When Council meets on Saturday to debate budget priorities for the year, they will be asked to create a new internal city department to facilitate efforts to fight homelessness but two former department heads say the proposal is wasteful and unnecessary.
Staff said new sources of funding are about to roll in and the city’s current organizational structure is ill equipped to capitalize on that money.
The proposal under discussion this weekend anticipates two new voter approved sources of revenue to fund homelessness and housing resources: Measures CS and GS.
Measure CS increased the taxes paid by overnight tourists and is estimated to generate between $4-5M per year. City Hall wants to use that money to address the impacts of homelessness and to enhance public safety.
Specific proposals include expanding outreach teams beyond the Downtown and beach areas, redesigning local shelters to allow for non-urgent behavioral health admissions, expanding SMPD’s Homeless Liaison Program, making temporary security services Downtown permanent, increased investment in cleaning, increased enforcement of home-sharing rules and work on a Homelessness Strategic Plan (HSP).
Measure GS increases taxes paid on the sale of property over $8 million. Staff said estimating annual revenue is difficult and ranges from $16 – 123M using sales data from the past decade. Revenue is already earmarked for specific uses including payments to local schools, homeless prevention programs and construction of deed-restricted affordable housing.
While the law has been challenged in court, it has not been suspended and went into effect on March 1 of this year.
City staff have said the work needed to develop the HSP, which is the necessary first step to executing on the other priorities, requires additional staff and/or more focus from existing staff than is currently possible.
“To move quickly on preliminary implementation work surrounding Measure GS, as this tax will take time to generate resources and given the anticipated workload surrounding its implementation, staff is proposing a new organizational structure to create capacity for this work and formation and support of an oversight committee, that aligns with the implementation of the HSP.”
To free up time and resources, staff are proposing to split the Community Services Department (CSD) into a Housing and Human Services Department and a Recreation/Culture Department.
“Because we have ambitious goals to create housing, and Measures CS and GS have created an historic, once-in-a lifetime infusion of new resources and community expectations, a new organizational structure is being proposed to focus leadership and expedite implementation of these dedicated resources,” said the agenda.
However, two former department heads are opposed to the idea of a new department. Andy Agle (former Director of Community Services and Housing and Economic Development) and Karen Ginsberg (former Director of Community and Cultural Services) sent a letter recently saying the proposal is flawed because it requires hiring more top-level staff.
“Creating two departments would require creating a new, expensive department director position, as well as an executive assistant to provide administrative support for the new director,” said the letter. “An additional position providing budget and operational support for the new director would also likely be necessary. At minimum, salaries and benefits for the new positions would cost the City several hundred thousand dollars per year.
The proposal would add more high-paid administrative staff at a time when the City has been unable to restore many key services that were reduced due to pandemic-related budget cuts. Notable examples of the City’s continuing challenges include severely reduced after-school programs for low-income youth and significantly reduced hours and services at public libraries.”
The pair say the new Recreation and Culture Department would essentially be funded through housing resources and is ultimately unnecessary.
“The synergies between Recreation, Culture, and Human Services in one department benefit the community and should be retained. We have combined experience of leading the City’s recreation and culture efforts for over a decade. With this experience, we can firmly state that while both Community Recreation and Cultural Affairs are essential City divisions that provide key community services, the workload of the two divisions does not warrant a separate department, especially when a high-paid director and support staff would be needed. We do not believe that running such a department would be a full-time job, creating a situation where a director would be looking for things to fill their time. Given the City’s fragile financial state, this is simply a poor investment of funds,” they said.
Council will hold its Special Meeting on Saturday, March 11 at 9 a.m. in the Main Library, Multi-Purpose Room, 601 Santa Monica Blvd. Following the in-person meeting, an audio recording of the meeting will posted to the City’s YouTube Channel and santamonica.gov.