The City Council plans to have a strategic and broad-based conversation this weekend during an annual retreat at Virginia Avenue Park. The conversation will focus on how to apply new technologies to “transform service experiences” and fix problems without hiring more city staff.
“Like other traditional industries facing disruption in recent times (Newspapers, record companies, automobiles, travel agents, etc) we must re-examine every aspect of our operating model or face brutal choices down the road,” says the staff report from City Manager Rick Cole’s office.
In 2015 the Council adopted five strategic goals to focus their attention on key issues including mobility, maintaining an inclusive and diverse community, the Santa Monica Airport, homelessness, and education. Starting this year, a strategic goal team will publish a performance report every fall to track metrics and milestones.
Cole’s office issued a report this week tracking achievements for each of the goals.
The city has opened a bus-only lane on Lincoln Boulevard to reduce travel time during the morning and afternoon commutes, encouraged more riders to abandon cash to pay for fares and completed an electric vehicle action plan to install more chargers around town.
The city also held COAST 2017 as an open streets festival, provided about 318,000 bike trips through Breeze and held a monthly walk or ride with the Mayor to showcase local parks.
Still, the city faces many challenges when it comes to reducing traffic and greenhouse gas emissions from cars. The Big Blue Bus lost 12 percent of its overall ridership in fiscal year 2016-2017. The city’s goal of reducing traffic fatalities (Vision Zero) got off to a terrible start, with eight pedestrians and one cyclist killed in 2017. Even COAST, which the city frames as a way to promote biking and walking saw attendance decline 20 percent in its second year.
Inclusive and diverse community:
The city has completed an initial inventory of services and programs for low and moderate income residents to try to identify service gaps. Last year, 39 long-term affordable units were constructed. The city is currently tracking data from the American Community Survey through SaMoState to reduce the projected decline in middle-class and poor residents.
The staff report admits this is a difficult issue, concerning the recent real estate boom that has property values surging.
“Without intervention, market forces, combined with the impacts of a variety of state laws, have the potential to transform Santa Monica from an economically diverse community to a community where only those with significant financial resources can afford to live,” the report said.
In just the past year, home values in Santa Monica rose 8.4 percent to a median of $1.53 million. The median list price per square foot is more than double of the surrounding metro area, according to Zillow. The median rent price here is $5,100.
Santa Monica Airport:
In January 2017, the Council agreed to settle several cases with the Federal Aviation Administration and regain control of the airport in 2029. In the meantime, the city has shortened the runway to 3,500 feet in an effort to reduce jet traffic over Santa Monica neighborhoods. Sunset Park residents have complained for years about noise and pollution from SMO.
The report says local control will help mitigate adverse health and safety impacts from airport operations and allow the city to ultimately convert the airport into a park.
However, just months after reaching an agreement over the fate of SMO, the FAA launched the Southern California Metroplex, a modernization project that affected thousands of LAX flights over Santa Monica skies. Residents have complained the changes increased noise for those under the flight paths, and a city investigation found 28 percent of aircraft flew below the 7,000 feet minimum altitude.
Late last year, the city launched a comprehensive plan to help pair people on the streets with local services, shelters or a bus ticket home. Police, Fire, and library employees have received additional training on how to best deal with homeless individuals. The city has also deployed a “C3” homeless outreach team to work with individuals in Santa Monica. More than 130 library patrons have been connected to social services through events at the Main Library and another 65 through an on-site social worker.
The number of homeless individuals sleeping on Santa Monica streets increased 11 percent to 646 people, according to the 2018 Homeless Count numbers. The annual count found 311 homeless people in shelters and other institutions. There are more homeless people living in Santa Monica than at any other time since the city began keeping count nine years ago.
The city aims to ensure all children are on track for kindergarten, increase racial equity and help vulnerable youth and their families. This year, the Council increased the number of subsidized child care slots to serve an additional 10 children, up from 70 the year before. About 6,000 families have participated in Kindergarten Readiness and 16 local preschool and daycare providers have received additional training from Connections for Children. The city also broke ground on the Early Childhood Lab School, which will reserve 15 percent of spaces for low-income families when it opens fall 2020.
The city’s effort to expand access to high-quality preschools met push back when a private school for 4-to-6-year-olds sought the permits to open on a street zoned for single-family homes in January. The neighborhood residents near Gandara Park claimed traffic and noise from the school would “destroy the fragility and peace that we hold onto desperately.” The head of the preschool, who ultimately prevailed, said she chose to open her school in the 90404 zip code because of the lack of options for low-income families.
The City Council will discuss their goals this Saturday at a special meeting starting at 9 a.m. at Virginia Avenue Park, Thelma Terry Auditorium, 2200 Virginia Avenue.