Capturing the Rhythm of
Downtown Santa Monica
Santa Monica Centric
City to add, adjust fees while grappling with projected budget deficits
By Kevin Herrera

Want to do a photo shoot on the Third Street Promenade or have a valet stand at your new restaurant during the grand opening bash? You can, but it’s going to cost you — more.


As the City Council grapples with projected budget deficits reaching almost $19 million in just a few years’ time, it voted last month to increase, add and eliminate various fees charged to recover the costs of providing certain services that benefit individuals, freeing up tax dollars used for general services benefitting the community as a whole.


Some fees are associated with building permits and inspections, while others deal with pet adoptions or relocating an entire house.


A study commissioned by the City as part of a periodic and comprehensive review of fees and the cost of services estimated $1.4 million in new revenue for City Hall.


Out of the 635 fees that were studied, 40 new fees and 2 new penalties were proposed, 89 fees were reduced, and 43 eliminated, leaving the City with an overall cost recovery of 58 percent.


The City Council has a goal of recovering 100 percent of the costs associated with services provided, but it also subsidizes many so that the entire community can benefit, such as cultural programs and the spaying or neutering of pets.


Excluding Community & Cultural Services and Animal Control, which provide serves benefitting the community as a whole, the City’s cost recovery level hovers around 97 percent.


The City Council approved simultaneously the fees as well as a biennial budget reaching just over $1.5 billion. The budget covers fiscal years 2017-18 and 2018-19. The budget maintains the City’s core services and allocates new and repurposed funding to programs that reflect the community’s priorities, City officials said. Overall, the key themes of the budget are establishing measurable goals, finding efficiencies, and implementing innovations.


“To ensure long-term fiscal sustainability, we are living within our means,” said City Manager Rick Cole. “This budget marks a transition as we move to reduce the City’s workforce over the long term, continuing to invest in vital community assets and focus our work more rigorously on the results that matter most to the wellbeing of our residents.”


Santa Monica, like many California cities, is struggling with funding retirement and healthcare benefits for employees. The City Council last month, before adopting the budget, sent $45 million to the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) to pay down the unfunded pension liability. City officials said the decision will save Santa Monica roughly $3 million a year. The City has a policy of paying down unfunded pension liability at a rate of at least $1.3 million annually while securing more contributions from employees.


To read more about the comprehensive fee adjustment, click here. To review the biennial budget, click here.



Out of the 635 fees that were studied, 40 new fees and 2 new penalties were proposed, 89 fees were reduced, and 43 eliminated.

Kevin Herrera is a former journalist turned marketing and communication expert, beer enthusiast, cyclist, cultural observer/commentator and expert on all things Downtown Santa Monica. He is currently the sr. marketing & communication manager for Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.