The City of Santa Monica will host a community solutions summit on Saturday, March 2, as the next phase in the process to create a citywide equity plan. All are invited to attend the “Community Solutions Summit: Turning Equity Priorities into Action,” which will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Blank Spaces, 1450 Second St. There will also be an option to participate virtually.

Santa Monica has a reputation as a rich city. Yes, there are economic inequalities in the city which are both geographic and racial in origin, but the city is the 18th largest in Los Angeles County and has the 4th largest economy. The current push towards creating a citywide equity plan is not the city’s first effort to grapple with its history and chart a more progressive and equitable future.

For example, in 2017 in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory and ascension to the presidency, several public meetings were disrupted by racist protestors who were there to gloat and intimidate. The Southern Poverty Law Center found two active hate groups in Santa Monica, and hundreds of residents, including most elected officials, showed up to a rally hosted by the activist group the “committee for racial justice” as a show of solidarity. The message was clear. Overt racism has no place in Santa Monica.

The same year, the City began using the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) model to guide its efforts to better address equity issues. GARE is an organization formed to assist municipal governments with identifying equity challenges in their communities and creating and revising policies and programs to create equitable outcomes for their residents.

From there, the city began having a more open discussion about race, equity and the city’s history of both living up to its values and sometimes failing its non-white citizens. Over the years the Council has passed: 

 a statement against hate as part of United Against Hate Week

a motion recognized the formal definition of antisemitism developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance], 

and a Statement of Apology to the African American Community,

The city has also developed internal programs to train staff and engage them in conversations about race, gender and bias. The internal conversation has been ongoing. In 2020, the city’s staff that was actively working with the GARE program created a four-hour equity training program that has been attended by 120 members of the city staff over the last several years.

This year training was also made available to elected officials and members of city commissions.

But now it’s time to take the conversation public.

Last March, the City Council adopted the concept of “Racial Justice, Equity & Social Diversity” as a priority for the 2023-2025 biennial budget. A statement prepared for the Council and unanimously passed noted that:

The City of Santa Monica acknowledges the effects of generational and institutional racism and discrimination, and its consequences that continue to impact our residents and businesses. These lessons of our history cannot be ignored. The City is committed to advancing racial equity and social diversity to improve the wellbeing of people who live, work, learn, play, and do business in our City and create a community where differences in life outcomes cannot be predicted by race, class, gender, disability or other identities. Everyone in Santa Monica must have an opportunity to thrive.

The next month, Heather McGhee author of  reading “The Sum of Us” spoke as the keynote at the SMC Public Policy proposal and laid out how the problems of systemic racism and an unequal society doesn’t just hamstring those experiencing the racism directly but all of us. For example, if pay disparities were eliminated, the GDP for Los Angeles County would rise by 58%.

Throughout the summer and into 2024, the Council has had to grapple with several issues directly related to the city’s goal of being a more equitable and safe place for people of all races, religions, cultures and orientations. 

At its last meeting, the City Council did the right thing when it voted on a plan to de-emphasize and contextualize a racist mural that has greeted visitors to the City Hall in the main lobby. Last year, it also did the right thing when it mandated the inclusion of public gender neutral bathrooms in new development.

Also at its last meeting, the Council also voted to authorize a two year study of “ to explore barriers to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the City’s procurement and contracting practices.” The Daily Press captured the discussion between Councilmembers that focused both on the city’s current lack of good data on the demographics of who is getting contracts and permits and the two-year timeline for the report.

While these are good steps, there was little opposition to either development (at least after the gender equity issues were explained to some of the older Councilmembers by a heroic nonbinary teenager). That’s not going to be true when the city has to consider changes to its “pretextual stops” policy. The police reform commission recommended that the city put restrictions on what SMPD can and can’t do when it makes a traffic stop to reduce racial disparities in how people are treated in traffic stops according to both local and national data.

When the reform commission voted on the measure, they were flooded with organized public comment that mis-represented the research done and the measure. After the recommendation was passed, the local police have taken to complaining that they might not be able to enforce traffic laws soon as there is a “push-back against armed officers making traffic stops.” While this may be true in some places, nobody is proposing that for Santa Monica.

If a motion comes to the City Council to adopt this rule for its police department, it will be a true test of the council and city’s prioritization of equity issues. 

But as we wait to see what the city council does on the issue of traffic stops, citizens will have their turn to lead the conversation next weekend. As noted above, the Council deserves credit for taking a stand on murals and bathrooms, but when community groups organized to push the Council to join a lawsuit against “zero cash bail” the Council did so on a 4-3 vote.

The March 2, 2024 equity summit will feature four different discussions and sessions:

  • Community feedback results: Hear about the top priorities the community wants to see included in the citywide equity plan.
  • Info about city programs: Learn about existing city programs, policies and priorities related to the priorities recommended by the community.
  • Grant info session: Learn how to apply for the Community Solutions Grant Program. The program provides $500 in funding for a Santa Monica community member or organization to host a session to collect community feedback on solutions to the top community priorities announced at the summit.
  • Community advocacy session: Learn from an expert in community advocacy about how to take basic ideas and turn them into city council-ready solutions.

Click here to RSVP. Space is limited to 75 spots at the venue. Lunch will be provided for participants who attend in person. Parking is available at Parking Structure 6 and Parking Structure 8 (check the respective websites for parking rates). The city will provide the link to virtual attendees ahead of the event.

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