|The Lookout Letter to the editor|
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By Sue Himmelrich
It’s a privilege to be together with all of you even in this digital format. And as I look across my screen, it both brings home the fact that our reality has changed, and how much I hope that we can once again achieve some modicum of normalcy again in the near future.
For those of you who don’t know me you should know there is nothing I love more than a challenge. This is why I sought this job and am honored to serve as the Mayor of Santa Monica for the next two years.
All of us in Santa Monica and throughout the state and country and the world, have struggled and suffered over the past year, although some of us have suffered more than others. We need to recognize this struggle and how it has impacted us and left an imprint on our community - from small business owners – restaurants and retailers – who struggled to stay afloat, to front line workers who have risked their lives to keep services running, to those who lost jobs and businesses, to renters who simply couldn’t pay the rent or had to deplete savings to do so, to homeowners facing foreclosure, to many left to seek out basic necessities like food and shelter, and, most tragically to those who have lost loved ones or suffered directly from contracting COVID 19.
On top of the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, the reexamination of systemic racism that followed, and the ease with which criminal elements were able to take advantage of May 31 protests to loot and damage our Downtown, all exposed deep flaws in our City and our Nation for which we both apologize and resolve to address.
In short, this past year has been a test of our strength and willingness to survive. We can see our interconnectedness as a community and the important contributions of all of its members. We now need to carry these lessons with us as we welcome what we hope will be a new period of recovery.
I personally lost two members of my own family. I know I am not alone and I know others are grieving immensely right now. My almost 90-year-old father died after living a full life. My sweet and ebullient 21-year-old nephew, Charlie took his life after losing hope despite what I saw as the limitless possibilities before him. I want everyone watching to know that life remains worth living. If you are in anguish and need a lifeline, please reach for it. Call the county crisis line at (800) 854-7771 or you can call my cell phone and I mean this at 310-963-1337.
Having struggled with my own mortality in 2004 when I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and then relapsed in 2006, I knew my approach was simple. Put one foot in front of the other, keep my eyes firmly trained on the path to recovery, and pay it forward.
While things may never be the same, we are here in 2021 on, what seems like, the brink of better times, and I am asking you to lean into this challenge with me… to create a more equitable, a more responsive, and a more transparent Santa Monica.
We all are asking, what will the next two years look like? And if anyone tells you they have the answer – good luck to them because the predictions of so-called “experts” is all over the board.
We do know that all indicators tell us that the pandemic has expanded the inequality gap with Black, Brown and anyone with a limited income most impacted by loss of housing, learning, income, and life.
We know that the COVID pandemic brought with it new challenges, particularly for small businesses and workers in Santa Monica, and exacerbated existing problems with our housing and homelessness crisis.
We need to set real goals for the future while staying extremely flexible in our approach in order to meet new challenges.
Even in this protracted period of uncertainty, there are signs of hope.
Santa Monica is still, thankfully, a unique destination place where people want to visit, so we must be prepared to re-open as tourism comes back. I am excited that this past weekend hotel occupancy exceeded 75%. In addition, the state of California is providing more assistance for businesses that our restaurants, retailers and other small businesses can take advantage of in the coming months.
Housing is a basic human right, and our unhoused residents continue to struggle as even more people become housing insecure. Last night, we discussed prioritizing affordable residential housing at the City level to meet the needs of our homeless and low-income residents in the context of our Housing Element requirements. Exploring how to utilize government owned property for homeless housing is a high priority and the best opportunity to provide stability for our unhoused community using a Housing First model.
There is good news, as well, for renters struggling to pay rent and concerned about impending eviction. The passage of Assembly Bill 3088 along with federal and state stimulus money coming to Santa Monica for renter assistance, will allow small landlords to recoup a large percentage of back rent while preventing evictions for renters.
I think Santa Monica-educated phenom poet Amanda Gorman put it best:
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
Before us is a location with glistening natural beauty.
Exceptional public and private schools and a community college rivaled by few.
We have TWO major hospitals and countless prestigious medical practices from pediatrics to holistic health to cancer research.
World-class businesses in burgeoning sectors that choose to root themselves here knowing they are part of the cutting edge and that their employees want to raise families here.
We have the best parks and open space, streets, transportation, libraries, youth programs, and sustainability programs of any city in the county, and an immensely committed and talented City workforce.
We have a strong commitment to building and maintaining an economically diverse community as reflected in our rent control and tenant protection laws, and our forty-year commitment to deed-restricted affordable housing.
We have an informed, active, engaged, and a diverse group of resident community organizations.
Just as we can only beat the pandemic together, we can only walk the road to recovery together.
