When the history of Santa Monica is written, 2014
will be the year in which an uncivil war finally determined who would determine
its future – what it would be and who and what it would be for.
Since the horrific assassinations in the 1960s that climaxed with the murders of Martin Luther King, jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968, followed by the wretched reign
of Richard Nixon, democracy had succumbed to bureaucracy – mindless, hopeless, pointless. Money became the measure – of everything, and the goal. Congress, the courts, the Presidents were far more interested in the preservation of their own power and prestige than in the well-being of the nation and its people.
Santa Monica had been a pioneer aviation birthplace, a legendary surfing capital,
the west wing of Hollywood in its Golden Age, L.A.’s favorite beach, on a first
name basis with the world, and it refused to succumb.
In 1979, Santa Monicans for Residents’ Rights passed a radical rent control ordinance, enraging the town’s self- anointed business leaders. In 1982, the
liberal Council majority created a $1 million a year Convention and Visitors’
Bureau, on the advice of its new City Manager, to raise funds to pay for social programs.
By the mid-1980s, a building boom was underway. “Luxury” hotels rose on the
bones of raffish motels, very posh offices replaced dead factories. In 1989,
the Third Street Promenade – chic shops and very cool restaurants. slick new
movie theaters. – opened, ,just as a gang shoot-out turned the ultra-hip West-
wood into a ghost town and Third Street into the new west side mecca.
Once enemies, the City and the Chamber of Commerce became allies. There was
no place at the table for residents, though it was their town. Every year,
the Chamber gave a party for City officials to celebrate the town’s commer-
cial success. Awards were given. City staff grew. Their salaries soared.
New businesses – cutting edge, start ups, Hollywood and TV, hot stuff – paid
premium rates. Rents on commercial space soared. Residential rents and sales
soared with them. There had once been nearly a dozen independent book stores
on and near the Third Street Promenade. They all succumbed.The City Council,
whose primary task is representing residents, betrayed them.A majority of four
asked for and took campaign contributions from developers and approved commer-
cial developments that insulted the small-scale townscape.
Residents turned up at Council meetings in ever-increasing numbers to protest,
but only the minority of three listened.
Santa Monica’s annual budget exploded – to half a billion dollars.Top City off-
icials were making over $300,000 a year. Traffic jams were the rule. The daily transient population was 3oo,ooo. The Council, at the request of the posher
hotels, declared the entire City a “marketing and promotion district,” with an
annual budget of nearly $5 million. Someone said, in passing, that residents
would add an “authentic” touch to downtown Santa Monica. So it was that resi-
dents became extras in their own town. Life was increasingly surreal.
Downtown Santa Monica is now being remade to accommodate the new Metro light
rail line that is expected to roll into Santa Monica early in 2016, and over
30 new commercial developments are in the infamous “pipeline.”
Suddenly, a few months ago, to the surprise of everyone, the beset, angry resi-
dents scored a major victory that put everything in motion.
Some years ago, Hines, a Texas developer, had unveiled a massive new project
that residents disliked on sight. It was nearly a million square feet (later
reduced to a mere 740,000 square feet), had too little affordable housing, too
much “creative work space” and would add 7,000 cars to the daily jam. Resid-
ents repeated their objections at every review of the project. But, to no one’s surprise, the Council majority of four – Mayor Pam O’Connor, Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day, member Gleam Davis and member Bob Holbrook, approved it.
Then, to almost everyone’s surprise, civil and environmental engineer Armen Melkonians introduced “Residocracy,” a form of direct democracy that gives vot-
ers veto power. If residents could collect about 6500 signatures (10 percent of
the registered voters in Santa Monica) in 30 days, the Council would have to
rescind its vote, call a special election, or put the measure on the November ballot.
Word of Residocracy spread through Santa Monica like light. Hundreds of residents rushed about, collecting signatures at signing parties, in supermarket parking
lots, offices, on sidewalks. They were very quick, very happy, and they collected nearly 14,000 signatures in 28 days.
The Council rescinded its approval – though, ever the bad sports, the Mayor and Holbrook abstained.
