HOMELESSNESS: Would an emergency declaration matter? Courtesy Photo

For many, homelessness in Santa Monica has felt like an emergency for years, but it has never been officially designated as one. Recent decisions by the City of L.A. and L.A. County to declare a state of emergency over homelessness – freeing up funds and cutting through bureaucracy – raise the possibility that Santa Monica will follow suit.

A number of City Council members have expressed openness to the idea, and several told the Daily Press that the City is actively looking into its potential.

“Addressing the regional crisis of homelessness is a leading priority for the City of Santa Monica and we have been treating it as an emergency for many years,” Councilmember Phil Brock said. “We are evaluating whether a local emergency declaration would expedite improved conditions on our streets beyond the comprehensive strategy we deploy.”

Councilmember Caroline Torosis, who also works for Supervisor Holly Mitchell and has knowledge of the County’s homelessness declaration, said some potential benefits of a state of emergency in Santa Monica would be making it possible to hire more people more quickly, providing more flexibility in how money is spent, allowing for the suspension of some land use and planning regulations to make it easier to build more interim and permanent housing at the city level.

Despite Torosis’ belief that such a move locally could have a positive effect in Santa Monica, she said she would need more evidence before committing to support it.

“For me, personally speaking, I am not into declaring things as a performative measure,” she said. “So I would only be in favor of doing this if it actually allowed us to expedite a process or help folks get inside and off of our streets – and it’s just not clear at this point whether declaring a state of emergency would change anything about the urgency with which we are already working.”

Jesse Zwick echoed this sentiment, saying his support would be dependent on the type of emergency declaration the city pursues.

“It can sometimes be performative and designed to make it seem like politicians are acting urgently without actually doing anything,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some versions that could have the potential to be of real value.”

Using COVID 19 as an example, he said it expedited homeless intervention and housing efforts. He added that housing should be a key focus of a Santa Monica homeless emergency declaration.

“If part of what a local state of emergency did was exempt all supportive and affordable housing projects from our often very lengthy and tortuous review process and environmental analysis requirements and allowed out city manager to perhaps make spot zoning changes to make these projects faster and more feasible that would have an impact for sure,” he said.

Ultimately, he said he would like to get more input from City staff before moving forward with any declaration. Christine Parra said she’s also interested in discussing the topic with staff and will seek expert advice.

“If our Office of Emergency Management believes that declaring an emergency on homelessness in the City of Santa Monica would allow us to be more effective in our fight to end homelessness in our city, I would absolutely support it,” she said.

Among Los Angeles County’s 88 cities, Santa Monica is affected by the Board of Supervisors’ homelessness emergency declaration. Council members Brock, Torosis and Zwick said they look forward to working more closely with the county and receiving more support and resources, as well as expediting projects such as the therapeutic transportation program, which will respond to calls involving psychiatric crises by using specially designed vans staffed by mental health professionals.

At the time of publication, councilmembers Lana Negrete, Oscar de la Torre, and Mayor Gleam Davis had not responded to requests for comment.

grace@smdp.com

Grace Adams

Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...