Santa Monica City Council approved a plan Tuesday that would eliminate nearly 400 full-time positions in the city government.
The city of Santa Monica will issue layoff notices to up to 247 full-time employees this week and start negotiating alternate staffing plans with the city’s unions. An additional 126 full-time employees would receive buyouts to leave their jobs and nearly 150 as-needed employees have already been let go.
City Council approved the layoffs 6-1. Councilmember Ana Maria Jara said she voted against the plan because city staff had not provided an analysis of the salaries or demographics of employees who will be laid off.
Mayor Kevin McKeown said labor negotiations could result in fewer workers losing their jobs if unions propose pay cuts or furloughs instead of layoffs. The city’s executives have already agreed to reduce their salaries by 10% to 20%.
City employees and their supporters said they would be willing to take reduced pay to keep their jobs and health insurance.
Chris Pico, a data science administrator in the city’s human services division, said his labor unit supports progressive salary reductions or furlough days.
“We could save jobs by reducing salaries,” he said. “We can come back with a better proposal than the one before you today.”
But even if negotiations spare some jobs, the city will still have to trim $86.2 million in ongoing costs — including salaries, programs and services — to plug a projected general fund deficit of $224 million through June 2022, McKeown said. Two-thirds of the city’s general fund revenue came from sales, hotel and parking taxes and fees, which have evaporated amid stay-at-home orders, said Finance Director Gigi Decavalles-Hughes.
Interim City Manager Lane Dilg said the city is facing a $48 million deficit this fiscal year alone and needs to make cuts as soon as possible to avoid further losses. The proposed cuts will reduce next year’s approved operating budget of more than $750 million by 23%. Santa Monica can’t count on receiving state or federal relief funds, Dilg said.
“Deep cuts are necessary to ensure a sustainable future for our city and the public we serve,” she said. “Proposing these cuts has been nothing short of excruciating.”
City Council did not vote on cuts to services and programs Tuesday, but approved freeing up $117 million in one-time funds by canceling or reducing capital projects and drawing on reserves, including $5.6 million from the city’s affordable housing fund.
The council said $2 million in available funding should be dedicated to restoring youth recreation and mental health programs, including a playground partnership with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District that provides public access to school fields after hours.
The council also said funding should be allocated to the Legal Aid Foundation and Preserving Our Diversity (POD) program, a rental assistance program for low-income seniors. The program was planning to provide rental assistance to between 250 and 400 seniors, but the proposed budget limits the program to 40 participants.
Additionally, funding will be restored for Meals on Wheels and the Westside Food Bank, as well as some mobility and sustainability efforts around decreasing the city’s dependence on cars and climate resiliency.
Councilmember Sue Himmelrich said residents’ basic needs should be prioritized during the forthcoming recession.
“We need to make sure people can eat and have roofs over their heads and that their children have fields to play in,” Himmelrich said.
The council also approved a $20 million contingency fund in the event of another coronavirus shutdown and a $1 million economic recovery fund.
The council is set to vote next month on $86.2 million in ongoing budget cuts that would scale back or eliminate many youth, mobility, planning and sustainability programs. The city would also suspend all boards and commissions not required under the city charter, which provides for a planning commission, library board, personnel board, recreation and parks commission, and airport commission.
Funding for youth and adult recreation programs would be significantly scaled back under the proposal, and some programs would be cut altogether.
CREST’s afterschool program, which offers homework assistance, field trips, classes and outdoor play, would continue and the monthly program fee would increase from $300 to $350. The program’s enrichment classes and school break camps would also continue, but its playground access, youth sports and homework programs would be cut.
Virginia Avenue Park would combine its youth programs into a single program for elementary, middle and high school students, eliminating services for those between 19 and 24. The Santa Monica Police Activities League would reduce the hours of its afterschool programs.
The community services department would cut hours and programming at Memorial Park’s gym, fitness room and skate park. Santa Monica Swim Center and the Annenberg Community Beach House would continue operating with reduced hours and programming, although the Annenberg pool would close through next June.
Dozens of local parents urged City Council Tuesday to preserve funding for childcare and recreation programs.
“As a working parent, I have relied on CREST so I can participate in the workforce,” said Jennifer Cowan, executive director of Connections for Children. “Access to high-quality childcare is critical.”
Community members asked the council to preserve grant funding for social service organizations that serve vulnerable populations, including low-income youth. City staff have proposed a 12% reduction in grants to organizations such as The People Concern, Chrysalis, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Wise & Healthy Aging and Family Service of Santa Monica.
Clinicians from Family Service of Santa Monica and Providence St. John’s Youth Development Project, which provide free mental health services to hundreds of students in Santa Monica schools, said cutting funding to their programs would put students dealing with trauma, depression, anxiety and behavioral disturbances at risk of engaging in self-destructive behaviors, including substance abuse and suicide.
“Mental health services should not be a privilege for those who can afford it, but a basic right for those who need it,” said Ashley Silvera, the lead Youth Development Project clinician at Lincoln Middle School.
Potential cuts to the mobility division also drew criticism from city staff and residents.
Under the proposed budget plan, GoSaMo, a city-funded agency that works with local employers to reduce car commuting, would be eliminated and the city would only enforce transportation management requirements for large employers.
GoSaMo executive director Puja Thomas-Patel urged the council to suspend the organization and other mobility programs temporarily rather than cutting them altogether.
“When our stay-at-home orders are lifted we will need a plan … to keep congestion levels under control, because we will likely have additional drivers who used to take transit,” she said. “It will be incredibly difficult to restart these programs from scratch, and we will not be prepared for people to return (to the city) if these programs are eliminated now.”
Pedestrian and cyclist safety plans would be delayed or canceled, including Vision Zero, the Safe Routes to School program and the Take the Friendly Road campaign. The Shared Mobility Pilot Program, which regulates dockless scooters and bikes, would be preserved.
The police department would lay off 40 crossing guards assigned to nine elementary schools and two middle schools, and has said it is working on an alternative plan for crossing guard services.
Some community members said Tuesday that crossing guards cannot be replaced by volunteers due to liability issues and that eliminating the program would put children in danger.
Zina Josephs, president of the Friends of Sunset Park neighborhood organization, suggested reducing the salaries of some highly compensated SMPD officers to cover the cost of crossing guards. Under the proposed budget plan, the police department would leave one vacant sworn officer position unfilled and lay off several non-sworn employees that patrol parks and handle animal control, in addition to crossing guards.
“Crossing guards save lives every year,” Josephs said. “The retirement of one sergeant or captain could save many crossing guards.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this article inaccurately characterized City Council’s priorities for $2 million in discretionary funding.