This past election cycle, Santa Monica business owner Greg Morena did what many thought was impossible — he beat out an incumbent to earn a seat on the Santa Monica City Council. It's a rare feat. Council members here generally win re-election. Morena, who grew up in Santa Monica, conducted a grassroots campaign that involved plenty of one-on-one conversations with residents to share his message of creating an inclusive community that is safe, offers opportunities for all to thrive and retains Santa Monica's vibe in the face of outside pressures. Morena came in second out of a field of seven candidates.
Morena was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule (he's a family man and runs a restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier) to answer some questions for us. Below are his responses. To learn more about his platform, click here.
Q: What inspired you to run for City Council? Was it one thing in particular or several issues?
A: My kids inspired me to run. I love Santa Monica and have lived here all my life. I want to make sure that our children, the next generation of Santa Monicans, can afford to live in a city that is sustainable and full of the character that makes it so special.
Q: How does being a small business owner help you to be a better councilmember and what lessons from the business world will you bring to the council dais?
A: Operating a business on the Santa Monica Pier has taught me so much about the way the City works. With knowledge from both sides, I can help usher in new levels of efficiency and a pragmatic approach to maintaining healthy businesses while investing further into our culture.
Q: What are some of the hurdles a small business owner faces when trying to open up shop in Santa Monica and how do you make Santa Monica more business friendly?
A: There are a number of organizations within the city that work to preserve the character of Santa Monica. It is critical we design an effective system to help small business owners navigate structures and regulations. Consider a customer service organization like Apple. Infrastructure that supports highly trained and knowledgeable support staff will go a long way help business owners open quickly, and maintain a good relationship with the City.
Q: What are your thoughts on the financial and cultural health of Downtown Santa Monica?
A: I am concerned about vacancies in Downtown and their effect on owners and retailers, as well as on revenue for Santa Monica. I am encouraged by the outcropping of 2nd Street and the potential of 4th Street. I believe we can do a better job as a city of making the district accessible and culturally relevant to residents and visitors.
Q: What are three of your favorite businesses in Downtown Santa Monica?
A: My family loves movies, many of my friends growing up used to work at the AMC theatre so it's very nostalgic for me. The Gallery [Food Hall] is done very well and gives me hope for new innovative remodels. I love the [Santa Monica] Bike Center on 2nd Street and Colorado.
Q: What are your thoughts on the future of the Third Street Promenade given the changing face of retail?
A: In our digital culture, it simply is not enough to present our world-class, centrally located and easily walkable Third Street Promenade. Smart shoppers are increasingly driven places based on location, retail offering, and the positive experiences they encounter there. Public art displays, community engagement events, trend driven social media experiences, and culturally relevant retail all need to work in tandem to maintain Third Street Promenade's prominence.
Q: Whare are the top issues you would like to tackle?
A: My top priority is public safety. We need to make sure that we are doing all we can to keep Santa Monica safe for the residents, and for visitors and customers who frequent our city. Homelessness is also at the top of my list. I am encouraged by our city's efforts, and I believe in the next four years we will make significant strides to stop the growth of the issue, and begin to wind back the numbers with strong employment programs and expansion of affordable housing.
The first initiative I will address as a councilmember is communication. As a city, we must create a more effective system of communicating our challenges, failures, and opportunities, but most of all the good work, the innovation and the forward thinking policies that serve our entire community of residents, visitors, neighboring cities and the world! We are truly an amazing city, and we must communicate that!