Pam O’Connor is running for City Council. The following answers were submitted in response to questions from the Daily Press.
Name: Pam O’Connor
Occupation: Historic Preservation Planner
Marital status: Single
Kids: Nephew grew up in Santa Monica
Political affiliation: Democrat
Schooling: Southern Illinois University, Eastern Michigan University
Highest degree attained: Masters degree in Planning
Hobbies: Exploring Southern California/riding transit
Reading list: Mysteries
How do you get to work? Depends…sometimes on transit, sometimes drive, walk.
Favorite place to have a quick, 1 on 1 meeting in Santa Monica? Interactive Cafe
Favorite dinner spot: My sister’s apartment-she is a fabulous cook
Last sporting event you attended: None this year, but I’ve been to about 28 Major League Baseball Stadiums.
Why are you running for City Council, what makes you qualified to lead, and what role do you see yourself playing on the dais if elected?
I am running for re-election to the City Council. I currently serve as Mayor and have served as Mayor three other times. As Mayor I led the Council to unanimous agreement on hiring three City Managers. In addition I have gained experience as a member of the Los Angeles County Metro Board and served as Chair of that agency. I provide expertise in transportation and environmental issues and as a professional planner who focuses on historic preservation. My leadership has been recognized by the LA League of Conservation Voters with the Smith-Weiss Environmental Champion Award (2012), the Mobility 21 Public Sector Leader of the Year Award (2012) and as the LA Streetsblog Elected Official of the Year Award (2013). I would continue to bring the highest level of civic leadership to the City of Santa Monica and with my service on the Metro Board work to provide mobility solutions to relieve traffic congestion.
What are Santa Monica’s three major strengths and weaknesses? What will you do to ensure the strengths remain and the weaknesses are contained?
Santa Monica’s many strengths include 1) the high level of civic engagement, 2) the high level of services from public safety to libraries and education to parks, arts, cultural and social programs, and 3) its environmental consciousness as evidenced by the Sustainable City Plan.
Santa Monica’s weaknesses include 1) the increasing lack of affordable housing (and a recent UCLA study finds that this is a regional problem and not unique to Santa Monica), 2) the loss of redevelopment funding that could help produce housing for low and moderate income Santa Monicans (including our children who are entering the job market), and 3) traffic congestion.
I will continue to work to ensure that the City continues to be fiscally sound (diverse revenue sources, AAA bond rating, conservative budgeting practices) so that the high level of services our residents expect are maintained. Also to pursue ways to provide affordable housing for our young people as well as our growing senior population and people with disabilities. And as a member of LA County Metro to continue to bring new resources for new transportation options such as bike-share and new ways of deploying shuttles/circulators that use smart technology to deliver on-demand service.
Homelessness used to be considered the City’s major problem but the topic has dropped from the public debate. Has the City solved the problem? Where does homelessness fall in the City’s list of priorities and why isn’t it a more common topic this year?
The Action Plan to Address Homelessness was adopted in 2008 and updated in 2010 (http://www.smgov.net/uploadedFiles/Portals/Homelessness/2010%20Action%20Plan.pdf) and is achieving results in reducing homelessness. The Plan’s goal is to reduce the impact of homelessness on the community by focusing on the coordination of care, re-alignment of funding to reflect the Plan’s priorities and a new emphasis on data collection and evaluation, and a “Housing First” focus. Guided by this plan over 90 of the most vulnerable homeless people have been successfully housed and homelessness in Santa Monica has been reduced by 19%. The Plan continues to evolve with a focus on developing a more long-term approach that aligns with federal policies and funding for homeless services and homeless prevention programs.
Measure H and its companion HH will increase taxes on the sale of property over $1M to support construction of affordable housing. Do you support these measures?
Yes. An analysis of potential sources to support affordable housing construction noted that while the existing Affordable Housing Production Program addresses new development as does the recently adopted housing linkage fee, there is no mechanism to address the affordable housing impacts of existing commercial and residential properties (such as those built before current affordable housing policies). Increasing the transfer rate on property transfers and then allocating it to affordable housing will allow a small portion of the escalation in values of existing residential and commercial properties to be dedicated to promoting economic diversity and to help address the housing needs of low- and moderate-income Santa Monicans.
