In one of its smarter moves, the City Council last Tuesday night postponed a decision on what to do about holiday displays in Palisades Park pending further review.

For nearly 60 years, Christian groups, mostly from Santa Monica churches, have erected dioramas depicting the nativity along Ocean Avenue during the Christmas season.

Last year, a number of new organizations including some from outside the city and some of them non-traditional, parody or non-religious groups requested space to create displays, outstripping the 21 spots available. Because public space must be made available on an equal basis without regard to tradition, religious orientation or content, display sponsors were determined by random drawing.

As luck or “the will of the Lord” would have it, the majority of spaces went to non-religious groups or individuals leaving just three spaces for locally sponsored nativity scenes.

Now, the options are whether to limit the number applications an applicant can file and continue to implement a totally random lottery only if necessary, provide space for all comers or do away with displays all together.

We know where all this is going. It’s all or nothing. Having 40, 50 or more displays in Palisades Park is too much and unnecessary. Applicants left out will complain about a random drawing.

For those who feel compelled to set up a holiday exhibit, do it on your own property or someone else’s private property and have a Merry Christmas.

No housing for singles

In other action Tuesday night, City Council reviewed the city’s annual housing policy and its funding.

Despite the fact that most of City Hall-supported Community Corporation of Santa Monica’s (CCSM) housing projects have been multi-bedroom units in family buildings, recent housing studies indicate that the greatest need is for the single or dual occupancy units in single or one bedroom apartments. The studies indicate the typical low income levels of tenants needing such public housing ranges from $17,950 (one person) up to $34,200 for two people.

Don’t I feel vindicated? I’ve been saying for years that a housing policy that heavily favors families with children was out of whack. The real need is for affordable single and one bedroom units for families without children. While CCSM recruits potential tenants from all over Los Angeles County to take up residence here, Santa Monica’s singles, elderly, disabled — and homeless — go begging.

Late last year, City Hall’s housing authority accepted 33,000 applications for housing. Some 3, 370 applicants were either living or working in Santa Monica. And 95 percent of the “Santa Monica” applicants are in the “extremely low” or “very low” income brackets. 25 percent are seniors, 33 percent disabled and 10 percent were/had experienced homelessness. Note: categories not mutually exclusive.

The report also discloses that 78 percent of waiting list applicants are one or two person households with “extremely low” or “very low” income levels.

There are hundreds of single and one bedroom rental units available, under construction or pending approval — mostly from one private developer — NMS Properties, Inc. Although considered affordable, the smallest privately financed units are leasing for $1,300 or more — far beyond the reach of someone on a fixed income (like Social Security) earning around $20, 000 annually.

City Hall’s housing authority needs to redirect its affordable housing policies to better accommodate Santa Monica singles in the lowest of the income brackets because it’s the right thing to do.

Courting parking ticket appeals

Speaking of screw-ups, City Attorney Marsha Moutrie received City Council approval last Tuesday night for what she called a “settlement agreement” in Epstein v. Santa Monica, et. al. Problem is that while some basic terms had been agreed upon, there was no fully negotiated “settlement agreement.”

Plaintiff Stanley Epstein sent a Wednesday morning e-mail advising the local news media not to be fooled: “There is NO settlement at this point,” he stated. “Although the parties have been negotiating for four months, several important points remain to be worked out before completion. If and when the parties resolve all outstanding issues, the settlement document must be approved by a Superior Court judge.”

This civil case involves the mishandling of parking citation appeals by City Hall. Stanley and Harriet Epstein filed suit claiming that City Hall and its contractor ACS State & Local Solutions, Inc., and others failed to follow California Vehicle Code (CVC) mandates that parking ticket appeal denial notices “must provide a reason for that denial.”

So what happened? Did Moutrie misspeak, have a brain burp or just attempt to deflect a public relations debacle?

The Epsteins say that Moutrie deliberately misrepresented that there was a “settlement agreement.” She also made it seem that they were getting $77,500 (less legal fees) when in fact they were to get only $12,500 paid by ACS. They believe it was a calculated attempt to deceive the public and make them look greedy and claim her tactics constituted a serious breach of legal ethics.

The Epsteins told me, “The city wants to get out front of the story by prematurely announcing a ‘completed settlement’ so that when and if a real settlement is reached, the press would ignore that settlement announcement and any joint press releases containing comments critical of how parking citation appeals were mishandled because the story had already been covered, previously.”

It just gets messier and messier, doesn’t it?

Bill can be reached at

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