Thoughts from a terminated member of Wilmont

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
— Margaret Mead

By Alin Wall

When I submitted my nominating petition for the board of the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition (Wilmont) on May 30, 2012 I never dreamed it would set off the chain of events that ended on Friday with a letter from an attorney notifying me that my request for rescission of my membership termination was denied.

I ran for the board of Wilmont out of desire to get involved in my community. It was time to give back and I was excited to step into my neighborhood group in a meaningful way. I loved the idea of providing a forum for members to be heard and to collectively debate and find reasonable solutions to issues that faced us. I wanted to add spark to it so that others would get involved too. I wanted to mount a membership drive like no other. Little did I know the degree of dysfunction that lurked within the existing board.

Throughout this lengthy ordeal, the Chair of the past board, Valerie Griffin, complained that Wilmont was gravely damaged by events since the June 9 election. She has blamed the Huntley Hotel, she has blamed the so-called Wilmont Rebels, and she has blamed the angry mob. What I have not seen her do is what every other leader would when faced with adversity: look inward and see the role she played in the drama that unfolded.

It is Wilmont members who wanted new leadership. Why? Eleven Wilmont members ran for board positions. Why? The Annual Meeting was standing room only on June 9. More members attended that meeting than any in recent memory. Why? She was replaced as Chair of the annual meeting by an overwhelming majority of the members present. Why? Her own Board Vice-Chair took over the meeting and heard a motion to go forward with the elections she had cancelled 36 hours before. He allowed discussion and called for a vote. Why?

When a leader of a membership organization exhibits no interest in the members she represents, when she seeks to pervert the democratic process by treating disagreement as treason, when she hides from her members and cancels public meetings, and when she acts as though she is the president of a private club where she is judge, jury and executioner, what does she think is going to happen? If anyone has caused great harm to Wilmont it is Valerie Griffin.

The residents of Wilmont deserve more. They deserve a leader who understands what it means to lead, a leader who is responsive to members even when she disagrees with them, a leader who encourages participation and public discourse. While Valerie Griffin has “permanently and irrevocably” terminated my membership for breaking the rules and procedures of Wilmont (from the convoluted attorney letter I received it appears to be for participating in the election) I am not going to go away. Neither are the dissatisfied members she hasn’t yet terminated.

Alin Wall, CPA
Partner
Family Wealth Group
Email: awall@rbz.com

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SMRR COMPLETES ITS 2012 SLATE

By Hannah Heineman

At their annual convention on August 22, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) members voted to endorse two City Council candidates, Ted Winterer and Gleam Davis, out of the six who sought their backing. However, on Sunday, SMRR’s 13- member Steering Committee voted to endorse incumbent Council member Terry O’Day and former Council member Tony Vazquez. Like the membership, the committee could not agree on a State Assembly candidate, though one is the mayor of Santa Monica and a SMRR member and the other is a Marina del Rey resident.

Winterer and Davis each received the SMRR mandated 55 percent of the vote after three rounds of balloting on July 22. The other two candidates vying for SMRR’s endorsement were Shari Davis, and Frank Gruber. In the popular vote, Vazquez, a former Council member, came closest to winning the third endorsement.

During the Council candidates’ statements at the convention, Winterer stated that SMRR’s progressive values of affordable housing, social and economic justice, and services for those in need are at risk due to the enormous sums of money poised to be in invested in the city. He concluded, “In short, that capital must be used to further SMRR’s platform not undermine it.” Gleam Davis, who was appointed to the City Council in 2009, emphasized, “We want a city that despite all the economic pressures that we are facing continues to provide economic diversity. We welcome the people who come to Santa Monica but we also want to protect those that already live here.”

O‘Day stressed that he became a Council member because he wanted “to extend the city’s partnership with the School District.” As a Council member, he said he protected renter’s rights, made bankrupt developers meet their affordable housing obligations, and championed worker’s rights. He concluded, “ I will continue to use my national and local experience to make Santa Monica a model of sustainability for the world.”

