• Name: John C. Smith
• Age: 52
• Occupation: Teacher/producer/journalist
• Neighborhood in which you live: Mid-City
• Own or rent: Rent
• Marital status/kids: Single
• Obama or Romney: Obama
• Education: Where did you attend and what degrees do you have?
Univ. of Washington, BA, communications, 1985
• Why are you running for City Council, what makes you qualified to lead, and what role do you see yourself playing on the dais if elected?
I’m running for office for some of the same reasons I became a journalist: To inform people about the issues we face and to help people make sense of them in a changing world. But the biggest reason is Santa Monica is in danger of losing its soul. The rush of development does not serve the people who live here. This “tsunami” is flooding us with more traffic, congestion and parking problems. It’s also being approved by many current council members who take money from the very developers whose projects they approve. Big money is quickly shaping both the character of our city and the council entrusted to act on our behalf. I’m qualified to lead because I’m a journalist who has spent my professional life getting all the facts, listening to all sides, and coming up with real solutions that benefit people. As a council member, I hope to be a voice of reason and common sense — a non-politician who will never let developer dollars get in the way of finding real solutions that help the most people.
• What are Santa Monica’s three major strengths and weaknesses? What will you do to ensure the strengths remain and the weaknesses are contained?
Our city’s three major strengths are the engaged and informed people who live here, the natural beauty we are blessed with and our progressive spirit. Our biggest weaknesses are certain council members who approve development projects that don’t benefit the people who live here, their lack of vision as to how all this growth is affecting our city and their disconnect from the problems this growth is creating. We can bolster our strengths by actively seeking input from the public early on in deciding the future of individual projects.
• Homelessness continues to be a significant concern of many residents and business owners. How would you rate City Hall’s response over the last four years, what will you advocate for, and does that mean more or less funding?
The biggest question is how to alleviate the problem without making it worse. The city tends to focus on the most chronically homeless, by giving them food and a place to sleep. But that may also be a strategy that encourages the homeless to stay here. I think we should also focus on connecting the recently homeless to any family support they may have. We should also make it harder for the homeless with substance abuse problems to buy the alcohol and drugs that make them unable to lead productive lives. We should push the federal government to treat more homeless vets and educate residents and tourists not to give the homeless money (which often only serves to fuel their addictions). We must be compassionate, but firm. Enforce laws. Punish repeat offenders. Try pilot programs. Expand the ones that work and end the ones that don’t. More money alone won’t solve this problem.
• Where do you stand on the City Council’s decision to increase the campaign contribution limit from $250 to $325?
I was against it. I also think council members should recuse themselves from voting on a project when they take money from the developer who wants to build it.
• Will you sponsor a local law banning smoking within multi-family residential units, i.e. condos and apartments? If not, what would you support?
I support laws that enhance public safety. Do I think this law is a priority above our more pressing problems? No. Do I think it would cost millions to actually enforce? Yes. Do I think someone with a child who has asthma has the right to know if the person next door is a chain smoker? Yes. Do I think reasonable people should smoke outside? You bet.
• If elected, would you allow medical marijuana dispensaries to set up shop in Santa Monica?
I think medical marijuana is already readily available to anyone who truly needs it. We’d have to look carefully at the impact dispensaries would have in Santa Monica.
• What policies will you support that will enable Santa Monica to deal with the increased competition for resources and the need to be sustainable, particularly when it comes to water and power consumption/generation?
I’d start by supporting an ordinance that requires developers to include solar readiness in every medium-to-large project they want to build, to reduce power consumption over the long-term.
Cycling, golf, tennis, guitar, writing.
• What are you reading?
“President Kennedy: Profile of Power,” by Richard Reeves.
• The loss of redevelopment agency funds dealt a serious blow to the City Council’s ambitious plans for the Civic Center, Samohi, and the park in front of City Hall, among other projects. If elected, what projects would you prioritize and how would you finance them?
I would seek private partners to fund a Civic Center revitalization, which could draw any number of medium-sized entertainment components. A big portion of the $385 million school bond should go to Samohi. A great city park need not cost a great amount of money. People desire open space, not expensive accessories.
• City Hall already provides the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District with millions in exchange for access to campuses, mainly athletic fields. Do you believe this deal is good for the city, or should it be revisited and modified? If so, in what ways?
I favor any win-win solution for students and the city. Good schools are a priority for Santa Monica.
• If you could ride the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier with three people in history, who would they be and what would you want to talk about?
I would talk principles and character with Abraham Lincoln. I’d love to hear President Clinton tell me anything he wanted. But then I would politely ask them to step off so I could spend just 15 more minutes with my dad, who died when I was 11. He’s the greatest man I ever knew.
• Where do you stand on the Santa Monica Airport?
I respect its historical significance, but everyone in our city deserves health and safety wherever they live. There are too many jets and planes using the airport, they pay too little for the privilege. The airport serves only a fraction of the people who live here, and the city currently subsidizes its operations. It must close or become a limited-use airport. I will vigorously oppose any attempts by developer-friendly forces on the council to build another Playa Vista at the site.
• Community benefits as part of development agreements: what is your definition of a benefit? When should the City Council demand benefits and to what degree? And should some be part of a checklist that developers can choose from, or should the council always have complete control in negotiations with developers?
The council should have complete control. They should also exercise it. Development agreement, which is an innocuous term for “exceptions to the rules,” should be the exception, not the rule. The entire project should benefit the community. A developer should pay the full cost of any traffic impact a project will have. A project should have apartments that people who work here, such as firefighters and teachers, can actually afford; include more open space; conform to existing zoning laws.
• What is your definition of overdevelopment and what is your plan to prevent it?
When projects are being built and they don’t benefit anyone but the developer. I would insist that developers adhere to zoning laws. I would build into their contract the full cost of mitigating every traffic impact of their project. I would only allow developments that the city really needs.
• The sputtering economy and the rise in pension contribution costs have forced some cities to file for bankruptcy. Santa Monica is doing better than most, but if nothing is done to trim costs, deficits will become reality. What’s your plan for controlling public employee pension costs?
Let’s stop adding more developments that require more services. Why have we added so many public employees and employed so many outside consultants, when our population is just a few thousand more than it was 30 years ago? I value the contributions of our public employees, but in the interest of fiscal responsibility, their pensions must reflect the city’s overall ability to afford them.
• How do you get across town during rush hour? Any shortcuts or tips?
Slowly. I avoid driving Wilshire or Santa Monica boulevards and avoid certain areas at certain times. It all comes down to local knowledge, doesn’t it?
• What should City Hall’s role be when it comes to the creation of affordable housing?
I think we should require any housing development to have a much higher percentage of truly affordable housing. People who work here, especially those who protect our city and educate our children, should be able to live here.