By CHARLES ANDREWS
WHY THIS FIGHT?
Over district vs at-large elections?
Is it an obscure bit of political infighting, a clash of personalities, that doesn’t really mean anything to residents?
Or could it possibly change the way our City is run? Take much of the big money influence out of our elections? Give minorities, and neighborhoods, a voice? End the 40-year one-party dominance of SMRR that has given us a steady stream of Council members hell bent on developing Santa Monica into a high-rise megalopolis-by-the-sea, with all the resultant problems of traffic, crime, corruption, skyrocketing rents and more, that trying to cram way too many people and big buildings into 8.4 square miles inevitably brings.
It could. It remains to be seen. But one thing you should put your money on: district voting will come. Soon. How can I be so confident? I’ll go with the side with the perfect record.
Two dozen times California cities have been sued under the CA Voting Rights Act (CVRA) to end racial discrimination enabled by at-large voting, and two dozen times they’ve lost.
Most saw the writing on the wall and acquiesced when the lawsuit was brought.
Three didn’t, and they suffered the consequences. Millions in costs to defend a lost cause, and in the case of Palmdale, a mayor now fighting legal charges of corruption.
So why is Santa Monica fighting this inevitable change tooth and nail (with one of the
most expensive law firms you can find, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher)? Plaintiffs attorney Kevin Shenkman estimates a loss will cost the City around $7-8,000,000, maybe more.
HERE’S WHAT GETS ME
Many issues involved here, but what jumps out to me is how willing our Council is, once again, to spend a ton of our money, on a lawsuit that has very close to zero chance of success, for their own personal aggrandizement.
It’s our money, so it’s play money to them. Another $7M for stylish but ridiculously unusable bus seating almost everyone hates, still working on it, still spending. Another 7 to close those few feet of runway at our airport that now may not even achieve stopping jet flights. And 7 or 8 for this.
How about a possible $100,000,000 for office space, the coming City Services Building, approved by Council to ridiculous “sustainable” standards that may not even be legal or buildable.
When all Council members are elected at-large, no one has to take the blame for
Talk to the other members, they can all say. But when your district’s
representative throws millions down the toilet, you can hold them accountable.
If the suit is successful, the next election will see a free-for-all. All sitting members will
lose their seats and have to run, in their own neighborhoods.
Sounds good to me.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: City Council member and former mayor Tony Vazquez
has announced he is running for the California Board of Equalization (BOE).
obscure, and to most of us it is. But it is a very important body to a lot of people, particularly business people and corporations, because it settles questions about taxation rates.
According to the Sacramento Bee, there has historically been a lot of alleged corruption there. In recent years, news outlets including The Bee have revealed questionable donations that appeared to benefit elected members, and an expensive renovation of a board member’s office that cost taxpayers $130,000.
A damning audit in March showed that board members inappropriately intervened in the agency’s daily operations (4,200 employees), and created a climate of fear among state workers about retaliation
from elected officials, which may have allowed faulty accounting that misallocated tax revenue.
A study revealed rampant nepotism, that one in five BOE employees are related to other employees, or have a close personal relationship, and that family members have nepotism conflicts in chains of supervision.
Last year it collected more than $60B (yes, billion) in revenues, about 30 percent of the total revenue needed to run everything in the state of California. The Board had 4,700 employees and $617 (!) million annual budget.
Board members are paid a $137,000 salary and are each allowed to hire a 12 member staff. (Finally, my no-’count cousin can get a job.)
But in June, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation stripping the Board of most of its powers. So why would anyone now want that eviscerated office? Well, $137K by itself is not a small incentive.
Plus perks, of course. Still, really big perks.
And like our former police chief here who, I believe, saw the writing on the wall about the impending wave of crime so hard to deal with, it’s a good time to bail. There are indications that being a Santa Monica City Council member will not be as much fun as it once was. (But better for the residents, we pray.)
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Opportunity is a torch in darkness.” — Helen Keller
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 31 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else
in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com