A far call from the usual joyous gathering, Thursday’s State of the City event was nevertheless a poignant one peppered with tales of tenacity, reflections of loss, and renewed hope for the road ahead.
This year’s annual summit, hosted by the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, brought residents together over Zoom for a moving evening with speeches from Mayor Sue Himmelrich, Chamber President Laurel Rosen, Interim City Manager Lane Dilg, and Congressman Ted Lieu.
Space was held to honor and acknowledge the losses and sacrifices of community members over the past year, including the 135 residents who passed away due to Covid-19.
“We need to recognize this struggle and how it has impacted us and left an imprint on our community, from small business owners, restaurants and retailers who struggled to stay afloat, to frontline workers who have risked their lives to keep services running, to the many left to seek out basic necessities like food and shelter,” said Himmelrich.
Although far from the hardest hit community in Los Angeles, Santa Monica suffered its share of trauma in 2020.
In the last year more than 7,000 residents experienced unemployment, 72 percent of businesses reported struggling to cover expenses, and some 200 newly food insecure households came to depend on the Virginia Avenue Food bank.
The City had to reduce expenditures by almost 25 percent due to budget shortfalls and laid off almost 300 full time employees. Then on May 31 looters ransacked downtown and severely damaged many struggling local businesses.
“On top of the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, the reexamination of systemic racism that followed, and the ease with which criminal elements were able to take advantage of May 31 protests to loot and damage our downtown all expose deep flaws in our city and our nation for which we both apologize and resolve to address,” said Himmelrich.
Despite what seemed at times like insurmountable or hopeless challenges, the City and its residents found ways to come together like never before, all while staying six feet apart.
In the past year, community members raised over one million dollars for the We Are Santa Monica recovery fund; Big Blue Bus provided 287 days of fare-free travel and transported essential workers every day; and the fire department deployed personnel to fight 17 wildfires in the worst fire season on record.
The City worked rapidly to adapt to the pandemic and was one of the first communities to launch many programs, including parklet street dining and the eviction moratorium, which quickly spread across the County and state.
“In Santa Monica we have continued to lead the way in keeping the approximately 70% of our community members who are renters in their homes,” said Dilg. “We have provided more than 600 families with direct rental assistance and 145 senior households with cash-based assistance.”
All of this was done with minimal external support, as very little federal aid was allocated to cities with small populations like Santa Monica.
Fortunately, Congressman Ted Lieu said that under the Biden administration this is about to change. If passed successfully, the American Recovery Plan will provide an estimated $27 million in funding to the City of Santa Monica and $9.3 million to the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District.
The event ended on an encouraging note and local leaders implored all residents to get involved in the City’s recovery efforts.
“The government has the ability to point us in the direction we need to go, but for meaningful outcomes, we have to turn toward the common effort of advancing the common good,” said Himmelrich. “We do this by rebuilding our economy, our connections to one another, and also our hearts.”