January 11 -- City Manager Lamont Ewell has unveiled
a plan to restructure local government for the first time in a
decade that includes giving his post direct control over efforts
to tackle homelessness and administer the local airport.
Unveiled at a special City Council meeting Saturday, the plan
comes two months after voters backed a ballot initiative on November
7 giving the City Manager's office more power to hire and fire
department heads by stripping many top spots of civil service
At the special meeting -- which Ewell hoped would spur more frank
discussions on City issues, including the reorganization -- the
City manager disclosed the details of how he will seek to continue
to revamp City government to offer, what he calls, better and
enhanced "customer service."
"I've always said, anytime you've got bad systems and good
people, the bad systems are going to win out every time,"
Ewell told council members and city employees who attended the
“As you know, this structure has been in place for the
past decade, yet during this period of time, the needs of our
community have changed, requiring a higher standard of service
and responsiveness" Ewell wrote in a memo
to the council.
In response, Ewell said he would invoke a number of changes directly
to City departments, starting with the City Manager's Office.
"The Homeless Initiative and the Airport Division have been
identified as special focus areas," Ewell said in his memo,
justifying the consolidation of both issues under his authority.
If the reorganization plan is implemented, Ewell will assume
control over homelessness efforts shortly after the City unveils
its first audit of how homeless service strategies are working
in Santa Monica.
The City has shown renewed vigor in the past two years addressing
homelessness, which polls consistently show is the top concern
of residents and businesses in the beachside city. (see
To tackle the longstanding problem, the City has initiated a
number of strategies. They include housing the most long-term
homeless individuals, hiring former County Supervisor Ed Edelmen
as Santa Monica's regional czar on homeless issues and launching
a separate court for homeless individuals accused of petty offenses
designed to encourage them to seek assistance.
Each year, Santa Monica’s homeless drain local hospitals
and the City police and fire departments of millions in treatment
and attention, according to City officials.
Under the proposed reorganization, Ewell would also oversee the
Santa Monica Airport, which scores of surrounding homeowners have
said they would like to see shut down.
Over the past decade, residents have complained that noise from
take-offs and landings, as well as air pollution, have made it
difficult to live around the airport, which has seen a significant
jump in jet traffic.
Although a current contract with the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) and the City of Santa Monica extends the land’s use
as an airport until 2015, some council members said there may
be incentive to change that use.
"People think, my God, two hundred plus acres could come
into possession of the City," Council member Bobby Shriver
said at the meeting.
But City officials have said it is unclear if the City could
legally take control of the airport after the contract is up.
"It really does mean, from my read …that (Santa Monica)
has operational authority until 2015, but (the contract) does
not take away federal authority over the airport “ after
2015, Ewell told the council
"So we need to first ferret that out," he said.
Under the reorganization, Bob Trimborn will remain as acting
airport director under the City Manager, Ewell said.
Other large-scale changes are also being proposed inside the
City Managers' office.
A new Deputy City Manager post could be created to handle "oversight
of internal services," allowing the Assistant City Manager
"to focus on external service departments, day-to-day operations
of the organization and special projects," Ewell wrote in
Human Resources, Information systems (converting the function
from a division to a new department), Finance, and Assets Management
(a new department) would all be handled by the Deputy City Manager,
who has not yet been named.
In addition, community relations and intergovernmental relations
will be combined under a single Assistant to the City manager.
Other departments the new assistant would oversee are the Big
Blue Bus, Community and Cultural Services, Environment and Public
Works Management and the new Housing, Development and Business
Retention (formerly Resource Management Department). Planning
and Community Development and the Library, would all be assigned
to the assistant.
Outside of Ewell's office, a new Assets Management Department
is expected to be formed, which will oversee maintenance of all
City assets and open spaces and custodial services currently provided
under four different departments.
A refocusing on what Ewell called "core missions and improved
service," will also be emphasized in other departments.
Ewell said he hopes to have an implementation plan in place by
next month and has worked to make sure the changes incur as little
cost to the City as necessary. He said he hopes that key parts
of the plan can be included in the upcoming fiscal year’s
budget and that others can be "phased in."
In his message to the council, residents and employees, Ewell
said the changes are not due to a lack of professionalism and
do not mean anyone will lose their job.
"The reorganization is not meant to diminish the work currently
being performed… nor devalue those efforts," he wrote.
"Neither is it intended that any employee will lose his or
her job because of the restructuring."