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Council Could Explore Asking Voters for a Raise


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By Jorge Casuso

May 30, 2024 -- Should Santa Monica City Councilmembers -- who are paid about $17,000 a year -- get a raise? The Council on Tuesday voted to find out.

In a 6 to 1 vote, the Council directed staff to conduct a survey of Westside charter cities and "those across the state with populations comparable to Santa Monica" to find out how much Councilmembers make in compensation and benefits.

The result of the survey -- which will be presented at the first Council meeting in July -- will help the Council decide whether to place a charter amendment on the November ballot that would boost their pay.

"We want public service to be accessible to various income levels," said Councilmember Oscar de la Torre, adding that the goal was "bringing us up to par to other cities in the region."

Councilmember Lana Negrete, who cosponsored the item, said it was "an effort to diversify our City Council (and) not just make it accessible to people who have both the luxury of time and money."

The low compensation, Negrete said, can "block certain people from even considering running for City Council. I think we have a lot of qualified individuals that wouldn't even consider it."

Councilmember Gleam Davis, who cast the lone dissenting vote, argued that increasing the Council's pay would send the wrong message as the Council faces unprecedented budget constraints.

"We just voted to stop paving our streets, paving our alleys," Davis said. "I can't imagine that we in good conscience would go to the people of the City and say that we should be paid more."

Davis also disagreed that low compensation kept people from running for Council.

"In all the time I have been on the Council," said Davis, who has served for 15 years, "I've talked to hundreds of people who want to run for City Council.

Not one, she said, mentioned "that compensation was the barrier. I think the barrier is, in fact, time."

Negrete shot back. "Some people live paycheck to paycheck who still want to serve their community," she said. "This is not about getting paid full-time or six figures (but) just a little bit more."

Councilmember Caroline Torosis agreed with Davis that it wasn't "the right time" to ask for an increase and suggested providing staff support to help ease the Councilmembers' workload.

Meanwhile, Mayor Phil Brock agreed it was "an insensitive time" to ask for a pay raise but noted that for a City with an annual budget of $740 million, we " have a lot of responsibility."

However, he stressed that the current fiscal predicament finds the city in dire straits.

"We just spent two hours just to ask for four police officers," Brock said of a previous budget discussion Tuesday night. "This is the leanest the City has been since 1875," when it was founded.

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