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Santa Monica’s 'Wellbeing Index' Reflects Growing Discontent in Pico Neighborhood, Hispanic Leader Says


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

September 19, 2017 -- Hispanic activist Maria Loya was far from surprised Monday as she considered the newly released summary of Santa Monica's “2017 Wellbeing Index.”

The summary glowed with sunny attitudes and optimism from the populace overall -- until researchers drilled down to the Pico Neighborhood's zip code.

There, the nine-page report summed up the 90404 zip code’s residents as expressing the “lowest life satisfaction” in the city, the least “appreciation” of community experiences and the highest economic worry.

“It was a (reflection) of how people are feeling here,” Loya said, “the insecurity over all the gentrification in the neighborhood, the fears that have built up because of the lack of a voice” at City Hall.

“It was what we expected,” said Loya, a board member for the Pico Neighborhood Association and a plaintiff in a Voting Rights lawsuit seeking to force the City to end at-large elections in favor of district-by-district voting ("Judge Orders Voting Rights Lawsuit Against City of Santa Monica to Move Forward," June 14, 2017).

The new Wellbeing Index, an update from the original 2015 version, received 3827 responses, or about double from its debut two years ago.

Overall, two-thirds of the respondents said they were “happy most or all of the time.” Most were optimistic about the future and gave life in Santa Monica the kind of upbeat reviews that researchers said rated those people as “flourishing.”

The project’s research -- the first of its kind in the U.S. -- delves deeply into each neighborhood, allowing the City to craft policies and services to specific needs of an area, said Anita Chandra, a senior analyst for RAND, a primary partner in the project.

With the second index completed, City officials should have enough information to tackle such pressing issues as housing insecurity (due to the housing shortage and rising rents), and diversity in the mostly white and financially well-off city, Chandra said.

The first Wellbeing Index did slice out some neighborhood-specific data, however, and the broad picture of Pico’s state of mind was much as it was this time around.

Pico performed “worst on community, health, and economic opportunity,” the 2015 report found.

“The largest gaps can be seen in terms of satisfaction with home, many of the community variables such as trusting people and belonging to neighborhood, use of outdoor space, fruit and vegetable consumption, physical activity, and credit card debt.

“The zip code does not do significantly above average on any individual indicator," the reserachers wrote, "but it ranks second best on a few indicators."

These included "attendance of classes, confidence carrying out repair jobs, visits to other neighborhoods, and walking to work."

"It's also the neighborhood with the second lowest rate of people working very long hours,” researchers said.

Loya recalled some of the changes which shaped the Pico Neighborhood, including the construction of the Santa Monica Freeway in the 1960s, which opened a sea of vehicular traffic to the beach but decimated the diverse neighborhood, which had been a leading black community on the Westside.

Today, the Pico Neighborhood’s estimated population of 22,740 people makes it one of Santa Monica’s largest neighborhoods and home to its biggest concentration of Hispanics, whose population numbered 14,173 people, according to the 2015 U.S. Census update.

Santa Monica in general has few major crimes, but Pico has traditionally seen the highest proportion of violent crime.

Median household income is $66,623, compared to $76,580 citywide.

With the arrival last year of the Expo light rail line, Hispanic leaders see a new challenges ahead ("Mapping Shows Pico Neighborhood Ground Zero for Skyrocketing Evictions in Santa Monica," August 27, 2015).

“The freeway split us, now light rail is here and transit-oriented development is fueling gentrification,” Loya said.

A bright spot for the neighborhood was the 2014 opening of the Pico Branch Library. It was the first addition to the Santa Monica Public Library system in more than half a century.

But it took decades of discussion to come to fruition, Loya said.

For more information on the Pico Neighborhood, read the Lookout's 2004 series "Inside the Pico Neighborhood"

PART I: A World Apart, December 1, 2004

PART II: On the Front Lines, December 2, 2004

PART III: Youth and Street Violence, December 7, 2004


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