Santa Monica is set to receive $29.3 million when funding from the American Rescue Plan Act is allocated, and city leaders have proposed using the money to continue a Rent Relief Program, fund community projects and reopen City facilities and in-person services. However, local businesses say the assistance may not be enough to keep them around.
No decision will be made until City Council meets Tuesday to direct staff on how to proceed forward with the funding, but because ARPA funds can be used until December 2024, the City has a lot of flexibility in how it can use the money, according to a staff report, which suggested that Council dedicate 20 percent of ARPA direct aid funds to responding to the needs related to the Equitable and Inclusive Economic Recovery of the community.
Earlier this year in March, Council authorized an extension of a previously set rent repayment deadline, a 12-month rent freeze to prevent any rent increases for City tenants and an extension of emergency order protections that allowed tenants to continue to defer 50% of their rent through June 30, 2021 with additional time to repay deferred rents beginning October 1, 2021.
So far, a total of $5.3 million in rents have been deferred under the Rent Deferment Program and more than a third of total rents deferred are associated with the 19 Pier and Beach tenants enrolled in the program, the staff report states as it details how more money could soon be headed to assist these businesses.
If Council were to approve staff’s recommendations, $1.14 million in one-time funds would be used to provide rent relief for small business tenants of the City and for clean and safe activities supporting Beach and Pier tenants, whereas $3 million in ongoing funds — $11.1 million total over four years — is recommended to be allocated towards the reopening of City facilities and in-person services, which is a suggestion that Michael Myers, Managing Director of the Ruskin Group Theatre, took issue with in an interview Friday.
“I have to say it’s a little bit shocking to see that they’re going to spend $3 million, which turns into $11 million, to hire three new full-time staff members rather than give us the money to pay themselves,” Myers said, “because what happens if all of these businesses have to walk away. Staff hasn’t talked about what the vacancy costs will cost the city, so it’s a really interesting conundrum we find ourselves in.”
Myers added he doesn’t think the stimulus funds, as they are expected to be allocated now, will be much assistance to the locals who need it. “I don’t think it’s going to keep the pier restaurants on the Pier and the Bergamot galleries and others around. I think that we need a lot more help,” he said.
Rose Shoshana, owner of the Rose Gallery at Bergamot Station, agreed in a separate interview Friday when she said there has been little communication with city leaders in regards to how the money can better assist businesses and nonprofits.
“Most of us here depend on the galleries for our livelihood and we’ve created this wonderful arts center on the Westside that shows works from international artists and local artists and we just want to keep on doing our work,” Shoshana said.
But she and other Bergamot tenants are in a peculiar situation, she said. “Because we are on city property but when we go to the City, they say we have to work through our landlord, but our landlord has not been very communicative. So, we’re playing a tennis game, going one direction and then the other, and it’s like okay, which way are we supposed to go here?”
Shoshana noted the current staff report calls for three months of rent abatement for some tenants and she, like Myers, feels this won’t do enough to remedy the struggling local economy.
“There have already been three galleries that have left because we’ve been closed for so long. And, now, as we’re opening up, it’s like starting the engine again and it’s a big job getting people back here,” Shoshana said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, so we’re asking the city to let us pay half of our rent until things get back to some kind of normal.”
The gallerist added she heard the stimulus funds weren’t supposed to be discussed until June, but she isn’t surprised to be left out of the loop.
“If it weren’t for Mike Myers, we would know nothing. We would not even have known about this meeting,” Shoshana said. “It’s really unfair to us to keep us out of the loop, but Mike has been a great champion, and, truly, if it weren’t for him, we’d have nobody to reach out to.”
Myers concluded the interview Friday, stating, “Look, I don’t want to leave Santa Monica, but I don’t know how we’ll survive. It’s not really significant help.”