As Sunday morning’s special meeting of the Santa Monica City Council in the Ken Edwards Center stretched into the early afternoon, hours of public testimony and Council deliberation revealed that, at least among the members of the community in attendance, we have a lot more in common than recent public debates might suggest.
The special meeting, a Sunday City Council session is rare indeed, was called to give the community and its elected officials a chance to discuss and highlight five broad priority goals to focus on in the coming years, though it was noted this would not preclude the pursuit of other goals for which our city strives. In addition to setting the priorities Sunday, city staff will now create measurable benchmarks to help us stay on track to achieving these goals.
Santa Monica is a community built on the principles of inclusivity, diversity, and social justice. At times, we lose sight of this, but on Sunday, as the City Council discussed setting our priorities for the next few years, these core values of the community were once again in focus.
What emerged from Sunday’s special meeting was a consensus that our community should strive to create “housing for all,” in the words of Mayor Pro Tempore Tony Vazquez; that we keep our commitment to quality opportunities for lifelong learning and to closing the achievement gap; that we focus on the future of transportation to encourage sustainable modes of moving around our city; that we remain committed to offering support to our homeless neighbors and work with regional partners to combat the growing problem of homelessness; and that we continue to work to turn Santa Monica Airport into a community park.
Now comes the hard work of acting on these priorities with concrete, measurable steps forward.
As one speaker pointed out, though the Council has identified housing as a priority in the past, since June 2013, the Council has approved only 55 new apartments, five of which will be designated as deed-restricted affordable, meaning they will be rented below market-rate to low-income tenants.
Councilmember Terry O’Day pointed out that creating more housing, both affordable and market-rate, especially near transit, was intrinsically linked to our sustainability goals; adding that if we are serious about protecting at-risk communities, we have to be serious about the effects of climate change and how we respond to those effects.
Additionally, our housing policies should be designed to avoid Santa Monica becoming only an enclave for the wealthy, Mayor Kevin McKeown said. Councilmember Sue Himmelrich noted that we must look at diversity of housing options so that professionals and young people hoping to move back to Santa Monica, who make too much to qualify for affordable housing but too little to afford current market-rate rents, might have some choices.
Perhaps the greatest tool we have for assuring an equitable society is education.
Councilmember Gleam Davis reminded the crowd Sunday that one of the best ways to close the so-called achievement gap that exists between disadvantaged students and their more privileged classmates is to assure that quality early childhood education is available to families of all income levels and as such, it should remain one of the City’s top priorities.
And how do we create streets that are safe for all those who use them? To combat the root causes of climate change and traffic congestion, Councilmembers Ted Winterer and Pam O’Connor both noted that people have to be given safe and comfortable options for getting around without cars.
“The City is blessed with a fabulous location next to the Pacific Ocean, great weather, access to good jobs, great schools, excellent health care and social services, and wonderful recreation and entertainment options. And we have had a great transit system in Big Blue Bus, soon to be complemented with the Expo line and enhanced bike facilities and routes,” said long-time resident and local architect, Hank Koning, addressing the Council Sunday.
“It’s easy to see why folks would want to keep this all for themselves,” he said. “But to preserve the health of our little planet we need to shift to a more sustainable, sharing lifestyle.”
What we choose to prioritize as a community speaks volumes about what we value. At Sunday’s meeting, it was clear that our community’s commitment to our shared values of inclusivity, diversity, and social justice remains strong.
Shari Davis, Irene Zivi, Craig Hamilton, Jason Islas, Leslie Lambert, and Carl Hansen for Santa Monica Forward. Read previous columns at www.santamonicaforward.org/news.