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Council Authorizes Funds for Trip to Vienna


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By Jorge Casuso

February 15, 2024 – The City Council on Tuesday gave two Councilmembers the go-ahead to use their travel funds to attend a week-long housing program in Vienna, Austria, making them the most expensive Councilmember trips bankrolled with taxpayer money.

The funds will be used by Councilmembers Gleam Davis and Caroline Torisis to cover the $7,880 registration fee and airfare per participant to attend the Social Housing Field Study program taking place April 14 to 20.

But what is left of the individual Councilmembers' $8,400 annual travel fund won't cover hotel and meal expenses, which the Councilmembers plan to cover using their monthly stipend.

"I'm not going to come back and ask for additional money from the discretionary fund or from the Council," said Davis, a promise echoed by Torosis.

While the request was unanimously approved, Councilmember Christine Parra noted that Davis and Torosis had criticized Mayor Phil Brock and Councilmember Oscar de la Torre for exceeding their travel budgets last year.

"You guys both came down pretty hard on them for going over their travel budgets," Parra said ("Travel Overspending Stirs Heated Council Debate," July 26, 2023).

Brock and de la Torre were seeking to bridge their travel deficits -- which were $4,698 and $1,413 respectively -- by using unspent funds from two former Councilmembers that had been shifted from the travel budget.

"There's a difference between personal enrichment and benefits to the community," Torosis said. "I'm still struggling with that trade off."

The item Davis and Torosis placed on Tuesday's agenda asked the Council to authorize the use of travel funds to attend the program in Vienna, which "is considered one of the most livable and most importantly, affordable cities in the world."

At the meeting, Davis noted that the program was not a conference but a "study opportunity, kind of a week-long cramming course" that includes a textbook and field trips to housing sites considered international models for "social housing."

"About 70 percent of the population of Vienna live in some form of social housing, and it's not all deed-restricted affordable" and "there's not just one economic model," Davis said.

"It's a real opportunity to go and sort of get our creative juices flowing," she added.

Torosis said her professional colleagues at the County of Los Angeles who have attended the program have called the experience "transformational."

She noted there are affordable deed-restricted housing developments in every district in Vienna in "communities that are economically diverse".

Local policies, she said, "assure that when an affordable unit is sold, it is sold at an affordable price."

"I'm aware this is a significant trip and expense," Torosis said, "and I'm committed to finding solutions and bringing them back to Santa Monica."

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