Santa Monica is in the midst of an economic crisis and despite the headlines surrounding budget cuts, we don’t think the magnitude of the problem has fully permeated the public consciousness yet.
This city is going to lose a lot of people, services and programs that have vastly improved the quality of life for residents. These cuts are going to be hard on everyone and absolutely devastate many but they are truly unavoidable if the economic projections are correct and they may actually be too little if the estimates prove too optimistic.
While we are going to lose a lot, there are services that will remain and some concepts should be put at the top of the list.
Children and Seniors
Seniors and children are among a population’s most vulnerable residents and they deserve special recognition when evaluating budget cuts. Seniors, many of whom are on a fixed income, need to be protected, physically, mentally and socially. Programs that provide housing, food, entertainment, education and emotional wellbeing should be at the top of the preservation list for our city.
Similarly, we should do everything we can to provide safe, stable and educational homes for youth.
Some programs will have to be cut impacting both these groups but there’s probably the ability to retain many of these vital services. There’s also a direct economic benefit to many of these programs because working-age adults are more able to return to the workforce if their extended family are cared for.
When you’re looking to cut overtime payments and limit disability overages, the Police Department looks like a ripe target for cuts. However, this is not the time to cut sworn officers.
We’ve just come through a long process of hiring a new chief, reorganizing to put more cops on the street and finally filling the dozens of open spots in the sworn officer ranks.
More importantly, under almost any scenario we will need the police department fully functional.
When public spaces open, a no or reduced bail reality will require a heavy police presence to preserve quality of life that was already suffering in places like Ocean Front Walk. If the economy recovers quickly, we know we need the fully staffed department to handle the amount of crime that was already here. If it dives into a full depression, the desperation caused by a truly dire economy will prompt a rise in property crime. No matter how you slice it, the short term future of the city will demand uniformed officers on the streets.
The same can be said of the fire department. Santa Monica requires a well trained group of firefighters who need to do so much more than fight fires. We need individuals trained to perform cliff rescues, equipment to handle plane crashes and paramedics who will be on the front line of the next pandemic.
That’s not to say there’s not room for efficiency in Public Safety, there certainly is. Calls related to homelessness overtax our system and there needs to be careful thought given to the kind of response that’s issued for most Emergency Medical Service calls but at the end of the day, this is a priority that demands retention.
Santa Monica’s economy will not rebound without the ability to attract and retain high quality businesses both retail and commercial. Tourism is our lifeblood and there was already a dangerous trend towards Santa Monica becoming Everywhere USA. We need unique businesses, shops and services to separate us as a world class destination and we can’t have a bunch of large corporate businesses populate the city without losing our vital sense of place.
We have to make it easier for small entrepreneurs to open their concepts in a timely fashion and the budget should reflect those efforts by maximizing staff, services and programs that at a minimum explain, if not streamline, the already burdensome process.
Bringing visitors back to the city is the only way Santa Monica will bring back all the services residents enjoy, but not all visitors are created equal. The City needs to keep an eye on the services that make Santa Monica an overnight destination. We don’t know when, or even if, the international tourism market will recover so in the mean time we have to fill those hotel beds with Americans who want to partake in the beauty of the city and fortunately, many efforts that make the city a great place to visit also benefit locals. Services like street cleaning, programs to incentivize local retail and efforts to increase safety make Santa Monica a great place to live and to visit.
Everyone has something to lose in the next few weeks and some big changes will be necessary. There will be as many opinions as there are individuals who care and Council will have to disappoint many in order to set the course for a sustainable future. We will mourn the services we have to lose but everyone needs to come to grips with the grim reality that our future is a little dimmer for now. Making hard decisions today is the only way to get to the brighter tomorrow.
SMDP Editorial Board