The annual Santa Monica “State of the City” presentations were given last night, with remarks from Mayor Sue Himmelrich, City Manager David White, and long-time President/CEO of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, Laurel Rosen. The annual event, sponsored by the Chamber, normally draws a crowd of hundreds but was once again held online this year due to COVID safety protocols. It will be Rosen’s last State of the City after more than two decades of service as Chamber President/CEO.
Participants were greeted by former Mayor and “Mr. Santa Monica” Nat Trives – who, let’s face it, is going to outlive us all. Then Rosen took the screen to discuss her tenure and the resiliency of the Santa Monica business environment despite pandemic setbacks.
Mayor Sue Himmelrich was next to address the viewership. Referring to city staff, Himmelrich said, “We admittedly have had a great deal of turnover in the last two years, but also have made great strides toward putting in place new and excellent replacements.” She then paid compliments to new staff, saying of new City Manager David White, “I’m thrilled we found somebody so aligned with our community values.”
Himmelrich also spoke to the addition of a new position at city hall, that of Equity Manager. “We gave made serious inroads in our work to elevate equity and inclusion in Santa Monica. We are deeply committed to erasing the footprints of systemic and institutional racism.” That commitment has included a $100,000 dedication to the Santa Monica Black Lives Association to focus on the “health, wellness, mental health, and socio-economic needs of the Black community.”
With regard to the housing affordability crisis, the mayor delivered some statistics:
• $46 million in rental assistance has been requested by more than 2,600 households
• $25 million in rental assistance relief has been delivered thus far
• The city’s public lands have been designated for the development of 100 percent affordable housing over the next eight years
To make that a reality, the mayor stated, “We will need financial assistance from the state, and we continue to press the state to put its money where its mouth is on the affordable housing issue.”
She also discussed the city’s new pilot program to house 100 families displaced by the construction of the civic center, courthouse, and civic auditorium in the 1950s and 1960s. The city has admitted it’s racist history and acknowledges that most of these families were Black or other persons of color. Applications opened on January 18 of this year for what’s been named the Below Market Housing for Historically Displaced Households Pilot Program. In a January 6 press release, Himmelrich said, “We created this program in the earnest hope that former Santa Monica residents take advantage of this new affordable housing opportunity. If you know community members who were displaced in the 1950s and 1960s, we ask for your assistance in sharing the pilot information so we can identify as many candidates as possible.”
After sharing Santa Monica’s impressive COVID vaccination rate of more than 90 percent, and sharing the news that unemployment in the city is down to 5.8 percent from its pandemic high of 15 percent, Mayor Himmelrich spoke to a growing problem for which she became a direct target. “The elephant in every room is the aggressive hostility we witness everyday on television, on our streets, in our schools, and in our government chambers.” She then shared about the personal harassment she suffered in her own residence as ant-vax protesters accosted her and her husband while she was in the middle of a city council meeting by Zoom. She played a tape of security camera footage of the unidentified bullies, who at one point chanted “Mayor HIMMLER-ich.” (Himmelrich happens to be Jewish, among other problems with the moniker). Westside Voice speaks to this and the overall issue in a March 3 editorial (LINK EDITORIAL)
Himmelrich passed the baton to new City Manager David White, who was most recently the Deputy City Manager for the city of Berkeley, California. White went right into describing the city he found when he arrived. In 2019, before his arrival, the City of Santa Monica projected a loss in revenue of $220 million over three years. But said White, “Due to sound financial planning and tough decisions on restructuring our services, our finance director … just provided our council with an updated financial forecast that reflects our revenue loss to be closer to $188 million.” Fiscal 2021-2022 General Fund revenues are expected to come in at $30 million higher than budgeted. On that point, he added, “However, many of our revenues continue to underperform their levels before the pandemic.” White also noted that a recently passed mid-year budget adjustment helped the city return 28 full-time positions, and that $11 million in unassigned revenue was used to replenish depleted reserves in the General Fund.
At the public safety level, White was quick to note that rape is down 38 percent, and residential and commercial burglary are down 20 percent. Unfortunately, he reported that aggregated levels of assault is at its highest level in five years, up 30 percent. Arson is also up 37 percent from the previous year. He complimented the Santa Monica Fire Department, stating that they took 16,695 calls for service and kept 90 percent of fires from spreading, saving $83.6 million in property value.
White also made note of the city’s major investments in new water treatment and water harvesting infrastructure. A new facility will help make Santa Monica water self-sufficient by perhaps 2023.
On the unhoused, White reported that city outreach teams made more than 11,000 calls to unhoused residents, and provided psychological or medical assistance to 808 unhoused Santa Monicans. In addition, 485 formerly unhoused individuals received housing retention services and 97 percent were able to stay in their homes.
“City services will recover more slowly than the economy, requiring us to prioritize our resources, make trade-offs, and work in new and innovative ways,” said White. But offering a bit of home, he said, “It’s become abundantly clear that we are transitioning into a phase of stability, recovery, and restoration,” complimenting city staff for their resiliency and resolve navigating these last two years.