I appreciated the political symmetry of last week’s meetings. The two groups that control the federal government (the Democratic and Republican parties) met to try to work out a deal on health care reform and the two groups that control our city government (the Chamber of Commerce and Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights) met to try to work out a deal on democracy and development.
In both cases, the issues on the table weren’t as important as the larger question at hand. Fundamentally, it’s a question that sums up our current political divide and the way you, as a voter, answer it determines which candidates you support. The question is: Do you and your family want the protection of your government or do you and your family want protection from your government?
Since the health care summit in Washington, D.C. has been analyzed to death and since the Republican negotiating strategy (we’ll support the bill only if you agree to scrap the bill) was a joke, let’s focus on last Tuesday’s City Council meeting. When we look back, that session will prove to be a turning point in Santa Monica history because it was on that day the dominant political force in our city, SMRR, made it known that they’re no longer focused on the needs of the people and have decided this is a pro-development town. The way they showed us their vision for Santa Monica’s future was to finally put to rest any illusions of representative democracy by appointing Terry O’Day, not Ted Winterer, to the vacant City Council seat. Then they put the pedal to the metal on the growth express by having a SMRR majority vote down Councilman Kevin McKeown’s proposal to postpone hearings on large-scale developments until the city completes its long-term plan for managing growth. Machiavelli would have been proud.
The eight rounds of voting it took to get O’Day on the council were eight separate referenda on Ted Winterer, a man who finished fifth in an election to fill four seats in 2008, yet was passed over for a SMRR member (who didn’t even run in that election) when an appointment was made to fill Herb Katz’ seat. By any objective standard, he was the right choice to take Ken Genser’s place, but SMRR needed that seat for its pro-growth agenda — and Winterer isn’t a reliable pro-growth vote. Despite his support from voters, Ted was neither the first or second choice of SMRR’s Gleam Davis, Richard Bloom or Pam O’Connor. So he was never a serious contender for the seat because SMRR doesn’t want him on the council — a fact that became clear to Winterer supporter McKeown in the early rounds and to Winterer supporter Bobby Shriver in the last two. In the end, it came down to a choice between one of two SMRR-backed candidates to occupy the fifth SMRR-controlled seat on our seven-member City Council.
It was later in the meeting when the “development time-out” was being considered that SMRR’s true motivation for appointing O’Day was revealed. Knowing that he worked to defeat Measure T (which would have capped development in Santa Monica), there was no question that he would join fellow SMRR-backed council members Bloom and O’Connor and pro-business Councilman Robert Holbrook in voting “no.” With those four votes in place, Davis was free to vote however she wanted (a reward for nominating and sticking with Kennedy, perhaps?) and Shriver’s vote became irrelevant.
The most ominous part of the meeting was when some council members became convinced that the planning department could handle completing the draft Land Use and Circulation Element and conducting hearings on development projects based on the word of Planning Director Eileen Fogarty. In a meeting last year, Ms. Fogarty assured Editor in Chief Kevin Herrera and myself that all current development agreements with the city of Santa Monica were up to date and in compliance. Yet the most problematic, Saint John’s Health Center, was quickly shown to be violating many key provisions of its development agreement — a fact that was news to Ms. Fogarty, Planning Manager Amanda Schachter, and Principal Planner Brad Misner. Their incompetence in overseeing the disaster that is Saint John’s doesn’t inspire confidence in their ability to metaphorically walk and chew gum at the same time; yet the council voted to increase, not decrease, their workload. An overwhelmed oversight agency might be good for business, but it’s not good for the people who have to live with the traffic, noise, and pollution that inevitably come with growth.
I like clean water, healthy food, and medication that won’t kill me, so I typically want the protection of my government. When it comes to my SMRR-majority City Council, however, I’m either going to need protection from my government or I’m going to have to change my government. Luckily, five of the seven City Council seats are being contested this year — with four of those currently occupied by SMRR members.
In November, we should support candidates that don’t see the people of Santa Monica as consumers in a marketplace whose profit potential should be maximized, but as residents of a community whose quality of life should be preserved and protected. And if a former tenants organization that has mysteriously morphed into a pro-growth business circle won’t listen to us, we have the power to throw the bums out.
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider with four-quadrant crossover appeal who hopes those Santa Monicans with ‘08 campaign stickers on their hybrids and Obama T-shirts on their kids get involved in local politics this November. His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.