City Council Plots Power Play

City Hall is well and truly through the looking glass.

Last year, commenting on the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City’s proposed ballot measure that would limit annual commercial development. City Manager Lamont Ewell and Planning Director Eileen Fogerty both declared that the City’s community workshops were a better means of measuring residents’ position on commercial growth than a traditional American election.

In one stroke, the City’s top officials not only called the democratic process that has prevailed in this country since its founding into question, but overlooked the fact that, at most, a thousand people attended the workshops, while there are over 56,000 registered voters in Santa Monica,

At a City Council study session on January 17, City staff outlined the steps that the Council must take to replace Herb Katz who died several weeks ago.

After it declares that the vacancy exists at its Tuesday meeting, the Council has 30 days in which to name a replacement. If it fails to do so, a special election must be held, as happened in 1998.

According to a story in the Santa Monica Daily Press, several residents suggested that the Council appoint Ted Winterer.

A Council candidate in the November 4 election, Winterer ran fifth, right behind the four incumbents, and immediately behind Katz.

It was a sensible, logical and fair solution. He had run for the office only two months ago,, along with the incumbents, gone through the whole drill, and had got a lot of votes.

According to the Daily Press, Winterer said, “I think there is a cogent argument to be made that one person who should be considered is the runner up in the last election,..I don’t think I am the only person to be considered, but I hope the council will take a hard look at me and my qualifications.”

But, as anyone knows who has watched the Council at work, “sensible, logical and fair” are not high on its list of priorities, nor is the democratic process.

Indeed, in this instance, power is the only priority. The Council majority’s power.

According to the Daily Press, “council members said they believe the appointment should be opened to residents and not be dependent on the results of the previous election.”

Actually, all of the current Council members are “dependent on the results of previous elections.”

According to the Daily Press, Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor said. “’Let’s have a process to see who is interested. Maybe the fifth vote getter in the election will be interested.’

“Mayor Ken Genser said that opening the process will enable the council to review applications and meet the candidates, adding that residents would also have a chance to weigh in. ‘I think the council’s job is to appoint the best person for the job,…I think it is a bit of a simplification to think that we should be limited to choosing from a list of people who chose to run in the last election.’”

In every election, voters are “limited to choosing from a list of people who chose to run” or were chosen to run by, say, SantaMonicans for Renters’ Rights. Genser himself has chosen and been chosen by SMRR to run six times. But, as far as we know, this is the first time he’s objected ro it.

Genser also said that “consideration should be given to gender,” as O’Connor is the sole woman on the Council now. In fact, she has been the only woman on the Council for some time.

There were four open Council seats in the fall election. It would have been an ideal time to address the “gender issue” by running two women, but SMRR endorsed only two candidates – incumbents Genser and Richard Bloom, as the girls, or any other SMRR candidates, might have taken votes away from the incumbents.

In fact, talk on the street has had SMRR angling to appoint Gleam Davis to replace Katz, which would explain Genser and O’Connor’s bizarre nattering, as well as their inane objections to Winterer. Davis’s appointment would give SMRR a nearly unbeatable 5-2 majority.

The two – Bob Holbrook and Bobby Shriver — objected.

Holbrook would like to see someone who reflects Katz’s views in his chair, while Shriver favors a special election.

Leaving the choice of Katz’s successor to the voters, Shriver said, would not only be fully democratic, but would give whoever is elected “tremendous legitimacy” as he or she would be beholden only to the
people, rather than one political group or a few Council members.

The SMRR/CityHall/developers’ axis outplayed the people in the fall election, It opposes a special election now on the grounds that it would be a lot of work and would cost $100,000 to $150,000. But democracy is a lot of work, and the SMRR/City Hall/developers’ axis has already cost us more than we can afford. It’s time to end the games.

Whither the Cool

By Ava Tramer

Partly cloudy with a chance of showers
Highs: 61-69; Lows: 45-55

Partly cloudy
Highs: 59-69; Lows: 37-50

Warm and mostly sunny
Highs: 64-72; Lows: 47-54

And Santa Monica…
The weather this week will be decidedly un-Santa Monican. With lots of clouds, cooler temperatures, and possible showers, you might think you aren’t in Santa Monica any more! I am only a lowly weatherwoman, and I can’t guarantee anything for sure, but I feel comfortable assuring you this much: during the bitter low 60s and possibly wet days we’ll be experiencing over the coming week, don’t despair. Santa Monica will return to its warm and sunny old self soon!

