Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

The Tuesday City Council meeting was what we in the business call a doozy, but after watching eight hours worth of debate a few highlights and low-lights are readily apparent.

Thumbs Up:

Interim City Manager Lane Dilg and staff — On the bright side, Interim City Manager Lane Dilg and her staff did an excellent job. They presented a thoughtful analysis that acknowledges the scope of this crisis and did so in a clear, concise and what should have been very understandable package. This was done in a very short time and it must be noted that in some cases, the work presented was accomplished by individuals who knew they were working on a presentation that advocated for their own firing. Mayor McKeown should also be mentioned here for keeping the meeting focused on the issues at hand, despite several attempted detours and the occasional technical glitch.   

Contingency funding — Part of the work that was particularly praiseworthy was the attention to a future disaster, specifically the $20 million set aside to handle a potential second wave of COVID-19 closures. The city is borrowing from its reserves to help mitigate the crisis and that’s exactly what reserves are for. However, staff have taken an additional step and established a fund equal to the projected revenues losses during a second two-month closure. This is a smart step to buffer against the worst-case scenario.

POD program — We have previously advocated for senior programs as among the top priorities for the vastly reduced city budget and the Preserving Our Diversity Program is perhaps the single most valuable senior program. It helps low-income individuals pay their rent. It prevents homelessness and keeps Santa Monicans in the community. The program was due for an expansion but that was put on pause with the budget crunch. We strongly support not only the retention of the current program participants but reengineering what little flex money the city has to expand the program.

Thumbs Down:

Tape delay — Staff did a commendable job creating a virtual meeting environment but there were clear problems that stymied the meeting. Speakers were put in line via phone, however, many of these callers didn’t understand that video broadcasts have a delay and the audio instructions delivered by phone would not sync with the pictures they could see on TV. This caused many speakers to spend valuable time asking if they could be heard instead of delivering their comments. Hopefully better instructions can be delivered to participants in advance of the next session and callers should pay more attention to those instructions to keep the meeting flowing.

Economic comprehension — There was ample evidence that many people, both elected and citizen, didn’t fully grasp the severity of the crisis. Despite the ugly glee that some display over the prospect of mass layoffs, these cuts are not prompted by a political calculation. They are not an optional decision to disenfranchise workers. The city is running out of money and cannot pay for everything residents want. Every librarian saved means a crossing guard is lost and every youth program funded is less money to keep a senior in their home. There will be no winners here, just survivors. Threats are inappropriate, tantrums unhelpful and ignorance unacceptable.

This was a difficult meeting for everyone involved and while nothing is perfect, it was a positive step towards righting the ship.

SMDP Editorial Board

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