Name: Greg Morena
Occupation: Small Business Owner
Neighborhood of residence: Sunset Park
Own or rent: Rent
Marital status/kids: Married, 2 kids
Party affiliation: Democratic
Who has the best cheeseburger in Santa Monica?
HiHo Cheeseburger for sure.
What is the city doing to anchor promising startup companies to Santa Monica and secure local jobs?
Right or wrong, the city has earned a reputation for being hard to navigate when trying to establish a new business here and I ‘d like to remove those roadblocks. City programs like Buy Local need to be better utilized expand their reach to create more local jobs for the 21st century.
Have you been the victim of a crime in Santa Monica in the past two years and what happened?
Recently I was the victim of a car burglary.
What Santa Monica service or professional organizations do you belong to? How many hours per week do you volunteer inside Santa Monica?
I’m on the City’s Audit Commission, GoSamo Transit and Chamber of Commerce Boards, and serve on the Santa Monica Pier Lessees Association. I’m a volunteer organizer and mentor for Santa Monica High Career day. I have worked with Chrysalis to create a program that gets homeless back on their feet.
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 have accounts with Bird, Lime, and Uber but I don’t use any of them much at all.
What, if any, is the connection between crime and homelessness?
Of course there is a connection when people don’t make a living wage, can’t find affordable housing, and can’t afford to feed themselves as a result of lack of living wage jobs.
When people don’t make a living wage, they sometimes steal to feed their families. When people don’t make a living wage and there is no affordable housing, they often end up living on the street or in their cars. There is a rise of homelessness because of the economy, but many of those people are law-abiding citizens.
Which three local businesses know you by name?
Cafe Bolivar, Parking and Maintenance on the Pier, and Lunetta.
What does it mean for the City’s traffic mitigation efforts if BBB is considering replacing buses with cars on some routes?
I have not seen the numbers myself, but if BBB is considering that swap, there are evidently some routes that do not get enough use to justify a full size bus. While traffic mitigation is a huge aspect the BBB, reducing our carbon footprint is just as important.
How will the City’s economy survive the continued decline in retail sales?
As online shopping increasingly becomes the norm, the City’s retail economy needs to shift to continue to attract customers and sales by encouraging experiential retail environments involving art displays, interactive media, and mixed-use community spaces. Santa Monica Place has tried this. 3rd Street Promenade should too.
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 City is still waiting on Environmental Impact Reports on these projects, and no final decisions can even be considered until these reports are received. The final buildout must reflect the needs and wishes of our community.
Were the changes to the pier concerts a positive for the shows, the pier and the community?
These changes brought a smaller, more community-oriented crowd to the pier this past season. Local businesses took a hit as a result of the downsizing, losing sales in the tens of thousands. We must find a sweet spot between crowd control and boosting the local economy.
How do you define progress for a community like Santa Monica?
For me, progress means maintaining the city’s diversity, equity and sustainability by constantly introducing new, forward-thinking ideas that address every new challenge our city – and country faces. Twenty years ago we introduced recycling. Today we are making progress through our zero emissions policy. The world is changing and our city must change too.
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?
People will not feel less besieged until they feel there are less homeless. There is no silver bullet. Anyone who says so misunderstands the complexity of the problem. So what can be done differently to get people into permanent housing situations? We need better interagency efforts, more mental health services, living wage jobs and more affordable housing. Plain and simple. But we also need better support for people to encourage them to get off the streets and stay off the streets. As a Councilmember, I will make certain that the City is working with developers to maximize the number of new affordable units added to Santa Monica.
Mental illness is also a factor in an estimated 25% of homeless individuals. I will continue the Santa Monica City Council’s long standing partnership with the School Board and SMMUSD to ensure that our schools have the resources to identify signs of mental illness early, so that we can offer preventative treatment – and keep people off the street in the first place.
There are concrete, uncomplicated steps that we can take to get people off the street and into housing and services. Studies have shown that it takes between 50-150 engagements to get a homeless person off the streets and into housing. We need to make sure we have fully-staffed and well-trained public safety employees to ensure that these engagements occur consistently and positively. Our public safety employees are currently short fifty sworn and unsworn officers, as well as firefighters and other first responders. The funds needed to correct this deficit have already been allotted in the City’s budget. Our City desperately needs these staff members to help address the homelessness issue in Santa Monica and as a Councilmember, I will hold staff accountable to make sure that this hiring process is handled swiftly and efficiently.
We need more innovative, yet simple programs like the one I created with the non-profit Chrysalis to offer homeless individuals a stable, full time, living wage job. Income and job stability have proven to be a remarkable catalyst to getting homeless people into housing. In fact, just a few weeks ago we were able to place another young person into housing after working in my restaurant. Programs like these that provide homeless people with employers who are compassionate and understand the realities of homelessness must be expanded. They show great potential for success.
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?
Now that we have established that the department needs to hire more people to keep up with the influx of criminals on the street as a result of statewide criminal justice policies, it is important that we take that conversation a step further to understand what in particular we can do at the local level to combat this rise, and keep our community safe. I have a couple of ideas that tackle this issue from multiple angles, which I believe will result in a more thorough mitigation of the increase in crime.
First, I think we need to think about how our law enforcement officers are spending their time. What policies can we implement as a city that will allow our staff to focus their energy and resources on serious crime? I believe we need to shift some of the responsibilities currently assigned to our police department onto other entities. An example of this would be with the electric scooters. The technology exists that would allow for companies operating electric scooters to better enforce the law on their users. Holding the companies accountable to enforcement of our traffic laws frees up valuable time for law enforcement officers to spend tackling the rise in serious crime in Santa Monica. Given the rise in crime Santa Monica experienced in 2017, I think we have reached a place where we need to consider non-traditional alternatives to the traditional public safety model. Are there better ways that residents can be the eyes and ears to help our first responders? Additionally I believe we need to do more than just fight back against the statewide changes to the criminal justice system. We need to understand when a petty criminal is released back into society with nowhere to go, and only a few dollars to their name, they may feel that a return to crime is their only option. This of course is not the truth. We can help by connecting these small time criminals with resources to get back on their feet and start making money and sustaining themselves legitimately and legally. These resources already exist. I know it is controversial to say that criminals can be rehabilitated or deserve another chance, but in my own business and many others I’ve seen how they can. We are obligated to find progressive and more permanent solutions to keep our city safe – especially by tackling the reasons people fall into crime in the first place.