It’s a clich√©, but it certainly fits Santa Monica: Ask five people what they think about something in this city and you’ll get eight opinions.
Our city, home to more than 92,000 people, is a diverse one, full of thoughtful, intelligent people. So, how can any one person or group claim to speak for a whole neighborhood or for all residents for that matter?
At the City Council meeting on April 14, the roughly five hours of public testimony belied the claim that residents are somehow uniformly in agreement about the future of Santa Monica.
Among the supporters of Santa Monica Forward speaking at the meeting, we saw a racially, socioeconomically, and generationally diverse group of people speaking on issues as varied as child care, housing affordability, and historic preservation.
It’s important to remember that no one group — including Santa Monica Forward — speaks for all residents, which is actually a very good thing for our city. It means we are truly a diverse community.
It is also a good reminder that when we listen to one another instead of trying to silence others simply because they disagree with us, we can achieve great things. Anyone who was around for the six-year Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) process should understand the importance of nuanced and civil discourse.
Through many meetings, compromises, and discussions, we arrived at a plan for our city that enshrined sustainability in the broadest sense while addressing the many and various concerns of our diverse residents. We would create homes for future generations and make certain to preserve our existing neighborhoods at the same time. The LUCE was heralded as a landmark achievement in local planning and it was met with unanimous approval by the Planning Commission and the City Council in 2010.
That is why we have a representative democracy, so that our elected and appointed officials can take in the wide range of diverse opinions and lead us to consensus. The work the Planning Commission put into reviewing and the proposed zoning ordinance update — more than 30 meetings! — is the most recent example of how functional leadership can bring together diverse points of view to create a roadmap for a positive future.
Recently, we have seen people claim that they speak for all the residents. When someone claims to represent a whole neighborhood or a whole city, especially one as diverse as ours, not only does that person try to censor thousands – or even tens of thousands – of people who may not hold the same opinion, that person is also forcing a perspective on those people without their consent.
In 2013, a city survey of residents showed a high level of overall satisfaction with Santa Monica. Certainly, people have their complaints, traffic being one of the highest, of course. Many think it’s getting worse. That same survey also showed that people care about living in a sustainable community.
We must address these issues, but we can’t do that by saying no to better transit alternatives, no to more housing for the middle class that helps people live near where they work, no to other good ideas that move us to a better future for all of us.
But the biggest takeaway from the survey was that there was no question to which 100 percent of those asked gave the same answer.
Even within Santa Monica Forward, people disagree. We share fundamental principles and support a future for Santa Monica that is accessible to people of all races and socioeconomic class, not just the 1 percent. We believe that all our kids deserve the best chances in life, despite how much money their parents make. We believe in preserving our neighborhoods so that long-time residents can feel secure in their homes. We believe that we must do our part to assure our children, their children, and the children yet unborn inherit a city that is even better than the one we know today.
We don’t always agree on the best ways to achieve those goals, but we debate and we challenge one another with the understanding that our viewpoints won’t be discounted just because they don’t adhere to a certain ideology, that we won’t be called names and dismissed because we don’t agree, and that those with whom we are talking will at least listen to what we are saying and together, we will reach higher levels of thinking about complex issues.
That has been missing from Santa Monica’s civic discourse recently, as the “all-or-nothing” rhetoric ramps up at public meetings and in local newspapers. If we truly care deeply about Santa Monica and its future, we must make a concerted effort to return civility to our city.
Santa Monica Forward is volunteer group of community members, residents and local activists working together for a diverse, progressive, sustainable and equitable Santa Monica. We stand for fact-based, inclusive and civil public discourse. Visit www.santamonicaforward.org for more information.