Now, as the election approaches, according to a story in the Santa Monica Mirror,
the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce “is expanding its civic engagement efforts to encourage Santa Monica residents and businesses to get involved and stay involved
in the upcoming citywide election, and beyond…It plans to complement its member and community engagement activities with a robust voter education and registration campaign, targeted especially at newer voters and the technology community… last
week it hosted voter registration tables at its 19th annual New Heroes Celebration and at Cross Campus…many of the young tech-sector workers and business owners at Cross Campus were excited about the prospect of registering to vote and going to
the polls in Santa Monica for the first time…
“’Providing businesses and residents with an avenue for civic engagement has
always been at the heart of the Chamber’s mission,’” said Santa Monica Chamber President, Laurel Rosen, adding, “’We want to ensure that all Santa Monicans have
an pportunity to make their voices heard in the upcoming election. Especially important are young voters in the tech community, whose participation is
our city’s future.
“The Chamber will continue to register new voters until the October 20 voter registration deadline, and will host a number of public events to educate and
engage residents on the top issues at stake in the election, and introduce them
to the many candidates running for leadership positions…
“Carl Hansen, the Chamber’s director of Government Affairs, said he was working
to encourage younger residents, who in the past haven’t been very involved with
local politics, to become informed and to vote.
“It is essential that they understand the important issues our community is debat-
ing now and how that impacts them – particularly the future availability of hous-
ing and alternative transportation,’ Hansen said.
“Julia Ladd, Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce Chair, said for nearly 90 years,
the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce has been the ‘go to’ resource for advocacy, education, and resources for Santa Monica businesses and for the community overall.
“’This year is no different: we remain one of the most effective organizations in
the city by continually expanding our presence and serving as a voice not just for businesses, but for all residents,’ Ladd said. ‘We are excited to broaden Santa Monicans’ civic participation through November 4 and beyond.’”
“Top issues at stake….civic engagement…important issues our community is debating
now and how that impacts them…for nearly 90 years the Santa Monica Chamber has
been the ‘go to’ resource for …Santa Monica businesses and for the community overall…serving as a voice not just for business, but for all residents.”
The Chamber has clearly been seized by the rankest form of hubris. Hotel workers would probably disagree, along with residents seeking affordable or rent control-
led apartments…and residents who have counted in vain on their elected represen-tatives on the Council to represent them, or the Chamber to work with them rather than reducing their town to a vast ATM.
Everyone wants to be the boss this year. City Hall. Unions. Developers.The Chamber
of Commerce. Some of our alleged Council representatives – everyone but the residents. It’s their town, but they don’t want to boss it, they want to repair
the damage done by City Hall and its allies at the Chamber and preserve its irreplaceable, priceless beach town character.
A lot of people are running for two Council seats. Councilman Holbrook is not running, so his seat is open. Mayor Pam O’Connor is running for a sixth term,
but she has consistently favored developers over residents.
We enthusiastically endorse Sue Himmelrich and Richard McKinnon to restore the integrity of the Council.
Sue, her husband and two daughters have lived here for 22 years. They not only
love the town, they believe in its progressive posture.Sue is a lawyer, current-
ly counsel to the Western Center on law and poverty. She has been endorsed by
L.A. County Democrats, Santa Monica Democratic Club, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, among others. She has been a Planning Commissioner for two years, which
meets more frequently and for more hours than the City Council, and has spent
most of its time working on a revised zoning code. She’s knowledgeable, thorough
and persistent. She will not accept campaign contributions from anyone doing
business with the City.
Richard is Australian by birth, and American by choice. A consultant, he, his wife and son have lived in Santa Monica since their arrival in America. His son went to school here and is now at UC Berkeley. Richard has been on the Planning Commission for three years and has a particular interest in environmental issues, including
the development of a citywide network of bike paths as well as an urban forest.
The election of Sue Himmelrich and Richard McKinnon to the Council would, quite literally, improve the climate in the Council Chambers and the town, and return
the town to its residents.