Following some money

The headline in the Lookout for the article about the final financial reports for the 2014 City Council election was “Himmelrich Spent $160,000 of Her Own Money to Win Santa Monica Council Seat,” but even though $160,000 was a record for self-financing a City Council campaign here, I was less interested in how much money Susan Himmelrich spent to win election and more interested in how she spent some of it.

What the article did not report was that Himmelrich paid nearly $30,000 to Dennis Zane and to PZ Associates, an entity that Zane formed. Here’s the breakdown: Himmelrich paid Zane $15,000 for political consulting, plus $4,475 for office expenses, including one flat $3,000 payment. She paid PZ $9,255 partly for consulting services and partly in a category called “campaign paraphernalia/misc.” (PZ is known for running door-to-door campaigns.)

These payments are not out of line for these kinds of services. Why am I focusing on them? For one reason: the payments were breaches of Zane’s fiduciary duty to Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR). As a member of the SMRR Steering Committee, Zane was guilty of self-dealing, by taking money from a candidate seeking the SMRR endorsement. Self-dealing cannot be made good by disclosure or recusal (not that Zane in fact recused himself).

The SMRR endorsement is crucial to getting elected, especially for anti-development candidates, as no candidate for City Council running on an anti-development platform has ever been elected without the SMRR endorsement. As a follow up to my post in January where I wrote about how Himmelrich finally got the endorsement from the Steering Committee (in a deal where Himmelrich got the committee votes she needed in return for her supporters voting to endorse Andrew Walzer for College Board), I can report that I received a message from Walzer the next day defending the “trade off in voting for [him] and Sue.” Apparently, according to Walzer, it was “complicated,” which naturally made me feel better about it. But in case you had doubts, it did happen.

I’m not the only one still taking a look back at the election, although not everyone has the same motivations. The Santa Monica Democratic Club (SMDC) had a panel discussion last week about it. I didn’t go, but according to the Lookout, the gist of the meeting was that the election of the anti-development Himmelrich had, in the words of SMRR Co-Chair Patricia Hoffman, “‘flipped the balance of power on the City Council.’”

Apparently, though, the struggle continues. Hoffman went on to say that “‘[w]e have a lot more work to do . . . . If we can work together and spend the next few years selecting candidates, that, I think, can make our City Council even better.’”

“Even better.” Given that all seven city council members were elected at least initially with the SMRR endorsement, I guess Hoffman is saying that the old SMRR, the one that based its progressive politics on issues beyond blocking development, is history. And I expect that if the Steering Committee, given its demographics, continues to make the endorsements, the old SMRR will be history.

That’s right, let’s throw out all those bums we supported before who care about housing for all, including the middle-class, and good union jobs and city and social services and childcare and public transportation, etc. You know the ones who understand that Santa Monica is not an island. They’re not sufficiently deferential to our new friends in the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City and Residocracy.

* * *

Given the record-breaking $160,000 Himmelrich spent on her campaign, one might wonder why her husband, Housing Commissioner Michael Soloff, had to make campaign contributions, each of $10,000, to SMRR and the SMDC. Why didn’t Himmelrich make the contributions herself? The reason is based on campaign finance law: SMRR and SMDC were running independent campaigns on Himmelrich’s behalf, and because there is a contribution limit for City Council races, the campaigns could not coordinate with Himmelrich. Otherwise, contributions an individual or company might make to SMRR and the SMDC could be counted against the contributor’s limit. Giving money to an independent campaign is a form of coordination, and so Himmelrich couldn’t write the checks. Both she and Soloff are attorneys, and so one expects that they did legal research (but separately, not coordinated!) to satisfy themselves that it’s not coordination if the money comes from a spouse. But let’s face it—even if it’s legal, it’s a dodge. I wonder if the Santa Monica Transparency Project will investigate?

There’s another aspect to this. The old SMRR prided itself on a policy of rarely accepting individual contributions that were more than the limit for council races, which is now $325. The new SMRR not only accepted Soloff’s $10,000, but also $10,000 from the Huntley Hotel, the primary bankroller of anti-development campaigns in the city. Back in July, before the SMRR convention where she’d be seeking the SMRR endorsement, Himmelrich herself gave $1,000. There is no law limiting the amount of contributions to SMRR, and the limit was voluntary, but the limit was once a point of pride. So much for that.

