Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

The City Council has abandoned plans to amend the city charter this year that would have restructured authorization for various boards and commissions.

Council said the current political climate did not allow enough time to educate the public on the measure and restrictions on in-person contact had made it impossible to talk with the volunteers who would be impacted by the change.

As it stands today, Santa Monica’s boards and commissions are not regulated the same way. Some draw their authority from the charter while others are rooted in the municipal code. Making changes to the groups that are authorized by the charter requires a public vote to amend the document while changes to the municipal code can be done at council’s discretion. The two systems make it impossible to initiate universal changes and Council asked staff to work on a ballot measure that would reorganize all groups into the Municipal Code in December of last year.

However, several councilmembers said the world had changed so significantly in the past six months that 2020 was no longer the right time to pursue the change.

All civic meetings have moved to online platforms and many of the City’s boards and commissions are meeting on a limited basis for essential work only.

Councilwoman Sue Himmelrich said the situation made it difficult to engage with the impacted residents in a meaningful way.

“Well, we can’t get together with people, we can’t do the kind of networking that we would do to carry a measure like this forward and deal with the mistrust it’s causing among people,” she said. “The other problem is that without our boards operating right now, I think that our residents are feeling more and more disconnected from the work we’re doing and from everything that’s going on in the city.”

Councilman Ted Winterer said the City might want to pursue a different ballot measure this year that would be of far greater importance to the city and given the anger and polarization of the electorate, 2020 was not the right time for a change.

“We did ask for this back in, you know, pre-Covid, but we have not had the opportunity to go around and talk to all the potentially impacted boards and Commissions and make them understand the purpose of this ballot measure in person, and allow them to think about it and provide their opinions to the council,” he said. “I think, in a way, we’re circumventing what would have been our normal process to do something like this.”

Councilmembers Terry O’Day and Kevin McKeown supported pursuing the measure.

O’Day said the city has spent years trying to make it’s rules more efficient and that while it may be difficult to have the conversations now, he said the delay would have repercussions that will make it more difficult in the future to modernize city rules.

Mayor McKeown said fears that the Council was trying to eliminate the boards and commissions were unfounded. He said council is reconsidering how local government should work and the delay was a missed opportunity.

“It’s not that I don’t care about the input we get from those talented skilled volunteers on our boards and commissions,” he said. “It’s that I think we have ahead of us a couple of years of rebuilding the city and this is a tool that we could and should have had to help us in that.”

editor@smdp.com