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OPINION -- A Time for Engagement

By Lane Dilg

For two months, our community has lived under Stay at Home and Safer at Home orders issued by our public health authorities to keep us safe. These orders have succeeded in preventing widespread loss of life.

While COVID-19 remains in our midst, hospital beds are available; the public is better educated as to essential health measures, like wearing face coverings when outdoors; and testing capacity has increased, including free testing available in and near Santa Monica.

Today, however, the toll of our collective efforts to protect public health have also become evident. Our civic life has been interrupted; our wellbeing, threatened; and our economy, devastated.

In these challenging circumstances, we see more clearly than ever how closely our lives are woven together. As our local businesses struggle and even shutter, the resulting economic slowdown has created a City budget deficit of more than $224 million.

This revenue loss together with new and changed community needs have forced us to scale back City operations, including ending employment for members of the City team who have served our community with dedication for many years, together with the beloved programs that they have designed and run. These are the painful realities caused by COVID19.

As we now see glimmers of hope in the first stages of phased reopening, our life as one community is equally visible. We must rebuild together.

On May 5th, City staff put forth a plan to provide a stable foundation for recovery. Under this plan:

  • The City’s Emergency Operations Center will advance Santa Monica-specific efforts to promote the public health for as long as that work is necessary.

  • The Santa Monica Police Department will maintain its strong and uniquely community-focused presence across all of our neighborhoods.

  • You will continue to see the visible difference in the quality of our streets and public spaces when you walk, bike, ride, or drive into Santa Monica.

  • Core youth programming will offer our children a safe place to spend time after school.

  • Outdoor spaces and fields will be available for recreation and play, with our Playground Partnership with SMMUSD also restored in accordance with Council direction on May 5th.

  • Our non-profit partners will continue to receive City support so that, together, we can care for new and pressing needs for food, housing, legal assistance, and mental health support.

  • Despite historic challenges, we will have a balanced budget and fiscal stability for the years to come.

With this foundation, we will keep the Santa Monica that we love healthy and safe. But in Santa Monica, we have always prided ourselves on much more –- a City that works to help all of its people thrive.

Some have asked whether COVID-19 creates opportunity, whether to cut the budget or change City operations. I have been clear: this moment is a tragedy, not an opportunity.

Here, however, lies the opportunity: We can now see with clarity that we live not individually, but in community. Just as my husband’s public health relies on your sister wearing a face covering, our collective recovery relies on all of us, together.

So what can you do? As a City, we will be looking for every opportunity to speak with you about your changed experience and needs, to offer opportunities for you to share your views with your neighbors, and, more importantly, for you to engage you in our shared recovery process.

Here are a few ways to start:

  • Buy local. Our businesses are struggling to keep their doors open. Order dinner tonight from your favorite local restaurant. Purchase a toy, a book, an item of clothing, or a gift card from your favorite local store.

  • Help a neighbor. Do you have a friend or loved one who does not use the internet or speaks a language other than English? Call and share the many resources that are available to help. To learn about some of the essential businesses and services in Santa Monica, visit our essential businesses map; or share the City’s COVID-19 hotline, 310-458-8400, where staff are available daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. to help.

  • Participate in our economic recovery efforts. City staff who comprise our City Economic Recovery Task Force are inviting community and business partners to provide input so that we can collect, vet, and advance the best ideas available to support our struggling businesses and restore a thriving local economy. Share your ideas across five identified focus areas: Business Retention / Reopening; Business Resources – Permitting and Costs; Community Economic Development; Communications and Marketing; and Federal and State Resources. We’ll have community surveys and interactive tools available on a new Economic Recovery website to be shared in the week to come.

  • Spread the word. New public health information comes out every day, and we need your help communicating the importance of complying with new measures, like the requirement to wear a face covering outside. Visit www.santamonica.gov/coronavirus for information or sign up for updates by visiting www.santamonica.gov/newsletter or texting SMCOVID to 888-777 to sign up for local emergency alerts. Then help us to spread the word.

  • Donate money or time. Many in our community are facing financial insecurity and need help obtaining basic needs for themselves and their families. If you have resources to offer, please play a role in helping our vulnerable residents and frontline workers through the We Are Santa Monica Fund or local nonprofits that are working harder than ever to provide a safety net.

We have many challenges ahead. My challenge to each of you is to join us. Collectively, we will show the tenacity and compassion that has always made our community unique. In doing so, we will ensure a strong and sustainable recovery for all.

Lane Dilg is Santa Monica's Interim City Manager


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