* * *

One footnote: the Lookout piece I quote from above about campaign expenditures got the numbers for my campaign wrong. The article said that I contributed $20,000 and my total campaign expenditure was $75,000, but those numbers are incomplete. The reason the reporter was mistaken is that my campaign accountant had us wrap up our finances in 2015, and the final numbers are in a statement for the period Jan. 1-5 that we filed a few weeks ago. The complete numbers are that I contributed $36,920.90 to my campaign and the total expenditure was $96,128.90. I understand the Lookout will be running a correction, but I wanted the record to be correct.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

More on the City Council election: why two attack campaigns failed

After my posts last week, I don’t have too much more to say about the City Council election, but I do want to write about at the least one thing: the failure of attack advertising.

But first—there’s nothing wrong with negative campaigning. Candidates want to let voters know that their ideas, values and, yes, their characters are better than the ideas, etc., of their opponents. To do that it’s okay for candidates to say why they believe that the ideas, etc., of their opponents are not-so-good.

Negative campaigning can be untruthful or unfair, but that goes for positive campaigning, too. Civility is good, sure, but exaggeration is part of politics, and it would be a danger to democracy to elevate civility over robust debate. My purpose in this post is not to moralize about negative campaigning, but to analyze the effectiveness of attack campaigns in Santa Monica.

There were two significant attack campaigns in the November City Council election, both run by independent campaigns. (By campaigns I mean mail or phone campaigns, not just criticisms that candidates might make of each other at forums, etc.) The first, chronologically, was the campaign by the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) against Pam O’Connor. The second was by the Miramar Hotel against Sue Himmelrich.

At my house we received five mailers from SMCLC and only one was positive about the three candidates (Kevin McKeown, Richard McKinnon and Himmelrich) that SMCLC supported. The other four were hits on O’Connor.

SMCLC’s hits on O’Connor were hard. The mailers had headlines like “Pam O’Connor has NEVER voted against a large development in 20 years on City Council,” “Pam O’Connor is funded by Developers,” “Pam O’Connor rewarded a developer with millions for destroying our homes” (words attributed to elderly and disabled residents of the Village Trailer Park), “O’Connor approved Expo line at street level in Santa Monica, which will worsen our already terrible traffic,” or “700 new pack-and-stack apartment units – APPROVED.”

When I received the mailers I thought they would be effective. They pushed a lot of buttons. As it happened, however, although we’ll never know if SMCLC’s attacks had marginal impact, they didn’t stop O’Connor from winning reelection. I have two theories why.

One is that the attacks were over-the-top. The mailers ranged from misleading to scurrilous to nutty. Blame O’Connor for “pack-and-stack” apartments? Putting aside that unflattering description, nearly all apartments built in Santa Monica for 20 years fall under zoning that was passed 20 years ago (I’m not even sure O’Connor was yet on the council) to satisfy a court judgment against the City requiring it to allow housing to be built; in response City Council enacted an ordinance that encouraged housing development in downtown instead of neighborhoods, and where it could replace traffic-generating commercial development. Blame O’Connor for Expo at ground level? That was a decision that the council made to avoid having a giant viaduct over downtown and a station at Fourth and Colorado 35 feet in the air. O’Connor takes money from developers? Attacks on a candidate’s campaign funding are rarely successful—voters know money is part of politics. O’Connor is personally responsible for evicting tenants from the Village Trailer Park? That’s where the campaign finally jumped the shark.

I doubt that SMCLC is looking for advice from me, but the attacks might have had more credibility if SMCLC had focused on one or two particular votes that they didn’t like. It’s better to pound on one point rather than take a scattershot approach; by the time I received the fourth mailer, the campaign looked kooky. Which leads to my second theory why the attacks didn’t work, namely that O’Connor did the smart thing: she ignored them.

Ignoring an attack would likewise have been a good policy for the Miramar Hotel, which overreacted to a brilliant piece of campaign mail that Himmelrich’s campaign sent out in late October. This was her four-page “Miramar ’Zilla” piece that attacked the Miramar’s plans for redevelopment, a mailer that put Himmelrich in the forefront of a crowded field of candidates running on anti-development platforms.

The Miramar responded with a massive counterattack in the last week of the campaign, accusing Himmelrich and her husband of multiple campaign indiscretions and various hypocrisies. If you’ve read my posts last week, you know that I don’t believe that everything Himmelrich did (or had done for her) to win the election was “transparent,” but like SMCLC’s charges about developer contributions to O’Connor’s campaign, these are the kinds of attacks that voters tune out. The Miramar people may have been righteously angry about the ’Zilla attack, but in retrospect the mailer warranted an indignant press release, not Armageddon.

