There Goes The Neighborhood

According to a recent story in Surf Santa Monica, “downtown Santa Monica has been undergoing a major makeover.”

Among the “nearly three dozen projects [listed in the story], which range from those in the planning process to those that only await a final inspection, “ are an $80 million Big Blue Bus maintenance facility, the $8.2 million “pedestrian and streetscape improvement project” on Second and Fourth Streets that was ground zero in the battle of the ficus trees, three rebuilt public parking structures, 15 new apartment buildings, the reconstruction of Santa Monica Place, the redevelopment of the Travel Lodge, the proposed conversion of the historic office tower at 710 Wilshire, and several commercial buildings that are in the planning stages

According io the story, the apartment “projects include three affordable housing developments totaling some 125 units – at 1241 5th Street, 1514 7th Street and 626 Broadway – and a 125-unit condominium building at 525 Broadway that is awaiting final approval by the Architectural Review Board (ARB).”

The story notes that the landmark office building will be converted into a 256-room hotel with a new wing that will contain 16 residential units, as well as hotel rooms.

The impetus for this latest revision was a 1996 City Council decision to give incentives to developers to build housing downtown. JSM Development (Craig Jones) has been the principal beneficiary of the City’s largesse.

JMS is now adding 10 new buildings to its completed projects and has another five in the works.

Downtown Santa Monica evolved naturally for its first 100 years. Things became obsolete and were replaced. New needs were met.

In the 1960s, with the arrival of the freeway (“20 minutes to downtown Los Angeles”), the pace picked up.

In the mid-1960s. a pedestrian mall was installed on Third Street. It was low-key, relaxed, lined with small locally owned businesses. There were nearly a dozen independent bookstores on and near the mall, including the legendary Midnight Special.

In 1973. the City Council voted to demolish the Santa Monica Pier, and replace it with an artificial island on which a convention center
would be built. But residents rallied, pot the question on the ballot, saved the pier, and dumped the offending Council members in
the next election.

In the late 1970s, the City razed the businesses on two downtown blocks to make room for Santa Monica Place.

Of course, the sleek, new, three-story, enclosed mall, its department stores and chain stores, literally and figuratively, left t he low-key old mall in the shade.

It was clear when the City replaced the simple mall with the high watt, frenzied Third Street Promenade, with its clubs and high end chain stores. that downtown Santa Monica had become means, not end, more a stage set than a place.

Third Street was the centerpiece of the “regional commercial hub” that City Hall was making in our midst.

These profound changes were conjured, not by residents, but by City Hall, the new Bayside District Corporation, a non-profit “public benefit” agency, imported “experts” and consultants, all of whom focused on maintaining the “competitive edge,” i.e., generating more revenue, rather than preserving and refining the iconic beach town character.

An “urban form” was imposed. Buildings got taller and denser, And there were more and more of them. Perfect, airy beach town streets like Sixth, south of Santa Monica Boulevard, became cold, bleak, urban canyons.

Downtown Santa Monica was becoming a perfect money mill.

Then, City Hall, its corps of so-called experts and consultants took another wrong turn – and decided to make downtown a “neighborhood” – enter JMS, as well as a romper room for tourists.

Of course, people have always lived downtown, and the people we know are not happy with its cranking up, the noise, the crowds, the traffic, and the replacement of unique local businesses with high end chain stores. In their view, the enlargement of the downtown “neighborhood” has been fractured, not improved.

By making more of downtown Santa Monica, City Hall has made less of it. And the worst is still to come. Even as the current “makeover” proceeds, a new specific plan is underway.

And the “new” downtown is a virtual prototype for the “activity centers,” “districts,” and “transit villages” proposed in the revised land use and circulation elements of the General Plan (LUCE).

Santa Monica is an iconic beach town. It should be celebrated, preserved and perfected. not endlessly, clumsily manhandled in the name of somebody’s idea of progress.

More Quetions About Measure AA

SMC and the Measure AA promoters and beneficiaries seem to be concerned about its passage.

SMC is lobbying the Associated Students (AS) for $425,000 to promote their third bond in six years, per the Sept. 25 SMC Corsair Associated Student funds are comprised of “mandatory” AS fees paid by virtually every student — they are not part of tuition. Since 85% (25,000) of SMC’s students are from outside Santa Monica, then 85% of the funds that would be used to promote SMC’s nearly $300 million dollar bond Measure AA are contributions from people living
outside Santa Monica. Santa Monica renters, home owners, and “mom and pop” business will pay for 100% of the bond’s cost — the 85% contributing to the bond campaign will pay nothing. SMC also used AS funds to promote their 2004 bond — money not yet spent.

We wonder how appropriate it would be for the college to use SMC student funds, given that the state is considering legislation tightening the laws governing the use of public funds to promote those public agencies’ own tax measures. That legislation was prompted by the highly questionable actions of those agencies; actions just like SMC is considering engaging in now to promote its own bond Measure AA.

