A group of residents have formed a new neighborhood organization, the Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) to represent the voice of residents who were previously excluded from one of the existing neighborhood groups.
Santa Monica has several groups that represent local neighborhoods including Friends of Sunset Park, North of Montana Association, Ocean Park Association, Pico Neighborhood Association, Santa Monica Mid City Neighbors, Santa Monica Northeast Neighbors and the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition.
Elena Christopoulos, a 10-year resident of Downtown, said the voice of downtown residents was being left out of community discussions.
“As a downtown resident, I had a meeting in November of last year to see if there was interest and interest in an association,” she said. “I thought that there’s was a voice that wasn’t heard, a new voice a voice that represents an urban environment and I hadn’t heard the voice.”
She said the 74-member group is diverse, but united behind a desire to live in an urban environment with a focus on sustainability, transit, density and a love of the location.
“Overall we want to embrace and welcome visitors from all income types, all family types, all ages and also including kids, that unifies us,” she said.
Christopoulos, who also serves on Santa Monica’s Commission on the Status of Women, said downtown residents haven’t been heavily engaged with local politics, perhaps because they generally felt happy with the way the area is developing. However she said inaccurate descriptions of the people living Downtown have prompted locals to band together, particularly in light of the recent Downtown Community Plan.
She said many Downtown residents have lived there for years and the impression that Downtown is an area of high turnover and disconnected residents is wrong.
“It’s offensive to a lot of people that have settled down and have roots here,” she said. “It’s a different voice that’s on the scene, we love working, living and enjoying an urban environment. We thought why not share this voice with the City Staff and Downtown?”
Christopoulos said the organization is still in its formative state but some themes are becoming clear. She said Downtown residents are more supportive of density and height, committed to sustainable practices and enthusiastic about train/bike/pedestrian transit options.
“People in the Downtown, we chose to live in an urban center,” she said. “We understand the fact that there are taller buildings, we care more about design than height.”
She said issues related to homelessness tend to cluster Downtown and her group would like to see more resources put into tackling homelessness in a compassionate way.
“Police and Fire are doing what they can but perhaps there could be more housing for the homeless and that they are treated with respect,” she said.
The association has set its borders to the City’s definition of Downtown. The area runs from Lincoln to Ocean and Wilshire to Olympic.
Anyone can create a neighborhood group and the City of Santa Monica has no authority over their creation or borders.
“The City encourages and supports the civic engagement that neighborhood groups generate and does not regulate their formation or activities,” said Debbie Lee, Communications & Public Affairs Officer with the City of Santa Monica. “The only criteria that we have pertains to the City’s Neighborhood Matching Grant Program, which allows qualified Neighborhood Groups to apply for grant to support their communications efforts.”
Those grants are administered by the City Managers office and there are rules in order to qualify including representing a commonly recognized neighborhood within Santa Monica, possessing current tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization, an active board of directors or officers, selected in accordance with association bylaws, who meet regularly, with meetings open to the public, at least one general membership meeting annually and a membership list of at least 50 active members (residing at separate addresses) or 10 percent of eligible households within the neighborhood boundaries as defined in the bylaws, whichever is less.
While those rules are required to receive grant money, they are not mandatory for a group that has no interest in the grants. Some groups currently apply for those grants but others have declined to do so for years.
Neighborhood organizations have no legislative or regulatory authority but the organizations often act in an advisory capacity when discussing city issues. An informal neighborhood council, composed of board members from each active association, sometimes meets with City staff to discuss specific issues.
Without any kind of regulation, the borders of each organization and total number of groups are entirely at the whim of the public. In the past, some neighborhoods have given rise to multiple organizations (currently there is just one group per neighborhood) and border expansions have created some overlap. The Pico association unilaterally declared itself to contain a section of Downtown several years ago but that action was not asked for, nor necessarily approved by, Downtown residents.