Attention, City Council candidates! It’s time to address how poorly City Hall serves the public.

Last Thursday, this newspaper ran a news story about how Bezian’s Bread, a 19-year purveyor at Wednesday’s Downtown Farmers’ Market had been given the boot.

In October 2010, the City Council approved changes suggested by the City Attorney’s Office that created criteria and an application and review process for periodically turning over prepared food vendors and bringing in new suppliers.

The changes only applied to products such as breads, coffee service, baked goods, snacks and other prepared foods. Sustainability, source of ingredients, market experience and value are the criteria for market participation. Santa Monica purveyors get the highest priority.

New vendors are selected by a secret five-person review committee comprised of City Hall staff and three members of the public (market patrons) recommended by neighborhood groups. Those who lose out can reapply every few years.

Two years ago Old Town Bakery, which sold bread and cakes at the Pico Market for 15 years, was axed and replaced by a Pico Boulevard baker who doubled bread prices and collected Los Angeles County health code violations. Long timers Lox of Bagels and Expresso Experience also left.

At the Main Street market, Richard “The Breadman” Schackne was terminated along with Corn Maiden Tamales, Cafe Laurent and Bower’s Gourmet Sausage. This year, Bezian’s Breads was replaced by Venice-based Red Bread.

All this is because city staff apparently doesn’t have enough to do, so they micro-mismanage. Complaints are ignored. It’s why I stopped shopping the Pico Market. Apparently many others did the same because Pico’s traffic declined dramatically after changes were made.

I’m still shopping Brentwood’s Sunday Farmers’ Market where there’s nobody from our City Hall to screw things up. Yeah!

How about the latest “free speech” controversy surrounding Big Blue Bus ads?

City Hall makes good money selling ad space on municipal buses. In 2007, management pulled banners featuring a bevy of bikini-clad women advertising the “Top Model” TV show allegedly because of citizen complaints. There was nothing salacious or even controversial about the ads and the censorship and loss of revenue was beyond dumb.

Proving that stupidity still rides shotgun on Big Blue these days, its managers informed AIDS Project LA that they wouldn’t allow bus banners for the annual AIDS Walk Los Angeles fundraiser this year.

It seems that Big Blue’s policy against non-commercial ads had been in effect since 2000. But, buses still carried ads for AIDS walk, accepting up to $70,000 annually in ad orders over the last five years. Oops.

However, when a deputy city attorney pointed out there was a policy prohibiting nonprofit/charity bus ads, AIDS walk was thrown off the bus. Nonprofits are on the banned list along with liquor, firearms, tobacco products and political speech ads.

The nonprofit/charity ban was enacted so that decisions on potentially offensive advertising on buses wouldn’t have to be made. There were fears that Big Blue might be forced into selling banner space to the Ku Klux Klan, anti-gay churches or hate groups.

Because Big Blue is a public entity, City Hall can’t arbitrarily pick and choose ads it feels are acceptable. Without an outright ban, nonprofits denied advertising space could sue for discrimination. Sounds like a repeat of the Palisades Park nativity display controversy, huh?

The loss of valuable public messaging and the income it brings is unfortunate. No more “Give blood” ads from the American Red Cross, “Exercise more” banners from the YMCA or valuable messages from any of a number of worthwhile nonprofit organizations.

There are safeguards City Hall can use such as requiring all nonprofits who want to advertise to be a government-recognized charity, have a state or federal nonprofit tax status or meet the criteria for a legitimate charity as set forth by the County of Los Angeles.

A motion was introduced at the Sept. 11 council meeting to review ad policy. Let’s hope that reason prevails and that advertising dollars can again flow into Big Blue’s coffers while nonprofits and charities can regain a place where important information can reach the public.

Then there’s the continuing soap opera — Santa Monica’s version of “Game of Thrones.” The war over who rules the Wilshire-Montana neighborhood organization (Wilmont) began in June, when a cadre of newer members ran for the board of directors.

Calling it an illegal palace coup, Chair Valerie Griffin canceled the annual meeting and election. Votes were cast anyway and when they were finally counted, a number of challengers had predictably won board seats. Griffin claimed the election was out of order and invalid.

The debate intensified when laughably written “warning” letters were sent to newly-elected board members canceling their Wilmont memberships by a local attorney hired by Wilmont. Recently, Griffin announced a new annual meeting and election for Oct. 20.

This is nothing more than a pointless feud between Griffin and her old board members who support the Fairmont Miramar hotel expansion and the newly-elected/ex-communicated members who oppose it. At stake is Wilmont’s continued endorsement of the Fairmont project, as if anyone cares.

Wilmont is one of the neighborhood groups officially recognized by City Hall. Up to $4,000 in grants which are usually used for outreach can be applied for annually by recognized neighborhood organizations who meet City Hall’s criteria.

Until Wilmont’s governance is finally determined, City Hall has no choice but to withhold grants and benefits including free meeting space in city facilities.

 

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

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