Name: Kevin McKeown
Occupation: Recently retired SMMUSD educational technology consultant; Councilmember.
Neighborhood of residence: Wilmont, in the same small one-bedroom apartment for over 42 years.
Own or rent: Rent, since before the passage of rent control.
Marital status/kids: Married for almost ten years to fellow activist Genise Schnitman; no children, although I helped raise a teenager at Samohi (class of 2002) in a previous relationship.
Party affiliation: I was our Assembly District Democrat of the Year in 2010 and 2014, and am Vice-Chair of the California Democratic Party Irish-American Caucus.
Who has the best cheeseburger in Santa Monica?
Cheeseburger? I’m a long-time vegetarian, partly because beef production requires five or six times the water and other resources as an equally nutritious plant-based diet.
Santa Monica Sustainable City “Meatless Mondays” suggest foregoing a meatburger just one day a week — have you tried the new plant-based “beyond” or “impossible” burgers?
What is the city doing to anchor promising startup companies to Santa Monica and secure local jobs?
As Mayor in 2015 I convened meetings with tech innovators and the Chamber, modifying our zoning to allow the new shared workspace configurations favored by startup entrepreneurs.
I personally participate each year in the City-sponsored “Hack the Beach” contest, bringing together tech start-ups and encouraging their involvement in Santa Monica.
Have you been the victim of a crime in Santa Monica in the past two years and what happened?
The only time I’ve been victimized was an auto break-in sometime in the ‘80s, when crime was three times more prevalent in Santa Monica. Someone broke into my Volkswagen van/camper and took only the bedding. I assumed it was someone who needed the blanket and pillows more than I did.
What Santa Monica service or professional organizations do you belong to? How many hours per week do you volunteer inside Santa Monica?
Two full-time jobs for 20 years, as tech consultant to our schools and as your Councilmember, have left little time. I spend 60 hours a week on (supposedly part-time) City work, including meeting with community members and advocating for new policies, besides the visible work of public meetings and hearings.
Do you have an account with Bird, Lime, Jump, Lyft, Uber and/or Breeze for scooters and bikes? Which one do you use most frequently?
I’m a founding member of Breeze, our City bikeshare. Mostly I ride my own electric bike, which I bought myself for my 70th birthday to keep me bicycling.
Instead of Uber or Lyft, I continue to use real cabs with professional drivers, exclusively from our own local company, Taxi Taxi.
What, if any, is the connection between crime and homelessness?
Tenuous, and perhaps the opposite of what many residents think. A homeless person is more likely to be the victim of crime than a perpetrator.
There’s a criminal element within the homeless just as within the housed, which we must pursue and prosecute, but being homeless is not a crime.
Which three local businesses know you by name?
Certainly Vons on Wilshire knows me by name, as I’ve shopped there for over 42 years and a cousin of mine worked there just after World War II. Andrew at The Bike Shop on Main knows how deliriously happy I am with my pedal-assist electric bicycle. And Lincoln at McCabe’s.
What does it mean for the City’s traffic mitigation efforts if BBB is considering replacing buses with cars on some routes?
Those buses were running almost empty, so the traffic impact will be slight — but I deeply regret the pragmatic decision to hand riders off to “gig economy” drivers, even if with a subsidy to keep trips affordable. I’d feel much safer riding with a trained professional Big Blue Bus driver.
How will the City’s economy survive the continued decline in retail sales?
To retain what we can of those tax-generating purchases by visitors and tourists, providing revenue for City services, we must recreate shopping in Santa Monica as a pleasurable experience, not just an errand. Vacant storefronts may provide newly affordable opportunities for art and cultural spaces, including more live entertainment.
Several downtown projects (the Fairmont, the Gehry project and 4th/5th and Arizona) are still working through the city process. What does the final buildout of downtown look like?
The Downtown Community Plan, re-done at public demand to limit big projects to just those three sites, guarantees reduced height and square footage limits. The Council’s seen new Gehry plans, but not the others. I’ll ask for more housing, less office, appropriate parking, and no condos. Approvals must be earned.
Were the changes to the pier concerts a positive for the shows, the pier and the community?
Safety first: The previous spill-over of the concerts onto the beach became patently unsafe. The new concerts are more intimate, engaging all the other assets of the Pier to provide an immersive experience. I loved and attended the old series for many years, and I think we’ve kept the magic.
How do you define progress for a community like Santa Monica?
Progress is not merely moving forward. It is moving forward thoughtfully, retaining the best of what we already enjoy, while embracing change — hard for some! — when it means real benefit to our community.
Progress means little to anyone priced out of Santa Monica, so my vision of progress fights gentrification.
Santa Monica residents feel besieged homelessness and many are tired of being told solutions are coming or need to be at the regional level. What will you do from the Council dais to directly improve the quality of life for citizens concerned about this issue?
