Santa Monica will create a new department focused on homelessness funded largely by a pair of recent ballot measures.
The Santa Monica City Council held a special session on Saturday to set council priorities for the next two years to guide the development of the 2023-2025 biennial budget.
Council adopted the following as the most important areas of focus: addressing homelessness, investing in the community, creating safe public spaces, racial equality and finally, maintaining a sustainable community.
To handle their first priority, homelessness, the city will leverage two new funding streams, Measure CS and Measure GS, approved by voters in November 2022. It announced the “conceptual framework” for a new organizational structure that will realign the Community Services Dept and allow for the creation of a new, Housing & Human Services Dept that will be “committed to lead the interdepartmental work addressing homelessness and planning for implementation of GS work while continuing the critical work on housing and services for those in greatest need in our community.”
Theoretically, this will enable the City to rapidly achieve Measures CS, GS and audit objectives and provide core focus and leadership on administering a comprehensive array of housing, educational, and social services programs in addition to investments to support vulnerable populations.
Council specifically identified expanding the Homeless Liaison Program with the Police Department, expanding the homeless multidisciplinary outreach team beyond the Downtown and Beach, expanding to 24/7 intakes at SAMOSHEL interim housing, continuing Clean & Safe programs and providing for short term rental enforcement as uses for the CS money.
Measure CS increases taxes paid by hotel guests while GS increases taxes paid on the sale of expensive property. While GS is subject to a court challenge, it was not suspended during the case and took effect this month.
An additional Recreation & Culture Dept will create capacity and leadership around recreational partnership opportunities addressing conflicts between demand and capacity for recreational amenities and elevate arts and cultural affairs work in economic revitalization and social equity.
The budget priorities were stablished in the face of a recovering, but still fragile local economy.
“Today’s process provided the opportunity to reflect on the work of recent years and to look ahead to what is most important for our community,” said Mayor Gleam Davis. “We will continue to address homelessness, promote a clean and safe Santa Monica, and cultivate our economic recovery. Today, the Council chose to also include the expansion of community and cultural offerings as part of our economic recovery, and to further racial justice, equity, social diversity, and a sustainable and connected community.”
While the local economy is recovering and “general fund” revenues are growing, levels are still below what they would have been had the economy not been disrupted by the pandemic. These funds are generated by taxes, fees, interest earnings and other sources that can be used for the general operation of city government. As of June 30, 2022, General Fund reserves amount to 70 percent of what they were as of June 30, 2019 and it’s anticipated that revenues will not fully recover for another four years.
“Our retail areas that have relied on office workers are feeling the impact of fewer office workers as remote work persists. And our tourism sector is recovering with high room rates, but we have yet to see a strong return of business and international travel,” Gigi Decavalles-Hughes, Director of Finance, City of Santa Monica said.
“And while we’ve already been impacted by some heavy legal settlements, we are facing additional liabilities from additional claims related to allegations of sexual abuse by a former employee litigation over a request to transition to district elections and an urgent seismic retrofit project for parking structure one that comes at a cost of up to $25 million.”
During the public input session, the next generation of Santa Monica was well presented as a number of young residents made their feelings known about what should be a priority in public spending.
Emery Cunningham, a junior at Santa Monica High School said, “Climate change deserves to be a top priority on the city’s budget. Climate change has always been a question of the future. Not that climate change only affects our future, it’s taking place as we speak, damaging communities that we may not see. It is a question of whether we get to have a future or not.”
Maya William, an 11th grader at Santa Monica High School, added, “Growing up in Santa Monica, I have seen everything that our beautiful city has to offer, but in recent years, I’ve also begun to see how the climate crisis looms over our city. From the ash collecting on our gym floors and the smoke in the air during wildfire season to the plastic pollution devastating our beaches after heavy rainstorms. I urge you to vote in favor of prioritizing sustainability today and to invest in the future of our people and our planet.”
Willow Ross, a junior at Santa Monica High School, said, “I am here today to ask you to prioritize sustainability in your 2024-25 budget. We must continue to make strides towards making our city as environmentally friendly as possible. Spread our progress and influence throughout the Los Angeles area.”
Another student at Santa Monica High School, Micah Quist, said, “Growing up, I’ve noticed the changes in weather, and the changes in the world around us caused directly by climate change. And I think that all of you should be focused on valuing the lives of young people and the future of our city.”
The next steps in the budget process include the Sustainability Report Card and Sustainable City Plan Updates at the March 14 Council Meeting; FY 2022-23 Midyear Budget Review at the April 11, 2023, Council Meeting; a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Update at the April 25, 2023, Council Meeting; the Annual Report on Homelessness at the May 9, 2023, Council Meeting; followed by the publication of the Proposed FY 2023-25 Biennial Operating Budget and FY 2023-24 Proposed Capital Improvement Program Budget at the May 15, 2023, Council Meeting; followed by the FY 2023-25 Budget Study Session at the May 23, 2023 Council Meeting; and concluding with budget adoption at June 27, 2023 Council Meeting.