Someone has been conducting a telephone poll about local issues over the last few weeks. Nobody seems to know exactly who is behind the survey.

Pollsters have been asking general questions like, “Where do you get local news?” Participants are asked to rate the job City Hall is doing and grade City Councilmembers, Gov. Jerry Brown and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), as well as organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Rent Control Board, Planning Commission and Airport Commission.

It’s obvious the polling is designed primarily to gauge public opinion about the Santa Monica Airport (SMO) because a large number of questions are airport-related. The controversial SMO has been long criticized by neighbors for noise, pollution and safety issues.

The poll’s tone seems politically naive — no mention of the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights political organization, for example. It feels as if it was done by out-of-towners for an entity with a vested interest in saving the airport.

I had lunch last week with Councilman Bob Holbrook and his wife Jean Ann. Our discussion quickly turned to the mystery poll. Bob Holbrook theorized that a well-funded organization is behind the poll. “This research costs tens of thousands of dollars,” Holbrook said. “My guess is that it’s some large association of airplane manufacturers or a national pilots group that’s behind it.”

Aviation interests far and wide don’t want our 227-acre airport shuttered because closure could influence negatively-impacted airport neighbors or municipalities nationwide to follow Santa Monica’s lead and try to close their own airports.

Holbrook predicted the people behind this survey could be a major factor in next year’s election by putting up council candidates pledged to keep SMO open and then spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to guarantee their victory. 

Any other positions these candidates may have, such as being pro-development, supportive of renters’ rights, etc., are irrelevant because the airport backers only care about the airport. Looking ahead to the 2014 elections, if Holbrook and Pam O’Connor don’t run, at least two more seats can be gained — not taking into account seated council members who may jump on the airport bandwagon just to receive sizable campaign contributions. 

By 2015, the year that agreements between City Hall and the Federal Aviation Administration are due to expire, the pro-airport faction could have enough council votes (at least four) to maintain and even extend agreements that would keep SMO operating for decades.

While all this is conjecture, political action committees (PACs) can pour large amounts of money into political issues. It’s like the developer-backed “Save Our City” PAC that raised around $800,000 in the 2008 election to defeat Measure T, a slow growth, anti-traffic ballot measure.

If Holbrook is right, city politics could become very intense over the next four years. While the airport is one issue, the unintended “other baggage” a few well-financed pro-airport candidates could bring to city politics could change the community as we know it.

Think supporting accelerated high-rise development, “Tea Party” budget cutting, higher taxes or ending rent control — especially if the strings are being pulled by a well-heeled, special interest group out of Dallas, New York or Washington with one agenda: “keep ‘em flying” at any cost.

 

Milking the chocolate cow

 

I’ve been a frequent critic of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education. However, they finally got it right by allowing parents to choose whether their children can drink chocolate milk on campus. The decision was 5-2 with only Nimish Patel and Ralph Mechur supporting an outright ban on chocolate milk.

There were two schools of thought on the issue: Flavored milk supporters pointed out that despite the addition of 24 grams (two spoonfuls) of liquid sugar, chocolate milk was still an important source of protein, vitamins and calcium — especially for poorer children whose school lunches are a major part of their nutritional regimen. 

Opponents said the additional sugar and extra sodium are harmful to children’s health and lead to obesity. They didn’t believe children would either stop or cut back on drinking milk if it wasn’t enhanced and flavored.

Both sides presented a raft of scholarly research and expert medical/nutritional testimony in support of their views. In the end, common sense prevailed.  

While it’s important that children get good nutritional support through school snack and lunch programs, there seems to be a rush to ban anything someone doesn’t like. This results in removing choice and eliminating options.

It all smacks of more “nanny” government. And that isn’t good.

Better to provide tasty and healthy alternatives than “removing this” and “banning that.” Letting parents decide what their own children consume sounds good to me. 

But, having wasted a huge amount of time and energy on this overblown issue, it’s now time for the school board to get back to real issues of governance.

 

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.

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