Public Safety Dominates Discussion Before Council Unanimously Approves Budget

Date:

Last night, the Santa Monica City Council passed the annual budget for the fiscal year beginning on Saturday, July 1 and ending June 30, 2024. Issues surrounding public safety, ranging from funding optional jiu-jitsu classes to a proposal to just add $500,000 in unrestricted funds to the police budget; were brought up as Councilmembers postured to see who could be the most supportive of the police department.

The budget was approved unanimously as was the framework of a budget for the following fiscal year.

“As we continue to recover from the pandemic, the approval of the Biennial Budget adds to the City’s momentum and focuses our next two years,” says Santa Monica Mayor Gleam Davis in a statement. “I’m looking forward to the expansion of our beloved programs and ask for the community’s support as enhancements become implemented to address what’s most important to our residents.” 

The overall FY 2023-25 Proposed Biennial Budget is approximately $745.0 million in FY 2023-24 and $750.6 million in FY 2024-25, net of reimbursements and transfers. This is a difference of $4.2 million and $4.1 million, respectively, from what was presented at the Budget Study Session in May 2023.  

Following a lengthy question and answer question with city staff and a short public comment period dominated with residents asking for more funding for public safety; the first Council speaker was Phil Brock. After a short discussion of how to provide meeting spaces to community groups in the northern part of the city; Brock wasted no time kicking off a spirited discussion by offering an amendment to increase the SMPD budget by $500,000. 

The motion ran afoul of the rules set forward by Davis, who stated early in the night that any proposed increase in one part of the budget would need to be accompanied by a proposed decrease somewhere else. “This is a balanced budget,” Davis warned. 

Brock had brought a series of charts showing places where the budget could be reduced, but was having trouble reading them. While he checked his notes, Councilmember Caroline Torosis questioned SMPD Chief Ramon Batista about what the department could do with increased funding should Brock’s motion pass. But Batista demurred, basically saying that given the city’s budget restraints the department was well funded.

“We have a lot of needs throughout the city. Public safety is just one of those needs that make a city a great place to be,” Batista testified. “I believe what we’ve been budgeted so far…has put us in a position to see a decrease in 911 calls.”

Brock later stated he was willing to reduce his request to $200,000 if people were more comfortable with that and that he wasn’t looking to provide a “blank check” to the department. Instead he stated that he wanted to be certain there was funding to provide flexibility to the department, to bring on new technology, or to hire new staff to meet arising challenges. Eventually, he pulled the motion before it was seconded. Later in the evening, Councilmember Oscar de la Torre casually mentioned he would have supported the motion had it still been on the table.

Not to be outdone, Councilmember Lana Negrette used her time to state her support for the police department and outlined the many ways that the department has improved public safety in the Downtown in recent years. Then she decided lecture people listening for not loving the police department as much as she does.

“This department has not always been supported by a community that is now calling out for more police,” Negrette said.

Another lengthy debate was about whether or not the city should put aside $20,000 for an elective program for SMPD officers to get extra training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Despite Batista stating several times that there is jiu-jitsu training is part of their annual training; Councilmembers still looked for ways to fund this program.

In the end, there was a motion made to reallocate funds from the budget to increase funding for the city’s animal shelters to cover this new benefit but it was removed after Batista and city staff promised to look into adding the program as a budget line to future budgets and coming back to the budget should members of the department or its union feel strongly.

A press release from the City of Santa Monica listed the following highlights in the new budget: 

  • 1) Allocating resources to several public safety initiatives such as adding six police officers and one police sergeant to expand the Homeless Liaison Program team to enable the program to operate seven days per week and augment patrol operations;  investing in technology to enhance community safety; enhanced patrol and security services at the Pier, Beach, and Downtown; implementing a transit safety officer program for Big Blue Bus (BBB) to enhance customer and Motor Coach Operator  safety on BBB’s 19 routes and 980 stops in the City and the Westside, and further staff restorations to the Santa Monica Animal Shelter. 
  • 2) Expanded efforts to address homelessness such as the addition of another multidisciplinary outreach team to work east of Lincoln Blvd., in areas outside of the current focus areas of Downtown and the Beach; development of a Homelessness Strategic Plan that sets clear policy direction, promotes alignment across City stakeholders, supports regional efforts, and improves focus on measurable objectives and reporting; expansion of SAMOSHEL hours to allow for 24/7 intakes; allocating funds to support eviction prevention; a new 3-1-1 outreach response in partnership with the Salvation Army to respond to requests in the field; and the addition of a dedicated Santa Monica Fire Department case manager. 
  • 3) Expanded Public Works teams for maintaining clean public spaces such as increasing alley clearing frequencies; enhancing illegal dumping and bulky item pickup services; and enhancing tree pruning in high-traffic areas.  
  • 4) Organizational realignment to create the Housing and Human Services Department and the Recreation and Arts Department to carry forward the Community Services Department’s work to be responsive to the social and economic challenges residents are facing, the need for community healing and recovery, and to provide services and programs that enrich lives and help people thrive. 
  • 5) Grants to support the behavioral health needs of vulnerable residents.
  •  
  • 6) Further restoration of youth programs by enhancing staffing to enable CREST afterschool programs to fully operate at elementary schools and enroll additional participants; ongoing staffing of the Police Activities League and Virginia Avenue Park youth programs that serve the most vulnerable populations in the community, building participation by 480 to 500 youth for a projected total participation of over 2,200 youth served; and supporting SMMUSD’s continued operation of the Playground Club program. 
  • 7) Further restoration of Santa Monica Public Library’s programs and hours to include the Main Library extending hours to include Saturdays, extending evening hours at all open locations (Monday through Thursday) to 8 p.m., and opening the Main Library one hour earlier (Monday through Thursday) at 10 a.m.  
  • 8) The continuation of the Art of Recovery program which funds inclusive and diverse cultural activities that support mental well-being, build and connect community, and spur economic recovery.  
  • 9) Funds to continue essential road maintenance and rehabilitation projects. 
  • Support for monthly meetings for the Landmarks Commission.  
  • 10) A new small businesses assistance program. 
  • 11) Establishing a Citywide ADA Coordinator. 
  • 12) Restoration of City Traffic Engineer position to advance mobility projects and develop a multi-year traffic signal preventative maintenance program. 
  • Continuing work on action plans to support zero waste, sustainable water, and electrification of the City’s fleet.  
  • 13) Continuing work on action plans to support zero waste, sustainable water, and electrification of the City’s fleet.  
Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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