In response to the attacks, Himmelrich did the exact opposite of O’Connor—she counterattacked in force, mostly with robo-calls from people defending her. In her case, however, a vehement response made sense. While there was some risk of amplifying the Miramar’s charges, Himmelrich by counterattacking was able to reiterate and reinforce her original attack on the Miramar’s project. By depicting herself as a victim of corporate attacks she further strengthened her anti-development credentials.

So what’s the takeaway? Probably not much. In hindsight, O’Connor with her long history in the community and Himmelrich with her SMRR endorsement seem destined to win. But Santa Monicans who like their politics to be civil can take satisfaction in the fact that two virulently negative independent campaigns didn’t work.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

SMRR: Founder’s syndrome and even bigger problems

In Tuesday’s post I tried to chronicle how it came to be that for the first time Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) endorsed an all anti-development slate. I say “chronicle” because I focused on the chronology and drew my conclusions from the facts and circumstances. But frankly, I was looking at the trees, not the forest.

The important question is not whether Susan Himmelrich got the third endorsement because of a deal with the supporters of Andrew Walzer or because of nine hours Himmelrich spent charming Bruria Finkel. More important is the overall context. How could the leaders of SMRR make their decisions with no sense of accountability to the diverse membership of SMRR?

There’s a concept, or a malady, called “founder’s syndrome,” a/k/a “founderitis,” that is well known in the world of nonprofit organizations. There are many definitions for this, but the basic idea is that the founders of an organization, who are, after all, usually responsible or an organization’s success, tend to consider the organization their own, or an extension of themselves, and as a result come to believe that they can do whatever they want, even when the organization has outgrown their living rooms.

Thirty-five years after SMRR’s founding, a core group of founders and other leaders from early on still run the organization. Frankly, they don’t feel like they owe anyone anything, whether it’s members who want to read the bylaws for themselves, members who disagree with the leadership, or even longtime SMRR leaders like Maria Loya, who had been on the Steering Committee for nine years but was nonetheless dumped unceremoniously when the committee voted to endorse Walzer six weeks before the election.

I can’t sum up “founder’s syndrome” better than the quote SMRR Co-Chair Patricia Hoffman gave to the Daily Press after the Steering Committee endorsed Walzer against her fellow committee member: “Of course it’s a little bit awkward but when we weighed what our opportunities were, they tilted in favor of [Walzer].”

File that in the “this hurts me more than it hurts you” department. Forget about Loya—you have to sympathize with the Steering Committee and how awkward they felt!

But founderitis in SMRR maxed out in the collective obliviousness to the impropriety of allowing Steering Committee members Denny Zane and Roger Thornton to make money from a candidate. The most valuable asset SMRR has is its endorsements. That asset needs to be protected. There can’t be the slightest suggestion that endorsements can be bought. Now there’s a lot more than a suggestion.

Any organization operating under generally recognized standards of good governance will have a clear, written set of rules about conflict of interests that would prohibit board members from such blatant violations of their fiduciary duties. The same thing goes for other conflicting financial interests, some of which involve gray areas, and not all of which are defined in the law. Steering Committee member Linda Sullivan works for the College yet voted on the endorsements for College board; is that okay? Not everything is clear-cut, and it’s a challenge to draw lines, but there’s no evidence that in 35 years the SMRR leadership has done anything to articulate clearly and in writing what’s okay and what’s not.

Why? Because they’re running the organization like it belongs to them. I’m sure that if members of the SMRR leadership are reading this, most of them still don’t understand how any of this could be a problem. For them it’s still 1979 and they’re out on the barricades. All for one and one for all. Stick it to the man.

Which is sad.

SMRR is a great organization. It struck me during the campaign that I was the candidate, perhaps with the exception of Pam O’Connor, who, after all, was the mayor, who most defended the current state of government in Santa Monica and, at least by implication, the accomplishments of the past 35 years, which were mostly due to SMRR. (Turned out not to be such a great strategy, but what the hell.)

