Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Santa Monica Mayor Phil Brock Delivers Upbeat State of the City Address for 2024

"Santa Monica has many milestones worth celebrating in our rich history. ....."

Good evening.

Thank you for being here with me, the Vice Mayor and City Manager David White for the annual State of the City event. On behalf of myself and my colleagues on the City Council, I want to thank you for your interest in staying informed about what's happening in this community we call home.

I also want to thank the members of our Boards and Commissions, many of whom have joined us tonight.

A special thank you to the Chairs and Vice Chairs who have joined my Mayor's Cabinet. Your thoughtful consideration and recommendations you provide at our meetings are essential to the work of the council and we appreciate you and your service to our community.

I also want to give a special shout out to the chairs and members of our vibrant neighborhood associations. I encourage all residents to join these essential grass roots organizations.

I want to give you an example about a Santa Monican who never gave up on his dreams for our city. The man I'm referring to brought Martin Luther King to Santa Monica.

He became our city's first black Recreation & Parks commissioner, against all odds. He envisioned a great park for the Pico neighborhood at a time when the city council had zero interest in such an idea. He fought in the 1970s to raise funds and acquire land for such a park, and he would never take "no" for an answer. He fought for 25 years to add more land and facilities to the place that is now Virginia Avenue Park.

He made, in the words of our great Congress Member John Lewis, "Good Trouble." I intend to bring forward legislation that would honor this gentleman, who is now 102 years old, by changing the name of Virginia Avenue Park to Lloyd Allen Park. Ladies and gentlemen, it's such an honor to have here with us tonight, Mr. Lloyd Allen!

Let's reflect on 2023 and how the events of this past year will shape our future.

And we will also look forward toward 2025, which is a very special year here in Santa Monica: the celebration of our city's 150th birthday on July 14, 2025.

As you probably know, 2024 is a Leap Year, and today is Leap Day.

I like to view this "bonus" day that we get every four years as a time to pause and reflect. To set our intentions, focus on our goals and take that "leap" toward a brighter future. So, on this Leap Day, I want to showcase how we're working toward a Santa Monica at 150 where we ALL can thrive.

If you know me, you probably know that my love for this city is boundless. I grew up here. My mother grew up here and still lives here. My parents met at one of the cannons in Palisades Park, walked through Ocean Park, shared ice cream, and fell in love here.

I will forever be grateful for the day my grandparents chose to move to Santa Monica in the mid-1920s. Because of them, I get to call this beautiful place home.

I live and breathe Santa Monica. I've walked every block and every alley of this city, and I take pride in being truly embedded in the community I love.

There's a feeling you get when you're exploring this town, standing at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, viewing a glorious sunset in Palisades Park, taking a bike ride on our city's safe bike paths, and enjoying our neighborhood haunts.

I call it the Spirit of Santa Monica. It's a unique, distinct culture - a way of life and a beauty that is unmatched.

We often get caught up in the daily grind, focusing on the struggles we face as a community, rather than the beauty and vibrancy that is Santa Monica. As we start fresh in a new year, it's a great opportunity to refocus. To be grateful for the fact that we live, work and play in this wonderful place, and to recommit to working together to recapture the Spirit of Santa Monica.

It is an absolute honor and the privilege of my lifetime to serve as your mayor, and I look forward to continuing to do this work together.

Before I say anything more, let's pause for a moment to recognize the incredible city staff that make it all happen. They work tirelessly every day to serve each of you, our community members.

They're diverse in background and ideas, they're intelligent and innovative and, above all, they truly care. They're one of the reasons our city is as great as it is, and every single person on staff is vital to our efforts serving you.

I want to single out our blue-collar staff for special recognition. Plumbers, electricians, custodians, bus drivers and mechanics, among others, including the public works and water department staff. They keep our city running.

And city staff have been through a lot over the past few years, as we worked through the pandemic and the economic challenges facing our city. Words can't do justice to the appreciation I have for their dedication to Santa Monica. Everything that we'll touch on tonight is a testament to the teamwork between staff and residents, city boards and commissions, and our city council.

Santa Monica has many milestones worth celebrating in our rich history.

The first people arrived in the Los Angeles area more than 100,000 years ago and caused our first traffic jam. The Gabrielino/Tongva people settled at their Sacred Springs, taking advantage of the fruitful offerings and outstanding scenery surrounding them, flourishing and caring for the land for millennia.

