It’s been said that many a truth has been spoken in jest. Last year, I wrote an April Fool’s column in which I pretended to announce my candidacy for a seat on the Santa Monica City Council because I believed that it needed “an injection of energy, youth, style, soul, and sex appeal.”
Maybe the council doesn’t really need sex appeal, but I stand by the rest of the statement. With the dearly departed Herb Katz’s seat now open, Santa Monica has an opportunity to look toward the future and make our representative government more closely resemble our residents. The best way to do that would be for the Santa Monica City Council to refrain from appointing someone to serve out the rest of the late Mr. Katz’s term at their meeting on the 24th of this month and to hold a special election.
Every time I look at the current make-up of our City Council, I keep coming back to one word: homogenous. Of the six, there are five white men and one white woman — all middle-aged or older. In the last 10 years, the only seat which has turned over is occupied by Robert Sargent Shriver III. He’s a good guy who has helped a lot of people through his DATA and (PRODUCT)RED programs, but he’s a Kennedy, a venture capitalist, and a friend of Bono. I’ve got nothing against him and I’m sure he tries, but to me his demographic profile doesn’t exactly say “I can relate to the needs of ordinary Santa Monicans.”
The rest of the council has been working together since at least 1999 and I don’t care who you are or what you do, when you spend a decade around the same people, you will develop patterns of behavior. It’s just human nature. If you don’t believe me, just think back to this past holiday season and tell me your Thanksgiving or Christmas or Chanukah didn’t include at least one tired, old family dispute or ritualized tradition that never seems to go away no matter how bad you wish it would.
One thing we should have learned from the events of recent years is that elections are good things. Not too long ago the field of candidates vying for the top job in our federal government was bigger and deeper than the Lakers’ roster. After an insufferably long primary and exhaustive general election campaign, we now have the best person for the job sitting in the Oval Office. We need the same kind of process here. The winner of the special election would have to run again when Herb Katz’s term expires in 2010, and I think it’s safe to say that two elections in two years would ensure that we also end up with the best person for the job occupying the seat. It’s a classic win/win for us.
The alternative would be to allow our City Council, Santa Monica’s ultimate political insider’s club (which has had less than 75 members in 50 years), to name its next member. Does anyone really believe they will look very far outside their immediate circle? I don’t. And that would be tragic for Santa Monica’s future because these seven people will be instrumental in developing the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) strategy, the long-term plan to “preserve our city’s character, enhance transportation systems, expand healthcare services, maintain our quality of life, encourage creative arts and small businesses, increase mobility for all who live, work and visit here and ensure the long-term social, economic and environmental sustainability.”
These are the people who will be making crucial decisions about development, neighborhood conservation and historic preservation, traffic reduction, zoning and planning, and the best way to use the Exposition Light Rail service to connect Downtown Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles. LUCE is an outgrowth of the city’s General Plan, which hasn’t been officially updated since 1984, and should be developed with a focus on what the place we all call home might look and feel like in 2034. I would like to see at least one person in city government who doesn’t see things through the prism of the 1940’s, 50’s, or 60’s and I think we have a much better chance of finding that person through the electoral process than by appointment.
If nothing else, it will serve as a real-life civics lesson for the students at Santa Monica HIgh School, St. Monica, and Santa Monica College. Since all politics is local, we have the opportunity to show the real future of this city, our young people, how important it is that they are informed and involved in their government. And it would be a fitting tribute to a man who lived and died for Santa Monica, the late, great Herb Katz.
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider living in Santa Monica who is shopping his book, “Word In Edgewise: The Collected Opinions of America’s Smartest Columnist” to forward-thinking publishers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org