By Gleam Davis
Feb 8, 2023 — Good evening, Santa Monica. I’m Mayor Gleam Davis and it is a pleasure to welcome you to the 2023 State of the City. City Manager David White is here with me to reflect on 2022 as we look to work with you to shape the year and years ahead.
I feel honored to serve as your mayor alongside my colleagues on the City Council: Mayor Pro Tem Lana Negrete and Councilmembers Phil Brock, Oscar de la Torre, Christine Parra, Caroline Torosis, and Jesse Zwick. As a council, we thank you for joining us to stay informed about what’s happening in this community we call home.
I want to also send our thanks to the members of our Boards and Commissions. Your thoughtful consideration and recommendations regarding important issues are essential to the work of the Council and to an informed and thriving community. We appreciate you and your service to our community.
I would also like to thank all of the organizations that work day in and day out to make Santa Monica a vibrant, engaged, and attractive place to live, work, own a business and recreate. Thank you to all our local businesses and the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, Santa Monica Travel and Tourism, the Santa Monica Pier Corporation, and our Business Improvement Districts for Downtown, Pico Boulevard, Montana Avenue, and Main Street. And a special thank you to our world-class educational institutions: Santa Monica College, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, and all of our local pre-Kindergarten, elementary and high schools who are doing the important work of educating youth here in Santa Monica. And finally, thank you to the faith-based organizations, arts organizations, advocacy groups, neighborhood groups, nonprofit service providers, and individuals that each contribute to robust dialogue and engagement here in the City we love.
As you know, in the last several years we have had to radically rethink local government here in Santa Monica. With my colleagues, I would like to offer my deepest gratitude to the dedicated and capable employees of the City of Santa Monica. In the face of immense change, this City workforce has had to be quick on its feet to meet community needs with fewer staff and fewer resources. You might not have seen it, but they rallied together to keep Santa Monica functioning during the COVID crisis. Their commitment to this City remains inspiring and, from the bottom of my heart – THANK YOU.
I last delivered the State of the City address in February 2019. The theme for my 2019 speech was “Shaping a Changing World.” And boy, did things change! So, what have we learned over the last three years?
We have learned that innovation and agility are key ingredients to survival. When the pandemic closed businesses overnight, the City quickly introduced a parklet and outdoor dining program to give businesses and customers safe spaces for commerce. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a rapid lifeline. And now parklets and outdoor dining are a permanent part of life in Santa Monica. This type of agility is something we can harness to tackle other issues, guided by our value of innovation that is part of our community’s DNA.
We have also learned how imperative resilience and adaptability are to weathering the storms of our time. Our longstanding commitment to being resilient in the face of crisis is exemplified by our Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. But COVID demanded a special type of resilience-one that required us to change almost every aspect of daily life. Once we accepted this new reality, we had to bend quite a bit, but we did not break. While we lost far too many family and friends to COVID, our community adapted to the presence of the virus by taking measures to stop its spread and saved many lives. This adaptability will serve us well as we face the inevitable change the coming years will bring.
And finally, we have learned that we can never let go of the tenets of transparency and accountability in everything we do. COVID tested the limits of public trust. As councilmembers and public servants, we can only be effective when we have your trust and respect, and we understand that trust and respect are earned, not given. We will always resolve to transparently share our work and to invite public participation along the way. We also commit to hold ourselves to the highest standards of integrity. Santa Monica’s voters elected us to act in the best interests of the City. While there might be honest disagreement about what that might be, we know that we cannot let the personal interests or biases of individual council members influence our decisions.
Innovation and agility; resilience and adaptability; transparency and accountability. How do we take the lessons of the last three years and translate them into meaningful future action?
Through FOCUS. Over the next year and beyond, we MUST stay focused. Focus will be my mantra for my time as mayor.
To stay focused, we frankly are going to need to give some things up. There will be tradeoffs in the name of getting things done. We cannot be distracted chasing minor problems that do not meaningfully advance our bigger, more urgent goals. City government and the City budget shrank during COVID and we do not have the resources to be all things to all people or even do all that we used to do. We can accomplish great things but only if we spend our limited time and resources in a disciplined and targeted way. If we let ourselves get distracted, we set ourselves up for failure.
So, what should we focus on? Clearly, we all know that here in Santa Monica and in our region, addressing homelessness is a top concern. If we are to meaningfully reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness, we have to understand some basic facts. While the problem presented is found in its label: HOME-LESS-NESS, we have to continually remind ourselves that each unhoused person is a unique individual. They are parents, children, siblings, friends, military veterans, some have advanced degrees, some are artistically or musically gifted, some love animals, some are gregarious, and some want to be left alone. Sadly, many (but not all) suffer with mental health or addiction issues. Almost all of our unhoused neighbors have been traumatized by life on the streets because they lack the most fundamental thing that most of us take for granted—a roof over our heads. Because each unhoused person is an individual, there is no “one size fits all” solution. But we do know one thing–getting someone housed is the surest way to address whatever other issues they must deal with. We will never solve the mental health, addiction, and other medical issues we see every day, if we condemn homeless persons to a nomadic lifestyle on our streets or if we simply dump them in a criminal justice system that is not equipped and not intended to do deal with this complex issue.