Is Measure FS fair to all residents?
Measure FS has to do with registration fees on rent-controlled units establishing a maximum amount (to account for indexing in the future) and to set the maximum amount that could be passed through to tenants. Measure FS does not affect homeowners unless they also own a rent-controlled building.
California is in the midst of a historic drought. Where does Santa Monica get its water from? Where can the City find more resources? Has the City done enough to conserve water? Has it done enough to educate consumers and incentive saving by residents?
Santa Monica gets 70% of its water from groundwater. The rest is imported from MWD. The City plans to be independent from imported water by 2020 through greater conservation and more groundwater pumping. I voted for the Sustainable Water Master Plan to make Santa Monica independent of imported water by 2020. The Council also directed staff to work with an advisory group of local water experts and environmentalists on how to achieve water sustainability. The City plans to go to the next stage of drought response by the end of October by using water budgets of 68 gallons per day per person. This will require greater outreach and education. MWD provides incentives to supplement what the city offers. There are grants from the state and federal government as well. Santa Monica can and will do more, we have a long tradition of being leaders on water conservation. The City’s website details numerous programs and water-saving tips for apartment residents and homeowners. (http://www.smgov.net/departments/ose/categories/water.aspx)
What should City Hall’s role be when it comes to the creation of affordable housing?
The City of Santa Monica was instructed by the voters of Santa Monica in 1990 through adoption of a charter amendment that, on an annual basis, not less than 30 percent of all newly constructed multifamily residential housing in the City should be affordable to, and occupied by, low- and moderate-income households. The voters’ direction was implemented as the Affordable Housing Production Program; the success of this program relies on the market forces of for-profit residential development and the publicly subsidized affordable housing developments. The City of Santa Monica has helped nonprofit housing developers to leverage funds by providing funding that principally came from Redevelopment funding. The State of California ended Redevelopment a few years ago eliminating the major source of funding for affordable housing production. Measure H and HH are proposed to help fulfill the City’s affordable housing obligations-obligations that were directed by the voters of Santa Monica.
Do you think the City has the legal authority to close the Santa Monica Airport? Is it a wise use of municipal funds to continue with litigation over the airport given the City’s history of losing? If the airport closes, what should be done with the property? If the City can’t close the airport, what steps should the city take?
I support Measure LC for Local Control of the Santa Monica Airport. The City is in court to determine its ownership of airport lands and its authority.
Community benefits as part of development agreements: what is your definition of a benefit? When should the City Council demand benefits and to what degree? And should some be part of a checklist that developers can choose from, or should the council always have complete control in negotiations with developers?
The Zoning Code is under development and it can specify the various tiers of projects, define the thresholds for each tier, and provide a menu of criteria for projects at each tier. If the proposed project meets the criteria and provide the defined benefits as established in the Zoning Code, then the project would likely be approved as there would be little discretion and no negotiation allowed in such development review processes (per state laws). For those projects that would require a Development Agreement (based on the tier they would fall in or by choice), then the set of community benefits would be proposed, discussed and evaluated in a public process that includes the community, Planning Commission and the City Council. In this type of process, the decision-making body, the City Council has full discretion to deny or approve a project.
What is your definition of overdevelopment and what is your plan to prevent it?
The Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) is the guide to Santa Monica’s growth over the next 20 years. The LUCE protects most of Santa Monica from new development (about 94%) and focuses limited growth to strategic locations-downtown and at the new Expo Light Rail Stations. Most of the projects currently proposed are primarily residential (http://www.smgov.net/departments/pcd/plans-projects/). The others are commercial developments (hotels, mixed-use creative office / residential developments) that are anticipated to include affordable housing. Each year Santa Monica High School graduates over 500 students. If only a fraction of these students remain in Santa Monica or come back after pursuing higher education opportunities, most will want to live on their own (not with their parents). Housing for low and moderate income workers is needed in Santa Monica and our region to house our home-grown young adults and their new families. If we use the LUCE to guide construction of this new housing in appropriate locations, we can achieve the goals of housing our children without over-development of existing neighborhoods.