America Moved, and Moving

Over 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln said, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country.”.

But only a few people listened.

Nearly 50 years ago, Martin Luther King, jr. said, “Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: – ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’

And many people listened.

Last fall, campaigning for the Presidency, a young African American, Barack Obama spoke of fulfilling America’s promise, of the necessity of hope, the need for change, the dream revived.

And 54 million people listened.

Today is Martin Luther King’s 80th birthday. Tomorrow, Barack Obama will become the 44th President, not, as he has said, of the red states or the blue states, but the United States.

We, the people have prevailed.

Whither the Inauguration

By Ava Tramer

Hot and clear
Highs: 66-79; Lows: 47-51

Mostly sunny and hot
Highs: 69-82; Lows: 41-46

Hot and sunny
Highs: 72-81; Lows: 47-53

And Santa Monica…
Temperatures in the country currently range from the negatives to the 80s. In Santa Monica, we’ll be experiencing the upper end of that range this week, with clear skies and lovely highs in the mid-seventies. But no matter how warm or cold people might be wherever they live, the sun is truly going to shine across the whole country on Tuesday. Barack Obama has made many people excited, and he promises to do many great things. Who knows? He might even figure out a way to get us even better weather. So appreciate the great weather next week, appreciate the inauguration, and appreciate your wonderful hometown of Santa Monica, CA, where the sun shines bright and warm even in the middle of winter.

Lawyers Rule at SMMUSD

By Debra Shepherd

Our family has been a part of the Santa Monica- Malibu Unified School District for seven years. I am the parent of a child in general education and a child who requires special education services. There are a lot of great things about this district. My youngest daughter had a dynamic teacher for fourth and fifth grade. My kids went to science camp and my youngest daughter was a member of the honor choir. The best thing about this school district is the fellowship that I have with other families. However, there is something about the SMMUSD that perplexes me. It’s the amount of litigation associated with special education.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the SMMUSD has in-house legal counsel. When a problem arises, there does not seem to be an ability to resolve the problem without input from the attorney. This is evidenced in an e-mail that I recently received from the director of Special Education Services. At the bottom of the page, my 43-year-old eyes see this itty bitty type. After I found my magnifying glass, I see that the itty bitty type is instructions from the lawyer.

Another concern is that the legal fees for Special Education in SMMUSD have increased by 153 percent since the last school year. Some might say that the legal costs are so high because of the “whiny” special ed parents. I say no. When children are denied needed services, the family has the option of filing a due process complaint, but I have yet to meet any families that are just itching to max out their credit cards or mortgage their homes just to prove a point to SMMUSD. Litigation is expensive. There are no clear winners when it comes to litigation. If SMMUSD loses, SMMUSD has to pay the legal expenses of their attorney, the family’s attorney, and provide the services that were denied the child anyway.

The only clear winners are the attorneys, because they are the only ones who are guaranteed to get something no matter the outcome of the case.

Unfortunately, in our school district in special education, it’s breaking down to a point where the kids with the best attorneys or advocates have the best IEPs (Individualized Educational Program). While having a great lawyer/agent is a plus in the NBA, the SMMUSD is a publicly-funded entity. The federal law requires that education be provided in a manner that’s “free and appropriate.” Creating an environment that forces families to obtain legal counsel is neither free nor appropriate.

Although it has been reported that the families in Malibu are primarily happy with the delivery of special education services, in Santa Monica, it’s as if we are in another school district. Despite the creation of the
Special Education PTA Committee, the Fall Forum and dispersing of the Parent Handbook, the IEP process remains muddled and adversarial. There is no staff policy regarding treating families with civility and respect.
There’s a significant amount of conflict that exists in SMMUSD and I don’t think that it will be fixed by an infusion of cash. Changing the culture of an adversarial environment is free.