City Council held a study session to review the Financial Year (FY) 2023-25 proposed biennial budget last week and among the instructions to staff were a block of actions to bolster the city’s landmark and preservation process.

Council want to reestablish monthly meetings for the Landmarks Commission, waive application fees for non-profits and Landmarks Commissioners for Landmark Designations and Certificates of Appropriateness, review legal considerations for placing pending Demolition Permit applications on the Landmarks Commission agendas and explore the possibility of limiting consultant review of Landmark Designation applications.

The actions were driven in part by recommendations made by the Santa Monica Conservancy who said the decisions were not only a great step forward – but also a demonstration of what residents can accomplish when they make their collective voice heard.

According to the Conservancy and other advocates, prior to the budget allocations, the lack of resources applied to historic preservation required private citizens to conduct burdensome review of upcoming projects and to maintain a vigil for possible demolition of historic properties as there was no automatic review on the part of officials.

“Your Conservancy Board is very concerned about the negative impact the city budget cuts of the last three years have had on our Historic Preservation Program,” said the group in advance of the decision. “These cuts have reduced the number of Landmarks Commission meetings, limited Commission responsibilities, and raised the cost of designation applications so only the wealthiest property owners can afford to apply for landmark protections.”

The Conservancy has additional ideas for the future including restoring a staff position to facilitate much of the necessary work.

Council made other requests of the budget that generally aligned with the five priorities that Council identified during its March 11 workshop: addressing homelessness; clean and safe Santa Monica; cultivate economic recovery and expand community and cultural offerings; racial justice, equity and social diversity; sustainable and connected community.

According to a press release from the City Council, “The budget provides a plan, built upon priorities, to continue to rebuild and restore services notwithstanding economic uncertainty and disruption coming from geopolitical unrest, consumer behavior changes, inflation, labor shortages and the trailing impacts of the pandemic.”

During the review session, comments from Council expressed support for the proposed enhancements, including:

– Organizational realignment and expanded efforts to address homelessness.

– Enhanced patrol and security services at the Pier, Beach, Downtown and on buses.

– Expanded teams for maintaining clean public spaces.

– Further restoration of youth programs.

– Further restoration of library hours.

– A new small businesses assistance program.

– Establishing a Citywide ADA Coordinator.

– Continuing work on action plans to support zero waste, sustainable water and electrification of the City’s fleet.

In addition, Council also provided direction to:

– Restore the City Traffic Engineer, which will enhance the City’s ability to deliver mobility projects including Safe Routes to School capital improvements, Vision Zero projects to eliminate fatal and severe injury crashes, and develop a multi-year traffic signal preventative maintenance program.

– Provide funds to invest in technology to enhance community safety.

– Support funding to enable CREST to fully operate at elementary schools and enroll additional participants in CREST Club and enrichment opportunities.

“Despite the strains that the Eric Uller case and the ongoing pandemic recovery have placed on the city’s fiscal health, the proposed biennial budget allocated funds to maximize impact in the city’s key priorities,” Councilmember Caroline Torosis said in response to a request for comment.

“I will continue to push for as much funding as possible to go to housing and preventing homelessness, keeping our community clean and safe and facilitating our community’s economic recovery and development.

“I’m also proud that due to my motion to help small businesses, we have funded the City’s first ever small business tenant improvement fund to facilitate expansion for small businesses of color,” Torosis said, adding, “A budget is a value statement and although the city must confront a variety of challenges in the next two years, our roadmap forward provides great opportunities for us to continue to build a thriving, prosperous, and equitable city.”

The total proposed budget for the City is $740.9 million in FY 2023-24 and $746.4 million in FY 2024-25. The proposed budget is prepared alongside five-year forecasts for all funds to ensure the long-term fiscal viability of proposed programs and services.

The direction will be incorporated into the final FY 2023-25 biennial budget, which will return to Council for adoption at its June 27 meeting.

Scott fell in love with Santa Monica when he was much younger and now, after living and working in five different countries, he has returned. He's written for the likes of the FT, NBC, the BBC and CNN.