As we vote for City Council and the other elected offices, I hope that we all are paying attention to candidate platforms, their statements in the many video events they have been involved in, and to where the money is coming from to support each candidate. The events of the past couple of years, and the recent goings on at our City Council should have us all sitting up and taking notice.
We must do our best to vote for representatives who will exemplify the Santa Monica we want to live in – not looking back, not complaining about, but moving forward. We are lucky to live here, and even as we deal with the challenges of today and tomorrow, we can commit to helping make our own town embody the community we want to live in – starting with who we elect to represent us.
Here is what I am looking for as I decide who to vote for:
First, I am looking for a commitment to civility, mutual respect and promotion of community. I expect our local representatives to embody what is best about Santa Monica, a community of people who care. The tone of how we treat people, our neighbors, our businesses, the people who work here and who visit here must be kind and respectful. I am looking for city council candidates who pledge to
– Treat one another, as well as city employees, with courtesy and respect
– Hold discussions, especially those around controversial topics, with civility and honesty
– Are honest and straightforward, whether in agreement or disagreement
The best decisions are made by leaders and groups who seek out, welcome and hear differences of opinion and viewpoint; who make decisions transparently, and with respect; who negotiate compromises and consider alternatives openly.
Second, I’m looking for candidates who commit fully and honestly to justice for all, including finding a path forward that includes truth and reconciliation around newer and older injustices. Yes, all. We are a city that is part of a bigger metropolitan region – we are not a gated community for the ‘haves’ – if we want to benefit from money coming in, we must welcome everyone and provide amenities and services to all, no matter what their circumstances.
Tell the truth about May 31, 2020. Both the protesters who were attacked and brutalized by our own police, and the businesses and people who were impacted by the looters need to be acknowledged and heard officially. A substantive and genuine truth and reconciliation process is needed.
The Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission (PSROC) needs to be supported fully and chaired by someone who understands and hears from people of color and our own young people. We need to acknowledge that our very own Santa Monica Police Department is not perfect, and does need continual improvement. Even the best agency needs to commit to getting better, or else it will inevitably get worse. The PSROC is there to represent us – the voters of Santa Monica – not the Police Department, or the Police Union. The police work for us, and not the other way around. Let’s engage together to make Santa Monica, including our Police Department, better. Let’s think together and holistically about public safety.
Recognize and acknowledge that we are a part of the housing crisis, and that, as a wealthy city, we must be part of the solution. Homelessness is a multifaceted issue – caused and exacerbated by the lack of mental health services (including addiction care), and by the housing affordability crisis. As a city that increasingly exemplifies the extreme inequality of wealth in this country, we need solutions – if you don’t agree with the ballot measure proposed by Mayor Himmelrich, what are your solutions? Don’t create false equivalencies or false tradeoffs – be honest. It is not fair or effective to expect the police to be responders to mental health, drug addiction and related behavioral issues. We need to bolster our mental health and wrap-around services, bring in more resources and find ways to develop and ever more integrated approach.
Stop fighting state laws on housing construction and start working on solutions that will fulfill state laws in a way that promotes development that improves Santa Monica for everyone. We need more housing, especially affordable housing, if we want our children and those who work here to have any chance of living here. I want our representatives to stop waxing nostaligic for a mid-20th Century Santa Monica and focus on creating the 21st Century Santa Monica that we aspire live in.
Third, I’m looking for forward-looking elected representatives who will:
Invest in the infrastructure and services that make Santa Monica a wonderful place to live. These were gutted by the budgetary decisions that were made to deal with the catastrophic revenue losses of the early pandemic. Our libraries, farmers markets, after school programs, recreational programs and community events are what gives Santa Monica its community feel. We need them back, probably not exactly as they were, but in ways that move us forward. Fund the city so that staff can respond to and prioritize community needs and wants.
Fund our libraries fully. All of them need to be fully open and fully staffed – and we may need more staff that before, more childrens’ librarians and some social services staff as well.
The children growing up in Santa Monica today are missing the ability to go to the library any or every day after school, or in the evening with their parents. Our toddlers and preschoolers are missing the early literacy programs, the love of books and of reading that our libraries and librarians offered my daughter and so many others. Our kids have lost so much, and our libraries can help get them back. We need more library hours and programs than ever.
Our libraries are a lifeline and a refuge for many of our unhoused or barely housed,– we have to give our libraries the resources and support to serve everyone in a way that makes the libraries comfortable for all.
Focus on transportation – not just traffic – but public transportation, biking and walking infrastructure and safety expansion. Ask Departments to require that everyone involved in biking and public transport planning, oversight and work utilize public transportation, bike and walk regularly.
Fourth: I’m looking for elected representatives and commissioners who are in it to improve the community and not to gain power or to give themselves a platform.
Hire staff well, pay them well, expect the best, treat them with respect and let them do their jobs.
Review and update the city charter to look for ways to streamline the way the city works. There may be no magic bullet, but perhaps there are some things we can do by allowing staff to do their jobs, and by asking the City Council and the Commissions to focus more on Strategic Direction and not on micromanaging (we the voters may also need to ask ourselves whether discussion of our particular issue belongs at city council or somewhere else).
Prioritize workforce housing, and creative ways to make it possible for city workers to live here. Require that city staff above a certain level do live here – we are a community, we need our staff to be part of the community 24 hours a day.
Finally: If you run for office, please make sure that you actually have the time, energy and personal bandwidth for the job. It’s a lot of work. I dream of being able to attend a city council meeting without having to hear city council members be rude to one another, or to city staff, or to see a council member who clearly has not prepared, or is too exhausted to follow what is going on, or another who feels the need to lecture or pontificate rather than just move the business forward.
Our City Council represents us, setting policy and strategy, and hiring our leadership staff, and overseeing staff to make sure the city is run responsibly and professionally. The City Council sets the tone for how our city is governed and run. Let’s make sure its members are worthy, committed, and honest people committed to making Santa Monica better, more welcoming, compassionate – friendly to business, children, tourists, staff, and yes, the unhoused. We are a very small city, and we are all essentially neighbors, so let’s act that way.
These are my priorities, what are yours? Please use your vote to make choices that reflect your priorities for the city – not looking backwards or fighting for or against a single project you happen to care about. Think bigger, for our shared future.
Karen Wise, Santa Monica