WHEN THE PEOPLE TALK, DO THE LEADERS LISTEN?
There hasn’t been a City Council meeting like last night’s session for some time.
The Council was set to approve an ordinance imposing new restrictions on smokers in apartment buildings on second reading, and pass it into law. But it didn’t.The members were clearly afraid that they had gone too far as, apparently, they’d got lots of complaints from residents about the ordinance after the first reading, and so the proposed ordinance died.
Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom, who’s running for the State Assembly, failed to get enough votes at Sunday’s Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights’ convention to win the group’s endorsement.
Last night, a spokeswoman for Bloom’s opponent in the Assembly race, Betsy Butler, appeared at the Council meeting to ensure Santa Monica officials and residents that Butler would do whatever she could to save the residents of the Village Trailer Park from losing their homes to make way for a massive new mixed use development.
The expression on Bloom’s face as he listened to his opponent’s pitch to his constituents on his turf was memorable.
Councilwoman Pam O’Connor intervened and demanded to know whether Butler, an incumbent Assembly member, would see to it that the millions of recovery agency dollars that Sacramento had “stolen from Santa Monica” would be returned to help fund the Trailer Park residents’ relocation. When the astonished spokeswoman tried to respond, O’Connor said gruffly, “So she won’t pledge?” and dismissed her.
On learning that over 100 people had signed up to speak about the Trailer Park project and the fate of its residents, the six Council members (Bobby Shriver was absent) immediately recast themselves as martyrs.
Their mood did not improve when they learned from two planning commissioners that the 550+ page staff report on the project did not fully cover the findings and concerns of the Commission.
Only about half the residents had spoken when a fire alarm went off and Bloom ordered the evacuation of the Council Chambers. There was no fire, and, after the room filled up again, the speakers continued.
Perhaps two dozen fans of developer Marc Luzzatto spoke, though several of them admitted when questioned by a very stern Councilman Kevin McKeown, that they had been or still were employees of Luzzatto. Coincidentally, all the Council members, except McKeown and Shriver, have taken campaign contributions from Luzzatto and/or members of his family in the last two elections.
Most of the speakers criticized the project, praised the trailer park and were concerned about the future of the residents. They
were Santa Monica residents in peak form – outraged and eloquent and very smart. Several lawyers, representing some of the park residents, raised serious questions about the City’s legal options.
A trio of college students, who admire the trailer park residents and are concerned about their future, spoke. Some current and past residents of the trailer park spoke, and they may be old, even infirm, but they are also very smart, well-informed and very angry.
At 12:30 a.m., the final speaker had his say, and, after a discussion of how tired they all were, the Council chose to delay its deliberations until its August 28 meeting.
Peter Naughton, a resident of the trailer park, an Englishman and an urban planner, left us with an appropriately horrific image.
A canny real estate firm took a couple of busloads of developers around Santa Monica not long ago to show them the “possibilities.” The developers were particularly taken with Ocean Avenue, Naughton said, noting that it could do with bigger houses, more glass.