The following is a blog post that was first published at the City of Santa Monica’s blog, written by Jennifer Taylor, Economic Development Manager
Over the past three years, Santa Monica has accelerated its economic recovery following the devastating impacts of COVID-19 by implementing more than 25 programs to support the community. From prioritizing Santa Monica’s basic needs related to housing, food, and public health, to keeping our businesses open and workers employed by implementing permanent outdoor dining and zoning changes, our recovery work has gone above and beyond what other cities of our size could accomplish. Here’s a roundup of our efforts, links to a few key background presentations (October 27, 2020 City Council Presentation, June 8, 2021 City Council Presentation, September 28, 2021 City Council Presentation), and related announcements to recap what we have accomplished over the past three years.
As we look ahead, there is more work to do but the future is bright for Santa Monica, with major new investments planned across the residential, hospitality, retail, entertainment and fitness industries, ranging from new construction concepts to revitalization of existing infrastructure. The City has recently announced over a dozen new business developments coming to downtown Santa Monica, amounting to billions of dollars in planned investment that will accelerate Santa Monica’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and redefine its downtown leading up to major international events such as the 2026 FIFA World Cup and LA28 Olympics. These new investments bring community benefits, create jobs, generate funds through sales tax and other revenue sources, and promote equitable recovery through the expansion of affordable housing, public open space, and access to arts and culture, in addition to providing sought-after retail and hospitality services.
2020 – 2023 Key Accomplishments
Meeting Basic Needs
- Access to Food — 6,000 free food boxes were distributed to Santa Monica families since March 2020. Beginning in June 2021, Westside Food Bank has provided a Mobile Food Pantry at Virginia Avenue Park serving 50+ families a week and making this a permanent City-funded resource for the community.
- Eviction Protections — The City issued and enforced one of the first COVID-19 residential eviction moratoriums and operated an in-person clinic to help tenants and landlords apply for statewide COVID-19 rental assistance, which resulted in over $39.5 million in state rental funds paid to Santa Monica landlords and tenants. The City created and distributed multilingual educational materials about the program, partnered with local advocacy organizations to raise awareness of tenant and landlord rights, and answered more than 2,000 calls about the City’s tenant protections during the pandemic.
- Emergency Housing and Rental Assistance — City staff worked with local, state, and federal sources to secure $2.8 million in emergency rental relief for over 950 Santa Monica households in addition to the state program referenced above.
- Child Care Provider Grants — 76 child care businesses were assisted to support residents going back to work, averaging $700 grants for education supplies and materials. Local child care providers featured through a City blog post series highlighted this essential small business sector. Since April 2020, Connections for Children helped 241 families access child care for 327 children.
- CALFRESH Grant Funding — Santa Monica recently secured $34,400 in CALFRESH grant funding to support the launch of CALFRESH at the Main Street Farmers Market in an effort to assist Santa Monica’s most vulnerable residents with access to affordable, healthy food.
- Lifelong Learning — During the pandemic, the library supported continued access to books and educational materials on the SMPL webpage, launched curbside service in July 2020, and compiled a list of employment resources for residents, businesses, and employees impacted by COVID-19. As of December 2022, all branch libraries have re-opened. The Santa Monica Library awarded 12 Career Online High School scholarships to community members, which will enable these individuals to obtain an accredited high school diploma and a career certificate.
- CityNet — During the pandemic, the City partnered with Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile to fund 5G wireless coverage citywide including the Santa Monica Pier, benefiting existing restaurants on the Pier and enabling live streaming of national and global events such as the pregame show for the 2022 NFL Super Bowl and the MLB All Star weekend. In addition, the City continued to invest in broadband infrastructure – with priority given to affordable housing sites – and provided more than 150 families with Gigabit broadband to support K-12 and college students’ virtual learning.
Keeping Businesses Open and Workers Employed
- Public Health Ambassadors, Signage, PPE, and Trainings for Local Businesses and Workers — In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, over 8,000 health and safety signs and over 100,000 masks were distributed to local businesses. More than 245 businesses and nearly 500 employees participated in the Santa Monica Shines COVID-19 Assurance Program, which trained Santa Monica workers on changing health protocols. Coordination efforts were implemented to keep business stakeholders regularly informed of local and county public health updates and weekly emails were sent to over 9,000 business contacts.