Solving homelessness will take concerted effort, commitment, and cooperation — and that means it will take time. There is no magic wand. Wanting to believe there’s an easy answer is understandable, but unrealistic.
Yes, there are things we can and must do in the short term. Crime and violence against homeless persons, and sometimes by them, has become a public safety priority. As the recent Boise court case requires, reclaiming our public spaces for resident families means finding places to shelter and house those who have no place, other than our parks, to sleep and live.
I was a homelessness activist before I ever ran for City Council. In the late ‘80s I helped develop plans for a homelessness facility downtown offering showers, washers, and lockers to enable homeless job-seekers to clean up for work. In the early 90s, as a volunteer, I helped design the newly computerized intake system to route those in need to the most appropriate agency, and reduce duplication of service.
Santa Monica has for many years demonstrated remarkable compassion, and in the process has developed many best practices that other communities can now emulate. Our annual homeless count regularly draws more volunteers than can be accommodated.
We’ve concentrated on providing City services and resources to the most vulnerable among the homeless, while encouraging all homeless individuals to engage in offered services, become more stable, move into appropriate housing, and remain housed.
Until about two years ago, our efforts, which embraced early adoption of a “housing first” strategy, had brought the number of people living on Santa Monica streets down by 20%. The recent County-wide surge in homelessness, though, overwhelmed us.
We can’t handle by ourselves the regional tragedy of individuals and families for whom the social safety net has frayed and failed. The problem is bigger than Santa Monica, and we need regional partners, a resource I’ve cultivated as Santa Monica’s representative on the Westside Cities Council of Governments.
In the end, though, we know the ultimate fix for homelessness: housing. Yet some of those most outraged by the impacts of homelessness are among the least sympathetic towards allowing new housing to be built.
Over the 42 years I’ve lived in Santa Monica, we have not produced enough new housing to accommodate even just the children born to existing Santa Monica residents. When I sit on the stage at Santa Monica High School graduation each June, watching our best and brightest step forward to accept their diplomas, I have to mourn that at least some of those young people will be resources lost to our community because there simply aren’t enough housing opportunities here for all of them.
If we can’t house our own talented kids, how can we house the indigent homeless?
I was one of the original authors of our Affordable Housing Production Plan, requiring a percentage of new multi-family housing to be deed-restricted for low income. I worked on our current Land Use and Circulation Element for seven years, and then, as Mayor, hammered out the details of a citywide zoning code that encourages new housing in downtown, along transit corridors, and in reclaimed light industrial sections of our city, all with a mandate for inclusionary affordable housing. I supported ballot measures that replaced lost redevelopment funds for truly affordable housing.
I am not aware of any other city whose downtown includes mandatory deed restrictions of up to 35% of the total units, with rents set to accommodate households at as low as 30% of our area median income.
Meanwhile, combat veterans and other sleep on our streets, a shame we all share so long as we don’t commit to helping. Shelters are a stopgap. We need to site and build housing with supportive services on-site, to get — and keep — homeless individuals off the street. We need to produce truly affordable multi-bedroom apartments for homeless families now sleeping in cars.
None of this will, overnight, magically sweep our streets of human beings who have no home. Just as homelessness has become a long-term problem, it challenges us to commit to long-term solutions.
We know the police department needs to hire more people and state laws have put more criminals back on the streets but what will you do to at the local level mitigate the increase in crime?
Significant recent crime increases have made public safety a paramount issue in this campaign. However, keep in mind that elected Councilmembers are not issued a badge. In fact, the City Charter specifically prohibits individual Councilmembers from directing police enforcement. That direction comes from the Chief of Police, who is hired by the City Manager.
The Council’s role is to set policy and allocate resources. I have always made sure our annual budget provides the pay, training, and equipment to empower our police to keep Santa Monica streets safe.
In endorsing my re-election this year, our public safety unions noted that I “have voted to increase public safety staffing in response to the significant rise in demands placed on the Police and Fire Departments.”
We all now acknowledge that the recent crime increase warrants more officers on the street. Up until now, we have held positions open in sensitivity to resident concerns about the pay and other costs of our police force. Current reality dictates we not wait for a new budget to begin hiring, and we haven’t. Our new police chief, Cynthia Renaud, has advised us that she will assign the expanded force to increase daily neighborhood patrols and street presence.
We hire carefully and train thoroughly. Police officers and firefighters, people who will without hesitation run toward an active shooter or into a burning building, are very special. We hire only the best of the best.
Again, Councilmembers don’t have badges. What I wear proudly in place of a badge is a 20-year record of helping to create a modern police force with a greatly increased sensitivity toward all residents, including minorities.
Our public safety employees themselves say I have consistently voted as a Councilmember to provide resources “to ensure that Santa Monica residents continue to receive the high quality of public safety services they have come to expect.” I shall continue to do so.