Praise For City Council And Staff
OH NO YOU DON’T
Never fails. Just when I begin to think no one will ever again mention those dreaded six words — someone does.
Some sweet, well-intentioned but starry-eyed concerned citizen, being familiar with my columns, usually upon meeting me for the first time, will blurt out, “You should run for City Council! You’d be great! Just what we need.”
My close friends rarely do that. They know that while it would be a spectacular honeymoon, it would surely devolve to me writhing in disapprobation and infamy and slinking out of chambers before very long, due to my own set of quirks and lack of patience for tomfoolery. My family would have to move AND change their names, and then who would talk to the squirrels of Santa Monica? (As did our late great political columnist Bill Bauer. Sure do miss Bill.)
Why does anyone run for City Council? It’s a good question to ask. Probably every single candidate has initially convinced themselves of their idealistic calling, to right the wrongs and protect and guide our precious city. “I’m just what we need!”
Even I am not so cynical as to believe most candidates start out with nefarious intentions. No one muses I will run for Council because I am mad for power! Bwah-ha-ha-ha-haaa! Or, my ego is so huge I need this. Or because, screw Santa Monica, I can parlay this into higher office.
ENHANCE, PARLAY, FAVORS, FREE!
Or because it will financially enhance my personal business. Or that I will make the connections to slip into some lucrative private sector position offered by one of the many individuals or firms I did favors for while a Council member. Or so I can conspire with other City officials to be the conduit for large City contracts (ala Michael Cohen — influence peddling) and rake in those consulting fees now.
Or for the free junkets worldwide. Or because when you get tapped to run a big non-profit or PAC there can be a few big bundles of moolah that can get lost in accounting, or because you can land a City job that has great pay and benefits and who’s going to fire a Council person? Set for life.
Or… gosh, I am just making all this up, you know, but there are so many possibilities one can imagine for personal gain. You have to wonder, because the pay for Council members is next to nothing, and it is an impossible job to do right, really, no matter how much time you put in. The reading load must be crushing! So much to know to be even halfway prepared, and one assistant for the entire Council. That’s crazy. So you just have to wonder, why do they do it?
I ADMIRE THEM
Up to a point. Because they do put themselves on the line, willing to weather scathing personal criticism. But at some point, they drink the Kool-Aid. That’s a factor. But I think it’s more important to examine the motivations of someone who wants the job in the first place and will go through an often brutal campaign process and spend six figures of their own money or be reliant on those who will pony up for them. (No favors owed, of course.)
I do recognize and praise all the good work our Council members and City staff do for us. In many ways it is remarkable. But while so many work so hard to bring us all the good things we love about Santa Monica, there seems to be just as much effort put into a scheme and mislead us and make decisions out of the sunlight.
SO WHY DON’T I WRITE ABOUT THE GOOD STUFF?
It’s partly the old journalism adage about man bites dog. But mostly, that the small good things are so overshadowed by the great permanent harm being done by over-developing our small, 8.3 City. I can’t get too thrilled that you’re finally admitting our staff shouldn’t be so big or so vastly overpaid when we’ve been asking for years for you to address that, and the ticking fiscal time bomb of our half a billion dollar pension obligations. And the response is disingenuous: don’t worry, we have a billion and a half in City assets to more than cover that. I’m not sure what City Hall would fetch in auction, though I imagine Palisades Park could be sold for a fortune, with guarantees that the new owners could line it with towers of multi-million dollar condos with sensational views.
Most agree a new City offices annex building would save us lots, but when you choose a $75M plan, that will balloon to $130M or more with interest, because your state-of-the-art beyond-platinum trophy building will enhance the resumes of an ambitious few, we have to question your fiscal responsibility. Look at the bus bench fiasco. And you not only force a dressed-up kindergarten onto our civic — civic — center, you give it away to our financially bloated community college and even throw in a few million to help build it. That’s not Monopoly money, that’s our tax dollars.
HERE’S WHAT I’D LOVE TO WRITE ABOUT
All the time. A couple weeks ago I went to shoot hoops with my buddy over at Joslyn, and a group of kids was all over the courts, set up for futsal, a game of hard-floor soccer. The adult leader said they had a permit and would be there every Tuesday. But basketball courts are for basketball and there are signs saying other activities are not permitted.
I contacted our resident volunteers on the Recreation & Parks Commission, Chair John Cyrus Smith, and Commissioner Maryanne LaGuardia, and the problem was solved within two hours. LaGuardia got hold of three City staffers, and Community Services Program Supervisor Eric Johnson responded, “The group is not permitted to be out there. I will go out there this Tuesday and speak to them.” A troublesome power outage delayed him a week but the next Tuesday, boom, done. And Johnson promised to try to find a place where those kids could play futsal. Staff and community volunteers do care. We do the little things really well.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
“Put a lawn sign on your lawn; go door to door for your candidate. Register people to vote. There’s so much we can do through our voices and time. That’s what flips elections.” — Kirsten Gillibrand
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 32 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org