ANOTHER BIZARRE EVENING IN THE COUNCIL CHAMBERS

I’ve covered an infinity of City Council meetings. They range from horrifying to dull beyond reason, but Tuesday night’s meeting hit a singularly strident note.

The Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC) was founded by Oscar de la Torre about ten years ago. It offered a variety of programs – including a particularly popular music studio, a short film class. and an anti-gang campaign. It quickly became a kind of second home for young people who couldn’t find the understanding or attention they needed at home or at school. Many of them were Latino or black. Money was always a problem.
De la Torre was born and grew up in Santa Monica, and, unlike many of his contemporaries, he not only graduated from high school and college, he did graduate work and founded PYFC. In addition to managing the Center, he is currently serving his second term as a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu United School District board of education

Since its founding, PYFC has received regular grants from the City, but the relationship has been difficult. City staff has complained about De La Torre’s alleged inability or unwillingness to manage the money meticulously, file the appropriate reports on time and so on. The City agreed .to give the Center $190,000 last year, but warned that, unless his management improved, PYFC would not receive a grant in 2015-2016.
Tuesday night, the Council could make the final call: authorize the $190.000 payment or deny it.
We don’t know whether the City was ODing on bureaucracy, as it some-times does, or new City staff members found De la Torre’s demeanor unacceptable, or the City wanted to take control of the Center, which was disorganized, but, from the beginning, had always had great promise.

What we do know is that in May and again Tuesday night, dozens of young people attended the City Council meetings to praise PYFC, report on what it had done for them and ask the Council to pay another $190,000 grant.

When all the speakers had spoken, the Council was scheduled to make decisions about specific grants and the budget as a whole.

But madness ensued.

Mayor Kevin McKeown, who works as a consultant for the School District, reported that that morning, De la Torre called the School District and asked a District employee about the terms of the mayor’s employment, and so on. Mckeown didn’t actually know what was on Oscar’s mind, but he decided to recuse himself from the vote and left the Council Chambers in a dead run.

Things got stranger and stranger,

Council members Gleam Davis. and. Pam O’Connor sit at opposite ends of the of the dais, and Tuesday night, both women had replaced their usual con-ventional outfits for gaudy tropical dresses with lots with lots and lots of beads. It was too bizarre to be accidental. But the Council chambers are always cool to cold, so Davis spent much of the meeting wrapped in what appeared to be a blanket. .

In an effort to restore reason, Himmelrich proposed that the Council approve payment of the $190,000 grant.
Himmelrich said, “I’ve been to their events, They clearly reach a lot of people. I heard from people who attended the Olympic High School graduation ceremony that of the three speakers, two of them mentioned PYFC and the ways the program helped them. I think that having the programs at the schools and having the programs at Virginia Avenue Park and having the programs in more institutional settings may work for a lot of people but it may not work for the kids who are dropping out. The kid you heard from tonight is graduating from high school at age 25. There are other lost people in our community.”

Mayor Pro Tem Tony Vazquez agreed with her. But the other Council members didn’t.

Council member Ted Winterer said the Council hadn’t seen applications for grants that Oscar had talked about and he was tired of hearing the same story year in and year out about changes, but never seeing any real changes.
The other Council members agreed, noting that City officials have long complained about PYFC’s poor bookkeeping, which De la Torre and some of the other speakers denied or dismissed.

Several supporters of the PYFC cried during their public testimony, while other speakers explained the ways in which the organization saved their lives.

Some spoke of a breakdown in communication between city officials and the organization.Others spoke — sometimes calmly and sometimes angrily — about City Hall’s alleged hostility to the Center and De La Torre.

“I hope that it’s not so irreparably harmed that the people in our Community Services Department can’t find a way in their hearts to let PYFC back in should PYFC demonstrate that they can do this in a way that is fiscally responsible and less politicized,” Himmelrich said.

None of the Council members except Vazquez agreed with her, though Davis suggested making a $50,000 grant to help students enrolled in PYFC programs to move into City programs.

The Council then turned its attention to the appointment of three Planning Commissioners.. Council member Pam O’Connor insisted that they should only appoint two, as she hadn’t had time to examine all the candidates’ applications and make recommendations for the three openings.

Himmelrich noted that, in fact, they’d all had plenty of time as almost all the applications had been submitted by March, as O’Connor prepared rather melodramatically to walk out. But, as usual, she got her way, and the Council members agreed it would only name two of the three commissioners that night. .

Any semblance of fair play or rational thought was going slowly down the drain and into the dumper.

O’Connor’s righteous indignation was especially piquant as the Santa Monica Transparency Project has filed 31 complaints about her alleged acceptance of campaign contributions from developers who bought her approval of their projects.

