It’s a tradition in American politics, now, for an unexpected bombshell to drop, shortly before election day.
This is going to change everything! Well, probably not. The Access Hollywood revelation didn’t, and neither will the abortion funded by the candidate in Georgia who wants to deny them to everyone else.
But our October surprise may leave us with a slew of very tall buildings as reminders that somebody screwed up. Or… there may be a more sinister explanation.
Did the slate of candidates (Brock, de la Torre, Parra) who famously broke the decades-long stranglehold by Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) on City Council seats last election, the slate who promised to represent residents, not developers, with a slow growth philosophy, just screw up and allow a tsunami of new development?
Something went terribly wrong, and the buck does stop at the City Council — the entire Council, not just some members. Developers, mostly the notorious Neal Schekhter, found a very narrow window, from a 1990 CA law no one expected to be invoked, to claim the right to give us a 15-story building, a couple of 12s, an 11 or two, 10s and half a dozen 9-story housing developments. Heaven help us.
But we have to see how this plays out. It’s a complicated string of events that gave a narrow window to developers to go into a city that was not in compliance with state-mandated housing requirements, and pretty much have their way. Forget local zoning, size of units, height limits, parking or community input.
Some on Council explained that the City was negotiating “in good faith” with the state and was very near a deal and had no idea developers could invoke the “Builder’s Remedy” and come marching in like Attila or Cortez.
I believe in accountability, for everyone in public office. But this looming disaster has not fully played out and we have to see where it goes.
That’s how The Slate and their allies in the coming election — incumbent Lana Negrete, Armen Melkonians and Albin Gielicz — are being attacked on social media. Of course, that is ridiculous, and in my reading, shows how desperate SMRR and their developer-backed ally Forward are to not see their power completely crushed by a second straight election embarrassment.
With only a few months experience on the Council, Negrete offered a proposal to LOWER the percentage that rents could be raised by the Rent Control Board, and by the time that Council meeting was over there were frantic calls from party politicians to have a rally at City Hall because ”some City Council members are trying to do away with rent control!!!” (My extra exclamation marks.) That was a rabble-rousing, fear-mongering lie, because the City Council does not have that power. It would have to be a vote of residents, and that ain’t never gonna happen.
My take is that it was prompted not only by the fear that Negrete, who has mostly acted responsibly and for residents on the Council, would be stealing SMRR’s thunder if she was the one who gave renters a break, not SMRR. (Both she and her father live in rent-controlled apartment.)
Of course I am. My bias is that our fair city has been assaulted by overdevelopment that is leaving us bruised and battered and not looking or feeling as we once did, robbing us of our identity and special place in the world. Do most people here want Santa Monica to be a dense, high-rise Miami Beach? There are those who do, and they may well be sincere, though some are certainly driven by the opportunity of personal gain, either money or power.
Like everyone, I am in shock over these now-legal massive development placeholders, and want to know what happened. But I have even more reason now to want to see Negrete, Melkonians and Gielicz on Council to deal with this.
I would shudder and perhaps give up if Caroline Torosis, Ellis Raskin, Jesse Zwick or Natalya Zernitskaya were elected and charged with shepherding us through this crisis. While experienced and dedicated, they all come from a history of promoting even more development. (Jon Mann, Whitney Bain, Troy Harris and Samantha Mota are either opposed to overdevelopment or don’t seem to fully grasp it. But none of them really has a chance of winning.)
It’s a different vision for our city, and not one I share. Of course, any city, large or small, is going to develop over time. But what we have been experiencing here is a money-driven assault that is now escalating terribly. We’re in deep doo-doo, and we need the best people on Council more than ever before.
As with The Slate candidates last election, I don’t agree with everything they stand for. But I still believe they stand for us first, the residents. I will be voting for LANA NEGRETE, ARMEN MELKONIANS and ALBIN GIELICZ for City Council.
I was going to make most of this column about that very important race, but then up jumped the development devil.
Why should you care, if you don’t have kids in school? Lots of reasons, besides the obvious community-minded ones. If you are a property owner, a chunk of your property tax is going to pay off those school bonds, which over the last decade have topped $1,000,000,000. Good schools raise property values and make a city a desirable place to live, but we’re not as good anymore as a lot of people think. Take Samohi. The US News & World Report rankings place Samohi at number 108 among CA public high schools. 108?! That’s horrible, actually. And we are the second-richest district in the county, after Beverly Hills. But Samohi has lots of shiny new buildings, some they didn’t even need because of declining enrollment, and some of which students complain don’t work properly, and all of them were way, way too costly to build. Buildings don’t raise your academic standing. But they do provide revenue for the district, through rentals. Millions, actually. And in my opinion, that explains a lot.
I GIVE A PASS ON HANDLING COVID
Patents had complaints, but I think it was an impossible task that no district handled perfectly.
But as with our city, safety for our children should be the number one priority. But look at just two egregious failures. The PCB poisoning in Malibu, which the District spent years and millions fighting instead of fixing. And the more recent clearing of John Muir and SMASH because of mold issues that had become intolerable. The District knew there was a leakage problem there for decades but didn’t act.
Did they take care of the Title I students at John Muir? And when the schools had to be closed, the more affluent SMASH kids were kept together while the Muir students were scattered to various campuses, and in some cases told to ride the Big Blue Bus to get to school because our rich district could not find five drivers to hire to take them in our own school buses.
Every constituency complains that “they’re not listening to us,” but that has become a serious issue with this School Board. The stories are endless, and not pretty, of parents feeling threatened for disagreeing or even asking the “wrong” question.
The other big issue is transparency. Again, I could write two columns about that but let’s just talk about the Board’s claiming there were no figures for enrollment decline — until a parent found them. And to this day they do not do any kind of exit interview to find out why a student is leaving the district.
That’s how many the current board members have in our schools. The four slate members looking to take seats all have kids in our school, except for Malibu’s Stacy Rouse, whose child just graduated.
I have had in-person conversations with all four and I am impressed. They are smart, mostly well informed and enthusiastic to right the wrongs they perceive. I spoke briefly with Alicia Mignano, who seems to be aligned with the two incumbents, but after looking over her campaign flier I found more than a dozen reasons to not even consider her.
I will be voting for ESTHER HICKMAN, MILES WARNER, STACY ROUSE and ANGELA DIGAETANO for School Board.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 36 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com