Former Mayor Pro Tem Vazquez noted that he had been part of the Council majority that “pushed (the City) giving money to our schools.” He also said he helped obtain federal government aid after the 1994 earthquake to help those with damage to rebuild. He concluded his remarks by saying, “We need to hold people accountable.”

“My passion for education goes hand in hand with my passion for social justice and reflects the values and foundation of the SMRR platform,” stated longtime education activist Shari Davis. “Today, I understand how to legislate the heart and soul of SMRR.” Former Planning Commissioner and lawyer Gruber, told the convention participants “I’m a progressive. I call Santa Monica a healthy city. It is not only where people can live, work and find their potential but it has a government that has the resources to do what needs to be done.”

Also seeking SMRR’s nod were the two candidates for the 50th Assembly District, Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom and Assemblywoman Betsy Butler. However, neither of them received the requisite 55 percent majority on July 22. “We have proved in Santa Monica that you can have progress and prosperity … because SMRR exists,” noted Bloom in his candidate statement. “I want to be Santa Monica and SMRR’s voice in Sacramento…I played a strong role in the Council initiatives regarding affordable housing, tenants rights, the rights of the disabled, and the environment.”

Butler said that she ran for the Assembly “Because consumers and renters have rights that need to be represented in Sacramento.” She also said that she ran to take on toxins, environmental issues, affordable housing for seniors and veterans, and is against fracking in California.

The endorsements of SMRR for the Rent Control Board, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s School Board, and Santa Monica College’s Board of Trustees were all done by acclimation with the membership endorsing all the candidates who sought their approval. For the Rent Control Board it was Ilse Rosenstein and Christopher Walton. The School Board endorsees were incumbents Ben Allen, Jose Escarce and Maria Leon-Vazquez. Incumbents Susan Aminoff, Rob Rader and Margaret Quinones-Perez were endorsed for the College Board.

The convention participants also voted by acclimation to support the Rent Control Charter Amendment which would change the method used to decide upon annual rent increases. This increase would be based upon 75 percent of the consumer price index and allow a dollar limit as well as continuing to require an annual public meeting on the increase.

At the convention, a solid SMRR majority endorsed almost all the propositions that will appear on the November ballot: Prop 30, the Governor’s funding measure, Prop 34, the repeal of the death penalty, Prop 38, millionaire Molly Munger’s state income tax increase, and Prop 39, an income tax increase for multi-state businesses. Proposition 32 was the only measure that was opposed by the convention majority. The Political Director of United Here Local 11 encouraged SMRR’s membership vote against it because it was “written specifically to take away rights from workers. It is ironclad when it comes down to making it impossible for workers to run elections, to support candidates and to make $350 contributions. On the other hand … corporations are free to do everything they have done in the past.”

NEW WILMONT BOARD REJECTS OLD BOARD’S ORDER

On learning that the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition (WILMONT) past Board of Directors was ending the Wilmont memberships of the newly elected Board, the new Board issued the following statement.

In a press release issued today (July 27), Becki Kammerling, the purported attorney for the past Wilmont Board of Directors has reportedly reiterated their position that the election on June 9 was invalid, and that the Wilmont membership of all newly elected board members is being terminated effective today.

The old board is obviously not interested in letting the Wilmont members decide the organization’s direction.

Of course, we will not accept this at all.

In response, Marc Williams the attorney representing the newly elected board members stated: “We completely disagree with the old board. We believe they are engaging in self-preservation tactics, and not acting in the best interests of the Wilmont members. It is in everyone’s interest to resolve this dispute promptly, and we offered to let the members decide what should happen. The old board has rejected our offer, and we are currently evaluating our options.”

VENICE: THEN & NOW FOCUS OF EXHIBIT

“Venice: Yesterday/Today or Still Crazy After All These Years,” photographs by Helen K. Garber, opens at Universal Art Gallery on August 11th.

The photos were taken in the exact locations as vintage photographs Garber and Jill Prestup, president of the Venice Historical Society, culled from the Society archives.

