By Olin Ericksen
March 23 -- If nurses, teachers, firefighters, police
and other moderately paid workers can afford to live and work
in an increasingly ritzy Santa Monica years from now, they
might trace it back to a single meeting held this week.
Almost three dozen community members from schools, hospitals,
businesses, neighborhood groups and the City met for the first
time Monday to hash out the goals and form subcommittees to
examine “workforce housing” for local employees.
"The kick-off meeting was a true success," said
City Manager Lamont Ewell who has said the issue is a top
priority in a community straining under a serious shortage
"We each understand that the task before us will be difficult,
yet important to the City's future, given the great minds
that we have working on this challenge,” Ewell said.
Other City officials said the eclectic group of community
voices present at the meeting would help steer the broader
conversation to specifics.
"We had very enthusiastic participation from the broad
spectrum of stakeholders," said Kate Vernez, assistant
to the City Manager for community and government relations.
"The main purpose was it was the inaugural meeting as
well as an organizing meeting"
Iao Katagari, who serves as deputy vice president for the
office of external affairs at the RAND Corporation, a well-known
Santa Monica-based think tank, was elected to chair the task
Three subcommittees were also formed, including one that
will examine "assessing essential tools available to
the group" and another to look into "land-use, transportation
A third subcommittee was added later that would define which
workforce -- City or private employees or both and the types
of occupations -- the process should serve, as well as the
consumer choices available.
Through the process, Vernez said, the subcommittees will
help decide not only who will be eligible for workforce housing,
but how they will be best served.
Whether homeownership will be a goal and if the venture should
be public or private or both will be decided in coming months.
"What's significant about this effort is this is community
driven," Vernez said. "Major institutions (like
hospitals) have land where that can also be part of the solution."
With City officials estimating 80 percent of Santa Monica's
workforce lives outside the City, much of the focus Monday
was on finding ways to help members of key professions move
to the increasingly upscale city.
“The larger themes brought up was for the need to look
at options for income groups priced out of the market that
form the backbone of the local community," said Vernez.
Teachers, nurses, emergency personnel and others were all
mentioned as the types of occupations the community may want
Keeping an economically diverse community in the face of
ever increasing market forces, such as astronomical land values,
rising rents and escalating mortgages payments was also an
issue many wanted to explore, Vernez said.
The task force and its subcommittees will hold alternate
bi-monthly meeting and a preliminary report could be presented
to the City Council in six to eight months.