In 1769 explorers encountered them on what is today the University High School campus. Naming the area "Santa Monica" has been attributed to Father Juan Crespi, who was part of that expedition. He saw the drops of water from the springs and envisioned them as the tears of Saint Monica.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge that the land we stand on tonight is the ancestral land of the first peoples, to honor the Indigenous caretakers of this land and those who are still an integral part of our community today.

Our Santa Monica has gone through many eras and many inhabitants, but all shared a love for this place. Santa Monica's 150th anniversary arrives on July 14, 2025. It celebrates when landowners Jones and Baker mapped out our modern city and sold the first plots of land. The date was July 14, 1875.

And we are forever grateful that Baker's wife, Arcadia Bandini, and her nephew, Juan Jose Carrillo, made significant donations to the future of Santa Monica. You can thank Arcadia for Palisades Park and Juan for Woodlawn Cemetery.

So, from the first peoples to recent times, Santa Monica was born from the natural resources and beautiful open space that makes this city special.

As a former Parks commissioner, I have long embraced the importance of our open spaces to the Spirit of Santa Monica. They remain critical to the soul of our community today.

To my great delight, this past year saw a surge of fun community events that activated our parks and brought the community together again. I loved attending the monthly Locals' Nights filled with fantastic local music and arts and the historic 360 festival.

Nearly 3,000 people participated in the third annual "Americana in the Park" community concert series in Gandara Park. And this summer saw a new park concert series called "Endless summer C.A.M.P." – which stands for Community, Art, Music, Picnic – at Tongva Park.

As part of the budget this year, the City Council formed a new city department dedicated solely to providing amenities and enrichment to our community. The Recreation and Arts Department, affectionately called RAD, under Director Jenny Rogers is doing some phenomenal work.

I can't wait to see what the talented team of seasoned and new staff accomplish in the coming year, building upon the great foundation already established in conjunction with our residents.

There are so many projects and enhancements in the pipeline. We'll celebrate a new pickleball program, a universally accessible playground at Douglas Park, and end the two decades-long wait to blend the old Fisher Lumberyard into an improved Memorial Park. It's high time that there is simple historical signage in each and every city park that embraces the history of that park.

But make no mistake, the people of this city need MORE open space. We must have significant green space within a 10-minute walk of every resident. Our work is not done.

One more thing: trees.

Our urban forest has been going in the wrong direction. Declining, instead of increasing. I need your help.

The city's Urban Forest Team must plant trees in every empty tree well, and every Santa Monican must plant a tree in every yard in this city. Our lives depend on it.

Developers, we know the state has walked all over our zoning and design standards but, at least, plant copious amounts of trees in your new developments. If we're not allowed to alter your height and density, please give us trees and open space in every one of these new buildings. The health of our future residents depends on granting us this one wish.

Lastly, residents need to petition the governor and legislature to give our city back local control over our zoning while still welcoming residents of diverse incomes into our town.

And the big one. The Santa Monica Airport (SMO) conversion project is getting underway, starting with a public outreach and engagement process beginning this spring. In line with the 2014 voter-approved Measure LC, we'll be exploring the creation of extraordinary community open spaces on the airport land.

SMO has been a key player in our city's history. The land was originally known as Clover Park and the wise residents of Santa Monica voted for a parks bond in 1926 to fund a city park there.

I see this transformation as the return of the original purpose of Clover Park – A Great Park!

I want to thank Acting Chief Operating Officer Amber Richane and the fantastic team behind the airport transformation for their hard work getting us to this point. I encourage everyone to get involved and I can't wait to see what we dream up together!

Speaking of the airport, today, Frieze Los Angeles opened its international art fair at SMO for the second year. With more than 95 exhibits from across the globe, Frieze has the eyes of the contemporary art world focused on our city. And we have a beautiful new piece for the city's Art Bank Collection that was just announced this morning, thanks to a partnership with Frieze.

This international event taking place in our eight square miles highlights something I've been saying for years: Santa Monica is one of the most artistic communities in the world.

We are the place to be for arts, culture and unique experiences, and Frieze is far from the first notable arts organization to choose Santa Monica as its stage.

In 2023, we hosted the L.A. Opera simulcast at the iconic Santa Monica Pier, along with the second annual ETHOS Film Awards across multiple venues. The American Film Market's six-day conference took place in our city for the 32nd time, seeing one billion dollars in acquisition, financing and licensing of independent films and products happening right here in Santa Monica.

