City Hall is at it again. This time it’s a proposal by the Housing and Economic Development Department to raise rents for eateries offering outdoor dining service on public property throughout the city.

For example, their appraiser’s proposed monthly rate table shows monthly rents for restaurants on the Third Street Promenade (with partially enclosed patios on public space leased from City Hall) could jump from $1.90 to $5.25 per square foot. Ocean Avenue eateries with fully-enclosed patios could see their monthly rents increase from $1.90 to $5.83.

On the lower end of the scale, sidewalk rents for restaurants without enclosures located on streets away from Downtown, such as along Pico or Ocean Park boulevards, could rise from 87 cents to $2.50. Increases are based on the theory that high pedestrian traffic locations are more valuable, therefore restaurants should pay more for using the sidewalks for outdoor dining.

You know that any increases will be passed along to customers in the form of higher food and drink prices. Restaurant owners are worried the proposed jumps in rent and higher prices will hurt business.

While the City Council is not expected to take up the issue for a few months, they’ll need to be very careful here.

Recent “highly-touted” changes in the Pico and Main Street Farmers’ Markets were instigated by the same Housing and Economic Development Department staff and enthusiastically approved by the City Council. Many established, non-produce purveyors were terminated and replaced with new, local, “sustainable” vendors. It’s been a miserable failure. This bad decision making has resulted in a 30 to 50 percent decline in foot traffic and revenues at the Pico Farmers’ Market since Oct. 1.

A purveyor at the Sunday Main Street Market e-mails, “The grapevine, though not always reliable, informs me that business is well below their projected numbers. The news from loyal customers who seek us out all report that the spirit and energy that made ‘Sunday on Main’ fun are gone.”

With traffic and parking problems that will worsen when a couple of key Downtown parking garages close for reconstruction, increased parking fees and fines and a half percent jump in Santa Monica’s sales tax April 1, bets are local dining will decline along with the revenues it brings to the city.

Santa Monica continues to become even less desirable and more expensive place to shop, entertain and do business in.

SMC must investigate professor<p>

On Dec. 6, I wrote about a classroom project involving Santa Monica College political science students campaigning for Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights candidates during the November election. The professor of the class, Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, is co-chair of SMRR. Activist attorney Stanley Epstein filed a written complaint with the college claiming the project constituted a conflict of interest and breach of professional ethics. He requested a full, independent investigation.

SMC Executive Vice President Randal Lawson responded to Epstein’s complaint last week. “The district disputes the numerous allegations set forth therein [Epstein’s letter] and rejects your various demands … . No evidence has been presented suggesting that institutional policy has been violated. Moreover, the determination of whether a policy has been violated, and any consequence flowing there from, rests with the college and not independent bodies.”

Lawson continues, “As you have also been informed, the college will explore whether conflict of interest guidelines should be developed to address issues that might arise from the service-learning component of any class.”

Epstein told me, “They already have policy (guidelines) to cover this situation in the Academic Senate Statement of Ethics adopted 3-26-02.”

Since SMC denied his complaint, Epstein is preparing a petition to the California Community Colleges Office of Chancellor to determine whether SMC is violating proper academic conduct by fostering a conflict of interest — at all levels. Epstein asserts that many SMC professors and administrators and all seven trustees are members of or have special relationships with Santa Monica’s most powerful political group. They therefore have conducted or condone ongoing classroom field assignments that exclusively benefit SMRR.

Epstein is on the mark. The entire SMC Board of Trustees is directly tied to SMRR. Denny Zane, a key consultant to the college and campaign manager for its two recent construction bond measures (that won voter approval and reaped a nearly two-thirds-of-a-billion dollar bonanza for the college), is a founder and former chair/co-chair of the renters’ rights organization. And, a number of key college administrative positions are held by high ranked SMRR insiders.

It isn’t surprising that nobody wants to disturb the mutual back-scratching between SMC and SMRR. Similar complaints of political favoritism, cronyism and conflicts of interest over the years have either been ignored or stonewalled by SMC honchos — as they are now doing with Epstein.

Hopefully, the Office of Chancellor in Sacramento will react quickly to Epstein’s complaint, investigate the serious issues raised and end the political shenanigans once and for all.

To everyone: a very Merry Christmas.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com

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