Once the two women identified the photographs they wanted to replicate, they studied the Society’s archives and maps to identify the places where the vintage images were taken. Garber then re-created the shots in their original locations and collaborated with fine art printer Titano Cruz to create photographic diptychs showing both images together. The works were framed by the gallery.

The project was spearheaded by Garber and assembled with the help of Prestup and the Historical Society and Universal Art Gallery’s owner, Lucas DaSilva.

The reception is scheduled for Saturday, August 11, 2012, from 6:00 pm until 9:00 at Universal Art Gallery, 2001 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, California, 90291. Sponsor Whole Foods is providing light refreshments. The exhibit runs from August 11 to October 14, 2012.

For further information, visit the society’s website at www.venicehistoricalsociety.org.

OWN OR OWN & RENT, RESIDENCY CONFERS SOME RIGHTS IN AMERICA

Owners of brick and mortar houses and condominiums, as well as renters of apartments and the like, all have habitation rights their ownership or rental agreements guarantee under the law.

Mobile home “parks”—there are still many 100’s of them, though at present over 840 nationwide, and over 50 in California, are up for sale—are generally for-profit businesses, which offer ongoing “pad” or “site” residency habitation contracts to the owners of mobile homes, i.e., trailers, seeking to live in them.

In its wisdom, back in 1988, aiming then to protect its affordable-housing stock, Santa Monica zoned this Village Trailer Park (VTP) property for just that dedicated mobile home-living usage.

This landowner, which records should show inherited the property and the trailer park business on it, seems to have done all he could these past two decades to [some claim illegally] dismantle the park, apparently not much wanting to conduct the business of managing it. He, or those in his employ, has so far acted to have well over 40 trailers removed from it, and never replaced, over 10 of which after an entrepreneur partner (with business relationship still unclear) came along around 2006, and then escalated this effort to empty the park of trailers (and therefore, residents). After serving residents in ’06 with notice of intent to “close the park”, aim has sustained since then with efforts seeking to construct a number of likely more profit-garnering buildings on it. Such construction and changed-usage planned, by the way, that would violate the usage City zoning presently still calls for on the property.

Can he do this? Can he simply cease operating the trailer park management business? Sure.
Can he as well simply breach the legal ongoing space-rental agreements he has with the trailer owners residing on the property? With the property zoned without any stipulated expiry date for such mobile home residency usage, and with those who—at considerable expense—purchased their homes [some, many decades ago], with expectation that such ongoing habitation right would indefinitely sustain, contention is that he cannot so act.

Allegation is that, ceasing to honor mobile home owners’ space rental contracts will be actionable violations of their residency rights.

As well, since the City and the State have [at least until recently?] assisted the property owner with housing resource-supporting business-cost dispensations, these bodies apparently have some expectation that whomever owns the property will continue with such zoning-designated business enterprise.

For Santa Monica (and surrounding communities), stock of properties with homes or apartments to accommodate those of low-income seeking residency, is apparently now quite limited. Understandable then that there might be the noted business-aiding dispensations accorded the landowner, and the expectation that the zoned usage for truly affordable housing would be sustained over time.

It is of note too, that after decades of massive building here and around Santa Monica, and with housing- and living- expenses multifold greater than they were 20 years ago, there are now few, if any places to which trailer homes could now be moved which would accord those seeking this now-rarer type of living experience. In some areas, it seems legislation may even disallow such mobile home habitation.

After decades establishing living situations on this VTP property, being forced to reside outside the area where their lives are now structured and manageable, even if home sites comparable enough in home attributes and costs could now be found, the stress and risk could well be extreme for these trailer-owning residents, most of whom are older or elderly and with most of quite limited means.

To repeat, if this property owner and associate(s) do not want to continue with this park management business, fine. Need then though, is that another is found to continue doing that.

To be seeking to force a zoning change on the City, and to pursue development for profit that would endanger the lives and circumstances of an established community on the property is, as said, allegedly illegal. It seems also an immoral action to be so endeavoring.

Since, for some, rights in this matter seem confusing, it may help to consider that this “own home, but rent space” circumstance is a unique real estate situation; one involving several parties conjoined in contractual relationships.

