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Council Expected to Fund New Black Non-Profit, Approve Free Bus Fares for Students

Bob Kronovetrealty
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By Jorge Casuso

August 19, 2021 -- The City Council on Tuesday is expected to fund a new non-profit that helps Black Santa Monica residents and to join a County program that will provide free transit fares for students.

The Santa Monica Black Lives Association (SMBLA), which was recently formed to improve “the wellbeing” of Santa Monica's Black community, is slated to receive $100,000 in funding from the City.

The Council is expected to authorize the transfer of the previously approved funds for the group to "address the health, wellness, mental health, and socioeconomic needs" of the City's Black community, staff said.

SMBLA will offer events, programs and services to "promote the wellbeing of Black people who live, work and visit the Santa Monica community, and to build a more equitable and just Santa Monica," according to staff's report to the Council.

Formed by the Black Agenda Steering Committee, the group will focus on economic development, police reform, housing and civil and political participation, among other priorities, staff said.

Programs the group plans to offer include individual, family and marital counseling programs, healthy living and peer support programs, and educational programs for children, youth and young adults, staff said.

Also on Tuesday, the Council is expected to vote to authorize the Big Blue Bus (BBB) to join the County's proposed 18-month Fareless System Initiative Pilot Program. that will include municipal transit operators countywide.

The program -- which covers the fares for students from Kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) and community colleges -- will "provide financial relief to transit riders and increase flagging ridership," according to City staff.

LA Metro is delaying the phase of the proposal that would serve low-income customers "until an ongoing funding source can be found," staff said.

"Encouraging K-12 students to ride BBB would increase ridership and take cars off the road during crucial peak traffic periods," staff wrote.

"The pilot program also helps establish a positive comfort level about public transit for young riders that will carry on throughout their lives."

The local portion of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) has "indicated interest in participating" but has not yet signed up for the program, which will distribute the TAP cards through the schools, according to said.

The passes for SMC students are already covered by a contract with BBB that will remain in place for the duration of the pilot program, staff said.

The cost of the program will largely depend on how many K-12 students participate.

Although the cost is uncertain, transit officials estimate the agency could lose between $350,000 and $550,000 during the 18-month pilot, staff said.

"A fee of $3 per student per school district per year should reimburse a minimal amount," staff wrote. "The remaining farebox revenue loss would be made up by existing funding sources."

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