.

 

ashley@smdp.com