SOME SLIDES ARE MORE FUN THAN OTHERS
Around 2008 I finally got fed up with the increasing deterioration I saw unfolding in my beloved low-rise beach town with its long, rich history, and I did not like it. There was construction popping up everywhere, so much new building, tall buildings, wide buildings crowding the sidewalks, new traffic jams, street patterns changed to accommodate them, downtown Santa Monica became a place I no longer wanted to grapple with, more and more tourists, literally millions, crime was increasing and safety became a question, homelessness was intensifying and more people were living in their cars.
All the funky charm, history, tradition, arts feel and sense of place I came here for was vanishing, plowed under, built over, run out of town. Such a unique, vital, world-famous resource being destroyed. LA’s beachside break, breath of fresh air, slipping away. Sad. Angry. Who’s responsible? I finally decided I had to find out.
IT’S A TOUGH CHOICE
Do you just resign yourself to it all and feel helpless? Or try to find out how the sausage is made? I completely understand inertia; most of us don’t have the time or patience for this nonsense, impactful though it may be.
It would mostly have to wait, years, because unravelling the politics of Santa Monica is a job for a Phillip Marlowe with the patience of Job. Money is definitely a big factor. You didn’t have a chance for City Council without a campaign war chest of at least six figures. What will you do to get that kind of money?
Do you remember? That our new Mayor Sue Himmelrich put up $160,000 of her own money for her successful first campaign for City Council in 2014. Additionally, her husband Michael Soloff donated $10,000 each to Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) and the local Democratic Party, both of whom endorsed her. Soloff was soon appointed to the Housing Commission, and became its chair.
Is self-funding a campaign a bad thing, or good? It means the candidate is beholden to no one. On the other hand, it also puts a City Council seat out of reach for all but the wealthy, or those willing to be influenced by big donors. (Until — 2020.)
There are a lot of things most voters in Santa Monica are unaware of, or forgot, that could affect how they vote next time around. It’s no wonder: or politics seem to be intentionally opaque. The City Manager, the alliances, the staff reports, the School Board, the budget, the commissions. The power brokers don’t want you to know much. But being informed is a really good idea.
The incumbents are Gleam Davis, Kevin McKeown and Sue Himmelrich. You can’t blame Kristin McCowan for anything that happened before July 14, when she was appointed to the vacant seat of resigning Greg Moreno.
But if the sitting members of City Council are the ones deciding for a vacant seat, isn’t it natural (but not right) they would pick someone who would have the same political leanings, and probably vote the way they vote? Thus consolidating power. Without our votes.
In January 2019 Ana Maria Jara was appointed to fill the seat of Tony Vasquez, who resigned to run, successfully, for the state Board of Equalization. Even though there was supposed to be consideration that night of more than one candidate, before a decision, Jara showed up with a passel of family and friends, who celebrated her appointment. But… it hadn’t been decided yet, right?
Did you know, that’s how it’s done? I think we should have a special election for something as important as a Council seat. Even if it’s being filled for only a short time, that makes the appointee an incumbent in the next election and it’s very, very hard to unseat an incumbent. One month after a vacancy, or whenever the laws allow, we should hold that special election. Maybe not that many people would turn out to vote, but it would be better than only six, very biased people deciding.
Did you know the position of mayor is a lot more than just ceremonial or ego gratification? The mayor has a big part in setting the meeting agendas, and that is important in what can or cannot be done, or even discussed.
Those agendas and staff reports can be massive, and usually arrive only a few days before a Council meeting. What’s up with that? They can be dense, wonky, and filled with extraneous material to wade through. The first one presented to the newly elected three on Council was more than 1,000 pages! I think each Council member needs a full time assistant, instead of all sharing one. It would make for better governance.
Did you know… we the voters have given our school district about one and a third BILLION dollars, with the last four bond measures? And bond money can only go for physical improvements and construction, not hiring teachers or offering new classes. Some think this huge bank account accounts for the master construction plan that will eliminate open space at schools that has been available to the community, and result in legacy buildings being demolished at Samohi (including the History Building), even though many individuals and organizations have asked the district to call a pause for discussion of alternatives, since knowledge of the longstanding plans became much more widely known in the last six months. The district has refused, but has put things off a few weeks.
In Santa Monica? On the Pier? Even I find it shocking this is allowed to continue, but there they are, the Murcia Gang, Mexican mafia, with their un-permitted cart vendors illegally on the Pier, firing up their propane tanks with tens of thousands jamming the wooden pier, threatening non-Murcia vendors away (death threats), with nary a cop in sight. A fight broke out about a week ago in the parking lot, actually two fights, and at least two of the four adults arrested were named Murcia.
Much, much more information and transparency, please, all around this town. What you don’t know can definitely hurt you.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org