Santa Monica will spend more on homelessness, raise parking rates and cut some childcare programs in the next two years.
City Council reviewed Tuesday a proposed budget that offsets additional investment in homeless outreach workers and subsidies for rent-burdened seniors by cutting some poorly attended extracurricular activities and raising parking meter rates by 25% on July 1. The council decided to spend more on homelessness than what city manager Rick Cole proposed, allocating an additional $250,000 for a six-month pilot program that would deploy hospitality ambassadors in Reed Park to discourage antisocial behavior and crime.
“We all want to make Reed a family park again,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.
The 2019-2021 budget, which will be finalized June 25, will need to include more than $17 million in cuts due to a steep increase in pension costs and flatlining sales tax and parking revenues.
Starting next fiscal year, the city will begin making payments on the $448 million it owes the state pension fund, which fell into crisis after the recession and years of mismanagement and is asking cities across California to make up its shortfall. That pension liability will continue to drain the city’s coffers for the next 13 years.
Over the same period of time, officials predict sales tax, which makes up about a fifth of the city’s general fund revenues, will plateau as more people shop online rather than in Santa Monica’s brick-and-mortar stores. Fewer people are also using public parking structures, preferring to use the Expo Line or ridesharing apps to get downtown.
“There’s no other city in California with the breadth and quality of services Santa Monica provides … but if we want to keep the quality, we’re going to have to make some fairly significant efficiencies over the next several years,” Cole said.
Cole proposed cost reductions across all city departments to compensate for the rising costs and weak growth in revenues, but the city will still be about $20 million in the red by 2028.
Many of the proposed cuts, such as leaving vacant positions unfilled and reducing administrative costs, would not have much impact on the wider population. Some of the proposals, however, prompted protests from dozens of residents Tuesday night.
Many opposed shuttering the Santa Monica Swim Center for six weeks each winter. A smaller group did not support ending Saturday activities at the Police Activities League (PAL) and Virginia Avenue Park (VAP) and eliminating some before- and after-school programs.
“Closing the pool for that long really impacts the community,” said Jennifer Barkan, president of Team Santa Monica, the city’s swim club since 1955.
The pool previously closed anywhere from two to 11 weeks, depending on how long it took to perform maintenance. Mayor Gleam Davis said she thinks it should continue to follow that model rather than closing for a standard six weeks.
Davis also said she thinks the CREST, PAL and VAP programs could be eliminated with minimal impact to the city’s children. Only 50 children regularly attended the programs, said Karen Ginsberg, community and cultural services director. The city would transition them to other nearby programs and subsidize any increased costs of attendance for low-income families.
“It does seem that there is somewhere to go for all the kids in these very underutilized programs,” McKeown said.
The council also debated ending the city’s $80,000 annual contract with KCRW to broadcast council meetings on public radio and halting enforcement of the city’s leafblower ban so it could enforce the new sidewalk vending law without hiring new code enforcement officers.
Councilmembers McKeown, Terry O’Day and Sue Himmelrich said they wanted the contract with KCRW to continue because it reaches a lot of listeners for the money, despite the fact that the city effectively pays $2,000 an hour to broadcast on the radio station and listenership is 80% of its normal levels when council meetings are on the air, according to KCRW.
McKeown said he wants to keep enforcing the city’s leafblower ban and dedicating code enforcement officers to handle weekend noise complaints. Cole said city staff would return to the council with a more in-depth plan to allocate code enforcement resources.
Cole will also appoint six community members and five city staffers to a budget task force that will recommend at least $1.5 million in additional cuts for the 2020-2021 fiscal year and $2.5 million in long-term changes for fiscal years 2021-2025.
Staff will return to the council June 25 to present the budget for adoption.