The Council’s selection of new Commissioners was thoroughly disheartening. The Council majority chose Jason Perry, seeking a third term, whose most impressive accomplishment as Chair of the Commission was his perfect attendance. The Council majority then chose Nina Fresco, a longtime member of the Landmarks Commission, and a leader in the mystery Civic Center project, to replace Jim Reise, the most experienced Commissioner. The third seat was left unfilled – under orders from O’Connor. It had been briefly occupied by Carter Rubin, who was appointed to fill the seat left empty by Himmelrich’s election to the City Council, But, on the very heels of his appointment, he announced his resignation.

During his brief stay, he was mildly pompous, perhaps because he works in the office of L/A. mayor Eric Garcetti.

Himmelrich voted for longtime Santa Monica architect Mario Fonda-Bonardi who has written some illuminating articles for SM*a*r*t Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow.

All in all, it wasn’t a good night for Santa Monica, PYFC, de la Torre, the mayor, Himmelrich, Vazquez and all the residents who don’t believe that this gloriously idiosyncratic beach town is a game..
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CALIFORNIA CORPORATE DEMOCRATS ARE NOT ON OUR SIDE

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, that controversial free-trade agreement whose provisions include international trade tribunals that can overturn U.S. wage and environmental laws in order to benefit foreign corporations,
could also be a stake-in-the-heart of the federal government’s Buy American procurement policies. This week
the Senate gave President Obama authority to conclude the pact’s remaining negotiations, although Congress is
not expected to vote on ratification until year’s end.

Read Bill Raden’s story about the role played by California’s Corporate Democrats in fast-tracking the trade accord by the barest number of votes.

Also this week: Reducing Prison Populations One Job at a Time By Donald Cohen. “Clocking In” for Equality,
By Seth Sandronsky In-Home Care Recipients Cautiously Applaud New Budget,
By Steven Mikulan

—Danny Feingold Publisher, Capital & Main

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BIG BLUE BUS IS GIVEN $6.9 MILLION FOR UPGRADE AND NEW BUS STOPS

Big Blue Bus was given $5.9 million to upgrade the agency’s all-alternative fuel bus fleet. The funds will purchase nine replacement compressed natural gas buses. The new vehicles will replace buses that have been
on the road more than 12 years. The new buses will provide a more comfortable commute experience for customers
and reduce vehicle maintenance costs. In addition, the new vehicles will reduce emissions released into the environment.

Big Blue Bus also received $1 million for new bus stop improvements. The Santa Monica City Council recently adopted a new operating plan which will meet the demands of the Expo Light Rail Line coming to Santa Monica
next year. The new service plan includes extensive changes throughout BBB’s entire service area and will re-
quire new stops systemwide. The funds would provide for bus signage and provide ADA accessibility at the new stops. BBB Director Ed King adds, “Identifying funding for the bus stops is a key step to implementing BBB’s
Expo related service as six new routes and changes to nearly all 20 BBB routes require the construction of
204 new stops.”

For more details on the Big Blue Bus service changes coming to connect with Expo please go to: www.bigbluebus.
com.

HEAL THE BAY RANKS SANTA MONICA BEACH A “BUMMER”

In its latest “report card,” Heal the Bay ranks Santa Monica Beach the “sixth worst beach” in California’s
beaches. That’s way beyond bad it’s inexcusable.

Santa Monica is a legendary beach town, It’s been on a first name basis with the world for generations. Its residents are an extraordinary mix of people from all over the world –. from scholars to real estate tycoons
to lawyers to self-made would-be geniuses to city employees whose pay ranges from “as needed” to $350,000 a
year.

To protect beachgoers from illness, Heal the Bay urges ocean lovers to check updated water quality grades for nearly 600 beaches each week at www.healthebay.org/beachreportcard

SANTA MONICA DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

Santa Monica is a legendary beach town.

It was founded in 1875 as a simple real estate development, and five generations of bright, talented, dev-
oted, diverse residents have made it a gorgeous, complex, idiosyncratic, grandly volatile and deeply satisf-
ying place to live and work — perfectly located on the ocean, small in scale, low key, prosperous – and in
the midst of the myriad pleasures and excitements of Los Angeles.

It’s unique, unconventional, an original, not a copy.

The primary fact of Santa Monica, its shaping element, is the ocean, and, aside from its sublime location, its greatest asset has always been its residents. They are smart, savvy and independent, and they are fiercely dev-
-oted to Santa Monica.

But some time ago, without the advice or consent of residents, City Hall decided that its top priorities were increasing its own revenues, and, in the noxious vernacular, “growing” the town, and, to that end, it reversed
the order of things, making itself the star of the show, while consigning residents to non-speaking roles.

