Out of Disaster, A New Day!

“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” Maya Angelou

~ We are facing a grave danger, one that we cannot see nor touch. And because the threat is invisible, some are scared while others shrug off the risk that they face. I talked with Berenice Onofre, a resident of Santa Monica and duplex dweller, since 1968. Berenice is a bright star in our community, a senior who is a vibrant, active participant in the Pico Neighborhood, at Samohi, and throughout our city. She tells me she is a little scared, and sometimes confused about the course she should take to combat this intangible virus. She has been afraid to go to the market, even though it’s only a few blocks from her home. Out of vegetables except for lemons (she has a tree) and mint from her garden, Berenice has become more creative with her cooking. She prays for everyone a lot. She lost a cousin in her native Peru to the coronavirus and is using her computer to attend virtual mass as well as family meetings. She misses communicating with friends in person and is sad that there will not be a special graduation ceremony for Latinx Samohi seniors.

~ Temporarily home-schooling two young boys in a Pico Neighborhood apartment and simultaneously trying to run her small business is challenging for Maria Loya. Her boys miss school and appreciate their teachers more. Mom does as well. They are walking their neighborhood as a family and believe such walks are crucial for the calmness they need. They hear the birds singing while on their strolls and notice the clear skies above them. Maria is concerned about the city’s upcoming emergency budget cuts and wants the staff’s post-COVID-19 focus to be exclusively on serving residents.

~ Beverly Todd is 72 years young and has lived 68 of those years in the Pico Neighborhood of Santa Monica. She is a people person who has raised three great kids. She is sad she can’t see her granddaughter graduate from NYU this spring and frustrated by grocery store lines. Beverly works with the Philomathean charity via virtual meetings to help those in need. She spends time helping her godmother, Rosa Hawkins, who has reached 99 years in age. Having worked at Kaiser Hospital for 43 years, helping and giving is ingrained within her.

~ Alan Toy has spent his life as an activist, a damn good actor, a Recreation and Parks Commissioner, and a Rent Control Board Member. He is getting cabin fever, and as he surveys the turf surrounding his apartment on San Vicente Blvd near Ocean Avenue, he notes that he is astounded by the “amount of pedestrians, runners, and exercising humans on this street.” Many are not observing the 6-foot distancing rule, and now the personal trainers are back, exercising clients in the center median of 4th Street. His message, “Yes, you can get COVID-19 west of 26th Street!” Alan believes isolation will continue until we can all receive antibody tests. He and his wife express their utmost appreciation for doctors, nurses, and support staff who are now our heroes.

A Santa Monica High School senior, Izzy Pernoll, is now without a school to host Prom, Graduation, and Grad Night. Her 8-month long relationship is now long-distance, even though they live a mile apart. Facetime is not a substitute for being together. She is finding new hobbies, and she dreams about the summer trips she had hoped to take before starting classes at the University of Oregon. Izzy’s side gig was at Brandy Melville on the Promenade, and she is impressed by the way they have treated their employees during the shutdown. Her goal is to become an elementary school teacher in Oregon and her message, “Stay Inside, we need to beat this virus; it won’t be forever.”

~ The Great Canyon of Lincoln Blvd will be extended as Related California posted a planning application to demolish the Von’s Market at 710 Broadway and build a five-story apartment and retail complex. The plans for the 2.5-acre parcel include 260 apartments (65 low-income), 390 parking spaces, and an additional 86,000 feet of commercial and retail, which would anchor the first floor and basement level. A market has existed on that parcel for decades, first Safeway and now Von’s. If we are lucky, the supermarket will return as part of this monster. P.O. Bahn’s & Bay Cities, across the street, might be the last local businesses standing on that block.

~ Co-shared offices were a significant part of the “Silicon Beach” start-ups in Santa Monica. Co-working together in small open spaces was hailed as the office model of tomorrow, a model that is now obsolete due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our brand spanking new City Services Building, attached to the rear of City Hall, just opened as a co-sharing office experience. Will any city hall employees want to work inside? Will there be any staff left to work there? What will the retrofit cost be for this $142 Million (including debt service) vainglorious self-serving building, designed to win a useless award? Remember that price as the City Hall budget gets hit by the wrecking ball next month!

~ This town has been led by a City Manager and City Council that has long believed that nothing could derail the money train. Yet, one unseen virus and years of poor decision making have led to short term financial ruin for our city—the sudden drop in revenue projects losses of $72 Million by July 1st. The 2020-2021 budget shows a $154 Million chasm that we cannot dig ourselves out of without severe cuts to every program and service in Santa Monica. The city is required to balance the general fund portion of the budget, now around $500 Million, with hundreds of millions more in enterprise fund operations.

~ Many of us have long advocated for salary cuts and a shift in budgetary spending to a sustainable model, one that meets the needs of residents by using common sense. We lament the high amount of taxes and fees we pay to live in this city. However, the proposed cuts will hurt every resident, and we cannot afford increases in taxes or fees. The haste at which the City Managers Office (CMO) required staff to make the deep cuts is lamentable. It appears that panic set in within the CMO last week, and the slashing was indiscriminate, without consideration for potential aid from Washington or Sacramento. Even though we face a dramatic loss of revenue, the necessary budget fixes still need to be made with thoughtful consideration. The “boots on the ground” staff and department heads know which programs and services are crucial to the residents of this city and which are fluff. Let them collaborate in cutting the non-essential programs and services while still protecting the needs of our youth, adults, and seniors. We have time to take a few deep breaths through our protective masks and then make thoughtful short-term decisions to right our listing ship of state.

~ Some of the staff members who will take voluntary leave or lose their jobs in the next three months were those that Santa Monicans valued. We will lose talented civil servants, among the best of the best, who worked hard to please our residents. Please thank them and wish them well.

~ The phrase pandemic depression is now part of our collective vocabulary. We have the benefit of hindsight. After the last worldwide pandemic in 1918-1920, it took years for a hesitant public to resume their normal activities. Author John Barry noted, “Fear is a pretty good enforcer,” in an interview on MSNBC last week. The progressive social justice agenda and grandiose visions of our city leaders are now on the back burner. Out of this disaster will come a healthier city. We will be changed, but as resilient people in a blessed land, we will not be reduced by this tragic series of events. And, as we rise, Santa Monica will be better. Focus on residents, first and foremost, must be our city’s mantra going forward.

By Phil Brock for SMart (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)

Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Architect, Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner, Phil Brock, Santa Monica Arts Commission.
For previous articles see http://www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing