Missed Tackles, Misplaced Accolades

SMa.r.t. Column| Our Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tem recently authored an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times (7/12/18) deriding the lawsuit that is pending against our City’s at-large election system by residents of the Pico Neighborhood. The article discussed the major city issues that the council has “tackled” successfully over the past few years and argued that a City Council elected through neighborhood districts would be too fragmented to work on issues that affect all residents. The trial of the Pico Neighborhood Association and Maria Loya versus the City of Santa Monica commences August 1 in a Los Angeles courtroom.

SM.a.r.t. has already made its position clear on the hoped outcome of the upcoming trial. We believe that neighborhood district representation will give rise to neighborhood-oriented advocates on our city council; lower campaign costs for all candidates and allow residents to have a stronger voice in our town. It is interesting that Mayor Ted Winterer and Mayor Pro-Tem Gleam Davis stated that they have been able to tackle significant issues, including crime, homelessness, affordable housing, mobility, economic growth, educational opportunity and community wellbeing. Since they used football terminology, we’ll use a little of our own.

Crime is up 18.5 percent over 24 months. Assaults, Robberies, and violent crime are up even more. Our City Council is gathering splinters on the bench.

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Homelessness is down in L.A. County and L.A. City; up in Santa Monica. It appears to be a missed tackle.

Affordable housing programs have given tidbits to our residents in need and provided developers with millions in profit. Another missed tackle.

Mobility is a mess. Crowded Streets, virtual traffic standstills, scooters and bicycles running amuck and pedestrians at risk. They haven’t even tried to tackle this problem. Their pants have no grass stains, and their helmets are still in the locker room.

The economic engine works to pay down pension liability and create more developer profits. Meanwhile, independent businesses are forced out by exorbitant rents. On top of which, our “powerful” economic engine generates infrastructure decay, high sales taxes, and even higher utility taxes. Where’s the benefit for our residents? Once again, nothing tackled.

Our wellbeing is suffering, from noise pollution to crime to a shortage of park space, the City’s studies have shown that our residents don’t feel particularly well. Have we even tried to tackle these issues? The City Council must have decided not to suit up that day.

We give Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) millions and provide sweetheart deals for Santa Monica College (SMC), yet our high school graduates still have to pay to attend SMC (only 4.4 percent go), and our district continuously teeters on insolvency. We haven’t tackled anything.

Honestly, it appears that our neighborhoods have no representation. Instead, the constituency that seems to matter is the neighborhood group, “The Developers.” Other than that select, moneyed group our residents have no representation. Council Members appear to not know about occurrences in our city’s neighborhoods, and they don’t want to tackle the problems inherent to each of our future council districts. The council member’s arguments would have an air of plausibility if there weren’t 11,400 people per square mile, a daily 150,000 influx of workers and 8.7 million yearly visitors. There is nobody to block for the 94,000 of us who live here. The defensive line is porous.

On July 20 Santa Monica’s hardworking Mayor Winterer penned a column for the community in which he highlighted city achievements over the past six months. He shone his spotlight on the near future of Santa Monica. In skimming the article, a couple of things stood out. One paragraph talked about city employee compensation and pensions. He discussed the citizen audit panel and the employee compensation study by an independent firm. Conveniently omitted from his comments was the fact that the City Council has only undertaken this review and passed new recommendations after a significant outcry by community members. Even then, the audit committee was disbanded rather than continued as an ongoing citizen oversight unit. Our compensation crisis is still looming. Neither Santa Monica’s senior city staff nor the city council has designed a playbook that will significantly stem the rise in public salaries.

He praised the new (under construction) City Services Building for potentially saving our community $10 million a year in offsite leases. He neglected to mention that we will not see any savings until the 15th year of its operation as the building, with interest, costs approximately $142 Million. He lauded the upcoming construction of the multi-use sports field at the Civic. It was approved in the Civic Center Specific Plan a decade and a half ago. It has taken the efforts of hundreds of dedicated Santa Monicans to push the City Council into allocating the funds needed to add this green space to a desolate parking lot.

Mayor Winterer admits that with summer upon us “it’s crazy out there” and that the City is playing catch-up with e-scooter rules. It seems to me that the city should have stopped the “end-around” of our regulations and taken a time-out to pro-actively regulate this new personal mobility option before it became a problem. Bird and Lime are on our 10-yard line and have already scored numerous times off our City Council. It seems our team hasn’t read the playbook.

Being a City Councilmember should mean accountability to your neighbors, doing the little things in a city that make a difference for the people down the street. I don’t see that happening here. The big vanity projects get built that allow City Councilmembers and City Staff to puff out their chests, but are they for you? I don’t think you can convince most residents that $142 million city hall annexes, a $2.3 million park restroom and $9 million stupid bus stools are benefiting us, the residents of Santa Monica.

Unfortunately, the tackling is non-existent and spending millions to fight district elections is just more of our money… down the drain.

Phil Brock for SMart (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)

Thane Roberts AIA, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Architect, Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner, Phil Brock, Santa Monica Arts Commission. For previous articles see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writings

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