SMRR has major structural problems that go beyond founder’s syndrome. By trying to be a commendably open, grassroots, membership organization, it’s left itself open to manipulation by outside groups and—perhaps worse than that—paralysis. Hundreds of new members signed up (and were signed up) to vote at last summer’s convention. This should have been great for SMRR, a real shot in the arm, a source of volunteers and future leaders. But the result was the opposite. Because of factionalism and bullet voting, no candidate for City Council received even a simple majority of votes, let alone the 55% required for an endorsement. Then there was the fiasco when Hoffman declared that there wouldn’t be a third ballot for the City Council endorsement, kicking the decision to the Steering Committee. Many members left the convention bitter and disaffected, and more became so after the Steering Committee made its endorsements.

I don’t know how to solve all those problems, but I know where to start.

Start with the basics of good governance: organizational transparency and clarity. Publish the bylaws. Publish minutes of Steering Committee meetings—including meetings of the Executive Committee. Create written standards for conflicts of interests, and written procedures for dealing with those conflicts. If, as it appears will be the case, the Steering Committee is regularly going to be making endorsement decisions, establish and publish clear procedures for that, too, including deadlines and timetables that candidates can rely on.

I’m sure the founders of SMRR hope the organization will be around 35 years from now. They will have to live rather long to know if that happens, but they can take actions now to make SMRR’s continued success more likely.

Next installment: Negative campaigning doesn’t work in Santa Monica. (That’s the good news.)

Thanks for reading.

Back to what I do better

Now where was I? Oh yeah, back in July I wrote my last post on this blog, a manifesto on why I was running for Santa Monica City Council, and then something happened called a campaign. I spent four months expressing myself as a politician not as a pundit.

My political self terminated, abruptly, November 4, when I lost, and since then I’ve been taking it easy. (One could say I’ve been licking my wounds and I wouldn’t argue the point.) Anyway, there’s life after politics. I hope I’m better at punditry.

As always Santa Monica provides a lot to write about, and I’ll start with the election. The most important vote was the landslide victory of LC and defeat of D, which removes the most significant local impediments to closing the airport and building a big park there.

But enough happy talk. I can’t help but write about the election for City Council even if, as a candidate who lost, I’m unlikely to be objective about it. But my observer self is fascinated by the election, especially since the results were so different from those of two years ago—at least when viewed through the lens of the development politics that have pushed all other issues to the side.

How different? In 2012 there were four winning candidates (Ted Winterer, Terry O’Day, Gleam Davis and Tony Vazquez). If you take them and add the runner-up (Shari Davis), only one of the top five candidates (Winterer) ran with the support of the anti-development side of Santa Monica politics. In 2014 there were three winning candidates (Kevin McKeown, Susan Himmelrich and Pam O’Connor). If you take them and add the runner-up (Phil Brock) only one of the four top candidates (O’Connor) ran without the support of the anti-development side. (I came in fifth.)

In 2012 only one of four winners ran with anti-development support; in 2014 two of three winners did. That’s a big change, and the anti-development folks are claiming victory. I don’t argue the fact that they won, but has there been a seismic shift in the electorate—as they claim?

There are two explanations going around for the success of the anti-development candidates, one from each side. I don’t buy either.

The opponents of the anti-development side argue that the electorate in 2014 was more conservative and anti-development than usual because turnout was much lower. True, 47,945 Santa Monicans voted in 2012 and only 28,333 in 2014, but I don’t see how a larger turnout would have changed the results, except perhaps at the margins.

The anti-development side argues that in the aftermath of the controversy over the Hines project and the formation of Residocracy the electorate has become more focused on (and angry about) development, and better organized to vote for anti-development candidates. There is no question that development seems to be the only issue that anyone talks about these days, in part because the Hines project was the first large development that the City Council had approved in a long time, but I’m skeptical that this indicates anything meaningful about a long-term trend. There has been plenty of anti-development agitation going back 30 years and the success of anti-development candidates has always ebbed and flowed.

So what do I believe happened between 2012 and 2014?

I’m of the “the more things change, the more they remain the same” school, and I suspect that the results in 2012 and 2014 reflected two constants of Santa Monica politics, namely the power of incumbency and the power of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR).

The victory in 2014 of then-Mayor O’Connor illustrated the power of incumbency, as she won notwithstanding vicious and well-financed attacks against her. (The other incumbent, McKeown, won easily.) Incumbency was also significant in 2012 when incumbents O’Day and Davis, and former council member Vazquez, all won easily.

