The Wellbeing Project is a City Hall initiative to find out about the wellbeing of Santa Monicans across many subject lines such as health, finance, environment, education, health, community, and what affects a person’s emotional health within the community. Results from the initiative were recently released.

Santa Monica was awarded $1 million to launch The Wellbeing Project, with grant money coming from Bloomberg Philanthropies. Our own RAND Corporation was selected as the city’s research partner to develop the local Wellbeing Index, which is an element of the overall project. The nonprofit New Economics Foundation (NEF) was enlisted to provide expertise in analysis, city planning and policy development.

The concept was to define what a city needs to thrive, obtain data to quantify needs, get everyone on the same page and then take action on a direction for improvement. The idea was to better enable policy leaders “to set priorities and make decisions based on improving residents well being,” the project website states.

Rand and NEF researched an extensive amount of data and statistical information from City Hall and external sources, surveyed over 2,300 residents and analyzed local social media usage. You’d think that with the project’s endowment and so many academics and researchers involved, some pretty good information would be coming out of this. Call me a cynic, but I’m asking if this isn’t mostly stuff we already knew — especially when City Hall annually surveys residents for their opinions on local issues and problems?

The index reports that 37.5 percent of Santa Monicans say they have financial worry. For example, the survey says that one-fifth of Santa Monicans worry about making their rent or mortgage payments. A higher percentage of younger, Latino and those not fully employed worry about personal economics. No big surprise here.

On a broader level, while 70 percent of residents said they are happy most or all of the time, 28 percent admitted to being stressed. Only 56 percent of residents felt they could count on their neighbors — far below a nationwide survey in which 80 percent of people said they could do so. Chalk that up to so many of us living in apartments where we know, at best, only a few neighbors.

Eighty percent of Santa Monica residents vote, but only 29 percent feel they can influence city decisions. Looks like we have a lot of work to do in this category. But I’m not surprised — the vast majority of our elected and appointed officials care more about personal agendas than resident wellbeing or serving their constituents. Feel disenfranchised? Hey, friends, it’s because you keep voting for candidates backed by the renters’ rights political cabal.

Twelve percent of residents say they bike to work. Based on personal observation, I’d say more are “saying” than actually “doing.” Most transit databases I’ve read claim that the actual percentage of those bicycling to work here is between 5 and 6 percent.

Eighty-nine percent of residents say, “Santa Monica is beautiful,” while 55 percent spend leisure time outside at least once a week. This is where a stroll to the local market counts as a leisure activity. Seventy-two percent of residents report that the city has the arts and cultural opportunities they want, while 57 percent feel that Santa Monica has too few events about nature and the environment. Cougar classes, anyone?

Most troubling is the response that, despite a 92-percent high school graduation rate, there are marked disparities across race and ethnicity lines regarding how many Santa Monica students meet University of California entrance requirements. This is still a major community problem after years of promises and failed policies by the Board of Education to close the achievement gap.

Santa Monicans have fewer chronic conditions and better health behaviors than those living elsewhere in Los Angeles County. Chalk that up to the beach and climate, plus all the yoga studios and fitness gyms.

I’m not sure how The Wellness Project is going to benefit the average Santa Monican. Some basic facts will always remain — the young, people of color and those with unsteady incomes are going to be stressed because of their economic position. And I don’t see complaints about policy makers and city staff marching to their own agendas changing much.

For more information, go to the city’s website at

Zoning updates cooked like a Christmas goose

Last Tuesday, City Council burned the midnight oil discussing updates to the city’s zoning codes. The much-hated, high-density activity centers along Wilshire Boulevard were jettisoned along with the taller Tier 3 developments on Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards — with the exception of 100-percent affordable housing projects or developments protecting City Landmarks.

The bad news is that council approved removing on-site parking requirements for new developments a half-mile, not a quarter-mile, from transit hubs and allowing child care/education centers in single-family home neighborhoods.

The council split on most of its votes; Mayor Kevin McKeown, Ted Winterer, Tony Vazquez and Sue Himmelrich voted for slow growth measures, while Gleam Davis, Pam O’Connor and Terry O’Day remained committed to their well-known pro-development stances. Davis and O’Day are up for re-election next year. Let’s hope the electorate is more successful in ending their council careers than it was in retiring O’Connor last year.

Council is expected to vote for final approval of the zoning updates tomorrow. After a required second reading in a few weeks, it will all be a done deal.

Bill Bauer can be reached at

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