City Hall doesn’t like to hear from the people — or troubled spirits — when they’re unhappy. After all, Santa Monica is supposed to be about happy people in a happy place.
But, you have a complaint so you phone, e-mail, Tweet or send a fax. You’re critical of a council proposition, a staff proposal or some grand scheme put forth by insiders — it doesn’t matter whether it’s about cutting down palm trees on Georgina, the 13 years it’s taking to "green" 20th Street or not providing a reason why your parking citation appeal was declined. City Hall handles complainers in a variety of ways.
Response one: Ignore. Earlier this year, I wrote four columns about how expensive the new Pico Branch Library was before someone from the City Manager’s office offered an explanation. I write for the daily newspaper. Imagine how the general public is treated? Ignore and hope you’ll tire and just go away. Don’t respond. This City Hall strategy is, "avoid and conquer."
Response two: Do nothing. You have a suggestion for City Hall. Someone will eventually say, “Thanks for the input" (because we’re going to ignore it). You may also hear, “That’s a new one.” Still, nothing is done. This is "What? Me worry?"
Response three: "Talk to someone else." This is the response I received from City Hall’s Farmers’ Market supervisor when I complained about a Saturday Pico Market prepared foods vendor’s health code violations and lack of Los Angeles County Health Department permits. This is "passing the buck."
Response four: "We’re still working on it." That’s what the City Attorney’s office has told me over the past year when I ask about progress in evicting non-qualifying owners/residents from deed-restricted rental units at the Dorchester House condos as per its development agreement with City Hall. This strategy is “stall and conquer.”
Response five: "You’re the only one complaining about this." "Funny, you’re the first person to ever mention this." Ever? In other words, you’re issue is unique and different. An anomaly. Deny, deny, deny. This is "divide and conquer."
Response six: "You don’t understand,” “Your facts are wrong” or “You’re oversimplifying." They try to make you think you’re confused and uninformed, so you’ll just drop it. This is "dismiss and conquer."
Response seven: "He’s nuts." They quietly label you crazy or an oddball. You have “no credibility.” "You’re always complaining." In other words, you’re the lunatic fringe, a wacko or just evil. This is "crazify and conquer.”
You’ve recruited allies and upped the ante, distributed flyers, sent e-mails and published letters to the editor. This really gets City Hall’s goat because you’ve "gone public" and paraded your issue in front of thousands of citizens. City Hall knows the heat is on. There are two options in dealing with this escalation.
Option one: Co-opt and make promises. Those in power — and we’re also talking about the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights clique — suggest an appointment to a city board or commission, but you must stop carping and get with their program. Run for City Council or school board? Forgeddabout it! If you continue your wicked, evil ways, you’ll never work in this town again or be invited to a Twilight Dance Series backstage party. Oh, the horror.
Option two: Counterattack. City Hall strikes back with its own spin. Newspaper articles, the Seascape, City TV and council proclamations all scream, "This is great.” “We’re on it.” “Our critics are misguided.” Classic example: Expo Light Rail on Colorado Avenue.
City Hall then tries to win over citizens with the "community meeting." These have one main purpose: to get you on board with their agenda. You’ll be treated to a dog-and-pony show led by a highly paid, outside consultant hired because he or she have the same mindset as staff and the City Council and provides a slick PowerPoint presentation with lots of colorful visuals.
When people speak, staff patiently listens. Public comments are written down on big pads of paper with colored markers. You may even get to play with colored blocks. You’re told your input will be integrated into their process.
Later, you’ll find out most public comments have been ignored (because the "deal was done" way before the community meeting.) "Thanks for participating in our democratic process."
My friends and I have experienced all of the above. We’ve all received non-specific threats from "unknown sources" and hints of retribution if we continue our ways.
As veterans of the local political wars, we all wear our experiences like badges of honor. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. But, the fun is playing the game and it’s especially thrilling to catch someone in City Hall with their pants down.
Speaking of goblins, don’t forget PAL-Loween at the Barker Hanger, 3021 Airport Ave. on the south side of Santa Monica Airport. The free tricks and treats begin at 5 p.m. tonight.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org