Capturing the Rhythm of
Downtown Santa Monica
Santa Monica Centric
Santa Monicans happy, optimistic, but worry about paying the rent
By Kevin Herrera

In a city known for its cool ocean breezes and abundant sunshine, it’s no wonder that most Santa Monicans have a sunny outlook on life.

In the second iteration of the City of Santa Monica’s Wellbeing Index, which measures residents’ quality of life in the city by the sea, about two thirds of Santa Monicans surveyed said they are happy most of or all of the time, and nearly three in four residents (74 percent) say they are optimistic about the future, with 80 percent saying life is worthwhile.

Overall, the 2017 Wellbeing Index finds Santa Monica residents rate satisfaction with their lives at 7.4 on a scale of 0-10. That’s higher than the average for all Americans (6.9) and the same as Canadians, who have the highest national rate of satisfaction in the world, city officials said.

But it’s not all cute kittens and rainbows. Many worry about paying their rent or mortgage and fret about whether or not their children will be able to live in Santa Monica when they mature. Also, roughly 70 percent reported feeling they have little or no influence on decisions made at City Hall. 

Santa Monica is the first city in the nation to systematically measure how well its residents are able to thrive, and how the city can help them do it better, city officials said.


(People participate in a planning exercise at the recent release of the Wellbeing report. Photo by Kristina Sado.)

“Overall, we're in good health, feel engaged in our neighborhoods and are happy most of the time,” Mayor Ted Winterer said. “But there are clear areas of disparity, and the overall strength of a community is measured by its ability to help all members thrive, including its most vulnerable members. The latest Wellbeing Index tells us that we have work to do and we want to enlist the entire community in bridging these gaps.”

The narrative emerging from the findings indicates that Santa Monica is a community with many strengths, including a diversity of lived experiences, however, it is crucial that the city continues to provide equitable access to activities and opportunities that promote wellbeing.

Housing is a source of significant stress for plenty of Santa Monicans, with nearly 50 percent (which includes both renters and homeowners) spending 30 percent of their income on housing, a threshold when costs are said to become a burden. About 25 percent worry about paying their rent or mortgage and the percentage of parents who worry that their children will not be able to live in Santa Monica on their own has increased to 62 percent from 52 percent in 2015.

Four years ago, Santa Monica won a $1 million prize from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge to create the Wellbeing Project. The idea was to use the emerging international science of wellbeing, the study of the measurable things in successful communities, and using those measurements to guide how a city can better provide for its people.

In 2015, Santa Monica launched its first Wellbeing Index, statistics drawn from the city’s records, commercial data sources, surveys and social media that took over a thousand hours to analyze. The result was a benchmark compilation that let the city’s elected officials, professional staff, non-profit partners, and anyone else who was interested see where things stood across six distinct categories.

Figuring out what to count and how best to count it came from 18 wellbeing experts from around the world, including representatives from the Brookings Institution, United Nations Development Program, several renowned universities and wellbeing research groups. Such a broad base of information helps to give the most comprehensive picture available of the lives Santa Monica residents lead, city officials said.

There’s enough information to look at the data in different ways – three by geographical area, age, gender, ethnicity, and income category, for instance — that show not everyone in Santa Monica has the exact same experience.

For instance, women said they had more stress, lower life satisfaction, and more economic worries than men. Men said they had better work/life balance, better job satisfaction, and were happier with housing quality than women. Women reported they volunteered more, had healthier eating habits, had a better sense of community and more engagement in local decision making than men.

When broken down by zip code, those living in Downtown Santa Monica (90401) reported walking more than residents in other areas, make more noise complaints, but have higher praise for community amenities.

In the area of education, there were vast differences across racial and ethnic lines. College readiness rates, which are a key factor in determining how much a person will earn in a job later in life and can have much to do with future wellbeing, is a good example. White students reported a readiness rate of 85 percent; Latinos 72 percent, African Americans 52 percent, Asians 95 percent, and multi-racial 82 percent.

The surveys on which this year’s results are based include more than twice as many residents – more than 3,800 — as the first survey.



Highlights from the 2017 Index findings with the full executive summary available here:

Santa Monicans feel trust in their neighborhood, but they have less sense of social connection or ability to influence decision making in their city.

• 84 percent report they feel they can trust their neighbors
• 74 percent plan to stay in their neighborhood for a number of years
• Less than half stop and have informal interactions with neighbors
• 29 percent feel they can influence decisions in Santa Monica

Overall, Santa Monicans are healthy, but there is room for improvement.

• Residents have fewer chronic health conditions like coronary heart disease and obesity than the average American
• An increasing number (62 percent) are not active on a daily basis or meeting basic nutrition goals (80 percent)

“Santa Monica has a found an inventive and effective way to understand resident wellbeing and measure progress in making it stronger,” said James Anderson, head of Government Innovation programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “This pioneering approach can be adopted by any city looking to get more rigorous in its efforts to improve quality of life for all.”

Along with release of the Index, the city launched a new partnership with Kaiser Permanente to create a new video series, Wellbeing365: Stress Less and Thrive. The video series, offered in English and Spanish, highlights a range of everyday actions for individuals and local resources to support community wellbeing.

With this second round of findings, the city will continue its work and hone in on partnerships as an effective path to address concerning aspects of community wellbeing. This will involve activating partnerships at multiple levels, including: the launch of programs that drive citizen action with Bloomberg Philanthropies-led "Cities of Services"; intensive staff training on racial equity led by Center for Social Inclusion and Government Alliance on Race and Equity; and growing the network to get other cities replicating the Wellbeing Project.

For more information on Santa Monica’s Wellbeing Project, The Wellbeing Index, the 2017 Wellbeing Index findings, and the Office of Civic Wellbeing, visit


“Overall, we're in good health, feel engaged in our neighborhoods and are happy most of the time.” — Mayor Ted Winterer

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.