Next week marks the first 100 days in office for both Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick and here they share some of the challenges, concerns and criticisms on some of the biggest issues currently facing Council.
Torosis hails from Northern California and spent a year studying in Paris before returning to the state to undertake a bachelor’s degree at UCLA in political science combining it with French language, literature and culture. Upon graduating, she took a Juris Doctor degree at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, and is currently Senior Policy Adviser for Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell.
“We have a $44 billion budget, 10 million people and 110,000 employees that we oversee and I specifically work on economic and workforce development and that’s something very close to my heart,” she said.
Zwick comes from the Santa Monica area, but studied on the far side of the country, graduating from Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in social and political science. Following some time spent as a budding political journalist in Washington DC, he returned to Southern California and continues to write in a number of different capacities.
“I had a hankering to start also applying some of my writing creatively,” he said. “I’d already been writing screenplays and having grown up in Los Angeles, that wasn’t a foreign world to me.”
Both came across as quite casual regarding their small-scale centenary, a probationary period, if you will. But do they think they’ve passed?
“I hope so,” Zwick laughed. “I’ve devoted myself to learning the ropes. And try not to step on too many toes in the meantime. And I feel on a personal level, like the enormity that is the scale of the city and all of its operations and departments is becoming known and understandable to me. So for me, that’s, I think, a good first step when it comes to settling in.”
“For sure,” Torosis said. “I’ve spent quite a bit of time working and meeting with city staff, I’ve been trying to push us in a more efficient, effective direction. I don’t take ‘let’s wait and see’ for an answer, we need results.
“What’s going to be really important to me, in moving forward, is ensuring that we have a baseline set of metrics that we are measuring ourselves against. It’s great to say that we have priorities, but if we’re not able to establish what success looks like and measure that, that work and that progress, to me, is all for naught.”
Without a doubt, one of the biggest issues currently facing the City is the homelessness crisis and the Council voted unanimously to declare a local emergency during the Feb. 14 meeting. This means Santa Monica joined other local jurisdictions, including the City of Los Angeles, County of Los Angeles, Culver City and the City of Long Beach in announcing that more is needed to prevent and address homelessness.
“Well, I would say that homelessness is definitely a crisis but we did not need to declare a state of emergency in Santa Monica to prove that this was a priority,” Torosis said.
“I don’t think that Santa Monica has done an effective job of working with LA Homeless Services Authority, or working with our surrounding cities, or working with the City of LA and the county because we can’t be expected to house every single person experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica.
“What we can do is realize that if you take folk off the street, if you’re able to get someone to agree to go into some sort of interim housing, there needs to be permanent housing on the other side of that,” Torosis said.
Approximately 69,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles County of which 42,000 are in the City of Los Angeles. Moreover, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, approximately 207 people a day are re-housed at the same time as 227 people become homeless. That means that more people are becoming homeless every single day.
“Is the city trying hard to do something about the crisis? I would say ‘yes.’ Is there more that could be done? Always. I think climate change and homelessness are the two largest crises that we’re facing here in Southern California,” Zwick said.
“We asked ourselves that question when other cities began declaring a state of emergency. What does that mean and would that allow us to do more? And I think, generally speaking, that’s often been something that’s been wielded rhetorically to make it seem like we’re doing more.
“One of the things it does is it kind of does away with some of the civil service requirements … So I think there are ways that by declaring a state of emergency, we can push through a little of that inertia to at least make these processes go faster, Zwick said.
While not quite as significant as the homelessness crisis, another sizable issue facing the City of Santa Monica is the argument swirling around the airport. Following the City Council’s vote to move ahead with the process of planning for a future park where the Santa Monica Airport is currently located, the issue of what to do with the 227 acre site has once again been propelled into public scrutiny. At the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2028, the form and function of this substantial swath of land could significantly change.
Zwick expressed support in developing the site and said, “It’s such a rare opportunity for a city and a prosperous part of town where real estate values are so high to have a blank canvas; 227 acres that we can decide the best public use for. My stance is that we should close the airport. That’s the first debate that seems relatively settled, but won’t fully be until 2028. There are plenty of people who would love to keep it open.”
“Well, we still have to vote to close the airport and if we want to develop anything other than a park and cultural affair space, we need to take that back to the voters. So right now, I am committed to following the will of the voters when we think about this long term planning,” Torosis said.
“You know, we need to get this right, we need to engage all of our stakeholders and that doesn’t just mean our residents. And I think there is precedent for a great park. I think we’re park poor in Santa Monica. And what that looks like, remains to be seen. Do we put a bigger museum there? Do we put something similar to the Hollywood Bowl? Do we put a cultural affair space there or more recreation space?
“It needs to be inviting and welcoming and inclusive. At the moment the site’s very separate from the rest of the city and I think it needs to flow into the local community. It needs to be a place not only for residents, but a place for the entire surrounding area to come and enjoy. And I do believe that that’s possible.”