As for the power of SMRR, nothing illustrated it more than the victory of newcomer Himmelrich in 2014. Himmelrich defied conventional wisdom and showed that a first-time candidate could win—with the SMRR endorsement. But beyond Himmelrich’s victory, there was also the fact that Jennifer Kennedy, who ran little of a campaign other than by way of her SMRR endorsement, and who had no other significant organizational endorsements, finished a strong sixth.

The SMRR brand is by far the strongest in Santa Monica, but it’s especially important for anyone running as an anti-development candidate. Since SMRR ran its first candidates 35 years ago no candidate running as an anti-development candidate has won election to the Santa Monica City Council without SMRR’s endorsement. (Funny how anti-development organizations and activists rail against SMRR’s control over local politics when they wouldn’t have any power but for that control—but that’s another story.)

The most reasonable explanation for the 2014 results is the most obvious one. “Follow the SMRR endorsements.” In all previous elections going back more than 30 years SMRR has endorsed candidates from both its anti-development and progressive, housing-and-services factions. In 2014, the anti-development victory, winning two out of three seats, happened because for the first time SMRR endorsed only anti-development candidates.

It wasn’t easy for SMRR to get there. Readers will recall that the original SMRR slate left an open slot, which the SMRR Steering Committee filled in a special meeting less than six weeks before the election with its endorsement of Himmelrich.

Why did SMRR go 100% anti-development in 2014? I’ll get into that question in my next post.

Thanks for reading. It’s good to be back. Happy New Year.

The time for speculation is now

Signature gathering for the referendum against the Hines Paper Mate project wraps up soon, which means that I have little time remaining to speculate on the meaning of the referendum process before the result of the process complicates my analysis.

I suspect the referendum proponents at Residocracy will get the signatures they need, as I can’t recall a signature-gathering effort in Santa Monica that failed. Based on their having to hire paid signature gatherers, the process seems not to have gone as well as they predicted, but I assume all hands will be on deck to get the boat to the finish line.

The voters are there if they can reach them. The number of signatures needed, 6,100, is about the number of voters in Santa Monica (7,000 or so) who, at least by my computations, typically base their votes primarily on the issue of development, and of course there are even more voters who are willing to sign any petition against traffic.

But then, there are two things you can say about gathering signatures – it’s easy, and it’s hard.

It’s easy because signature-gatherers can always come up with a sound bite (“7,000 car trips!”) that simplifies the issue and sells it, and the fact that the gatherer is looking the potential signer in the eye in a real-life, not virtual, situation helps to close the deal. (Unless the target passerby is in don’t-bother-me mode.)

But gathering signatures is also hard. While 10% of voters, the threshold that needs to be reached, is only a small percentage of the electorate, it’s typically many more people than those who are active in the group promoting the ballot measure. It takes a lot of work to reach outside the core.

Consider Residocracy. As I recall, when the signature campaign started, Residocracy was saying it had about 400 members. To get 6,100 signatures one needs a cushion to cover invalid signatures, and so one needs something like 8,000 signatures. Meaning that each of the 400 needed to be responsible for an average of 20 signatures.

Sounds easy, right?

But think about it – think about your four closest friends; do the five of you know 100 different people you can get to sign something? I’m suspecting not – you probably know a lot of the same people. And the Residocracy 400 likely have overlapping Venn diagrams of friendships. So let’s say on average each of the 400 can get 10 signatures from their social circle. Now you’re up to 4,000 – which is a good base, but those are also the easy ones, the low-hanging fruit. The other 4,000 are harder.

As I mentioned above, the only definitive sign that the signature gathering has not gone as fast as expected is that Residocracy resorted to hiring paid signature gatherers, something Residocracy’s founder, Armen Melkonians, had said he didn’t want to do. Nothing wrong with that, but it does throw some reality onto the claims that those who signed up for Residocracy speak for residents collectively.

As for the meaning of the petition drive, it would be refreshing if what came out of the process is a recognition that no one in Santa Monica politics speaks for everyone, and that to win an argument one must make more of an argument than simply “this is what the residents want.”

I’m not going to hold my breath for that, but it appears that Santa Monica is in for some soul-searching. The City’s new survey on attitudes toward development is going to be chewed on quite a bit. I haven’t yet studied the survey in depth, but even looking at the numbers on the surface it’s apparent that people have much more complex attitudes toward local issues than are reflected in our political discourse.

Yes, people can want to make traffic flow better and also want more housing and good jobs.

Thanks for reading.

