After the Planning Commission stuck it to residents by refusing to reconsider development-intensive shopping centers euphemistically known as “Activity Centers”) and higher, dense Tier 3 developments on major boulevards when they updated the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) zoning codes, City Council picked a highly controversial and unpopular candidate for Planning Commission.
Last Tuesday, “Smart Streets” advocate and Santa Monica Housing Commissioner Carter Rubin was appointed to a vacancy on the Planning Commission created when Sue Himmelrich joined City Council last fall. Housing Commissioners are appointed by City Council. Rubin’s term expires on June 30.
Rubin is a program manager for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Great Streets Initiative and is on the board of non-profit “Southern California Streets Initiative” that publishes bicycle/alternative mobility-centric Streetsblog and Santa Monica Next blog. Think he doesn’t have an agenda?
Last Tuesday, council persons Terry O’Day, Gleam Davis and Pam O’Connor — the pro-development trio — supported Rubin. Rubin’s non-profit bicycle advocacy coalition backed O’Connor last election. So, Pam did what she does best: repay political debts with her vote. This time for Rubin.
The slow growth majority were split between landmarks advocate Nina Fresco, architect Mario Fonda-Bonardi and Wilmont chair Laurence Eubank. Eubank was nominated by Tony Vazquez.
With nobody garnering the four votes necessary for appointment, another round of nominations followed. Vazquez switched to 28-year-old Rubin and that, my friends, was all she wrote.
“I guess what kind of tipped it to me was I kind of agree with many of the folks in town that we need to do a better job of grooming new leadership and getting this new generation involved,” Vazquez said. Flip-flop much, Tony?
My Gmail inbox filled up with comments from activists (who asked for anonymity), criticizing Vazquez, who himself is around 60. “Even more disturbing is the discriminatory reasoning cited by Vasquez … It’s actually illegal/unlawful in this country to make employment decisions based on age and his statements in the SMDP article make clear that was the basis for his decision,” emailed one particularly upset individual. “It seems Vasquez’s more interested in cultivating the youth vote for his next election than meeting the needs residents.”
“As a resident, I am very concerned about the recent planning commission appointment based on age discrimination. This new appointment should be null and void as illegal! The appointment is a paid position an applicant cannot be decided on by age OR rejected due to age. The candidate should be selected based on their experience, knowledge and ability to do the job. Not because a City Council person wants to ‘groom a young person for leadership’,” emailed another.
Another email: “Rubin was the worst possible choice — an unqualified, pro-development shill for SM Next who is being groomed for a Council seat … On the other hand, the obvious dismissal of excellent candidates BASED ON AGE will fuel the referendum/ initiative fires.”
And another: “I guess our City Council members now feel that are so above it all that they don’t even need to pretend that they are making their decisions fairly or are accountable to the residents that elected them.”
So much for faith in our “slow growth majority” council.
Citizens are becoming increasingly divided along age lines, as I had written a few months ago. On one side are the youth, spearheaded by newcomers in the bicycle coalition. On the other side are the longer-term residents — viewed as “grey hairs” — who see Santa Monica’s quality of life deteriorating.
It’s painfully clear that those in power are absorbed by their own selfish agendas and the rest of us don’t matter.
Nowhere is this more obvious than with the Planning Commission. Housing Commissioners are chosen (by council) based on their willingness to prioritize and promote housing. Many Housing Commissioners move up to Planning Commission which, unfortunately, seems to be a key stepping stone to a council seat.
This one-sided approach to citizen oversight of planning and development functions by populating the Planning Commission – and ultimately City Council, both of which are completely controlled by all-powerful Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights — with folks obsessed by development of unlimited rental housing is at the core of the problem.
The lack of diversity in critical thinking has infuriated our citizenry. Heaven forbid that we have policy makers — either elected or appointed — with diverse points of view. We currently have a city government where only people who think one way serve on its boards and commissions.
It’s why the same expensive policies live forever, why traffic and parking issues are never properly addressed and too much time, money and energy are spent on vanity projects and fixing things that don’t need fixing.
There’s a solution and that’s a ballot referendum to limit development in the city. Residocracy founder Armen Melkonians, in a widely published open letter last week, fired a shot across City Hall’s bow. He announced a “revolutionary ‘Resident Petition to Protect Santa Monica'”
“When government fails, it becomes time for individuals to ACT,” he wrote. “And Residocracy is currently in the process of doing just that … It’s time that residents control the future of Santa Monica. It’s time that the residents’ vision of the future of our city is unveiled.”
If the politicians won’t affect change, we will.
Bill Bauer can be reached at email@example.com.