- Outdoor Dining, Retail, and Fitness — With public health impacting indoor business, Santa Monica quickly implemented new ways for businesses to remain in operation, with fees to implement the program fully paid for by the City for multiple years, resulting in significant community benefits. More than 240 businesses benefited from the free Santa Monica Outdoors Temporary Use Program and a permanent program was approved in 2022. So far under this new permanent program, 46 parklet permit applications have been received and 32 agreements have been executed, adding to 71 businesses that already participate in the permanent sidewalk dining program. The City also waived outdoor fitness permit fees during the pandemic to support 34 businesses/trainers and to increase access to health and wellness events in our parks citywide (up from 11 in 2019).
- Zoning Changes — In 2022, the City permanently adopted two Interim Zoning Ordinances, first enacted in May 2020, to reduce regulatory barriers in support of small, local businesses. The zoning changes have been critical to the City’s economic recovery, providing much-needed support and flexibility to existing and new restaurant, retail, personal service, and fitness businesses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The zoning ordinances benefitted existing businesses in the Third Street Promenade area and the major commercial districts by eliminating the one-year rule for abandonment of legal non-conforming use for retail and restaurant uses; revising requirements to provide additional parking and new loading spaces; reducing restrictions on restaurant size; and relaxing alcohol service regulations, among other changes. The Third Street Promenade changes support the goals of creating a more vibrant experience through increased opportunities for nightlife, entertainment, and flexibility to experiment with different uses.
- Art of Recovery — This program put artists to work on Santa Monica’s recovery efforts. Since November 2020, $690,000 in grant funding has supported 35 artistic projects, 215 artists and 84 art producers and other creatives. These projects included 15 in-person community events, 13 exhibitions and installations, 7 street activations, 4 film/media projects, and 3 online activations. In addition, over 60 partners were engaged in collaboration on Art of Recovery projects with 91% of grantees saying that their project connected them to Santa Monica partners they hadn’t worked with before.
- Santa Monica Business Support — $2.9 million in rent relief was provided to 381 Santa Monica businesses, including $2.6 million in ARPA Rent Abatement to 303 City tenants and $390,000 in Small Business Relief Grants to 78 Santa Monica small businesses.
- Eviction Protections for Businesses — The City issued a commercial eviction moratorium providing eviction protections for qualifying commercial tenants, effective March 18, 2020 to March 31, 2021. The City partnered with the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Law School to provide free mediation services for landlords and tenants to resolve rent disputes for residential and commercial leases and partnered with the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce to host a webinar providing guidance on eviction protections, tenants’ rights, and free mediation services.
- Santa Monica Pier Task Force — The Task Force monitored the safe operations of the Santa Monica Pier during the COVID-19 pandemic and helped welcome visitors back in 2021. The Task Force also focused on addressing unpermitted street vending at the Pier and beach while working to raise visibility and support a longstanding Citywide Street Vending Program to create entrepreneurial pathways. The Palisades Park Vending Program will be launched in Spring 2023 continuing to build on our 30-year vending program and expand vending opportunities on the Santa Monica Pier. And the City is about to welcome two new vending operators to the Ocean/Colorado Esplanade in partnership with Downtown SM, Inc. to help activate this location.
- City Plan Check Reviews — The City upgraded and launched virtual counter services in November 2020 to ensure streamlined and efficient access to review and approve building permits, making it easier to use and do business with the City of Santa Monica. These services enabled the City to facilitate the review and approval of same-day and ‘over-the-counter’ permit types as well as provide building permit issuance despite in-person public health challenges. The virtual counter services expanded same day appointments and improved City operations and are still enacted today. In 2022, 605 appointments were scheduled for a Virtual Same-Day Review and 1,454 appointments were scheduled for Virtual Permit Issuance. A total of 946 private development projects were submitted to the City for review in 2022, averaging 79 plan checks per month.
- Small Business Resource Webinars — 12 free webinars were held in collaboration with local partners, including the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, LA County Department of Consumer & Business Affairs, and El Camino College Small Business Development Center, providing small business resources, access to financial support, guidance on the City’s parklet and sidewalk dining programs, and ADA Guidance for Santa Monica outdoors operations and local hire program.