A Tale of Three Motions

I was busy (i.e., sleeping) in the wee hours Wednesday morning, and it wasn’t until the weekend that I got around to watching the City Council’s deliberations over the Bergamot Area Plan (BAP). It surprised many residents who spoke at the meeting, but the main issue for the council members was not traffic, density, or parks, but rather how to increase the affordability of housing.

This gulf between what some residents believe are the issues and what in fact were the issues arises because the council members, even those elected with the support of, for instance, residents who rank traffic congestion as Santa Monica’s worst problem, are aware that they have to deal with the inevitable more than they have to deal with the wishful.

It is inevitable that the old industrial areas of Santa Monica will be redeveloped, and it is inevitable that the number of Santa Monicans who live in apartments and condos, already a massive majority, will continue to increase. Santa Monica is both a post-sprawl and a post-industrial city, and people charged with managing that transition, that evolution, cannot wish away the inevitable.

And so the council members did not discuss traffic much, because they know that the BAP deals with traffic as best as any realistic plan for the area could, and they didn’t discuss density much, because they know that the densities to be allowed under the plan, even if you don’t count new streets in the FAR calculation, are moderate and realistic for a place that a metropolis surrounds and which in turn surrounds a train station on a billion-dollar light rail line. It was telling that there was no controversy among the council members about increasing the density for the two privately own parcels on Michigan Avenue adjacent to the Bergamot galleries.

Nor did the council members argue much about parks, since they know that given the legal and fiscal constraints, they couldn’t do any more Wednesday morning to create parks than the plan did, and that the real work of creating usable public open space will come in the negotiation of development agreements.

So what did the council members argue about, or given that they didn’t really argue, what did they spend a couple of hours discussing? Well, it was housing, specifically how to get more housing that would be available to people who work in the area. The discussion revolved around three motions.

Council Member Gleam Davis made the first motion, and it reflected the consensus of a lot of progressives in the city, including the leadership of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, that the plan needed more affordability. Davis’ motion was to expand density bonuses for building affordable housing, and to target the bonuses reward developers who build units for households earning less than what staff had recommended.

This motion passed unanimously.

The next motion came from Council Member Ted Winterer, and it had to do with the ratio between commercial and residential development in the area under the plan. If you were reading my Lookout columns three years ago about the updates to the land use and circulation elements of the general plan (the LUCE) (and you’re obsessed enough with local politics to remember them), you will know my heart went all fluttery when Winterer made the motion, because he wanted to clarify that the ratios called for in the plan would include in the calculation of the ratio existing square footage (which is all commercial), and existing square footage that is removed in the building of new development, thereby increasing the percentage of residential development because the percentage would be based upon the whole amount of development, not only the new development.

Winterer’s motion passed on a 4-3 vote; voting for it were Winterer, Davis and Council Members Tony Vazquez and Kevin McKeown. Council Member Terry O’Day said that he was voting against it because he believed that it would put the BAP in conflict with the LUCE, and presumably Mayor Pam O’Connor and Council Member Robert Holbrook agreed with him because they didn’t say anything and also voted no.

Council Member McKeown made the third motion, and it was to increase by 50% the amount of affordable housing that would be required under the plan in large projects. This motion lost on a 4-3 vote; Davis, who was the key vote all night, voted no because she was concerned that an across-the-board increase in the requirement might reduce the overall amount of housing that would be built, defeating the purpose of, as McKeown had emphasized, getting housing built near the jobs in the area to house working families and reduce commuter traffic.

Instead, Davis and the rest of the council directed staff to analyze the economics of increasing the affordable housing requirement; this data can then be used in negotiations over development agreements, which is where the data, on a project-by-project basis, would be most relevant.

In the end, the council members voted 6-1 to pass the BAP. The no vote came from McKeown; he made a protest vote on the affordability issue, but otherwise did not express significant disagreements with the plan. It was significant that O’Day, Holbrook and O’Connor voted for the plan even though they had lost the vote on the commercial/residential ratio, and that Vazquez and Winterer voted in favor of the plan even though they had lost the vote on McKeown’s motion to increase affordability.

It’s worth remembering that the Planning Commission approved the plan on a 5-1 vote, and the one no vote then was also a kind of protest vote, that time on the parks issue.

Some Santa Monicans are mystified about how the commissioners and the council members could so overwhelmingly endorse a plan that plan opponents say the public overwhelmingly rejects. Leaving aside the question whether the general public is in fact upset about the plan, the fact remains that the job of the commissioners and the council members is to plan for the future not sanctify the past.

