File photo



About this whole district voting thing.

But I don’t think so.

The reasons to fight the lawsuit now underway to change our voting system to choose our City Council representatives, from city-wide, at-large to voting by districts for our own neighborhood representative — that were given by our Mayor Ted Winterer in his Feb. 26 deposition, are probably similar to those embraced by the other six Council members.

None of them has tried to stop this very expensive legal battle, paid for with our money. Their high-end team of lawyers from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher seems to be making every objection possible. Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman, who has become a specialist in these kinds of voting lawsuits, wanted to depose Maria Leon-Vazquez over her school board votes in favor of large contracts to companies her husband Tony, Council member, and former Mayor, represented as a paid consultant but did not disclose. Nor did she.

That seems like a good idea to me. I want to know about that. The City’s hired guns argued, “1) The deposition subpoena inflicts abuse, embarrassment and harassment on Ms. Vazquez,” calling it “not a fishing expedition, this is a hunting expedition.”

Shenkman responded, “Judge Cardenas’ ruling denying the City of Santa Monica’s attempt to prevent Maria Leon-Vazquez’s deposition is essentially the same reasoning as (his) ruling rejecting the City’s arguments regarding further depositions of O’Day, Davis and T. Vazquez.” So, having had this argument previously rejected, by the same referee, they decided to try it again. They’re getting paid by the hour, no matter how this eventually turns out.

“The City has wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars to prevent these depositions, and lost every one,” Shenkman stated, “and now indicates that it will appeal the rulings to Judge Palazuelos, thus wasting even more money in an effort to hide the truth.”


No Council member comes out and says…

Are you kidding? Make it harder for me to get re-elected? Maybe have to run against other incumbents in my neighborhood? This is working great, don’t mess with it. Look at all the six-figure piles of campaign money I can pull in as a city-wide representative. Especially since we all pretty much march in lockstep on major issues, like development. All I have to do is get the endorsement (and money and phones and mailers) of SMRR, and I’m in. And I’ve been courting SMRR for years. Happy to carry their water. Don’t really need much else.

And once I get in, well, how many times has an incumbent lost? Only three times since 1990. So don’t even think about term limits. Pam O’Connor is going into her third decade on Council, Kevin McKeown is on the verge of that: now that’s political power. Herb Katz would’ve gone at least 28 years if he hadn’t died in office, Ken Genser same thing, at least 24 years. Is this a good idea, really, no matter how you feel about the individuals? Bob Holbrook served 24 years and retired.

California’s biggest cities, including LA, San Diego, and San Francisco, held elections by district before the advent of the Voting Rights Act. But among California’s 482 cities, only 59 hold district elections, according to a report released in December by California Common Cause. The LA Times’ Phil Willon reported last year that at least 14 more are considering switching over the next two years and most of them are facing threats of a lawsuit if they don’t.

Eric Dunn, an attorney for the city of Hesperia, said the main driver for their switch to district elections was the legal threat. No local government that holds citywide elections has ever won a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit, according to the League of California Cities.

“That’s tipped the scales for many cities,” Dunn said. “As the city attorney, you’re in a position where you have to tell your client that your odds of winning are zero.”

I guess our City Attorney offered different counsel to our Council. Why?


Here’s what our Mayor argued in favor of rejecting district voting. “Q” is the plaintiff’s lawyer (Shenkman), “A” is Winterer.

Q. What was the substance of your conversations with Kevin McKeown outside of closed session about district elections?

A. Generally, we are in agreement with what we perceived as the shortcomings of district elections.

Q. What are those shortcomings?

A. Voters of Santa Monica forfeit their ability to vote for all seven council members and instead vote once every four years for one council member. And the district elections do not, as some people purport, assure that that district would have greater weight at the City Council. Because even if in my neighborhood, I was the Ocean Park representative. Right now all seven council members need the votes of the people of Ocean Park, right? So if Ocean Park has a project they’re interested in or have an issue, all seven council members have to pay attention to it. If it’s just me, I was the only one paying attention to my local constituents’ concerns. The six other council members, in whatever districts they might be in, would not give a hoot about my constituents. And to get anything done at the council level, I would still need three votes to form a majority to take action on behalf of my constituents.

Q. Any other reasons?

A. Well, I think they create balkanization and pit neighborhood against neighborhood as opposed to doing what’s best for the city as a whole. I think they have the potential, as they do in L.A., to require council members to make deals with other council members to get their votes for their particular project. For instance, if Mike Bonin wants money from the city council (to) address the homeless population in Venice, or if he wants to fund for a shelter or whatever that his particular constituents are concerned about, then he has to vote for the high-rise tower in Hollywood that that particular council member is supporting. So they’re not necessarily working for the good of the city.

Q. Any other reasons?

A. None that I can think of.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Lawyers spend a great deal of their time shoveling smoke.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (US Supreme Court justice, 30 years)

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 32 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at