Santa Monica Conservancy introduces 21st Century Task Force

Brennon Dixson October 2, 2020

smiling faces of members making up the 21 century task force
Santa Monica locals make up the Conservancy.

The Santa Monica Conservancy has sought to preserve historic buildings around town for nearly 20 years. But in an effort to adapt to the needs of the community, the conservancy recently formed a task force that has already begun drafting ideas on how to continue protecting local landmarks well into the future.

The 21st Century Task Force, which was conceived by the organization’s board last fall just before COVID hit the shores of Santa Monica, is chaired by Kaitlin Drisko, Principal of Drisko Studio Architects, and facilitated by Allison Sampson, Vice President and Executive Director for Emerson College in Los Angeles. The remaining members are considered to be leaders in local business, education, governance and planning, history, law, or activism, according to Conservancy Board President Tom Cleys, who recently explained how the task force came into existence.

Shortly after passing a strategic plan in November, “it occurred to us that we really wanted to focus on a select group of projects but we didn’t know how we would go about figuring out what those things are,” Cleys said. Thanks to the many conversations had with the Los Angeles Conservancy and Long Beach Heritage, “it occurred to me that we should set up a task force and reach out to people who are influential leaders in the community that can help us think through, ‘What initiatives should the Conservancy to try to accomplish in the next five to twenty years?’”

Prior to the enactment of California’s safer-at-home orders, the Santa Monica Conservancy hosted tours, lectures and other programs to bring in funding for its work but the organization has lost nearly a third of its revenue since life came to halt. Despite the loss of resources, conversancy volunteers consider their work more important than ever because of the recent cuts to the city’s Landmarks Commission efforts.

“Right now, there is no oversight of demolition permits from the commission. They used to review all of them that were four years or older, conducted research, and put the information together in packets for the Commission so they could decide if something was worth pursuing. That’s no longer being done though, so that has pushed that responsibility to the community,” Cleys said. “Because we’re a historic preservation nonprofit, we’re trying to take that on the best we can to keep that important work going and reach out to the community because we need input from them if they think something is important.”

Cleys added the 21st Century Task Force is trying to be the conduit for the collection of information and communication about buildings that might otherwise be lost. In order to do so though, the task force must reflect the many groups who comprise Santa Monica, so the board president said the conservancy purposefully sought to diversify the task force with different age and ethnic groups.

“It’s opportune timing,” considering the conversations took place months before the country’s recent focus on social justice, Cleys said, mentioning a lot of the undertakings being considered in the community today touch on the proposals being made by the group — which has met twice since its formation.

The goal is for the task force to deliver a final report to the board around December or January that will list all the projects and initiatives that they are interested in pursuing in the future.

Cleys didn’t want to spoil the work of the task force before members had come to any final conclusions, “but from my perspective, I think where some of the focus will become is celebrating the history of people in Santa Monica through place.”

Some of the task force’s proposals are completely new ideas and others are an extension of what’s already being done, Cleys said. No matter what members decide to focus on though, “the conservancy only has so much capacity to do its work because it’s largely all-volunteer. So some of the initiatives the task force comes up with may be things that get implemented somewhat in the future; some we can work on now. The main part is just about getting that input from the community and for them to tell us what’s important to them.”