Dear Friends,

From brawls over bike lanes and bathrooms to the culmination of not one but two historic legal settlements that have long cast a dark shadow over our city, it's been an eventful month in Santa Monica.

Some mark the growing pains of a city still striving to live up to its progressive values. Others shine a light on shameful portions of our not-too-distant past. The good news is we’re moving forward as a city in a way that will make us more sustainable, safe, and just.

Here’s what’s happened and where we’re headed

April Wrap

Tuesday Tales

Our libraries are slowly but steadily expanding their programming and hours! To get the word out I joined Tuesday Tales, a traveling storytime for two to five year-olds, where I read books and sang songs with a very lively group in Sunset Park!

Tuesday Tales rotates each week between our different branches, moving from Main to Pico to Montana to Fairview over the course of each month. To learn more about all the programs available through your local library, check out May’s full Calendar of Events!

A Tree of Gratitude

In honor and memory of tree lover, artist, and beloved community member Marissa Rubin, Santa Monica planted a Tree of Gratitude in Palisades Park on Earth Day. It stands close by the Children’s Tree of Life, which Marissa planted on Earth Day 1983 and where Jerry and Marissa Rubin were married that same year.

I was honored to join nearly a hundred people at the tree-planting ceremony led by Jerry Rubin – and sad to miss the 40th-anniversary group tree hug that followed!

Showdown on 17th St.

One of Santa Monica’s first protected bike lanes is nearing completion, and some in the community are already decrying it as less safe than what it replaced. Repeated studies, however, show that protected lanes lead to less road accidents and more people choosing to cycle.

Green paint, while pleasant, doesn’t keep anyone safe. Our streets deserve real infrastructure that protects drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. You can read my full thoughts about why these lanes are vital to our community and our climate on Twitter.

City Business

At City Hall, council passed an ordinance requiring gender neutral bathrooms in new public buildings and amended another to make it easier for residential streets and business districts to host block parties, concerts, and other “open streets” events.

In addition, council approved a staff recommendation to award just over $10 million annually to 21 exemplary nonprofit programs that serve Santa Monica’s youth and families, seniors, and disabled individuals, as well as people facing eviction, dealing with food insecurity, and experiencing homelessness. 

Listening to the testimony of youth, parents, and other beneficiaries of these incredible programs made me proud of our city’s unique commitment to helping those most in need, and I was honored to cast a vote to continue this good work in our community over the next four years.

Finally, council heard the city’s annual update on homelessness, which – despite the heroic efforts of our social workers, behavioral health specialists, police, and firefighters – grew worse over the past year. 

The reason we cannot get a handle on this crisis is that, at its core, homelessness is a housing problem, and we simply don’t have enough homes in Southern California. 

Homelessness is a Housing Problem also happens to be the title of a recent book from University of California Press that does an incredible job marshaling evidence to explain the substantial regional variation in rates of homelessness across our country.

As the research shows, the best predictor of whether your city is experiencing a homelessness crisis is not mental illness, drug use, poverty, good weather, or the generosity of public assistance, but rather the cost and availability of rental housing. 

Of course, many people on our streets do suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues. When housing is scarce, these vulnerable populations are the first to lose their homes. And when it comes to getting well, it is virtually impossible to get healthcare, get a job, or get sober if you don’t have a roof over your head.

As it happens, Homelessness is a Housing Problem is currently 40 percent off on the UC Press website with the code MAY40 (and no, I do not enjoy any ties to the publishing house or authors)!

Two Historic Settlements

After many years, the city finally reached a settlement over a terrible, dark episode in its past, in which a city employee stood accused of molesting over 200 children who participated in after-school programs through the Police Activities League.

While these events occurred decades ago, they will affect the city for years to come. First, a payment of nearly $230 million will compensate victims – predominantly low-income, Latino boys from the Pico neighborhood whose trauma will never be fully healed. Second, a liability of this size will impair the city’s finances and capabilities for the foreseeable future.

Third, the city has engaged in a comprehensive review of every aspect of its programming that interacts with children, instituting a series of costly but essential safeguards to ensure that something like this never happens again in Santa Monica.

Meanwhile, just last week, the city reached a happier resolution to 13 Builder’s Remedy projects that had been proposed in Santa Monica. Under the settlement, three projects in residential areas will be withdrawn. The other ten projects in commercial zones will be allowed to file new applications that conform to our city’s local zoning code.

Rarely is anything a “win-win,” but I’m confident this settlement is exactly that. Tenants at risk of displacement will be protected, costly lawsuits will be dropped, and appropriately-scaled new projects will provide desperately-needed housing in our city.

Looking Ahead

May is already well underway, but one thing to note is that it is National Bike Month, and Santa Monica is hosting happy hours and other fun events around the city to celebrate.

Also, this Wednesday and Thursday Santa Monica will be convening a series of discussions on the topic of behavioral health with its partner Initium Health, which is currently conducting an evaluation and strategic plan on behalf of the city.

Thursday is also the final Locals’ Night of the spring season at the Santa Monica Pier, which will include youth activities, a car show, salsa dancing, local DJs and live music from local bands, art exhibits, and much more – so get on down there!

Finally, mark your calendars for the return of SM Pride! The Festival will take place on June 3, and the city is accepting volunteer and exhibitor sign ups here.

What I’m Reading

The Office Workers aren’t Coming Back.

“Cities thrived before the office was invented and can still triumph after the office has gone.” Here’s how. 

Hollywood is calling it ‘the Netflix strike.’ Here’s why.

Streaming services have upended the entertainment business in ways that have hurt writers. The LA Times explains why Netflix is the most popular place to picket.

Yes in Our Backyards: It’s time progressives like me learned to love the green building boom.

Famed environmentalist Bill McKibben explains why the movement needs to stop saying no to everything.

More Flexible Zoning Helps Contain Rising Rents

The Pew Charitable Trusts assembles new evidence from four US cities that shows allowing more housing sharply slows rent growth.

Last but not least: Got a friend who wants to subscribe to this newsletter but doesn’t know how? Here’s the link to sign up!
Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

This email was paid for by Jesse Zwick.