A breakdown of the 2019-2020 budget. (City of Santa Monica)

The bulk of new spending in the City of Santa Monica’s proposed budget will go toward improving transportation and fighting climate change.

The biennial budget City Manager Rick Cole released last Thursday proposes spending $38 million on various mobility projects and $29 million on water sustainability and electric vehicle charging next fiscal year. Under the proposed budget, the City would also spend $4 million on park safety enhancements, a criminal prosecution case management system and a staging facility for the Santa Monica Police Department.

Financial assistance for rent-burdened seniors and expanding the waitlist for affordable housing would cost $2 million. City Council selected affordability as a top budget priority at a January community meeting, alongside climate change, an engaged and thriving community, neighborhood safety, mobility and access and reducing homelessness.

The City would expand the Preserving Our Diversity (POD) program to reach 200 to 400 senior households and merge the waitlists for affordable housing maintained by the City and various nonprofits. A pilot program launched with the new consolidated waitlist would assist some households with poor or no credit history in obtaining housing.

An additional $2 million would fund homeless outreach teams, social workers and the salary of Alisa Orduña, senior advisor to the city manager on homelessness.

The C3 team of social workers that launched last June would continue to connect people experiencing homeless with services and the HMST team, which formed in 2017, would keep providing medical care. Two social workers would be hired to reach individuals in the city’s libraries.

City spokesperson Constance Farrell said the outreach teams will save money in the long run by helping treat people who are often jailed or hospitalized.

“Many people experiencing homelessness that are arrested or transported to medical facilities have underlying mental, physical or substance dependence conditions,” Farrell said. “Cities often bear this expense until they are able to offer connection to alternative settings such as psych-urgent care or sobering centers, and ultimately supportive housing.”

Orduña would continue to be paid almost $11,000 a month to work on plans to replace downtown homeless shelter Samoshel, build a behavioral health center and develop a Homeless Innovation Fund, which would accept donations from fundraisers, businesses and individuals.

New spending would also fund water infrastructure projects needed to wean Santa Monica off of imported water by 2023, which will keep the city’s water prices down ahead of predicted regional droughts, and new lights, emergency phones and cameras in downtown parks in response to safety and public health concerns. Improvements to city streets and the Big Blue Bus system would total $38 million next fiscal year.

One of the largest new expenses in the budget would be payments to CalPERS, the state pension fund that cities across California are trying to rebuild after the recession and poor management severely depleted it. $14 million would be allocated between 2019 and 2021 to begin paying off the city’s $448 unfunded pension liability over the next 13 years.

The liability, as well as flatlining sales tax and parking revenues, have driven the City to cut costs, eliminate almost 28 vacant full-time positions and seek new revenues. It would trim $17.3 million in expenses over two years with a $1.468 billion budget. The budget for the previous two fiscal years was $1.578 billion.

“Our long-established ways of budgeting and making economic and operational projections will be challenged,” Cole wrote in a message accompanying the proposed budget. “Traditional revenue streams are growing at a slower rate due to changes in the modern economy; pension costs are projected to increase significantly to address statewide unfunded public pension liabilities; and … both the world and national economy face ‘increased risk.’”

The new spending and eroding revenues would be offset by a 25 percent increase in parking meter rates, reduced hours for extracurricular programs and swim centers and cuts to supplies and maintenance costs across City departments. All departments would also forgo a 2.4 percent annual consumer price index increase and the City may put a measure on the ballot to bring in new revenue, such as a tax on vacant homes and storefronts or the sale of luxury properties.

Beginning July 1, parking meter rates and rates for Main Street lots 9, 10 and 11 will increase 25 percent. The City has also proposed reducing free parking in downtown parking structures from 90 to 60 minutes.

The City would eliminate CREST early morning and late afternoon care, as well as Saturday morning programs at the Police Activities League and Virginia Avenue Park.

CREST provides sports and enrichment programs for Santa Monica elementary schools before and after the regular school day. Early morning care, which starts at 7 a.m., was phased out this school year at four elementary schools and replaced with Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District programs, Farrell said. This fall, the three remaining elementary schools would make the same transition and late afternoon CREST care would be phased out.

“Patrons would be directed to other CREST programming, PAL, VAP, programming at local libraries or alternative services provided through SMMUSD,” Farrell said.

The Saturday morning programs at PAL and VAP that would be eliminated began before the Pico Library opened and began providing its own Saturday programming, Farrell said.

“In addition to the Pico Library, families can take advantage of other park amenities such as age-appropriate playgrounds, basketball courts, and, during the summer months, the Splash Pad,” she said.

The City would close Santa Monica Swim Center for six weeks in the winter, rather than three weeks, cut lap swim at Lincoln Pool and run fewer summer camps due to low participation.

It would scale back its communication efforts, publishing fewer issues of its magazine Seascape, taping fewer events and terminating its contract with KCRW to broadcast City Council meetings.

Food and flyers would no longer be distributed at community meetings and Council would have less discretionary funding to grant to school activities, community events and local nonprofits.’

Council will review the budget next Wednesday at 6 p.m.


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