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Santa Monica City Council “Retreat” to Look at Offering Faster and More Agile City Services


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

April 19, 2018 -- Faced with a community that demands more and faster City services, the Santa Monica City Council on Saturday will discuss how to make City Hall quicker, more agile and affordable as it tries to meet the demands of a growing population.

In a special morning “retreat” at Virginia Avenue Park’s Thelma Terry Auditorium, the council will contemplate the demands on services in the rapidly-evolving 21st Century, including what it can learn from the private sector -- especially in fields which had to radically change to survive.

“Residents increasingly base their expectations of government on private consumer experiences -- they demand solutions, and they expect them now,” Katie Lichtig, the assistant city manager, said in a report on the City’s methods of governance.

“This session offers an opportunity for Council to reflect with key staff and community members on our understanding of 21st century government, and how it applies here in Santa Monica,” the report said.

Saturday’s session is at 9 a.m. at the Thelma Terry Auditorium in in Virginia Park, 2200 Virginia Avenue.

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On an increasing basis, “the private sector is competing to satisfy needs that were once automatically assumed to be the domain of the public sector,” the report said.

"In a state where technology is promising that 'there’s an app for that,' the public sector must demonstrate it is delivering cost-effective public value" and "take stock of what we have been, and in turn, what we have to become,” the report said said.

“Like other traditional industries facing disruption in recent times (newspapers, record companies, automobiles, travel agents etc.) we must re-examine every aspect of our operating model or face brutal choices down the road.”

The community is “no longer accepting of slow-moving and methodical government processes and procedures,” Lichtig said.

The report also warns that the City’s “zest for (providing) exceptional service” has come at a price of “straining our capacity to meet growing demands.

“It is unsustainable to continue to add staff to address new challenges,” the report states. “As the problems the City is called on to solve become ever more numerous, complex and dynamic, we must parse with care the important from the urgent."

The City is already becoming more digital, to meet “rising expectations for City services to be available at the click of a button, anytime, and anywhere,” the report notes.

Lichtig’s report does not dwell on the City’s challenges, which are similar to those faced by local governments throughout California.

Among them: mounting costs for City employee pensions, aggravated by a looming $641 million price tag primarily for pensions left badly underfunded ("Pension Costs to Climb Almost 75 Percent at Santa Monica City Hall, Think Tank Estimates," January 29, 2018).

Sky-high real estate costs in Santa Monica (where median home values jumped 8.6 percent in the past year) and elsewhere in California can no longer reliably fund the big budgets cities need to provide services for increasing populations, Lichtig's report said.

But, as a housing “affordability crisis rages, the State’s pension liabilities are mounting and now far outweigh our ability to fund them without considering painful trade-offs,” she wrote.

The item -- the only one on the agenda -- recommends the council “discuss and provide direction to staff.”


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