By Michael Feinstein. Inside/Outside. January 18, 2016

Today is Martin Luther King Day. It also is a year to the day since my first Inside/Outside column was published in the Santa Monica Daily Press.

I chose Martin Luther King Day last year to kick off my column in order to show respect for the greatness of King’s work – and to acknowledge the importance of the race, class, peace and the social and economic inequity issues he worked so hard to address.

As evidenced by the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement over the last year, the fact that some remain ‘more equal’ than others in our society remains as relevant as ever. Even here in Santa Monica, we are not immune to larger societal trends, and questions people ask themselves in Ferguson, Baltimore or Chicago should also be asked here.

Why “Inside/Outside”?

One of my primary goals in writing this column was to better inform our local civic dialogue. I choose “Inside/Outside” for the column’s name to reflect the fact that I’ve been both an elected official and a local activist in this community, and that I hoped to bring a perspective informed by both to my columns.

Rather than always advocating a particular position or policy, at times I’ve tried to frame and focus the tradeoffs that a Councilmember might consider before voting. When the City-sponsored Plaza at Santa Monica project at 4th/5th/Arizona came to the Council, I looked not only at the question of building heights – which was on everyone’s minds – but at the tradeoffs in uses and feasibility that might accompany different building heights (http://www.smdp.com/reaching-heights/148416; http://www.smdp.com/urban-plaza/151610).

I’ve also tried to provide historical context to issues – whether it be the gang violence in the 1980s and 1990s that led to the formation of the Pico Youth and Family Center (http://www.smdp.com/nonprofit-limbo/148858); or how pro-active Councilmember action resisting anti-homeless design in the late 1990s led to people-friendly bus benches on our Downtown Transit Mall – and by inference, how the lack of similar action in the late 2000s let to the disappointing bus benches much of the public protested in 2014/2015 (http://www.smdp.com/insideoutside-bust-stops/148119).

Of course I have and will continue to advocate for some specific public policies. Three times I’ve written about capping over the top of the I-10 freeway to create new parks and other public open spaces between Ocean Ave. and 5th St., because the possibility of that happening will be affected by near term Council decisions (http://www.smdp.com/planning-greatness/151374).

I also forcefully protested plans to fence off our Landmark former U.S. Post Office building at 5th/Arizona, in an attempt to rally community support to convince the new property owner to back off completely with such plans (http://www.smdp.com/return-sender/151028).

Electoral reform

Then there is the question of how we can improve our local elections. As someone who has been elected twice to our City Council, who was a co-founder of the state’s Green Party, and who also serves on the activist advisory board for FairVote (a national electoral reform organization that educates on voting systems www.fairvote.org), I have a particular interest in fair elections and alternative voting systems.

A proposal I made in this column to strengthen local referendum disclosure laws was later adopted by the City Council (http://www.smdp.com/strengthening-referendum-disclosure-2/151791).

Two other ideas that have not yet been adopted – but for which I remain hopeful – are for better coordination among local candidate forums (http://www.smdp.com/candidate-forums-future/145435); and for Santa Monicans for Renters Rights to upgrade its endorsement convention voting system to ranked-choice-voting (http://www.smdp.com/smrr-convention-rank-votes/152269) – a change I also advocate for use in Santa Monica elections in general.

Then there is how our state’s regressive single-seat, winner-take-all electoral system – and especially the malignant Top Two version – eliminates diverse voices from our state legislature that could bring about the Proposition 13 reform we need to better fund our parks, schools and affordable housing (http://www.smdp.com/freedom-choice/146994). The alternative – something practiced by most of the world’s democracies we are often compared to – is a system of multi-seat districts with proportional representation, where the range of diverse voices in our society would all receive representation in proportion to their numbers.

Want more parks? LA County needs assessment!

We have many great parks in Santa Monica. But for a city as dense and populous as we are, we are well short of enough open green space – for families, recreation, the environment and our health. Several of our neighborhoods are particularly deficient, and two-thirds of Santa Monicans are renters with little or no open space of their own.

Fortunately the County of Los Angeles has undertaken a countywide parks needs assessment. As part of this process, the Santa Monica Recreation & Parks Commission will hold a special meeting on behalf of the County this Thursday, Jan. 21 from 6 – 8:30 p.m. at the Civic Auditorium, East Wing, to identify our shared park priorities. RSVP by the 19th to ensure a spot! .

A goal of this assessment is to identify priority park projects to inform future open space planning and funding needs Countywide. To do this the County has come up with a process for each study area (there are 189 in the County!) to identify priority projects using a point system. Community input will play an important role in this.

Santa Monica City Staff has been working with County staff and their consultants since July, 2015. This background work has included providing a broad inventory of existing parks and park amenities in Santa Monica, evaluating the condition of each based upon criteria provided by the County and inventorying all vacant parcels in the City for viability as future park space. The County has also used census data and other info to create metrics for each study area. They have found that Santa Monica has approximately 1.4 park acres/1,000 residents and countywide it is 3.3 acres/1000 residents. Compare that to these other coastal cities: San Francisco (10.3), Seattle (11.8), Portland (26.2) and San Diego (30.8).

This meeting is an excellent opportunity to build regional support for converting Santa Monica Airport into a Great Park – which at 152 acres of new parkland would raise Santa Monica’s acreage to 3.0 acres/1,000 residents – and capping large segments of the I-10 freeway in Santa Monica, to gain even dozens of acres of more new park space.

In particular, the freeway capping is going to be expensive, and most likely will require funding sources beyond our borders. To the degree that we can convince county and state decision-makers to see freeway capping as a logical green urban infill approach, and as a climate-change adaptation/mitigation strategy to help make our dense cities more livable, the more likely ongoing sources of funding will begin to be dedicated to them.

Thank you Daily Press

Its been a very gratifying experience to share what I know with the community in this manner and I am very grateful to the Santa Monica Daily Press for giving me this opportunity. I look forward to year two con mucho gusto. All of my 22 columns thus far can be found at this link. I can be reached at mfeinstein@feinstein.org with your ideas for and comments about this column.


Michael Feinstein is a former Santa Monica Mayor (2000-2002) and City Councilmember (1996-2004).  He can be reached via Twitter @mikefeinstein

Inside/Outside‘ is a periodic column about civic affairs Feinstein writes for the Daily Press, that takes advantage of his experience inside and outside of government.