Thanks for reading.

Santa Monica and Santa Barbara: Not the Same

The policy of mixing market-rate housing with affordable housing has been not only accepted wisdom nationwide since the debacles that standalone public housing created in the ’50s and ’60s, but also a policy goal in Santa Monica for a long time. Santa Monica voters enacted Prop. R in 1990 to require that 30% of all housing in the city be affordable and from the first ordinance that implemented the law Santa Monica has pushed the goal of building affordable housing with, or in close proximity to, market rate housing.

Surprisingly this “inclusionary” policy was challenged last week in a column, “Community benefits do nothing for the community,” from the “Our Town” collective at the Daily Press. In the column, Our Town writer Ellen Brennan argued that mixing low-income and luxury housing is “not a recipe for healthy neighborhoods.”

But maybe Brennan’s opposition to inclusionary housing is not surprising because in the column she also blasts three council members backed by Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) for pushing for more development downtown because they believe in a SMRR “dogma” in favor of building affordable housing.

Note to Brennan: affordable housing is not dogma in Santa Monica, it’s the law, and it’s the law because the people passed Prop. R. And then in 1998 they passed another measure authorizing Santa Monica to spend money building affordable housing, and in the latest opinion survey Santa Monicans said that affordable housing was the top community benefit they wanted to see from development.

Before I criticize Brennan’s column more, however, let me say that I have a lot of respect for her. We’ve even agreed occasionally, and in any case she’s been an articulate and gracious participant in Santa Monica politics, which prompts a relevant digression.

Which is that readers may detect a trend. In the blog I posted last week I also took pains before disagreeing with Denny Zane and Mike Feinstein to say admiring things about them. You might be thinking, “Oh, Gruber, he’s just trying to make nice to people he’s going to bump into on the street.” Or worse, “Gruber – typical politician.” In fact there’s a substantive point I want to make, which is that despite the hyperbole to the point of vitriol and the wild accusations that can fly around (welcome to local politics anywhere), the level of discourse in Santa Monica is high. There are always intelligent and articulate people on all sides of any issue, and over the decades Santa Monica has been a well-governed and progressive city because people listen to each other and make compromises. It helps that anyone who gets involved in more than one issue knows that the person you’re violently disagreeing with today about X is your ally tomorrow about Y.

I say that this is a relevant digression because what’s happening in Santa Monica lately (although not by any means for the first time) is that the rhetoric has become the lead story, not the underlying decisions that have to be made. People are focusing on the box, not what’s in the box (let alone what’s outside the box).

Okay, end of digression, and having said that, I’ll say right away that I disagree with nearly every word of Brennan’s column.

Why? Because Brennan bases her reasoning on a false understanding of what Santa Monica is.

I first became acquainted with Brennan in the ’90s when I was on the Planning Commission. One night the issue before the commission was the hours of operation for Pacific Park on the rebuilt Pier: the amusement park wanted to extend its hours to later at night. Brennan appeared before the commission in opposition; she told us that she had moved two years previously to an apartment across from the Pier, and that she had expected that living on the beach there would be like Mendocino.

Mendocino? I remember wondering to myself, “When she looked at the apartment, did she notice the Pier? Or did she turn around to see a whole region that for a century or so had considered the sand in front of her apartment its favorite beach?

Mendocino?

A few weeks ago Brennan appeared before City Council – the issue was the Downtown Specific Plan – to complain that on a recent Saturday afternoon she had encountered terrible traffic and difficulty parking when she tried to use her car to accomplish a few errands downtown.

Hmmm. For getting onto a century Santa Monica has been a place where on a beautiful Saturday afternoon 500,000 people are going to be here. That’s what Santa Monica has been, is, and will always be. If you live near the beach summer Saturdays are not good days to drive to the bank and the grocery store.

Not only is Santa Monica the favorite beach for 10 million people, but its history also includes being a would-be great port with mile-long wharf, an industrial center with one of the world’s largest factories, a medical center with two big hospitals, a corporate office center (including a 300-foot high tower built for a phone company’s headquarters), etc. These are all histories not shared with any real or hypothetical sleepy beach town that Santa Monica isn’t.

In fact, the main thing that Santa Monica shares with Santa Barbara is traffic congestion (and complaints about it). Try visiting Santa Barbara on a nice weekend.

Thanks for reading.