CITYWIDE — If you’ve been to a City Council meeting lately you’ve seen a lot of gray hair.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it begs the question: In a city with a high cost of living, where are the next movers and shakers?
Census data shows a slight decline in the percentage of residents between 25 and 34 years old since 1990. Development of a young community can be hard if the turnover of young professionals is high.
“I know a lot of people discuss that in terms of housing supply that’s here,” said Carl Hansen, director of government affairs at the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce. “Insuring that there is adequate housing in Santa Monica for people to be able to transition into something that’s more than a one bedroom, a two bedroom, something like that. It’s certainly difficult here just with the cost of living.”
Hansen, 32, is in the council chambers regularly for his job, but he’d like to see his generation more engaged on the local level.
“I think most people my age would rather be out at a bar or something,” he said. “I think my generation is more interested in national level politics like big picture stuff and we forget the local level stuff that can have a real immediate impact.”
In 2010, there were 17,400 25 to 34 year olds, or 19.4 percent of the population. In 2000, 20.3 percent of the population was between 25 and 34. The percentage was about the same in 1990.
Patricia Hoffman, chairperson of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, the city’s leading political party, said the housing stock and changes to rent control can mean short stays for young people.
She gave the example of a young person who makes just over the amount required to qualify for affordable housing.
“If you’re looking to move to Santa Monica, you’re going to have to pay a lot of money,” she said.
Hoffman is also a boardmember at Community Corporation of Santa Monica, the largest provider of affordable housing in Santa Monica, which is committed to providing multi-bedroom housing rather than singles.
Hoffman noted that just because there aren’t a lot of people under the age of 35 at council meetings doesn’t mean they aren’t active.
“The way that people get involved has changed,” she said. “We used to communicate by going door to door. But some of these younger people communicate through blasts on social media or Facebook.”
Councilmember Bob Holbrook got involved with local politics at 40 years old when he was elected to the Board of Education. He served until his last child graduated high school and was eventually elected to City Council.
Holbrook said that Santa Monica is unique because SMRR acts as a machine. Holbrook is the only elected official in Santa Monica who has not been endorsed by SMRR. Those interested in becoming politically active have to put time in on commissions, like the Planning Commission, rather than simply being active with local community groups.
He thinks the age of 40 is about when residents start really getting involved at meetings.
“You don’t see a lot of young-marrieds (at council meetings) unless there’s an issue that is specifically going to impact them like preferential parking in front of their house,” he said. “Most of those who attend religiously are activists. We rarely see anyone who is in their mid or late thirties.”
Courtney Cole is president of the Jaycees, the Junior Chamber, which organizes fundraisers for young Santa Monicans.
She said that many members “live and breath Santa Monica” but she’s getting to the point where she wants to own a home and she said she’s probably going to have to move out to the San Fernando Valley, citing the price of real estate and the high taxes.
Gary Kavanagh, 29, a bike activist, edits Santa Monica Next, an activist publication.
He said there is a shortage of young people involved with the public planning process.
“Where I see the biggest gap in the dialog has to do with who’s present at meetings to try and pressure the outcomes,” he said. “I think that there’s a number of people on the council that get the challenges for a young person here. But a lot of those who attend meetings, they’re a lot more interested in having things stay the way they are.”
He cited the desire of many in the older generation to reduce heights and densities as an impetus for high rents.
In terms of culture, Santa Monica has a lot to offer, Kavanagh said, giving as an example the Twilight Concert Series on the Santa Monica Pier. But most of his friends live on the east side of Los Angeles, which makes it hard to reach a critical mass for a youth community, he said.
“There aren’t a whole lot of my peers who’ve settled on the Westside even if they have jobs over here,” he said. “It is very difficult, the rents. I managed to find a fairly reasonable place but it’s pretty small. There’s definitely some challenges to making it out of school as a young person, trying to be on your own in Santa Monica.”