The First Amendment is, in some ways, the most important part of our Constitution whose intention is to make our country a “more perfect Union.” It is important because it allows all of us to advocate on matters of concern. And, in doing so, we keep our democracy vibrant and alive.
So, when the First Amendment allows hateful or prejudiced speech we realize that even that speech is protected because we believe that the overriding principle of freedom of expression is paramount.
This complex and awkward system of ours allowed a very sad and offensive statement to be presented to you the other evening. In a discussion about the Pier concerts at last week’s City Council meeting a person said imagine what will happen when the Expo opens and all the people from East Los Angeles come here. I interpret that statement to mean that the person addressing the Council did not want to see Hispanics coming to Santa Monica because the speaker was anticipating that bad things would happen.
As background, the City Council appointed me to the citizens’ committee to restore the Pier after the storms in the early 1980’s. In fact, I chaired that committee and after a year of workshops and meetings we put together the plan that ultimately restored the Pier. I have spent many hours with an amazing set of friends, business people and fellow Californians thinking about and working on the best ways to protect our cherished and loved Santa Monica Pier.
So, when I hear racist statements, as I noted above, I consider them to be prejudiced and harmful attitudes as well as mean hearted, wrong and divisive. They anger and offend me. Such statements stand against every thing that wonderful Pier represents: a place for all, a place for fun, a place of happiness, a place of natural beauty for all of us to enjoy, experience and love. It is our landmark and our Pier.
And, I know the racist statement noted above is not the sentiment of the residents of Santa Monica, Southern California and our state. I know that we all agree with the language of the California Coastal Zone Conservation Act of 1972 that instructs us, in part, “The people of the State of California find and declare that the California coastal zone is a distinct and valuable natural resource belonging to all of the people…”
Together, we must protect this great resource. We must stand down against those that would seek to take away access to our precious coast and its fabled pier.
After nearly 30 great years in Santa Monica I now live in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles. I plan to be on that Expo line so that I can join so many others in enjoying your great city and our great Pier. I can’t wait to take that first Expo ride!
So, I ask that we remain vigilant in protecting access to the beach and the Pier. The Coastal Act, the spirit of California and the whole reason why we live here dictates that we keep access open to all. I know residents of Santa Monica will reject hateful attitudes that are racist; that seek to make the coastline a place of exclusion.
The Pier stands today as a result of a citizens’ movement and ballot measure to “Save the Pier Forever.” A previous City Council sought to tear it down and build an island. Many people, many of whom we all know, lead that great fight to save the Pier, which then lead to an overwhelming vote in support of the Pier.
That is our legacy and our mission forward. We must never let the cynics cause us to forget that heritage.
Ernie Powell is now a Los Angeles resident.