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Millennials 'Gamechangers' Shaping Santa Monica, Mayor Says in State of the City Speech

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By Jorge Casuso

February 16, 2020 -- Santa Monica is increasingly becoming a city of Millennials who are shaping its economy, social views and policies, Mayor Kevin McKeown said Wednesday in his State of the City address.

Millennials -- those between 25 and 40 years old -- hold well paying tech jobs in what has become known as "Silicon Beach" and are helping to drive up housing prices, the Mayor said.

During the the annual address sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and attended by more than 300 business owners and residents, McKoewn outlined how Millennials had become "game changers" since he served as mayor five years ago.

"Probably the most relevant to today’s theme of social impacts
and working together is the rise of millennials," said McKeown.

"It is now the millennials joining GenXers in management and setting the standards, not us boomers."

It is a generation "that cares ever more deeply about climate change, diversity, social issues, and equity in economic opportunities," McKeown said.

It is also a generation this is driving a local boom in high-paying tech jobs that number more than 31,000, up from an estimated 22,000 five years ago, the Mayor said.

The more than 3,000 local tech businesses -- including both major brand names and small start-ups -- generate more than $5 billion, well over half of the total annual payroll in the entire city, he said.

"Just as the original Silicon Valley has changed San Francisco, the success of Silicon Beach is changing Santa Monica," McKeown said.

"Tech jobs pay well, and we’re grateful for that," he said. "But all that new money is in competition for our limited housing."

The median price for a home in Santa Monica now exceeds $1.5 million, according to the real estate website Zillow, and the median rent for new tenancies in a one-bedroom apartment last year was $2,450, the Mayor said.

"The residents of our city," McKeown said, "are increasingly fearful that the price of economic success will be the loss of their existing housing."

McKeown noted that nearly a quarter of renter households in Santa
Monica, who are mostly low-income, pay more than half of their income in rent.

To address the housing crunch, the City has expanded tenant harassment protections and enforcement and is "exploring ways to provide free legal assistance to residents facing displacement," he said.

It also expanded a City program to help struggling seniors make their rent control payments ("Santa Monica Expands Senior Housing Subsidies," August 14, 2019).

McKeown noted that Community Corporation, Santa Monica's largest affordable housing provider, recently used a $15 million investment from the City to purchase an existing rent control building in the Pico Neighborhood.

"That preserves 40 units of affordable housing in our city," he said. "Thirty seven families who live there now, mostly low-income, will remain our neighbors for years to come."

But Santa Monica, like the region, is facing an affordable housing crisis, the Mayor noted.

He noted that the city of some 93,000 residents may be asked to build 9,000 new housing units, half of them affordable, to meet its regional housing target ("State Housing Target Could Reshape Santa Monica," December 26, 2019).

"We can produce plenty of housing in places that won’t disrupt existing, occupied neighborhoods," McKeown said, "but it will take subsidies to make that housing affordable."

The Mayor outlined other challenges Santa Monica faces, including keeping Downtown's Third Street Promenade a vibrant destination at a time when "brick-and-mortar retail has hit hard times" ('Bold' Plan to Transform the Promenade Gets Go-Ahead from Council," November 7, 2019).

"We need to rethink how to use existing spaces to encourage new arts and performance options that will bring people downtown for something they can’t buy online or stream on Netflix," McKeown said.

"Santa Monica is committed to riding waves of innovation, not succumbing to the undertow," he said.

Crime also "has been a major concern for many people these last few years," McKeown said.

He noted that in 2019, rape, residential and commercial burglary and
and bike theft reached their lowest levels in five years, while grand theft auto and shoplifting are on the rise.

Still, McKeown said, crime dropped by 16 percent last year, and the Police Department has recently added 20 new officers.

The downward trend "seems well established, and is continuing with the tentative figures we’ve seen so far this year," the Mayor said.

"If we can lower local crime an additional seven-and-a-half percent below last year, we’ll have returned Santa Monica to the lowest crime rate in thirty years."

While "poverty and homelessness still exist side by side with economic
success," MacKeown said, "new strategies have been working locally, while the County-wide homelessness tragedy just gets worse."

Local initiatives include boosting “respectful but relentless” outreach efforts, placing social workers in public libraries and replacing an old parking garage on Fourth Street with 150 units of supportive afordable housing.

Since he was mayor five years ago, McKeown noted that "scooters and electric bikes, available for rental via smartphone, created a new category of micromobility.”

They join a Big Blue Bus (BBB) fleet that is going electric, 19 new miles of bike lanes and an Expo light rail line that had more than four million boardings last year.

In a nod to the Millennials, McKeown was "streaked" by a scooter as he began his speech.

"Get off my lawn," McKoewn said.

"OK, boomer," the rider replied.

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