Phil Hendricks
Bond Fatigue Committee against Measure AA
SMC College employee

Prop SM: The Facts

By Peter Tigler

There are two things to consider when voting on Prop SM: What is being taxed and where is the money going.

The City of Santa Monica wants to add a 10% tax on all data moving point to point, no matter how transmitted. Simply put, this authorizes not only a tax on cell phones and “texting”, it paves the way for taxing internet access and satelliteTV. It also allows the taxing of technologies not yet in use, and adds service calls and rental equipment (such as DVR boxes and modems) to the list of taxable items. To add insult to injury, it taxes late payment fees.

The city is disingenuous when it states that the internet and satellite services will not be taxed. As current federal regulation is eased and lifted, your internet and satellite services will be taxable; by passing Prop. SM you will have given permission for local authority to do so. Your fundamental American right to scrutinize new taxation will have been forfeited forever, as there is no “sunset” or expiration period in this measure.

The current ordinance has served us well for 40 years. “Changing technology” is hardly a compelling reason to give blanket permission for taxing virtually all information technology, particularly when it includes technology not yet imagined.

Only 1/3 of California cities levy user utility taxes (UUTs), and only a handful tax all utilities, like Santa Monica. Beverly Hills, Thousand Oaks and San Diego do not have such taxes. Santa Monica’s 10% tax is near the highest and double the average tax of 5%.

Most cities that have re-written their UUTs have offered lower rates, sunsets and exemptions for all seniors, not just low income seniors. Santa Monica’s proposal offers none of this to residents.

The city propaganda fails to acknowledge that as the city grows so does the number of taxpayers. As rates increase, the collected tax also increases. This means the city always has an increasing tax base and increasing income from the UUT, without an expansion on the taxable items. City figures and charts are not forthcoming.

Most important: should this measure fail, the City Manager’s office acknowledges, “The existing tax will still be collected.” No money will be lost; there will be no cuts to police or fire departments and the schools won’t lose their city subsidy.

Further, City documents state this new tax money would be banked or reserved next year, thus negating the city claim that the money is a vital necessity. The City Finance Director’s contingency plans show that by voting down Prop. SM , all “essential services can be maintained.”

Voters need to know that this tax money goes into the general fund, and is not earmarked for any particular city service or program. The general fund finances many of the city follies, such as hiring crony consultants, cutting down healthy trees and quarter-million dollar reports on avoiding panhandlers. City claims that this tax supports only “essential” items are simply not true.

The City is selling this proposal as an “update”, and a “closing of loopholes.” But it is their claim of “fairness” that is especially hard to believe.

In truth, the city has been collecting an UN-authorized tax on cell phone for years. Is it fair that they withhold this fact? If the city wants to tax your cell phone, it should say so, and write a tax that allows it. But we are not hearing that from Santa Monica City Hall. From the way Prop. SM is written, they want it all.

Voters need to remain in control.
Vote no on Prop SM.

Please read the text of Prop SM (in particular sections e & r of the measure):

Vote No website:

Bad Timing for a Bogus Bond

The Santa Monica College Board of Trustees demonstrates a disturbing level of cluelessness by asking the citizens of Santa Monica to assume $300 million of Measure AA debt at a time when the financial infrastructure of the United States is imploding on a weekly basis. Ordinary citizens concerned with their employment prospects, retirement prospects, property values, future taxes, insurance costs, etc. are being called upon by SMC’s Board to give and give generously—for the sake of educating the mass of students from everywhere that they have spent millions soliciting to attend Santa Monica’s one and only community college.

How about if Santa Monicans give the SMC Board $300 so they can buy a clue?

The Board tells Santa Monicans that this is a bond about education. In 2003 the SMC Board of Trustees axed nine vocational education programs, including architecture, geographic information systems, office information systems, respiratory therapy, and notably, SMC’s venerable automotive technology program. How many of these programs returned to SMC since 2003? Not one! The huge automotive shop on Pico remains idle. What is the Board talking about? When did they suddenly become concerned with education?

The Board tells Santa Monicans that the College needs to repair its decaying infrastructure. Why didn’t they repair the buildings with the $295 million in bonds they passed already? Wasn’t the infrastructure decaying when the Board took office? Did they just let it continue to decay on the supposition that the community would keep ponying up money for the College? And why do they operate the College and its four satellite campuses without a single plumber or painter on staff—doesn’t maintenance combat decay?

What have decayed at SMC are the fiscal responsibility, intelligence, and dedication to public service that once characterized the College. You can’t repair that sort of decadence with money or public relations. It’s a lesson that George Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger are learning. Let’s help teach the SMC Board the same lesson. No on AA.

You can save your rent money and save your city by saying uh-uh to AA.

Perhaps the Board will get the message that they are supposed to see to it that your money is spent wisely instead of wildly. Perhaps they’ll get the idea that they’re running a college—not a real estate development company.

Carl Gettleman
20 year employee of Santa Monica College—Academic Computing Department