In what may be remembered as the hardest City Council meeting in the City’s history, the Santa Monica City Council approved plans to begin restructuring the City organization in response to the unprecedented public health and economic emergency caused by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and addressing a $224 million deficit in the City budget over the next two years.
To resolve the budget shortfall, Council unanimously approved the use of $117 million in one-time funds from reserves and rainy day funds, capital projects, as well as water settlement funds and Measure GSH funds.
The Council also approved, in a 6-1 vote, a staff plan to refocus City operations to meet changed needs of the community. This plan sets the City on course to refocus its operations on foundational services for a clean and safe community, emergency response, and robust and sustainable economic recovery for local businesses and families as the Governor and LA County begin to lift stay at home orders. In total, the restructuring plan will reduce ongoing deficits in the City’s General Fund by $86.2 million.
“As a 44-year resident of Santa Monica and the most tenured member of the Council, I never could have imagined the devastation wrought by first the pandemic and then the economic consequences,” said Mayor Kevin McKeown. “Every Santa Monican feels the pain of shared sacrifices, but this may be the only way we’ll eventually recover. To every community member who wrote to us, joined the meeting, or otherwise provided comment and counsel, the Council says thank you. Details may be divisive, but the common theme of how much we all care about Santa Monica came through loud and clear. Together, we will get through this. Right now, I know it hurts, but together we’ll rebuild a healthy and resilient Santa Monica we can all be proud of.”
The plan includes the elimination of 337 staff positions across the City. Staff announced prior to the meeting that 126 employees had elected to participate in the City’s Voluntary Early Separation Incentive Program (VESIP), which voluntarily separates program participants from the City on May 23. Ninety staff members who participated in VESIP held positions in classifications proposed for elimination. As a result, the City will reduce the number of layoffs in these classifications, meaning that no more than 247 City employees will be involuntarily separated from the City. Thirty-day notices of layoffs will be issued later this week. The City will also begin negotiations with labor representatives regarding the impacts of layoffs, which may reduce the number of staff ultimately involuntary separating from the City. The City will provide support to any separating staff, including employment training and services.
“The City of Santa Monica has served as a model for what a City can be for its community. We remain committed to that level of excellence. In restructuring the City organization to respond to the impacts of COVID-19, we will prioritize our community’s changed needs and the foundational services that make us Santa Monica – strong public safety, clean and vibrant public spaces, engaged civic life, and care for the vulnerable – while also protecting the public health and ensuring that we support strong and sustainable economic recovery for our families and local businesses,” said Interim City Manager Lane Dilg. “We grieve the loss of trend-setting policy development resources. We assure you that our commitment to sustainability, wellbeing, data-driven performance management, and “the Santa Monica Way” remain firm, even in the face of unavoidable reductions to specific programs devoted to these values.”
City Council also directed staff on how to invest $2 million that was set aside in the plan for Council’s direction on priorities and principles. Council gave direction to focus on collaboration and communication in the process and to prioritize programs through the lens of social justice and economic recovery. Specifically, Council directed staff to focus this $2 million in funds by allocating it among five main areas with greatest priority focused on safety net areas:
- Keeping people in their homes through increased support for the Preserving Our Diversity senior housing subsidy program and restoring funding to the Legal Aid Foundation
- Ensuring food security for the most vulnerable in our community by restoring funding for Meals on Wheels and the Westside Food Bank
- Restoring funding for youth-related programs, such as after-school programs and mental health support services and resources for outdoor health, such as playgrounds and fields, including the Playground Partnership with Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District
- Mobility programs with emphasis on a non auto-centric future
- Sustainability with an emphasis on community resilience
Beyond these priorities, Council provided additional direction to staff, including:
- Analyzing staff positions impacted by layoffs through a social justice lens to ensure equity before final cuts are made
- Prioritizing the preservation of revenue generating City processes and services and in particular, items that spur the economy
Proposed changes to City programs and services reflect the post-COVID environment as well as a 23% reduction in the City’s operating budget for FY 2020-21. Changes will include reducing the size of the City Manager’s Office and eliminating the Housing and Economic Development Department by integrating its work into two new departments: Community Services, which will include Community Recreation, Cultural Affairs, and Housing and Human Services Divisions; and Community Development, which will include City Planning, Economic Development, Mobility and Access, and Building and Safety.
Core City programs and services will be preserved. For example, the Santa Monica Police Department will lose only one, currently vacant Police Officer position and remains committed to strong and visible police officer presence and crime reduction. Public Works operations will be streamlined to achieve an interconnected team of employees focused on keeping neighborhoods, public spaces, the beach, and the Pier clean and safe. Grant funds for nonprofits, artists, and community events will also be reduced, but core services to Santa Monica’s most vulnerable individuals and families will be maintained and adapted to address emerging needs. The City will continue to provide scaled down out-of-school time programming at school and park sites (I.e., CREST, PAL and VAP program), offer grants to non-profit social service providers and arts organizations, implement strategies and programs to support people experiencing homelessness, seniors, people with disabilities, youth and families. Though funds will be reduced, the City will also continue to provide rental housing vouchers that support senior, disabled, homeless, veteran, and low-income households, continue funding and support for affordable housing developments currently in the pipeline, and monitor existing affordable housing to ensure compliance, and redirect arts and culture programming to serve recovery and resiliency needs.
Overarching changes the Santa Monica community will experience, include:
- A Santa Monica Public Library location will be open every day of the week, except Sunday. The Fairview and Ocean Park Branches will remain closed for the time being. Hours and locations convenient for families and students, working residents and neighbors will be as follows:
- Main Library: Monday – Thursday, noon – 8 p.m. Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. First floor access only with an emphasis on concierge delivery of materials, curb side service, and limited walk in use of freestanding computers for Internet access.
- Pico Branch: Tuesday – Thursday, noon – 8 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Services will focus on Youth and Family Services and World Languages in active partnership with Virginia Avenue Park.
- Montana Branch: Monday and Wednesday, noon – 8 p.m. Services will focus on Workforce Development, Career Online High School, and Literacy.
- Santa Monica Swim Center will reopen when safe to do so. The Annenberg Community Beach House Pool will remain closed through 2021, but the site will reopen for public access.
- Memorial Park Gym and Cove Skate Park will continue to operate with reduced hours. Cultural and recreational programming offerings will be scaled back considerably.
- Street sweeping schedules will transition from weekly to monthly.
- Focus on Board and Commissions that are in the City Charter: Airport, Planning, Library, Personnel, and Recreation and Parks. The following boards and commissions will be suspended to allow time for assessment purpose, value, and possible efficiencies: Architectural Review, Arts, Disabilities, Housing, Landmarks, Senior Community, Social Services, and Status of Women.
- Big Blue Bus has developed a summer service plan that retains 70% of a typical summer service schedule. If you are a BBB patron and would like information on service impacts, visit bigbluebus.com or see page 4 of the restructuring plan.
The plan comes as the City waits for information on relief funds from the state and federal government. There is little certainty how much support smaller cities will receive, if any, or whether support will come in time to make a meaningful impact.
With an approved plan for restructuring, City staff will prepare a proposed budget that will be posted on May 26 in advance of the budget study session on June 9 before budget adoption on June 23 for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2020.
As shared during the meeting by Interim City Manager Dilg, members of the public who wish to get involved and lend support to vulnerable members of the community as well as the nonprofits that provide valuable direct services to Santa Monicans can do so through the We Are Santa Monica Fund. Learn more, get involved, and donate at santamonica.gov/coronavirus-volunteer.