Santa Monica City Manager David White attended his first State of the City event on Tuesday, Feb. 15, taking the opportunity to heap praise on the City that he has called home since last fall.
“I run and I bike throughout the city nearly every day, so I get to see Santa Monica by foot and from the seat of my bike,” White said. “Here’s what I see: We have a beautiful bay and beach; our wooden pier with an amusement park is unlike any other in the world. There are great shops and restaurants around nearly every corner of our city. It’s well known at this point that I’m a vegan — I could not live in a better place than this. There are gems all over town. And I know that there are more on the way. But mostly what I also see is the strong, engaged community and the commitment of the people who live and work here.”
When it came to the economic outlook for 2022, White said revenue loss projections, which had been predicted at about $220 million over three years, was revised down to a loss of $188 million in that time period.
“This is still devastating, but it is nice to see improvement,” White remarked. Part of that relative improvement was due to the City’s main income streams — sales tax, parking revenue, hotel bed taxes and document transfer tax — all projected to perform better than had been anticipated.
“However, many of our revenues continue to underperform in comparison to the levels attained before the pandemic,” White said. “This has a very real impact on how we deliver services.”
White ran through a laundry list of local issues including homelessness and unlicensed Pier vendors.
The City Manager acknowledged some service disruptions, including lack of support staff for outdoor events, reduced field maintenance and graffiti removal, and slower plan check and permitting processes. Later in his remarks, White also took the opportunity to praise his staff of nearly 1,900 employees.
“Despite all this, in addition to all of the challenges that they have experienced over the past couple of years, it is obvious and impressive to me that your public employees remain focused, steadfast and are committed to providing tremendous service to the community,” White said.
White also addressed the “painful restructuring” of City Hall due to pandemic-era budget cuts that resulted in a wave of layoffs in 2020.
“My goal is to support our workforce to meet Council’s expectation to provide the highest level of service to our community, yet restoring services back to the levels that meet our community’s expectations will take time,” White said. “The public sector is facing many of the same challenges as most business sectors: We are grappling with staffing shortages and service disruptions due to COVID. We are struggling to fill vacancies which is exacerbated by the City’s high cost of living.”
Nowhere has staff turnover been more visible than in the top ranks of City Hall, beginning with White but also including Assistant City Manager Susan Cline, Public Works Director Rick Valte, Police Chief Ramon Batista and Fire Chief Danny Alvarez. The City Attorney’s position remains vacant, and recent rumors state the City Clerk’s seat may also soon be open.
“Now, we look forward to bringing services back and advancing new ideas to meet the needs of the community,” White said. “This will be hard work. The city services will recover more slowly than the economy, requiring us to prioritize our resources, make trade-offs and work in new and innovative ways.”
Later, White repeated that he felt the city was moving in the right direction.
“Over the past several months of being in this community, it’s become abundantly clear that we are transitioning into a phase of stability, recovery and restoration,” White said.
The State of the City address can be viewed on the City of Santa Monica’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/user/Citytv16santamonica.