Santa Monica has strong economic fundamentals, which have allowed its revenues to rebound relatively quickly from the dire straits of the pandemic, but that does not translate into an equally fast restoration of City services.

This is reflected in the FY 2022-23 budget, which shows how $664.7 million will be used to cover growing costs and replenish pandemic-drained coffers, ultimately leaving little leftover for service enhancements that many residents are eager to see. 

There are several financial factors and needs constraining the City’s ability to focus the FY 22-23 budget on service restoration. These include inflation, supply chain disruptions, the need to rebuild reserves, the need to increase staff compensation and the need to resume replacement of dated city equipment. 

As a result, there is not enough funding for priorities such as fully reopening all library branches, resuming pre-pandemic levels of after school childcare, allocating funding for affordable housing, hiring more public safety personnel, and significantly expanding homelessness services. Library services are overall operating at approximately 30 percent of pre-pandemic levels and youth programs are at 30 percent or less. 

Recognizing the shortfall between city funds and desired services, City Council and staff are working to place revenue raising tax measures on the November ballot. In the meantime, the FY 22-23 budget focuses on resuming limited capital improvements, continuing the Pier Vending Task Force for another year, and making no-cost staffing and operational adjustments to improve service delivery. 

“There’s a lot of that happening: shifting our operations to make sure that our services are being done more effectively, more efficiently,” said City Finance Director Gigi Decavalles-Hughes. “Especially now with the limited resources that we have, it’s constantly thinking about creative ways to get things done that aren’t getting done as fast as we want.”

One of the biggest new expenditures is $2.4 million to continue the Pier Vending Task Force for another year, which Council directed staff to do in a Feb. 22 meeting. This team requires police overtime, a Fire Code Enforcement Officer, and private security personnel, in addition to ongoing budgeted work by the Code Enforcement Division and the police department. Its mission is to rein in the public safety, fire and environmental dangers resulting from the proliferation of unpermitted vendors on and around the Pier. 

Another vein of notable budget expenditures pertains to the gradual resumption of capital improvements, which were put almost entirely on hold during the City’s 2020 pandemic induced budget restructuring. In this fiscal year’s budget the City is allocating $88 million for capital projects.

These projects include, but are not limited to, replacement of the Pier bridge; upgrades/maintenance of Virginia Avenue Park fitness room and swim facilities at the Swim Center and Annenberg Community Beach house; replacement lighting on the Promenade; and public safety equipment upgrades including funding for SMPD’s drone as a first responder program.

There are many capital projects that were defunded and continue to wait for funding. These include the Memorial Park expansion, phase two of City Yards modernization, the Lincoln neighborhood corridor streetscape and the Olympic Boulevard sidewalk improvements. 

“We are still very much below the [capital funding] levels that we used to be at and those were some very consistent levels of capital money that we would set aside that we would use for infrastructure maintenance,” said Decavalles-Hughes. 

The City is also taking gradual steps to rehire staff members, since its workforce was reduced by over 421 positions in 2020. To date, the city has only restored 24 percent of eliminated positions. 

The FY 22-23 budget includes permanent staffing increases working hours equivalent to 48.3 full time positions and as-needed staffing increases working the equivalent hours of 4.1 full time positions. Of note is an increase of 14 Big Blue Bus motorcoach positions; four pool instructor/lifeguard positions; and six Maintenance Assistant positions with Public Work’s Resource, Recovery and Recycling division, who will provide sorely needed assistance with trash bin pickup services. Other position increases are largely distributed across administrative offices. 

If revenue raising measures are passed on the November ballot, Council will discuss how to allocate these funds during the midyear budget review this winter. 

“We are deliberately and strategically restoring services as funding becomes available, in line with Council and community priorities, with the goal to provide the highest level of service to our community,” said Decavalles-Hughes.

Based on community feedback, Council has previously identified three top community priorities. These are addressing homelessness, providing clean and safe neighborhoods, and supporting an equitable and inclusive economic recovery. 

Clara@smdp.com