As your mayor in the coming year, I promise to remain focused on this issue. I already am advocating from the federal level on down for more resources for housing and supportive services. And I am committed to working with other mayors in our region to address this regional issue. In the meantime, Santa Monica already is making progress. 114 new affordable homes have opened at three city-funded properties. City-funded outreach teams have made over 11,000 contacts with people experiencing homelessness. The City has granted over $8 million to community organizations, and we have housed over 140 people experiencing homelessness this year—all above and beyond LA County-funded efforts. Thanks to community members who volunteered for the annual homeless count last month, we’ll soon have results to continue to inform our street-based outreach. And a new report from Moss Adams will guide a strategic planning process to align and elevate the City’s efforts to address this humanitarian crisis. Thanks to voters’ passage of measure CS, new funding will significantly add to our capacity, including a behavioral health strategy and therapeutic transport van program that hopefully will roll out soon. Also, if you like, you can be a force multiplier on this issue by volunteering with one of the City’s grantees that is doing the hard work of meeting people where they are.
I know that the challenge is daunting. But we can make a difference. Cities such as Houston and Columbus, Ohio have reduced their homeless population by significant percentages, and we are learning from their efforts. Like you, the City Council is impatient to see results. But doing the real work that solves the problem instead of taking punitive measures that simply move homeless persons around like pawns on an inhumane chessboard takes time. And so, if you want to see results, help us stay focused on finding meaningful and real solutions to this humanitarian crisis.
Another priority for the City is having a clean Santa Monica that feels safe for everyone. Even with diminished revenues, we’ve been able to add resources to maintain our incredible public spaces and to address community safety with Police Chief Ramón Batista agilely redeploying resources based on both crime data and perceptions of safety. All of us, from the City Manager and the Police Chief on down, want everyone in our community to feel safe. No question about it. You’ll continue to see us relentlessly pursue this goal. But, again, to meet this goal we must remain focused on facts.
Last summer, Chief Batista attended a City Council meeting after a property owner had shared with several news outlets that the City did not have police patrolling our Downtown throughout the night. Chief Batista was unequivocal: this property owner’s claim was false. Our Police Department patrols all parts of our city 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And with the additional personnel that we hope to add in the coming year, you will see even more police presence throughout the City. But, again, if we get distracted by having to respond to baseless fearmongering and grandstanding about crime, it becomes harder for Chief Batista and our public safety officers to do the real work of reducing crime in the City.
Finally, you can help us by making sure that we know where resources are most needed. If you see something, say something. If it’s an emergency dial 911; if you see something that is not an emergency but needs Police attention dial the Police dispatch number at (310) 458-8491. If you see graffiti or something else that might not need police attention but should be cleaned up, use the City of Santa Monica smartphone app or dial 311 to report it. Each one of us can be the eyes on the street that make the community safer and more attractive.
And if you want to do even more to keep Santa Monica a safe place, you can Attend the Community Police Academy to see firsthand how the Santa Monica Police Department protects us and what the work of police officers looks like up close or you can form a Neighborhood Watch Group. If you don’t have the time for these programs, simply make it a point to say hello to a first responder you see on the street. Let them know how much we appreciate all that they do for our community.
And, as we talk about safety, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that an integral part of feeling safe in Santa Monica is knowing that it is safe to walk or use a bicycle to get around Santa Monica. As a Vision Zero city, we are committed to striving to eliminate traffic injuries and deaths in our community. That too helps make us a safer Santa Monica.
Our final area of focus must be on rebuilding our economy. We are making gains. We helped Santa Monicans secure over $40 million in rental assistance from the State of California and an additional $750,000 for rent-burdened tenants in rent-controlled units. New investments are coming to Santa Monica with the Frank Gehry-designed Ocean Avenue Project, the Historic Miramar Hotel, Providence Saint John’s Master Plan, and many other projects. Large international events like the 2026 FIFA World Cup and the 2028 Olympics are tremendous opportunities to reinvigorate our local economy. As the host city for Beach Volleyball in the Olympics, we will welcome the world to our beautiful shore, our world-famous Pier, and everything else our vibrant community offers.
And don’t let anyone tell you that our best days are behind us. Did you know that over 950 new businesses have opened in Santa?
According to the latest sales tax data, the year-over-year 3rd quarter sales tax gained 14.2% in the restaurant/hotel sector. Let’s keep the momentum going, recognizing that the choices we make to Buy Local support our wonderful schools, more bike lanes, streetlights, longer library hours, and crossing guards.
