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A Tale of Two Cities: How Santa Monica and Pasadena Spend Their Money

The second of two parts.

By Erica Williams and Jorge Casuso

June 16 -- While no two cities are alike, Santa Monica and Pasadena seem to have enough in common to warrant general comparisons when it comes to how much they spend on basic services.

Both cities have freeways and host major events. Both are visitor destinations with healthy business sectors and thriving commercial strips. And while Pasadena doesn’t have a beach or the Third Street Promenade, it has the Rose Bowl and Old Town.

In addition, both cities are grappling with budget shortfalls -- Pasadena plans to trim $4.5 million and Santa Monica $16.1 million. And both traditionally contribute to their schools -- Pasadena gave $3 million during the current fiscal year and Santa Monica $3.5.

Yet Santa Monica, with a population of 84,084, proposes to spend $160.1 million on its day-to-day operations, or $1,906 per resident, according to a budget analysis by The Lookout. By comparison, Pasadena plans to spend $172.6 million to keep the city of 138,800 residents running, or $1,244 per resident.

That amounts to each Santa Monica resident paying $661 -- or a total of nearly $55.6 million -- more than Pasadena residents for basic services, including salaries, supplies, small equipment and professional services.

A line-by line analysis by The Lookout of both City budgets shows that Santa Monica spends more than Pasadena per resident in every department, including those that primarily serve its residents and businesses. (See chart at the end of this article)

Santa Monica also spends more than Pasadena in services -- particularly the police and fire departments -- which also serve visitors and workers, who swell the cities’ bedroom populations during the day.

The number of workers who fill professional, technical, sales, managerial and clerical jobs in Pasadena is 84,000, compared to Santa Monica’s 70,000.

But when it comes to visitors, Santa Monica outdraws Pasadena, although the methodology used to gauge the numbers is not comparable. (Santa Monica uses total number of visitors, while Pasadena gauges the number of those who stay overnight.)

A built-out beachfront city, Santa Monica attracts some 3.8 million visitors a year and has 3,300 hotel rooms (compared to Pasadena’s 2,500 rooms), according to the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Due to the large number of visitors, City officials contend that Santa Monica must pay more for policing the city, particularly in the summer, and for providing services to the beach and pier.

“The impact on the service demands are by several orders of magnitude larger,” said City Finance Director Mike Dennis. “Santa Monica is carrying a much greater relative financial burden.”

Santa Monica’s general fund operating budget, however, does not account for the $10 million in the City’s Beach and Pier funds.

Those funds, Dennis said, “only finance the rather limited costs of the operation of those facilities,” but do not finance the added costs -- such as police, fire, streets -- “generated by all those additional people in the city.”

The biggest difference in the cost of serving a larger visitor population, City officials contend, is reflected in the cost of Santa Monica’s police department, which is projected to spend 47 percent more per resident than Pasadena’s. While Santa Monicans spend $439 per resident on police services, Pasadena residents pay $297.

On the other hand, Pasadena -- which spans 23 square miles, compared to Santa Monica’s 8.3 -- requires a bigger budget to provide Fire Department services. Still, Santa Monica spends $167 per resident, compared to $138 for Pasadena, a difference of $29 per resident.

Those Santa Monica departments that primarily serve only residents and businesses also spend significantly more per resident than their counterparts in Pasadena.

Santa Monica’s City Clerk’s office, for example, spends $16 per resident, twice the amount spent by Pasadena.

Santa Monica’s Planning Department spends $148 per resident, nearly triple the $53 spent by Pasadena. One explanation for the difference offered by City officials is that Santa Monica’s planning department incorporated parking services, which is included in a separate $3.3 million transportation department in Pasadena’s general operating budget.

But when the added cost is incorporated into Pasadena’s Planning Department budget, Santa Monica still spends twice as much per resident.

Santa Monica’s City Attorney’s Office spends $59 per resident, compared to $35 for Pasadena.

"We have an extraordinarily active City Attorney's office," said City Manager Susan McCarthy, "and extraordinarily complex planning and development regulations with a large staff that administers and enforces those regulations."

"We litigate a lot in Santa Monica," Councilwoman Pam O'Connor agreed. "I don't know if they pass as many laws or have as many land-use complications as we do."

While Santa Monica spends more per capita than Pasadena, it also faces a larger budget gap.

Pasadena, which has squirreled away $8 million in a special "Stabilization Fund" for tough economic times, must tackle a $4.5 million budget shortfall, which is in large part due to the increased contributions it must make to employee retirement funds, which will total $8.85 million.

To bridge the gap, the City plans to eliminate empty positions and offer a number of early retirement packages, said Steve Mermell, Pasadena’s budget administrator.

In addition, Pasadena plans to scale back some services and reduce hours at community centers and branch libraries, according to the City Manager’s budget report.

It also implemented a policy that requires City workers to foot half of the bill on City provided cell phones, unless they can show they are being used strictly for City business.

To tackle a $16.1 million budget gap -- in large part due to about $12.57 million in retirement contributions --, Santa Monica is proposing tightening its belt by not filling open positions, scaling back services and increasing fees and fines. City officials also are considering raising taxes.

"We've reduced our spending, we haven't filled vacant positions and we're at the point where we must consider layoffs," said Councilman Bob Holbrook. "We have to reduce City spending, and we will."

Santa Monica
City Attorney
City Clerk
City Council
City Manager
Human Resources
Community and Cultural Services
Non Departmental
Planning and Development
Public Works +
Transportation Department***
Resource Management*
* Pasadena's Finance Department includes Resource Management
** Pasadena's $8 million for Library is included in Non Departmental
*** Pasadena's Transportation Department includes parking, which is included in Santa Monica's Planning budget (Big Blue Bus is part of separate Enterprise Fund)
****Santa Monica deducts $19,016,721 for interfund transfers

+ Difficult to compare because most of the funds are not in the operating budget
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