Rick Cole rattled off many flourishing components of Santa Monica: its important role in the tech sector, its real estate values, its robust tourism industry and its award-winning environmental projects.
But the proverbial horn he tooted was muffled by the sound of his rhetorical alarm.
“We cannot maintain success by sitting on our assets,” the city manager said.
It was the line that drew the most laughs, but also the main point that Cole was trying to make during his State of the City speech Thursday night at the Soka Gakkai International Auditorium.
In order for Santa Monica to continue thriving, he said, its civic officials, business leaders and community members can’t be complacent or accepting of the status quo.
“We should never take success for granted,” he said. “The key to maintaining and improving our exceptional quality of life … [is] visionary leadership that is not afraid of innovation. In today’s changing world, the greatest risk is not to take any risk at all.”
During the annual event hosted by the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, local leaders highlighted the city’s accomplishments over the last year while outlining the challenges they plan to tackle in the coming year and beyond.
Cole and recently anointed Mayor Tony Vazquez targeted mobility as their top priority, discussing numerous changes in the city’s transportation landscape. The extension of the Expo light-rail line to Santa Monica is scheduled to open in May and construction work on the California Incline is expected to be done by this summer, two major pieces of a circulation puzzle that also includes the recently launched Breeze bikeshare program, tweaks to Big Blue Bus routes and the Colorado Esplanade.
The projects will help Santa Monica decrease its dependence on cars while reducing traffic congestion and auto emissions, Vazquez said.
Cole and Vazquez also weighed in on the debate over the future of the Santa Monica Airport, which the Federal Aviation Administration recently ruled must stay in operation until 2023. While some believe the airport is important to the city’s economy and emergency preparedness, officials and homeowners have lobbied to close it in favor of an expanded park.
“It was innovative to build an airfield for biplanes, but that was 100 years ago,” Cole said. “It makes no sense for corporate jets to be taking off 300 feet from the rooftops of residents’ homes.”
Officials also said they’ll work on keeping Santa Monica accessible for people of all income levels. The city recently passed an ordinance that will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020, but Vazquez said the need for more affordable housing persists.
“Something must be done to keep our community affordable for future generations,” said Vazquez, a 30-year resident of Santa Monica.
This year’s State of the City event was held just a day after Santa Monica’s homeless count, an annual attempt to track the number of people living in shelters and on the streets. And while the local total has declined or held steady in recent years, homelessness has spiked across the county during that span.
The issue beyond Santa Monica’s borders “will swamp our best efforts” unless local leaders collaborate with Los Angeles city and county officials, Cole said.
Cole said Santa Monica’s success would ultimately be gauged by the wellbeing of the people who live and work in the city. Although the city is in good shape overall, he said, its government needs to improve on addressing the needs of residents and businesses.
“When you enter the lobby at City Hall, you still see people sitting on benches, waiting their turn to process building permits,” he said. “And here we are, the epicenter of Silicon Beach, and our website sucks. …
“If we don’t address these issues and the growing loss of public trust in public institutions … we will find ourselves in the same boat as the post office,” he said. “Our community cannot take yesterday’s success for granted.”