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Santa Monica Council Members Took 49 Official Trips in Past Two Years

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By Jorge Casuso

December 3, 2019 -- One of the perks of winning a non-paying City Council seat in Santa Monica is traveling at taxpayers' expense -- with Vancouver, Montreal and Bonn, Germany among the destinations.

Over the past two fiscal years, Council members took a total of 49 official trips, an average of about two per month, that cost nearly $60,000, according to travel expense records provided by the City.

Of the current Council members, Kevin McKeown was the most prolific traveler, taking nine trips totaling $13,613.76 in expenses over the past two fiscal years, the records show.

The most costly -- $2,461 -- was a four-day trip to San Francisco last November to attend the Community Choice Energy Summit.

A five-day trip to attend the RailVolution conference in Vancouver, British Columbia cost $2,242.32.

"I serve in more regional, statewide, and national roles on behalf of the City than other current Councilmembers," said McKeown.

McKeown said he is Santa Monica’s representative on the executive committee of the Clean Power Alliance.

He also serves on the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission and the Westside Cities Council of Governments, posts that don’t require travel.

Councilmember Ted Winterer was the second most frequent traveler among sitting Council members with seven trips totaling $10,627.33 over the past two fiscal years.

The costliest were a $2,770.60 five-day trip to San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit in September 2018 and a $2,753.34 five-day trip to Bonn, Germany for the Local Governments for Sustainability Conference in November 2017.

His October 2017 four-day trip to Seoul, Korea for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Mayors Forum cost $650. The organization paid for the airfare.

Mayor Gleam Davis took four trips over the past two fiscal years and Councilmember Terry O'Day took three.

Davis took the most expensive of the Council's 49 trips, spending $3,384.53 to attend the Climate Mayors and the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) Summer Meeting in Honolulu.

After being appointed to the Council in January, Ana Jara took two trips totaling $4,110.05 in the fiscal year ending June 30.

They included a $2,567.54 six-day trip to Miami in May for the National Association of Latino Democratic Officials (NALEO) Annual Educational Conference in Miami.

Councilmember Greg Morena, who was elected in November 2018, took one trip, joining Jara and O'Day for the Local Government Commission (LGC) Conference in Yosemite National Park in March.

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich didn't charge for travel expenses incurred on behalf of the City, according to the records.

"I do not put in any expenses to the City (or to Western Center)," she wrote in an email to the Lookout, referring to the non-profit Western Center on Law & Poverty where she is a staff attorney.

According to City spokesperson Constance Farrell, Council members can attend conferences or meetings for organizations the City belongs to without requiring approval from the Council or City Manager.

A vote of the Council is required for conferences hosted by an organization the City is not a member of, Farrell said.

The Council -- which approves a travel budget for each fiscal year -- set aside $53,039 for FY 17-18, or $7,577 per council member, and $54,313 for FY 18-19, or $7,759 per member.

There is no cap on the number of total trips or on the number of trips a single Council member can take as long as the total expenses don't exceed the budget cap, Farrell said.

"Each councilmember has an allotted amount, but they can go over if the overall budget allows," she said.

McKeown was not the most frequent traveler on the Council over the past two years, records show.

Former Council member Pam O'Connor took 11 trips in Fiscal Year 2017-18 with expenses totaling $10,724.16.

One of the trips was to Bonn, another to Montreal, with four trips to Washington, DC and two to San Francisco.

In Fiscal year 2018-19, she took three trips between July and September before her unsuccessful bid for reelection in November.

Former Council member Tony Vazquez took a total of nine trips costing $9,571.90 before stepping down from his Council seat in January to assume the seat on the State Board of Equalization he won in November 2018.

A five-day trip in July 2018 to Carlsbad, California for the Independent Cities Association (ICA) Summer Meeting cost $2,261.99, while attending the four-day National League of Cities (NLC) summit in Los Angeles in November cost $575.

In March 2018, all of the Council members except O'Connor attended the LGC Conference in Yosemite, which cost a combined total of $9,257.95, according to expense records.

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