In an attempt to increase diversity and representation, Santa Monica Housing Commissioners are exploring the possibility of a lottery system that would help the local commission systematically appoint more diverse members.

The proposal comes from the Commission’s Diversity Subcommittee, which has worked in recent months to finalize a report that was expected to be discussed this week by local officials. But an absence during Thursday’s Commission meeting postponed the conversation that was first initiated back in February.

After hearing from local residents who called in to discuss a policy that could allow historically-displaced residents a chance to return to the neighborhoods of their ancestors, Commissioner Todd Flora said he really took the feedback to heart.

“2020 was a flashpoint year for me personally. And like many white Americans, even though I was below the surface always aware of it, 2020 really brought to the surface the incredible privilege I’ve lived with for my 49 years. And one of the things that I really didn’t think about — honestly, until tonight as I was listening to the callers — is we are not a diverse board.”

Flora said during the February meeting.

“I would give up my seat tomorrow to an African-American… a Black person or a Latino, or a person that has been affected by this,” he added, recognizing that such a bold proposal would require changes to bylaws or even the City’s charter. “But if we’re going to be serious about this (right to return proposal and racial justice), let’s be serious and not just feel good because we think we’re helping.”

Commissioner Leonora Camner agreed with the sentiment.

“I also would like to explore the possibility of giving up my seat if there is a person of color that would like my seat,” Camner said, clarifying she is very honored to be on the commission. “But I’m also uncomfortable with the lack of diversity.”

It’s been a little more than 3 months since Camner and Flora first broached the topic in public space, but Camner, Flora and Commissioner Carl Hansen have been hard at work crafting a report on the matter.

The report begins by noting how Santa Monica’s Housing Office exists to serve people who face housing insecurity, including discrimination and systemic racism. “Nevertheless, no people of color are represented on the commission,” the report reads.

To solve this dilemma, the Diversity Subcommittee members have suggested a lottery seen in cities like Toronto.

“This recommendation is based on our review of the options and what we learned from those practicing this system in real-life jurisdictions,” according to the report. “In Toronto, for example, diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints was crucial in making informed and inclusive decisions. Lived experience ultimately was more important in advising the city than ‘expertise.’ Furthermore, removing self-interest through a lottery system improved the quality of recommendations.”

Citing a study that determined how retired judges were no better than college sophomores, teachers and other novices in relevant decision-making, the Diversity Subcommittee’s members added requiring expertise on the commission harms the city’s goals of equity and inclusion, which is why they feel a lottery system is the best system to accomplish equity.

It’s not yet known when the Housing Commission will meet again to discuss the matter. But Flora had a message for the residents who were interested enough to stay up late Thursday evening.

“I want to let everybody who’s still listening to the meeting in on this: Stay tuned because Commissioner Camner, Commissioner Hansen and I were part of a subcommittee that is literally bringing about a motion to this Commission that is actually proposing to throw ourselves off of this commission,” Flora said. “Stay tuned because that presentation is coming, and I’ll leave it at that. How’s that for suspense?”

Brennon@smdp.com