There’s more than joy in the air this holiday season. I’m thinking wackiness.

For going on six decades a coalition of local churches has erected tableaus in Palisades Park illustrating the biblical Christmas story, and a Jewish group has a menorah display.

A few years ago, other groups and individuals also wanted to present displays in the same location. When the requests for displays exceeded the 21 spaces available, City Hall had a problem.

Because the park is public property, City Hall cannot arbitrarily set aside spots or give preference to any particular group, message, or ideology or give preference based on tradition or history. So, an application process was established with the awarding of spaces to be determined by random lottery. The outcomes worried some city leaders.

Councilman Bob Holbrook told me last spring that a group calling itself the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster had applied for a space. Their god looks like an octopus with outstretched noodles.

“If their name is drawn, we have to let them in,” he fumed. “We can’t stop ’em.”

Luckily for Holbrook, the parody religion’s application didn’t win. But, as luck would have it, non-religious groups did take 18 out of 21 spaces. The churches, operating collectively as “Save Our Nativity Scenes” (SONS), initiated a public relations campaign to win back display areas. Because, I guess, setting up displays at the churches themselves isn’t an option.

It’s all much ado about nothing because all the signed petitions floated by SONS doesn’t trump the U.S. Constitution, which calls for equal access. Lord willing, next year the churches will win a majority of spaces in the lottery. And, non-nativity groups will claim the process was rigged against them.

Some years, the nativity scenes will prevail. Some years, church and state separatists will win. Maybe some of the “Johnny-come lately” groups will drop out and spots will be reacquired by the churches. The full story of the first Christmas — and controversy — will return to Ocean Avenue.

Smoke and mirrors

The issue of smoking and its effect on non-smokers has been vexing for our nanny City Council. Last Tuesday, they debated how to control smoking tobacco in multi-unit apartments and condominiums.

An ordinance under consideration would require current occupants of apartments and condominiums to choose either “smoking” or “non-smoking” status for their dwelling unit. If a unit is designated non-smoking, smoking would thereafter be prohibited in that unit. Upon vacancy, units including smoking units, would be designated as non-smoking units, forever. Current smoking tenants would be allowed to smoke in their smoking-designated units.

This whole proposal is just goofy. What if a tenant declares his unit “non-smoking” and then takes up a pipe, cigarettes, cigars or a Tiparillo? He/she would be in violation of the ordinance (if it passes) and could be cited and even sued.

It gets worse. If a guest lights up in your non-smoking unit, you can be fined and sued. This could put an end to smoking after sex in non-smoking units. But, if you designate your unit as a smoking unit, even if you’re a non-smoker, under the proposed ordinance there’s no penalty for lighting up — even after sex.

Units where tenants or owners who have not disclosed status would automatically be declared non-smoking by City Hall. Smokers in these units would also be in jeopardy of fines and lawsuits.

Anybody mention privacy issues? Under the proposed ordinance, anyone could ask your landlord or home owners association if you, in unit 102, for example, are a smoker. I say it’s nobody’s business!

How about single-family homes? They are not covered by the proposed ordinance. There’s no recourse or penalty if your neighbor’s cigar, pipe or cigarette smoke drifts onto your property, into your home and swirls around you and your children.

For that reason, there seems to be an issue with equal protection. But I suspect that single-family homes were left out because the politicians and bureaucrats didn’t want another “hedge” controversy.

How about requiring similar disclosure about whom has dogs or cats. After all, allergies are a health issue, too.

More feather-headed is the notion that the proposed ordinance may not apply to units where residents partake of the “good weed.”

No parking

Also, last Tuesday, City Council approved a controversial 56-unit apartment building with over 4,000 square feet of ground floor retail space and no vehicle parking in Downtown on a lot that’s now a car repair business. Is that ironic?

The project at Fourth Street and Broadway will instead feature 70-plus bicycle spaces. Being that personal vehicle use outnumbers bicycle riders 100-1, the approval of the five floor project is par for the course for Santa Monica where need is not the issue, political (in)correctness is.

And, Bob Holbrook thought the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was absurd.

Happy holidays everyone.

Bill can be reached at

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