There are more than 3,000 Santa Monica businesses in the creative industries and technology sector employing nearly 31,000 people – that's more than a third of our city's total employment.

We're home to a robust entertainment cohort. Lionsgate Entertainment, Hulu, Activision Blizzard, Skydance Media and Snap Inc. + Universal Music Group all have remained committed to staying in Santa Monica, many even expanding this year.

Latino owned and operated media company Entravision, one of the county's largest public companies, just completed a multi-million-dollar investment in their Santa Monica corporate headquarters, including a state-of-the-art broadcast studio.

I've had a passion for the arts since I was a young boy, starring in my first play at the historic Miles Playhouse at age 12. My love for all types of artistic expression has only expanded from there, and there's no better place to nurture that passion than right here in Santa Monica.

I am proud that Santa Monica continues to invest in the arts, even after COVID. That's something not a lot of other cities can say. The Art of Recovery program was launched to harnesses the arts to help the community's recovery and highlight Santa Monica as a place of culture and unique experiences.

The program is still going strong – and growing! In 2023 we provided 105 arts grants to community artists and organizations totaling nearly one million dollars. This includes $350,000 to 22 artists, arts producers and community partners. We also launched the Art of Recovery microgrants program this year, creating new partnerships with Santa Monica communities, neighborhoods and arts producers.

Our diverse public art collection remains a true gem that can be seen by all who stroll through our streets. One highlight from this year was our partnership with LACMA and SNAP Inc. to install a temporary virtual artwork by acclaimed artist Alison Saar next to the Ink Well Monument at the Bay Street Beach area.

I encourage you all to participate in the city's new self-guided walking tour of public art. You can find the map on our website. You won't be disappointed!

And we're continuing to expand our already robust arts programs. I am so thrilled to see the city continue to embrace and support artists through the Camera Obscura Art Lab Studio Residency, an inaugural artist residency project at the City Yards, new artist fellowships and so much more.

Taking it full circle, I look forward to seeing how we'll reinvigorate and reopen the Miles Playhouse. Maybe you'll see me onstage there again one day!

In the spirit of activations, we're seeing world-class special events choosing to take place at the Pier. We had the Independent Spirit Awards here this past Sunday. Tomorrow will kick off the L.A. Wine & Food Festival. And the world-famous Cirque de Soleil will perform again by the Pier this fall.

And I'm proud to share that Santa Monica has selected our very first poet laureate. Stay tuned for an exciting announcement very soon!

I love what we've done and what we are continuing to do. But we can do more!

We are, by all measures, one of the most artistic cities in the world. A city of culture and arts -and I mean ALL the arts!

We know that when the arts flourish, people thrive. We see the results of our school district's wonderful music programs. We need more public expressions of the arts in our city.

How about: playwrights showcasing their new plays and screenwriters taking a bow with their upcoming film and television projects; a great stage to showcase dance at its best; local sculptors exhibiting their works on the Olympic Boulevard median; a permanent historic nod to Pacific Ocean Park on our beachfront; new diverse art in and around City Hall; and music wafting in the air throughout our city.

All of this can be accomplished through robust public/private partnerships, which we welcome. Santa Monica continues to be a thriving hub for business, art, entertainment, innovation, wellness, technology, and an incubator for what's next.

Now, we have work to do! Continuing to invest in public safety is paramount. For Santa Monica to truly thrive, our businesses, visitors, and most of all, our residents, must feel safe in our community. No one should feel fearful in our city.

I believe that all mayors and city council members have one primary duty: to keep their residents as safe as possible. And that vow is made when each mayor and council member takes office in every hamlet, village, town and city throughout the world. I am proud to see the progress we have made, and I pledge to do my utmost to continue the work.

In 2023, we welcomed 22 new police officers and the biggest fire recruit class in recent memory. We continue to push forward, and I have faith that our streets, parks and businesses will be safer in 2024.

But let's be frank. Federal, state and county laws and practices, in many cases, have worked against the goal of keeping us safe. All of us must put in the work needed to make sure that our wonderful city not only feels safe, but is safe.

I want to loudly proclaim that I firmly support the professionalism and skilled response of our Police and Fire Departments. I make sure to thank them whenever I cross their paths, and you should as well. They run towards danger when we run away from peril.

Our efforts to address homelessness, including finding solutions to the mental health and substance abuse crises, pushes forward at full speed. We know we cannot solve this crisis on our own. The epidemics of drug abuse and the mental health crisis affect so many of us who are housed - imagine how they affect those who are living on our streets, regardless of the cause.