- New Business Openings — Santa Monica welcomed over 950 new businesses since October 2021 across multiple industries, including health, wellness, restaurants, and retail.
- Celebrating Local Businesses — A number of City-led initiatives supported local businesses and highlighted Santa Monica’s Black-Owned Businesses, Latino-Owned Businesses, Women-Owned Businesses, and more. A new Buy Local Santa Monica interactive map portal was launched on santamonica.gov that includes a new way to search for local businesses. The Most Loved SM Businesses Awards expanded, recognizing over 200 local businesses, and Buy Local Santa Monica welcomed 146 new small, locally-owned businesses since Spring 2020 and launched the 10th Annual Most Loved SM Businesses of 2023 contest now underway thru March 31.
Providing Pathways to Entrepreneurship and Engagement
- Santa Monica Black Lives Association — In August 2021, City Council approved $100,000 in seed funding for the creation of the Santa Monica Black Lives Association, a community nonprofit formed by Black community leaders to support Black Santa Monicans.
- We Are Santa Monica Fund — The We Are Santa Monica Fund was launched at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to provide a pathway for the community to donate goods, services, and funds to aid recovery efforts. In 2021, the inaugural We Are Santa Monica Fund Advisory Board was appointed to help fundraise and administer the grants program, and the Fund has expanded to support programs that advance equity, healthy neighborhoods, a vibrant local economy, and programs that support community resiliency. More than $1.6 million has been raised since April 2020, and at least $1 million in grants have been distributed, including $370,000 to address food insecurity and $75,000 to support local programs such as Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s NextGen Mentor Program and Santa Monica Bay Area Human Relations Council’s community microgrants program. Additionally, the Fund provided $200,000 in match funding for the COVID-19 small business relief grant that leveraged City funds and Chamber Foundation donations.
- Virginia Avenue Park Commercial Kitchen — The City continues efforts to establish a commercial kitchen to support micro-entrepreneurs in Santa Monica. $1.2 million was secured in public and private funding, architecture plans have been completed and submitted for planning and LA County public health review, and a City-managed operator has been identified to lead community engagement, entrepreneurial support, training, and access to loan programs. Stay tuned for future news on construction efforts and the launch of the Virginia Avenue Park Commercial Community Kitchen!
- Cottage Vending Program — The City’s Farmers Market Team launched the Santa Monica Farmers Market Cottage Vending program at Pico and Main Street Farmers Markets to create new opportunities for Santa Monica residents and relaunched the Prepared and Prepackaged Food Request For Proposal to expand opportunities for local businesses to participate in farmers markets.
- #HireLocalSM — Responding to the real hiring challenges that emerged later in the pandemic, over 1,000 job opportunities were posted to the Hire Local Jobs Board and distributed via email, and over 120 people were supported with job-seeking. The Hire Local mailing list now has over 1,128 subscribers and continues to grow. The City also hosted several virtual entrepreneurship series featuring industry leaders from the food industry and green economy as well as presenting ready to work webinars.
- 311 Customer Service — The City launched the 311 Customer Service portal on March 31, 2021, ensuring business continuity and community access to information and support during the earliest days of the pandemic. Members of the community can email email@example.com, download the City of Santa Monica mobile app, or dial 3-1-1 from within the City (or (866) 311-SaMo from outside the City) to speak with a live operator who can answer questions and connect people with the appropriate City staff. Customer service through 311 is available in virtually every language, including Spanish, Russian, French, Farsi, and Amharic. To date, the portal has received more than 60,545 customer service requests.
- Public Communication and Outreach — The City of Santa Monica continues to foster a meaningful digital presence with over 78,000 website views, 200,000 social media impressions across all platforms, and more than 75 online articles published about economic recovery efforts. Public communications worked to highlight the City’s recovery efforts, securing high-level coverage in local, regional, and national outlets and garnering over 1 billion media impressions since 2020. Top placements include Architectural Digest, L.A. Business First, Los Angeles Magazine, KCRW, NBC Los Angeles, plus broadcast segments on ABC7, Spectrum, and KTLA, among others.
