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City Council Slashes Up to 247 Full-time Jobs; Cuts Will Be Felt at All Levels

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By Jorge Casuso

May 6, 2020 -- The Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday voted to quickly lay off as many as 247 full-time employees, resulting in sweeping cuts to programs and services.

The cuts -- which will be made by June 30 -- will help bridge a projected $150 million deficit triggered by a coronavirus shutdown that has choked the city's key revenue streams -- sales and bed taxes.

Santa Monica's 93,000 residents, who are accustomed to a wealth of highly subsidized programs and a level of services unusal for a city its size, will feel the immediate impact of the cuts.

There will be fewer playing fields open and fewer buses to ride. Fewer alleys will be paved, fewer trees planted, and streets will be swept less frequently. There will be no more crossing guards.

Hours at libraries and recreational facilities will be slashed, and some -- including the Miles Memorial Playhouse, Camera Obscura, and the Fairview and Ocean Park libraries -- will be shuttered.

Boards and Commissions not in the City Charter will be suspended and long term "sustainability goals" will be pushed back.

Interim City Manager Lane Dilg called the immediate impacts of the shutdown "devastating" and "severe" and warned they would be "long and lasting."

A total of 127 full-time employees, 90 of them in positions facing elimination, accepted a cash buyout, reducing the number of employees who will receive pink slips by May 31.

Of those losing their jobs, 105 are in public works and 43 with the Big Blue Bus (BBB), the two departments with the greatest number of black and Latino employees.

Concern for the future of these employees and the lack of information on how many people are served by the programs being cut prompted Councilmember Ana Jara to cast the lone dissenting vote.

"It's kind of hard to make a decision without having that analysis done," Jara said. "I feel that the transparency is not really there.

"We're lying to the public, we're lying to the staff, we're lying to ourselves," she said. "How do these cuts affect our most vulnerable?"

Constance Farrell, the City's spokesperson, said the City doesn't expect to complete the analysis requested by Jara by this week.

Nearly 100 members of the public weighed in live during the seven-and-a-half-hour teleconferenced meeting, with some waiting on hold for four hours before getting their turn to speak.

Advocates for recreation and parks weighed in, and those who champion sustainable causes and libraries, after-school programs and historic preservation.

Housing advocates argued for the need to protect tenants and provide more affordable housing at a time when many are at risk of losing their homes.

Sonya Sultan, speaking on behalf of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) criticized those who wanted to "raze" the Housing Trust Fund to salvage jobs and services ("Housing Fund Mostly Off Limits to Budget Cuts, City Official Say," May 5, 2020).

"We resoundingly reject those proposals," said Sultan, a member of the powerful poliical group's executive committtee. "We are not Beverly Hills by the Sea, we are Santa Monica."

The City, Sultan said, needs to "avoid new waves of homelessness" and "preserve and strengthen the diverse Santa Monica we love."

SMRR co-founder and former mayor Denny Zane urged the Council to boost the business license tax to bring much-needed revenues, although he didn't address how a crippled business sector could afford to pay.

Zane also warned against relying on major development projects to help the City dig out of its financial hole.

"I caution you against thinking that new development will help solve this problem," he said. "They generate very little revenue."

After voting 6-1 to approve the layoffs, the Council decided on how to use a $2 million fund set aside to restore lost programs and services.

After deliberating for the final hour, the Council decided to create five "buckets" that will help fund youth and recreation programs and a program that gives cash to seniors struggling to stay in their rent-controlled apartments.

The final two buckets will fund "mobility and sustainability as social justice issues," said Gleam Davis, who made the motion.

The Council agreed to restore funding to the Westside Food Bank and Meals on Wheels.

Council member Greg Morena, who owns a restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier, urged the the City to manage the fund in a businesslike manner "with a social justice lens."

"We need to review the revenues and expenditures per fund, preserving revenue generating services," Morena said.

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