Who is to blame for the Hines fiasco and what can be done to prevent a repeat of the issue? What should happen at the Hines site now?
The Hines Project went through a public process that included a referendum process. No discretionary project is guaranteed any specific outcome and their proposed project was ultimately rejected. The Hines site is privately owned and it will be the owners’ decision as to its future – to rehabilitate the existing building or propose a new project.
What are your guiding principals for evaluating development in Santa Monica?
The Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) provides the guiding principles for evaluating development in Santa Monica. The LUCE expresses the community’s vision for Santa Monica’s future. The LUCE is designed to maintain our City’s character, protect neighborhoods, manage transportation systems, while encouraging additional housing in a sustainable manner that ensures a high quality of life for all Santa Monicans today and in the future. Major themes include neighborhood conservation, historic preservation and sustainability.
Where should the City look for future revenue sources to support the level of service that residents are accustomed too?
The City relies on a diverse set of revenues from local taxes that represent about two-thirds of General Fund revenues and include Transient Occupancy Taxes (14%), Sales Taxes (16%), Property Taxes (14%), Utility Users Taxes (10%), and Business License Taxes (9%); Parking Facilities Taxes (3%), Real Property Transfer Taxes (2%), Vehicle License Fees, and Condominium Taxes. Non-tax revenues account for 32% of the General Fund. (http://www.smgov.net/uploadedFiles/Departments/Finance/Annual_Budgets/2013-2015_Budget/2013-2015_Adopted_Budget/FY2013-15_Adopted_Budget.pdf). A thriving business sector that supports important industry clusters such as tourism, health care, technology, bio-technology, entertainment and creative arts all contribute to the City’s fiscal health. Supporting local businesses through the “Buy Local” program as well as sustaining strong industry sectors such as tourism, achieve a sustainable local economy.
What are the top skills, abilities and personality traits you will look for in a new city manager?
The City Manager is the Chief Executive Officer of the municipal corporation that is the City of Santa Monica. That person must be a strategic and creative thinker who has a proven track record in fiscal management and must value community participation, build a strong City team and foster an administration of transparency. The City Manager should be a problem solver who is willing to innovate and foster innovation within the organization. The City Manager must have superior fiscal management skills. And the City Manager must have the ability to listen and communicate both within the organization and with community members.
Do you trust the current city staff to provide council with information that is transparent, accurate and represents the people?
The City of Santa Monica has dedicated staff who take great pride in their work in public service. The staff, led by the City Manager and the City Attorney and the City Clerk with their staff, each provide their best professional assessment of issues based on data and analytics to enact the policies of the City set through public processes that involve the public and City Boards and Commissions and the elected representatives, the City Council. In several of the answers to this questionnaire I included links to documents such as the complete 2013-15 City Budget (complete budget and line item details are all available). These documents along with all staff reports, the City Charger and Municipal Code are available online and archived.
Santa Monicans for Renters Rights had different goals, priorities and membership from the City’s newest political party, Residocracy. Which of these groups has the best vision for the future of Santa Monica?
Santa Monica has many people involved in civic engagement. Some participate in organizations that advocate in issue areas (i.e., SMRR for rent control, Santa Monica Business Alliance for a strong local economy) others support schools, parks, the environment. What all these groups share is an interest in the future of Santa Monica.
Business in Santa Monica have to navigate a complicated legislative environment that can include development agreements, multiple permit processes and stops at several commissions. Is the City a welcoming place for new businesses and does the city have the right attitude towards businesses?
Businesses want to be in Santa Monica – especially the creative, technology and entertainment sectors along with health care providers. The Santa Monica City Net provides high-speed broadband network services for governments and local businesses and institutions. The City has a business ombudsman program to connect business owners with key contacts in the City Departments to provide detailed information on start-up processes and these efforts were recognized by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation in 2013.