That perhaps bears repeating: This is a unique real estate situation involving rights contractually conjoined. Because of that, oversight and enforcement of those rights require attention to law bearing specifically on this uniquely contracted relationship.

For this property, it is not simply a situation of a landowner in isolation who has independent rights to treat the land as he alone may choose to. His right to go out of business certainly needs to be respected. But the rights these trailer homeowners have in their homes need to be respected, too. As do those of the City and the State. Analogous to rental property deposit/clean-up terms, by-time-of-closing mandated purchase/sale contract terms, and the like, the law(s) bearing on this unique conjoined ownership/rental business arrangement must also address this unique situation of how land ownership change is to be managed for all parties, as well as the matter of how expectations held at time of initial contracting are later to be dealt with.

But, even beyond the legality of this dispute over how the land should now be used, there is another reason this intended development on the property should not proceed:

It is a most poorly conceived enterprise. If realized, this development will bring harms, some without remedy, to the land’s natural setting, its historic offerings, the existing business enterprise on it, the lives of some of those in the surrounding neighborhood, and to the lives of those who have lived on it for many years, decades, in a number of cases.
If built, these structures will be simply laughably—if this were a joke—too large and too densely packed onto the land. One can walk the 2-tiered property, figuring 2½ feet/pace, N-S in ~260 paces (590’), E-W in ~96 paces (218’) on the larger area of the land, and N-S in ~77 paces (175’) and E-W in ~45 paces (102’) on the smaller area.

So massive will these wind tunnel-making, light-blocking, tree-killing, space-filling buildings be that not only will they overwhelm the neighborhood with more traffic congestion than it can many days already barely cope with unruffled, they will so needlessly serve to supplant an already-viable business- and living-community, an irreplaceable and historic one at that, as to give again cause for the uttering of such words as “sardines,” “unconscionable,” “travesty,” “insane,” etc.

At present, this 3+ acres of land is nearly perfectly suited already for the home sites it presently is arrayed as, utility-set up for, and well accommodates.

If ~1000 square feet for living near, but not overly too near one’s neighbors in a small home, with a small garden, and a just-out-the-door assigned-parking spot, is a reasonable expectation to have as a workable place to live, then the 109 such sites on this VTP property well fills that bill.

The many hundreds more of housing/business/parking-sites projected for this project, most encompassing significantly lesser square-footages, will constitute an insulting aggregate of unworkably poor offerings.

Just because so much has been planned for this pie-in-the-Expo-line-byway, does not mean that such ambitious drafting on paper has any real-world planning logic sustaining the designs.

Looking closely at the numbers, on-site space limits alone almost guarantee impossibly cramped living/working accommodations on this Orwellian, people-closeting monstrosity.

If built, these will be a set of edifices assaulting both the neighborhood- and the City’s -sensibilities about the lifestyle aims it purports to espouse.

Perhaps this might be a plan suitable for other of the remaining construction-worthy sites in this mostly already built-out 8-square mile town. It is certainly not one suitable for this small property, housing as it does both a fragile and precious human resource and a now-rare piece of the City’s nearly-gone-from-sight evidence of past life here. A plan workable only if wanting more already frustrating traffic congestion, yet more overly expensive, space-crowding housing problems, and later feeling of loss.

Regrettably, this proposed project seems to be garnering some wide-eyed appeal from the young it has been variously pictured to serve, both for housing- and working- needs.

Sadly—and with apology to the young [I was once one, so know some about this]—each generation in this modern time of even more now corrupted capitalism, what with its by-design mode of funneling money to the few, along with its quiet, via technology, ever-more efficient ways of enslaving, still gets sold a problematic dream; a promise that later loses its fine look, and which too-often too-late comes generally to be seen just as it truly wasn’t.

This project is but example of that kind of chicanery.

No, for this “VTP” place, fully restoring, not destroying this still-viable, historic, genuinely affordable, low income housing business is the only real choice in the matter.

David Latham, VTP homeowner, 7-27-12