MY MECHANIC RUBEN
He’s been taking care of me and my various automobiles, and those of my family, and friends, for about 30 years now. Lincoln Auto Electric, just north of Lincoln and Ocean Park, walking distance for me, how great is that? And it’s literally all downhill to get there, in case said auto is barely moving.
I’ve seen almost every car made sitting there waiting its turn for Ruben’s expert attention, from DeLoreans to RVs to Aston Martins to beat-up pickups to vintage T-birds, Mustangs, Corvettes, MGs or Bentleys. One of the clinching reasons we got our first Prius in 2003 was because Ruben saw the future of this new technology and took classes to be ready for what he accurately predicted became a wave of Prii in Santa Monica.
Quite a story behind that funky garage. Ruben’s from Peru, wife Anna from Argentina, now his sons Nick and Alex, who literally grew up in the shop, are running most of the business so I think I’m good for another 50-60 years. (Wonder if I’ll still have my driver’s license at 120?) He’s had his repair shop (it’s not just electrical) in Santa Monica for nearly 40 years.
But before he settled into this business his early life was the stuff of telenovelas. I’ve gotten that part of the story in dribs and drabs over the years, usually having to pull it out of him, although he is a world-class talker, a storyteller, philosopher, a political pundit.
So after all these years and all these stories, it’s about time I share that with you. But I can’t. Yet. Why?
Because I still have to write about what’s happening to our City, and who’s responsible. Wish I didn’t.
I DON’T HATE OUR CITY COUNCIL OR STAFF
Honestly, I don’t. Although I’m pretty sure most of them believe that and would be happy to “return the favor.” I would likely get along with all of them over a scotch if politics were not discussed. They have devoted much of their lives to public service, and I laud them for that. I believe most went into local politics with the best intentions and the best interests of our residents, our City and its future at heart.
But … I figured out a long time ago that the motivation for taking a government job, or even a volunteer position, may have more to do with what you can get after you leave, than the job’s immediate salary and benefits. (I’m not saying this applies to any of our current City Council members.)
Used to be the opposite: you took a bureaucratic position that paid less than the private sector would because you knew the benefits at the end were sweet. Now you get both, high pay now (especially in Santa Monica) and big bucks when you leave.
Nearly half the City Hall retirees here last year (219) walked away with six-figure annual retirement checks, for life, nearly triple the average for California public employees. Just that check alone puts them more than 50 percent over the $64,300 median household — household — income countywide. The state average for those six-figure retirement plums, per city, is 15 percent, not our 42. We paid out more than Beverly Hills. Two of our former police chiefs are getting $244K and $234K each year from us, and a former city manager also clocks in at $244K. One more and we’ve got our own Million Dollar Quartet (but no Jerry Lee).
AM I JEALOUS?
Maybe a little. Writers are usually jealous of the checks bank clerks, fry cooks and folks on disability cash. But I certainly understand that police chief and city manager are two tough jobs I would not want to take on, especially for decades at a time.
But that’s got nothing to do with it. I’m not talking about my bank account but our City’s, which we all pay into and are responsible for, and it’s got some heavy, heavy accounts payable sitting there. Nearly half a billion dollars, just for pension payments. Much of it unfunded or underfunded.
Is this normal? Out of our control? No. There’s nothing we can do about pensions already promised, but we can do something about the future. I remember a neighborhood association meeting of a couple years ago where the City envoys were metaphorically wringing their hands and explaining to the uninformed (which was not most of us) that there is just nothing we can do about pensions due. Duh.
Finally former longtime Council member Bob Holbrook, apparently fearing continued silence was not good for his blood pressure, stood and said, of course you can’t change the past but you can affect the future, starting tomorrow. Twenty years ago we faced this same realization, he recounted, and the Council enacted hiring cutbacks and reduction of salaries going forward. I don’t believe City services suffered, he offered. But in the ensuing years that resolve has been lost and here we are again. If you want to solve this problem you have to do something now, he advised.
Have we? No. In fact, we keep adding new six-figure positions and employees as though pensions don’t exist, or are nothing to worry about. If the national economic picture changes drastically, and that’s a gamble we shouldn’t take in the era of Trumpenomics, Santa Monica could plummet into bankruptcy quicker than you can say “Bob Holbrook was right!”
The pension liability is probably our biggest threat. But coupled with the Council’s propensity for acting like money is printed in the basement of City Hall, we are grasshoppers counting on the kindness of ants. Our City Council spends our money often foolishly, wastefully, and in huge chunks. For their political agenda. Then we’re told, well, we don’t have the money for THAT. It does no good to hold toothless citizen assemblies about homelessness or crime or traffic if we never have any funds we can apply to it.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Is there really any more important issue here than overdevelopment? Don’t almost all of our most pressing problems come from that? (Sound familiar? Worth repeating?)
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “You can’t be a progressive and be opposed to pension reform.” — Gina Raimondo
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 email@example.com