To get you in the spirit of Buying Local, here’s some homework:
Get out to our business districts on foot or by bike. It’s too easy to miss new neighborhood spots from the confines of the car. Take yourself on a self-guided walking tour to get reconnected with Santa Monica or you can sign up for one of the Santa Monica Conservancy’s great tours.
If you need inspiration, may I suggest a stroll down Main Street with a stop at Holy Grail Donuts, Heavy Handed hamburgers, Aviator Nation, or a new spot for our furry friends, VCA Santa Monica Main Street Animal Hospital.
Kai Ramen on Montana is a new favorite in my house, and I’d be lost without Melanie at Zaine Colour Salon! If you are Downtown, Trader Joe’s, McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, Trejo’s Tacos and Chateau Beauty Bar all have recently opened there.
Have you tried the delicious pizza at Emmy Squared on Colorado next to Santa Monica Brew Works or the cinnamon bun pancakes at FlapJax on Wilshire which is run by another local favorite, Bru’s Wiffle? What about Jyan Isaac Bread or Hurry Curry of Tokyo on Ocean Park Boulevard? On Pico, Nostalgia Bar & Lounge and Adriana’s Hair Studio have opened, and Go Get ‘Em Tiger will be there soon! Many businesses have shown they believe in Santa Monica by coming here and opening shops. Thank them for it by supporting them.
There is a lot to choose from, and I’m enjoying it all. I hope I’ve inspired you to put on your walking shoes or hop on a scooter and support our small businesses to reinvest local dollars.
Before closing, I want to elevate two areas that we must consider as complements to our urgent community priorities. These are concerns that are foundational to all our work.
First, every decision we make must be consistent with reducing the existential threat of climate change. Just last month the atmospheric rivers wreaked havoc on large swaths of our state. Despite heavy rains, we likely will remain in a historic long-term drought and extreme heat and the threat of wildfires continues to threaten our region. The list of impacts caused by a warming climate grows each year. Let us be motivated by our youth, who through groups such as Climate Action Santa Monica and the Climate Corps implore us to make the changes necessary to save the planet for them and succeeding generations.
I’m proud that we’ve been able to advance major initiatives like the Sustainable Water Infrastructure Project and City Hall East, the greenest municipal building in the world. With important projects like this, we show our commitment to a more livable future. But if we don’t recognize that housing policy, zoning, transportation and parking policy, and economic policy all are essential parts of climate policy, we cannot call ourselves friends of the environment. So, every decision we make must be grounded in the reality that almost everything we do either positively or negatively impacts the future.
Second, promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion must be considered in every action we take. If the programs and policies we create consider the needs of marginalized or disadvantaged community members, we’ll strengthen our resilience and agility, prevent homelessness, ensure safety, promote well-being, and our economy will flourish. It is imperative that each of us commits to building and maintaining a community where each person is welcome and each person is valued.
I want to highlight a recent meaningful step my predecessor, Mayor Sue Himmelrich, and the City Council took to acknowledge our shameful history of discrimination against communities of color. If you have not already done so, I urge you to go to the City’s website and read our apology to the Black community for the many wrongs inflicted on it, including uprooting families in the name of progress and banning people of color from living in certain neighborhoods in our City. It is only a first step in recognizing and righting a series of historical wrongs but I am proud to have been part of it and I look to build upon it in the future.
Words are important, but action is where we can turn the tide of history and chart a truly more inclusive future for Santa Monica. My colleagues and I will be bringing this value to the forefront of discussions at the City Council dais. In the meantime, I hope you’ll participate in Black History Month programming in February and explore the Black and Latino-owned businesses featured on the City’s website. Later this summer, we will join our LGBTQIA+ family and friends in celebrating Santa Monica PRIDE. And throughout the year, we will host other events that highlight diverse cultures and heritages and I hope that you will join us on those joyful occasions.
There is a lot going on in Santa Monica and we want you to feel connected to the City.
1.Sign up for SaMoNews, our bi-weekly newsletter that is a quick read and shares upcoming events, opportunities like paper shredding and rental assistance as well as the latest City news.
2. As I mentioned before, if you see something that needs attention, like graffiti or a pothole, use 3-1-1! You can download the Santa Monica app from your smart phone’s app store which makes it easy to request a service from the City. Or, as always, you can call or email 3-1-1 and our team will help you.
3. When you need emergency services, we want you to have a positive experience. Here’s a quick video to help improve your experience with dispatchers when you call 9-1-1.
I want to close my portion of State of the City by thanking you for being engaged in this community. I feel so lucky to have lived and raised my family here. And, of course, I am honored that you have let me serve this City for so many years. I understand that, with all the challenges we face, it’s easy to forget that Santa Monica has many assets: the beach and the Pier, great schools, and great weather, profound commitments to sustainability and social justice. But its greatest asset is its people. Your commitment to this City is what makes Santa Monica so strong. If we work together and stay focused, we can make sure that Santa Monica lives up to its motto: Happy People in a Happy Place. Thank you.
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Photo by welcomia