The COVID-19 crisis sweeping our city and the world is an unprecedented challenge to our accepted way of life but it’s also a rare opportunity to reflect on the foundations of our systems and make changes. Vital, if hard, changes.

Our entire culture is experiencing a moment of reevaluation. What do we really need? What do we want most? What makes life a joyous experience?

While much of this personal introspection is occurring behind quarantined doors, the same big picture questions should be on the table for the city at large during this budget crisis.

Those precise questions should be debated in the public arena and they need to be answered by citizens now more than ever because without robust public input, those values will be determined by any number of special interests that have a stake in the future of the city.

Affordable housing has long been cited as a beloved community priority but it’s an expensive and burdensome pursuit has failed to meet goals while a glut of market-rate units have diluted the city’s architectural personality into a generic blur.

And all these banal boxes didn’t help affordability, but that was always a developer ruse — a city with less than 1% of the county population has no pricing power, especially given the near infinite demand to live near the ocean.

Shifting to the commercial space, this crisis may reshape the working world for decades to come. How many workers will return to their cubicles now that video calls have been forcefully adopted en masse? For the first time in modern history, if you build it, they may not come.

Development is not the only priority that should be on the public agenda but rather just one of the sacred cows that now need to justify their place in the pasture.

Easing traffic is another set-in-stone goal for Santa Monica. The forced reduction in driving during the crisis has only reinforced the benefits of reduced car trips but maybe now’s the time to ask how, or even if, the Big Blue Bus is part of the solution. Rider fares cover a tiny fraction of the costs of a system that has suffered declining ridership for years.

While the city is considering cuts, big, and controversial, ideas should be part of the debate. Can Metro do this job better and for less money? Doubtful, but how many routes and buses can we take out of circulation before the system is no longer worth the money, time and resources that we put into its existence? It’s a big question with no easy answer but if we’re facing Great Depression levels of budget reductions, we need to think about massive solutions and ultimately the decision making has to be based on current citizens’ needs.

Santa Monica is not an island and it never will be. It’s a city riddled with access points to Los Angeles and is a place whose entire being is supported by the connections to surrounding communities. Maybe those connections are worth expanding at a time like this.

Whether it’s garbage collection, providing water, or maintaining beaches, there are a raft of services the city pays for that could be contracted out, at potentially lower cost.

A transparent analysis would allow residents to decide what things are worth doing and what is better done by others. It will also shine a light on hidden taxes lurking in the form of excessively high fees.

No matter what the service, Santa Monica manages to hit its citizens and businesses harder in the wallet than just about any other city. We have been nickeled and dimed and silver-dollared to the brink and the lasting impact is huge pension obligations, soul-crushing traffic and reduced quality of life.

It’s clearly time for a change. A city that prides itself on sustainability has ironically created an unsustainable mess. We need a time out.

The debate is about to heat up and while the wrangling over specific positions, programs and services will dominate the coming weeks, residents should be taking the time now to think beyond the immediate.

What are the things we really need? What can we give up? What can someone else do for us? Hard questions that we no longer have the luxury of deferring, for the turnip has no more blood to give.

SMDP Editorial Board

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6 Comments

  1. The single most important editorial ever published in SMDP. Keep the spotlight on these problems please.

  2. Bravo! Your opportunistic opinion and perspective is respected but the delivery and planning of operations should be left to the professionals. They are bound by ethical standards and don’t have a blank check to operate. That is not how this works. Anyone can propose contracting out. I grew up in a town where the City (larger than Santa Monica; no beach included) still faces budgetary challenges every year and many core services are contracted out. Contracting out is not a solution for financial reasons. Once you get out of a business you rely on the terms and conditions a contractor sets for the rest of your existence and that is difficult to compete with. As to your opinion of, “We have been nickeled and dimed and silver-dollared to the brink and the lasting impact is huge pension obligations, soul-crushing traffic and reduced quality of life.” Really? You should leave town more often to witness that these challenges are world wide. Reduced quality of life? Again you should get out more often. Reductions come at a cost and if you think things are bad, wait until your perspective becomes a reality (hopefully not) and cuts and water downed services really impact your beautiful community. I do agree that the process must be open and collaborative for all stakeholders but solutions are easier said than done. I think you have heard the adage, “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” I pray that we find solutions to keep our society safe from COVID 19 and that we go back to normal soon (even in normal these problems still exist). I have experienced your publication’s spin on facts in the past. So I urge people to truly research and fact find. The freedom of expression unfortunately does not stop inappropriate or unethical expression. Stop the WAR on workers!!! This is my opinion based on my experience in the City of Santa Monica and because I personally know hundreds of workers who day in and out deliver so you can live a better life!!!

  3. “Doubtful, but how many routes and buses can we take out of circulation before the system is no longer worth the money, time and resources that we put into its existence? ultimately the decision making has to be based on current citizens’ needs.” There will always be people without cars who MUST DEPEND ON PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION.
    With fewer cars on the road now, we see how our air has improved for all.
    Perhaps it is time to consider how to get rid of the dependence on our automobiles and its devastation to our ability breathe clean air.

  4. “No matter what the service, Santa Monica manages to hit its citizens and businesses harder in the wallet than just about any other city. We have been nickeled and dimed and silver-dollared to the brink and the lasting impact is huge pension obligations, soul-crushing traffic and reduced quality of life.
    It’s clearly time for a change. A city that prides itself on sustainability has ironically created an unsustainable mess. We need a time out”

    Very well written. I have been living in SM as a homeowner for the last 30 years and cannot agree more. Soon my added taxes to my property bill will be like a mortgage again and close to retirement it wont be easy. It is high time for the City of Santa Monica to get out of debt, live within its mean and that the property owners are not the cash cows for their at time delusional projects

  5. Once again the SMDP editorial staff does us proud. We must look at ALL the solutions and outsourcing is one. The City is considering it for the Cemetery services. As usual, people are interested in their ONE issue while hundreds of issues need to be addressed. It is easier to stand on one issue and declare the solution but we must deal with what does it mean to be Santa Monica, what does it mean to be a Santa Monica with residents as the primary focus and tourists, outside workers and others as secondary. That is the direction we should go.

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