We watched as people picked up brooms and tools and helped to put the City back together in the days after the damage to property and businesses on May 31st – events for which the City apologizes once again to City businesses and residents.
We have watched as our volunteers continue to:
Deliver food for Meals on Wheels West and participate in local food distribution events
Help sign up seniors for vaccinations.
Serve on Boards and Commissions including the Housing Commission, the Rent Board, Arts Commission, and many others. And soon the Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission and the We Are Santa Monica Fund Advisory Board.
Help out at the Santa Monica Farmers Market and Santa Monica Animal Shelter. We need more volunteers at both of these places.
Share thoughts through the now active community priorities survey and at Council meetings.
The government has the ability to point us in the direction we need to go, but for meaningful outcomes, we have to turn toward the common effort of advancing the common good. We do this by rebuilding our economy, our connections to one another, and also our hearts.
When we set aside our differences and care for ourselves, we can make progress in solving the regional tragedy of homelessness, access to affordable housing, and impending evictions. It’s how we can talk about housing allocations and density and where to build and how much to build and how tall it can be. It’s how we can redefine public safety, advance racial justice, and imagine the public spaces of the future.
As our young Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman wrote, it’s as simple as a decision…... that each of us chooses to make..... to turn toward one another with compassion, an open ear, and a resolve to participate in solutions for a strong recovery.
I know that to be a Santa Monican is to have fierce beliefs and to be a force for good.
When I moved to Santa Monica in 1992 my husband Michael and I were drawn by the proximity to the beach and our neighborhood that was perfect for raising our two millennial daughters, as well as an economically diverse and progressive City that comported with our values.
We found community in the shared values of our neighbors. But it was in my experience in 2013 advocating for the tenants of Village Trailer Park and the injustice I witnessed that led me to run for City Council and led me to the position I hold today as Mayor of this great City.
I look to my colleagues on the City Council and I see similar stories of love of place and conviction for good.
Four of your Councilmembers grew up here. And the remaining three of us have been here for decades!
Kevin McKeown moved into his Santa Monica apartment 45 years ago to be general manager of KROQ, and as the last renter left on the Council, he continues his passion for renters’ rights and affordable housing.? A fierce environmentalist, Kevin’s more likely to be seen on his bike than in his Prius, especially since the pandemic.
Gleam Davis and her husband John came here in 1986 to start a family after law school. Gleam is a very proud mother of a West Point graduate. Her passion for education and social services is what spawned her public service. She cares deeply about community wellbeing and ensuring future generations have access to housing and a car free existence.
Kristin McCowan?was?raised?in the Pico neighborhood.?When she left to build a career and?work in the?Obama?Administration?she carried Santa Monica?close to her heart and waited for the right moment to return to raise her two children with her husband.?She is particularly invested in racial justice, economic recovery, and engaging working moms.
Oscar de la Torre was born and raised in Santa Monica where he and his wife Maria are raising their two sons. Oscar founded a youth center that continues to support local youth and he served 18 years on our local Board of Education. Oscar has dedicated his life to supporting our most marginalized youth and their families.?
Christine?Parra?grew up spending summers?roller skating?on the Third Street Promenade, has been a Santa Monica resident for the past 23 years raising her 3 sons with her husband Jose. When she’s not?filling her role as?Councilmember?she works for a local fire department in emergency management.
Phil?Brock?is a proud second-generation lifelong Santa?Monican?who knows a thing or two about our local history.?He’s worked on a host of Boards and Commissions as a voice for local control, parks and the arts, and open space. When he’s not volunteering or leading the Samohi Alumni Association, he loves his daily long walks through our city.
So, you can see, every member of Council is here because you, the voters of Santa Monica, selected each of us to lead. We reflect the values of Santa Monica as the most diverse City Council body in our history. We represent the dynamism across issues. We all work on your behalf, each fueled by a relentless love of Santa Monica.
Now, I ask you to think back to your own Santa Monica origin story.
Now I ask you to harness what brought you here AND your deep love for Santa Monica as we look to this NEW day and this NEW moment because..... at the end of the day..... nowhere is better than right here.
Before we can recover together, we need to heal ourselves. In this spirit I hope that you take this opportunity to:
Get out for more walks especially along the North Beach Trail.
Spend more time with your pets or visit a new local dog park.
Spend a few minutes each day taking a deep, cleansing breath.
Or like me, spend time on your balcony or backyard nurturing exquisite vanishing monarch butterflies!
This IS in fact a brand new day when we can step out of the walls of our home and back into the bright sunlight of Santa Monica.
I enthusiastically join you in the common effort of recovery. We can do it one step at a time with respect and our hearts full of love for the place we all call home.
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