Welcoming Visitors Back to Santa Monica and New Downtown Investments
- Welcoming Back Visitors and Tourists — Santa Monica’s hospitality sector continues to see a steady economic recovery. Occupancy rates have increased 80% from 2020 levels (with reported 74% occupancy in 2022 vs. 41.5% in 2020) and continue to climb. The average daily room rates have exceeded pre-COVID rates ($411.06 in 2022 vs. $347.89 in 2019). And more than 24 million pedestrian visitor impressions were tracked in Downtown in 2022, outpacing the 2021 downtown pedestrian visitor counts by 15% and nearly doubling 2020 pedestrian visitor counts.
- New Downtown Investments — Santa Monica remains a sought-after destination for innovative companies and business brands, with the City approving over 950 new business permits citywide across multiple industries in the last year. In 2022, the City announced a total of 14 new business developments planned for downtown which amount to billions of dollars in planned investment. Projects coming to downtown include the Frank Gehry-designed Ocean Avenue hotel project, new flagship Gold’s Gym and Nike Rise retail experience stores, and a major redevelopment of the Fairmont Miramar Santa Monica hotel, among others. Last month, Santa Monica celebrated the opening of The Pierside Santa Monica on Colorado Avenue – a $38 million renovation project with the new multi-story mural by artist Shepard Fairey.
- Sales Tax Revenue — 2022 3rd Quarter sales tax reports for the City of Santa Monica showed positive trends indicating significant increases in sales tax across some important sectors as the City’s economic recovery from the pandemic continues. The restaurant and hotel sector continued its strong growth over the last few quarters as 3rd Quarter revenues were up 14.2% over the same period last year and 106% greater than the 3rd Quarter 2020. The Autos and Transportation sector also continued strong, growing 4.5% from the previous year and 27% over 2020. Building and Construction (10.4%) and Fuel and Service Stations (30.1%) also showed significant growth. General consumer goods did drop 20.5% from last year, primarily due to the relocation of a major sales tax generator. Overall, total sales taxes for the quarter were up slightly (0.7%) from the same quarter last year, but up 25% from the 3rd Quarter of 2020. These robust increases across multiple sectors provide continued evidence that the City of Santa Monica continues to advance its recovery.
- Outdoor Event Activations — The City supported a number of outdoor events across Santa Monica, including outdoor drive-in cinemas at the Santa Monica Airport, the 626 Night Market Mini food bazaar in Downtown Santa Monica and Ice skating rink, and the MLB All-Stars Oceanfront event at the Santa Monica Pier and Beach. In 2022, the City provided $39,000 in Council Discretionary Grants and an additional $5,000 in Buy Local Santa Monica Partnership grants to our community business partners to help bring back and support community events, including Main Street Summer SOULstice/Open Streets, the Montana Avenue Art Walk, the Shop Small Sidewalk Sale, and Locals’ Night at the Santa Monica Pier, and provide assistance with streetscape improvements such as the Pico Boulevard Door to Adore program and “Buy Local on Pico” light pole banners.
- New Art and Culture — City staff successfully worked with Frieze LA to bring the international art fair to the Santa Monica Airport on February 16 – 19, 2023. Hosting this venerated art fair in Santa Monica brings a range of economic, tourism, and public relations benefits, while also connecting the event to local artists and arts organizations and leveraging opportunities to expand the arts at both the Santa Monica Airport and beyond.
Economic Recovery Task Force
The Santa Monica Economic Recovery Task Force was created in April 2020 and focuses on the following five policy areas:
- Business Retention and Reopening,
- Business Processes and Permitting Costs,
- Federal and State Resources,
- Community and Economic Development, and
- Outreach and Education.
The Task Force, along with expert business and community economic development advisors, was convened to advance recovery, identify key action items, and serve as local champions for each area. More than $5 million dollars (excluding staff salaries) has been invested in the City’s recovery from a variety of sources:
- $1.28 million allocated by City Council
- $220,000 in American Rescue Funds
- $4.3 million from community partners
The Task Force has been transitioning to sustainable, long-term operations that will continue to support and sustain the economic viability of our businesses and City and ongoing efforts to ensure that Santa Monica is a clean, safe, and welcoming community for all.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Santa Monica has deployed a comprehensive and effective approach to accelerating the city’s economic recovery, implementing more than 25 programs to support the community. Efforts have prioritized the immediate needs of residents and local businesses while also maintaining a forward-thinking vision for sustainability and long term economic growth. For the latest information on the City’s economic recovery efforts, please visit santamonica.gov.