Santa Monica City Council has set the community priorities that will guide the city’s budget process through 2023 during a meeting Saturday that featured hours of debate on the most significant problems facing the city.
“As you know well, this week marks the one-year anniversary of our lives in the pandemic. And what I want you to hear from me today is that while we are looking back on the one-year anniversary of the pandemic and all of the emotions that brings up within the community, we also are in a moment where we will begin to see, quite soon, the very earliest stages of our community recovery,” Interim City Manager Lane Dilg said Saturday while she outlined the recent restructuring of city services and finances.
Now, with Santa Monica eying a bright future that’s faintly visible on the horizon, Dilg added, Council has a chance to articulate what are the community’s most pressing priorities for the upcoming two years and where should the City focus its limited resources.
In a 4-3 vote following Dilg’s remarks, City Council chose addressing homelessness, creating a clean and safe Santa Monica, and pushing for an Equitable and Inclusive Economic Recovery as its top priorities for the upcoming biennial budget process.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who joined Councilmembers Gleam Davis and Kristin McCowan as a dissenting vote, initially made a motion to couple affordability, environmental sustainability and access to mobility and transportation with the other priorities, but Council had differing opinions on the matter.
“If I went out in the street, right now, and all seven of us took ten different blocks of the city, right now, and walked it for the next two hours, and talked to people on the street, you would find that they’re concerned about crime; they’re concerned about homelessness; they’re concerned about having safe parks… they’re concerned about reducing the amount of burglaries (and) the perceived safety in our city,” Councilmember Phil Brock said.
“As a city, we cannot continually be reactive. We need to be proactive in taking care of residents’ concerns, and I think that’s a very important point — we’ve become reactive. So for me, public safety and homelessness are intertwined,” Brock said. “We’ve got to help get people off our streets. We’ve got to make our city safe and if we don’t do that, we’re letting our residents down because that’s what I hear every day.”
Davis said it really disturbed her to hear Council say homelessness and crime are intertwined.
“I understand that some people do believe that a lot of crime in the city is related to homelessness. I think that’s unfair and I think it’s inappropriate. I think it’s not true. There’s a lot of uncomfortable and maybe even antisocial behavior that we see among people who are unhoused. But I think somehow intertwining those is, just in all honesty, not treating people with dignity and inappropriate,” Davis said, adding, “I do agree, however… that I think we need to be a little more less siloed and more broad thinking about these problems.”
“I just think the substitute motion is almost too narrow. And I would really like to see it broadened a bit,” she said. “We are going to have a new city manager, one that may not have the institutional knowledge and background that our current interim city manager has, so I’m concerned that if we too greatly narrow our priorities and their descriptions then we will find ourselves in some very uncomfortable meeting situations in the future.”
Brock said if Council spreads itself too thin when setting its priorities then nothing will get accomplished. “And we’ll say the same thing over and over again, so I will favor Mayor Himmelrich’s motion because I really want to see us focus and concentrate. And, yes, I believe that will help lead to economic recovery.”
After the narrow vote, McKeown explained his no-vote reflects what’s not included in the motion.
“I’m appalled that this ignored the existential crisis of our time — climate change,” McKeown said as he also took issue with Council deciding to not make affordability another priority.
“My no-vote for the substitute motion was because I believe that we so narrowly defined our priorities that we excluded things that I believe are critically important,” McCowan said. “We did not explicitly lay them out in a way that I believe we should have, particularly in the areas of affordability and sustainability.”
Davis shared similar thoughts after she said none of the priorities will matter if we’re all living in a climate crisis with 120 degree days in a city nobody can afford.
“Additionally… I think our efforts of equity, completely and exclusively to economic recovery, is inappropriate. Social justice is a broader topic, and there may be a lot of things that we need to do to address the effects of intentional racism in the history of our country as well as the history of our community that don’t have anything to do with economic recovery but have to do with creating a socially just community,” Davis said. “And not including those in these days and times is inappropriate.”
The priorities selected by Council will now inform an April 13, City Council meeting that will be held to decide how to allocate the American Rescue Plan stimulus within the allowable areas outlined in the bill. A biennial budget study session will then be held on May 25, before the budget’s adoption, which is set for June 22, 2021.