I am pushing, each and every day, along with our city manager, city council and our federal, state and county partners, to make sure that Santa Monica's voice is heard. But frankly, we must do better.

We must reduce homelessness, we must eliminate syringes and needles in our parks, and give people living on our streets a chance to recover their lives. We must realize that it is not compassionate to let people live and die on the streets of Santa Monica. You'll hear more from our City Manager about our initiatives.

I know many of you are struggling to keep your businesses afloat, to have enough money to pay your rent, or to feel safe taking your family to our parks. I feel your pain. The past four years have been tough. We lost restaurants and stores that we loved and our city landscape has changed. We have vacancies in our shopping districts. The impacts are real.

Change can be challenging, but it can also bring great opportunity. I strongly believe that economic recovery isn't coming - it's already here.

It is our chance to find a new favorite spot or rediscover an old beloved haunt. A chance to encourage new businesses to come here - and stay here. A chance to enhance safety in our city by activating our business districts and public spaces. A chance to shape our future.

And speaking of our future, why not involve the future leaders of our city? It's time to start a youth advisory city council.

I see our recovery when I walk and drive around the city. Santa Monica is open for business. We have a lot to look forward to.

Odd One Out Taiwanese milk tea shop, made famous at Smorgasburg L.A., is opening a brick-and-mortar on the Promenade very soon. The site of the former Del Frisco's has already been snatched up by renowned Brazilian restaurant Fogo de Chao. A $25 million brand new retail building is making great progress at 1404 Third Street and should bring some exciting tenants to the promenade.

The global animated phenomenon of Haibu, an environmentally conscious young heroine, is coming to downtown to provide an interactive and family-friendly experience. Rooftop Cinema is set to offer stellar ocean views and movies under the stars atop parking structure six next year.

There's tremendous investment happening in our city and that means something. Tourism continues to come back. More than a billion dollars is being invested into our local hotel scene. In particular, our iconic Ocean Avenue is having a renaissance, which our city manager will talk more about.

Santa Monica's culinary scene also continues to innovate with dozens of new restaurants opening across our eight neighborhoods. Of note, The Surfing Fox, Bar Monette and The Georgian restaurant have all landed on The Hollywood Reporter's "Where to Dine Now" list.

And remember that Santa Monica is not just downtown. Stop at Rae's Diner, the Pico Barbershop, or Gilbert's El Indio on Pico, walk into Bob's Market, or local on Ocean Park Boulevard. Stop by Cobi's or Chinois on Main Street. Walk into Father's Office, The Aero Theater, or The Farms on Montana. Visit Bludso's or DK's on Santa Monica Boulevard. The streets of Santa Monica are home to the small businesses that we all patronize and love.

In May, our city will host events for U.S. Travel Association's IPW, the largest industry event bringing top travel sellers and media to the Santa Monica Pier.

And we look forward to our region playing host to some huge international events: the 2024 NCAA Division I Basketball West Regional championship, the NBA All Star Game and FIFA World Cup in 2026, the 2027 Superbowl, and, of course, the 2028 Olympics.

Santa Monica is open for business, and we continue to build momentum.

As I used to say on "Brock on Your Block," all of the amazing things I've touched on tonight - dining, shopping, the arts, culture, sports, parks, events, business, tech, travel, and the tireless volunteers of our service organizations - make up the fabric and the thread of the colorful, diverse, historic quilt that is Santa Monica.

My hope is that, like me, you see that we are on our way. The Promenade and downtown of today are cleaner and more bustling than they were a year ago. And when my time as mayor comes to an end, they will have made even greater strides.

I'm listening, I hear you. I see you. And I'm with you. I'm your advocate. We won't stop pushing forward in our economic growth and enhancing the cultural vitality of our community. We've reinvented ourselves a hundred times in our long history as a city, and this time is no different.

We've suffered through a malaise of spirit. But that time is over. We are a unique, distinct city with a rich heritage. We are an innovative, creative hub within our region and Santa Monica has always punched higher and harder than our size. Santa Monica will prosper and thrive.

The Spirit of Santa Monica is strong because it is stronger than all of us. The true Spirit of Santa Monica is within each of us. It's time for that spirit to shine once again. The motto on our city seal is "Fortunate People in a Fortunate Land." And we are.

Thank you for believing in our city.

Mayor Phil Brock


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