News from the Top

Picking Up the Slack


Urban place management professionals are steadily being asked to do more during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many cities made dramatic budget cuts in the summer of last year, anticipating a loss of sales tax revenues and tourism dollars, and a reduction in business license fees and other revenues. Organizations like ours that rely on property tax receipts were, by and large, spared as commercial property owners continued to make payments despite tenants failing to pay rent or closing up shop. 

Perhaps that is why more stakeholders are leaning on us to pick up the slack. While we are always willing to roll up our sleeves and tackle any issue that comes our way, we have to be careful in what we end up taking on. I am specifically referring to clean and safe. 

We in Downtown Santa Monica have a wonderful partner in Block by Block, who provides our stellar ambassador services. But they were never contracted to take on the services that cities are supposed to be providing their residents, visitors, businesses and property owners. 

We have stepped up our maintenance efforts because the pandemic dictated this. It was never more important to present a clean downtown as concerns about touching elevator buttons, door handles and bathroom sinks became heightened. But we cannot be expected to take over all refuse collection, power washing and other maintenance. 

With a rise in anti-social behavior and organized shoplifting, plus other crimes, the pressure has never been higher to present a safe downtown. We expanded our ambassador services to provide more eyes and ears on the street, but this program is by no means a substitute for our local police department.

As we move forward and hopefully move past the pandemic, we must be forceful in our position that our cities must restore expected levels of service as quickly as possible, and remind them of their core responsibilities, which include protecting life and property, and providing our stakeholders with the conditions to be successful. 

I am always amazed by what our organizations can accomplish, oftentimes with limited resources. But we can’t, nor should we, be expected to provide the services our elected officials and city staff are responsible for. We all know our role, let’s respectfully remind our city partners of theirs. 

I look forward to discussing this topic and more with all of you in Tampa in a few weeks at IDA’s 67th Annual Conference & Marketplace. See you there!