As the star, City Hall gave itself license to ignore residents’ wishes when they ran counter to its own plans, made unilateral decisions at the expense of residents, and exploited both the residents and their town.

City Hall enjoyed portraying Santa Monica as a “model city” and “national leader” on “sustainability,” and
fulsomely of its progressive social and environmental policies, though they were in direct conflict with its retrograde economic and land use policies, according to its own 2006 “Sustainable City Report Card.”

It’s as if we gave City Hall a Steinway and it played nothing but “Chopsticks” on it. Badly.

City Hall either didn’t understand or had chosen to ignore the laws of cause and effect, and, as a result, residents suffered a surfeit of unintended consequences,

*For nearly two decades, City Hall spent its principal energy on diminishing Santa Monica’s quality of life
while claiming to improve it. It spearheaded an unprecedented building boom. It attempted to change both the focus and character of the town.

Great beach towns are rare and extraordinary, and Santa Monica is one of the best, but City Hall oversaw its dumbing down and tarting up, approved a row of “luxury hotels” on the beach and a luxe office district, and cranked up the Santa Monica Pier, the Third Street Promenade and Main Street on its way to turning this extraordinary beach town into what it calls “a regional commercial hub” as well as a tourist mecca.

*These changes generated more money for City Hall. They also tripled the daily population of the City to 250,000, which led to chronic traffic congestion, and triggered a variety of other problems.

*In 1982, City Hall founded and funded the Convention & Visitors’ Bureau without the knowledge or approval of residents, and, several years ago, again without the knowledge or approval of residents, the Bureau, which now costs taxpayers $6 million a year, unveiled a new “brand” marketing campaign in order, in its words, to “create
a new identity” for this legendary beach town and sell it as a product.

The “Brand Promise”chosen by the group was ‘Santa Monica, the best way to discover L.A, an unforgettable beach city experience, filled with eye-catching people cutting edge culture and bold innovations. It is the essence of the California lifestyle.” It made residents wince or scream, but, despite its plethora of clichés, it never caught on.

*The City then decided to make both the Third Street Promenade and the Santa Monica Pier not better or more fun
or more interesting or more of a piece with our beach town, but, in the City’s word, more “competitive.”

*Aligning themselves with City staff and developers, a majority of four of our seven representatives regularly betrayed residents, took campaign contributions from developers and approved dubious projects, while turning a deaf ear to residents’ needs and ignoring their interests as well as their interests. .

* Though it made a great show of wanting “community input,” the City dramatically reduced the role of residents in the project review process, in spite of their continuing protests One memorable step down and back took place when the Council voted 5 to 2 (with Bob Holbrook and Bobby Shriver dissenting) to end public review of affordable housing projects of 50 units or less.

*In sum, this eight-square-mile beach town of 92,000 residents was run for some years by a handful of elected and appointed officials whose agenda was not only at profound odds with residents’ wishes, but eroded our way of life.

*City Hall presumed that it knew better than residents did, and, in the process, did serious damage to the town. When public servants fail to serve the people, the people must act decisively to restore their rights, protect their interests and ensure the community’s future well-being.

And, whatever ever else we residents are, we’re smart, we love this gloriously idiosyncratic beach town, and
it’s our town. Our revolution began in the neighborhood organizations, and spread out into the neighborhoods. There were major issues — the airport, over-development, endless, often embarrassing promotion, City Hall
and the majority of four continued to court developers over residents’ objections.

Santa Monica was at a crucial verge. If City Hall was not got under control, our town would become one more
blip on the marketeers’ map, the unique beach town character would be obliterated.

Activist residents’ ranks grew, as did their demands. Dozens of them turned up regularly at Council meetings.

City Hall’s long-running twin obsessions with money and growth were the bases for virtually all the problems residents suffered — traffic congestion and spreading gridlock, the loss of open space, the sullying of once-serene residential neighborhoods, the transformation of downtown Santa Monica into a frenzied playpen
for visitors and shoppers, the extraordinary inflation of commercial rents and the consequent loss of valued
and vital local independent businesses and services coupled with the proliferation of high end big box chain stores, and the grotesque effort to reduce Santa Monica to a product in order to “sell” it to the travel industry.

Last year, residents finally prevailed. Armed with Armen Melkonians’ Residocracy, a form of direct democracy
that restores voters’ veto power, residents shut down a mediocre major development. And the November election resulted in the end of the majority of four, which had done so much harm, and replaced them with a new majority
of four.

They are pluperfect residents. Like many residents, they believe in slow growth, diversity, preservation of the beach town character, and more affordable housing. None them takes campaign contributions from developers.

Happily, Rick Cole, the new City Manager, whom all seven Council members voted for, seems to have a lot in common with the majority of four, and he knows the myth of Sisyphus.