By Ted Winterer, Mayor Pro Tempore
If you’ve ever driven from Santa Monica to the Grand Canyon you at one point close to the park on the Kaibab Plateau passed through the largest monoculture of ponderosa pines in the world. On either side of the road the forest is comprised solely of these pine trees and absent of any species diversity whatsoever. It’s pretty enough at first – who doesn’t like trees? But after a while this monoculture becomes – wait for it – monotonous.
Here in Santa Monica we face the challenge of becoming a monotonous monoculture of affluence without the socioeconomic diversity which adds vibrancy and inclusiveness to our community. Vacancy decontrol, Ellis Act evictions and market pressures are reducing the amount of our housing stock which is affordable to households below the city’s median income. At the same time national income trends have kept lower and middle incomes stagnant while concentrating wealth in the hands of a small portion of our nation’s populace. So what can Santa Monica do to address these trends?
First, we can raise the incomes of those most afflicted by rising housing costs and low wages. Under the capable stewardship of Mayor Kevin McKeown in 2015 and finalized in 2016 in a meeting run by current Mayor Tony Vazquez, the City Council held a series of hearings to explore creating a local minimum wage significantly higher than the state and Federal thresholds. These hearings culminated earlier this year in the adoption of a Santa Monica minimum wage that increases in phases to $15 an hour by 2020, with a somewhat larger and more rapid increase for hotel workers.
Second, we can increase our preservation and production of affordable housing, which have been dealt a serious blow with the loss of $15- 20M per year of state redevelopment funds. Doing so will require a new revenue stream, so the City Council is exploring a ballot measure for November which, if approved by the voters, will provide the monies needed to create more housing options for lower income households in Santa Monica. These funds will allow us to both preserve and rehabilitate existing housing, thereby keeping Santa Monicans in their homes while maintaining the character of neighborhoods, and to build new housing downtown and on our commercial boulevards which can provide the two and three bedroom units for families which are lacking in our older housing stock. I have no doubt that SMRR will enthusiastically support the measure the Council decides to place on the ballot and hope you will endeavor to ensure it earns the endorsement of our voters.