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Santa Monica City Council Wants More Civic Engagement from Residents

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

Santa Monica City Council Wants More Civic Engagement from Residents.

The bayside city is a town where “community activists” are in no short supply and testify at public meetings, often waiting for hours for other concerned residents to say their piece, so frequently that council members can recognize them by face.

Still, the City Council thinks that residents in the bayside city could be more engaged. Or more accurately, that City Hall could expand its outreach to a wider segment of Santa Monica’s 90,000 residents, specifically the younger ones.

“What’s really important is that we hear from all corners of the community,” said Councilmember Gleam Davis Tuesday.

To that end, the Council unanimously approved a “Community Civic Engagement Strategy” to close the generation gap by stepping up City Hall’s social media presence, hosting “inter-generational” events and even possibly planning politically-themed happy hour meetings.

About 49 percent of Santa Monica residents are between 20 and 50 years old, staff told the Council. But, many do not “visibly participate in civic affairs.”

That might just be a question of priorities, Councilmember Kevin McKeown said.

“I lived in Santa Monica when I was in my 20s and 30s. And all of my time was taken up chasing career goals and girls,” he said. “I wasn’t about to get involved in local politics.”

Davis had a different explanation.

“I do think young people want to get engaged,” she said. “I think they may not know how.”

One thing the strategy hopes to do is to “foster civic pride” by providing “creative opportunities for people to share their personal experiences and why they choose to live in Santa Monica,” staff said.

To help people better understand how to get involved, the City will move forward with plans for Citizen Academy.

“The Academy would provide participants with an in-depth understanding of how local government operates and ways local government collaborates with community, civic and non-profit institutions,” staff said.

McKeown was concerned, however, that staff would decide who could participate in the Academy.

“Who are you going to choose to empower?” McKeown asked. “You can empower the people you agree with. You can empower the people you don’t agree with. Or you can empower everybody.”

He worried that people with a “non-resident agenda” could be inadvertently targeted.

Mayor Pam O’Connor said that the point was to generally increase participation, regardless of people’s opinions.

“If people live here, no matter what position they take on an issue, they live here and they have a right to participate,” she said.

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