By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
The Pacific Palisades Community Council welcomed State Senator Ben Allen as a distinguished speaker at its most recent board meeting on Thursday, July 8.
Allen provided updates on a range of topics, beginning with statewide vaccine distribution efforts through items in the state budget that will go toward local entities.
“First of all, on vaccine distribution, we’re very happy with our pace,” Allen began. “We’ve administered something like 43 million vaccine doses in the state of California alone.”
Allen shared that at the time of the meeting, hospitalizations and death rates remained at the lowest they had been since the start of the pandemic.
“Most of our businesses have now reopened and that’s obviously something that was of real importance to a lot of people in the business community and just for all of us wanting to get back out and about,” he shared.
He then went into detail about the state budget, which he described as a “very strange thing.”
“When we first started the pandemic, the assumption was that we’re shutting down so much of the economy, we were going to go into austerity and there were lots of foreseen cuts,” Allen explained. “Interestingly … when you shut down this enormous portion of the economy, lots and lots of people are unemployed and at risk of getting kicked out of their homes and everything else, and yet the stock market does better than ever.”
Allen said that the state budget goes “up and down,” and is dramatically impacted by the health, or lack thereof, of the stock market. He said that there’s extra money in the budget this year, due to the strength of the market and certain sectors of the economy.
Within the budget, Allen reported there’s about $10 billion for COVID-19 relief and support for small businesses and nonprofits, as well as a record $12 billion to help address homelessness. The “rainy day reserve” has been boosted more than $25 billion, in addition to funding for public education.
In Pacific Palisades, Allen said that his office “cold called” the California State Parks department and found out it had a $2 billion backlog of maintenance operations challenges up and down the state, including at Topanga State Park and Will Rogers State Historic Park.
The two local parks are set to receive $2 million from the state budget to help with their maintenance backlogs, including upgrades at Will Rogers in terms of barns and some of its facilities in need of repairs.
Also in the Palisades, Allen helped secure $11 million in funding for a bridge that will connect the forthcoming Potrero Canyon Park to Will Rogers State Beach, allowing for safe passage for pedestrians and parkgoers between the two locations.
After providing local updates, Allen opened the discussion to a Q&A, which was largely focused on Councilmember Mike Bonin’s proposal to study the feasibility of temporarily housing people experiencing homelessness in single-occupancy tiny homes, safe camping or safe parking sites at locations across the Westside, including the county-operated Will Rogers State Beach parking lot in Pacific Palisades.
“There’s much about that proposal that leaves me scratching my head,” Allen said in response to a question from PPCC Secretary Chris Spitz asking him to intercede at the state level for the council on behalf of the community and the wider region.
“I think there are a lot of problems that are posed by the proposal,” Allen added, “that’s why the feasibility study is being conducted.”
Allen added he would “honestly would be surprised if they came back with recommendations that would suggest that this was a good idea,” especially given local fire issues and the importance of the parking lot being used as a staging ground.
“Can we count on you publicly stating your opposition to using Will Rogers State Beach parking lot to house the homeless?” PPCC Treasurer Richard Cohen later asked.
Allen said “probably,” but before making a hard commitment to PPCC, he shared that he wanted to meet with members of the executive committee, as well as take a longer look at the proposal and all of the data.
“We believe that these next few weeks are very important and that your connections in the state to the decision makers at the state who would need to agree to this use could be very important,” Cohen said.
Allen concluded the meeting by sharing, “I’m hearing your concerns,” followed by a thank you from PPCC Chair David Card for attending the meeting and providing updates.
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