Michael Feinstein, Mayor of Santa Monica
Special to the Mirror
Santa Monica has long been recognized as one of the healthiest political communities. Voter turnout for local elections is higher than in most cities. We boast a proud tradition of community meetings and workshops on a wide variety of issues. We have a 20-year history of strong, responsive neighborhood organizations. Public testimony at City Council, School Board and Planning Commission meetings is welcome, extensive and well-informed. We enjoy a municipal television channel devoted to community news. Our elected officials are approachable at the corner market.
But a small group of individuals and their financial backers are trying to undermine our successful political culture, by radically and recklessly changing the way we elect our public officials. Going by the misleading acronym ‘VERITAS’, they’re seeking to place a “Bad Government” initiative on the ballot that would:
• decrease voter choice
• decrease the accountability of public officials
• pit one neighborhood against another, particularly on development
• compromise the city’s budget process
• lower voter turnout, and
• increase the corrupting role of big money in our elections
Santa Monica residents should strongly consider not signing their petitions. Here’s why:
Preserve Voter Choice
In our current system, each person can vote for all seven City Council members. This maximizes choice, because each of us can affect all of the City Council seats. Under the Bad Government Initiative (VERITAS), voters would be restricted to choosing only one out of seven Council members, and would lose their voice on the other six.
The proposed Initiative would also significantly reduce voter choice by imposing term limits on our community. Our current system allows us to select the blend of experience we want in our Council members. Over the past thirty years, we’ve chosen a varied mix — 33 Council members have served one term, 18 have served two, seven have served three and three have served four. Shouldn’t we Santa Monicans continue to be trusted to decide these important questions for ourselves?
Keep Neighborhoods United and Council Members Accountable
City Council members are currently elected citywide, requiring support in all our neighborhoods. Once in office, they need to work towards common solutions to get re-elected. This promotes accountability to residents — no matter where we live — and comprehensive solutions for our entire community.
The Bad Government Initiative (VERITAS) would undermine this unifying dynamic by abandoning our citywide elections and forcing us to vote in seven separate districts. Council members would be accountable only to a single area of the city, pitting one neighborhood against another, particularly on development.
Why reduce the base of support for our neighborhoods to one Council member each? Cities like Los Angeles have districts because they are very large — LA is 464 square miles. Santa Monica is only eight square miles, compact enough that Council members can know and be accountable to the entire city. In a community like ours, districts are unnecessary and divisive.
Prevent “Big Money” Politics
The Bad Government Initiative (VERITAS) would create of an entirely new office — that of a separately elected and overly powerful Mayor, who could overrule and veto the majority of residents as expressed through their City Council members — like on needed moratoriums on over-development that protect our neighborhoods.
With this kind of power at stake, the mayoral race would draw enormous campaign funds, corrupting the scale and cost of our local elections. The $1 million spent last year by the big hotels supporting the unpopular Proposition KK is only the tip of the iceberg of what special interests would spend to win the mayoral seat.
Currently, the role of mayor in Santa Monica is to play a subtler unifying role — that of chairing meetings, and getting the best out of the Council — not an adversarial force bent on implementing a special interest agenda.
Avoid Counter-Productive Elections
The Bad Government Initiative (VERITAS) would turn back the clock on successful local efforts to increase voter participation, by changing our election date back from November to March. We abandoned spring elections in 1984 in order to increase voter turnout, by combining local elections with state and federal races in November. The result was overwhelmingly successful.
The proposed Initiative would mandate a primary election in the spring, unquestionably lowering voter turnout in Santa Monica. If there were no outright majority winner in the low-turnout primary – a run-off election would be required between the top two vote getters eight months later in November!
Putting the community through a stressfully long campaign period would drive up campaign costs and highly politicize City Council business for most of the year. With the timing of the annual city budget in June, any spring election that leads to a run-off would recklessly jeopardize a common sense budget process. Do we want a sitting Council member in a fall run-off, casting politicized budget votes in the middle of campaign season? What about a Council member who has been eliminated in the spring primary, but is still around to vote on the budget – where is the accountability there?
Don’t Sign the Petition
Changing our City Charter is serious business and should be an involved, considerate and deliberative process. That is why a multi-partisan Charter Review Commission appointed by the City Council in 1992 met for nine months. They recommended against districts and term limits for local elections.
In spite of this, the Bad Government Initiative (VERITAS) is being circulated by a small group of people who did not consult the very community they claim to empower. They are employing paid signature-gatherers using shallow, deceptive catch-phrases on the sidewalk — hardly a responsible way to form electoral policy.
Signing this Initiative would force taxpayers to fund a costly special election this December, when turnout will be exceptionally low, in order to rush ahead with spring primaries next year. This off-season special election would be particularly divisive, marked by enormous special interest expenditures, hoping to buy control of the City Council. If the Initiative’s backers care so much about democracy, why do they want a vote on a major City Charter change at a time when voter turnout will be minimal?
Our current voting system was well designed to fit our geographically compact, yet socially and economically diverse community. Is politics in Santa Monica perfect? Of course not. We would all like to see even more people voting, stronger representation of our full diversity and more participation between elections. But reforms should build from what works, not from scrapping what has helped generate the participation, representation and citywide vision we now have. Let’s not be misled by the false promise of the Bad Government Initiative (VERITAS).
Deceptive politics has no place in our community. Don’t sign their petition.
If you have signed the petition and want your signature removed, you simply need to send a letter to the City Clerk’s office (1685 Main St., Santa Monica, CA 90407) stating so. Your signature, as it appears on your voter registration, must be on the letter as well as your printed name. For more information, call (310) 458-8211. For a fuller explanation of the many deficiencies in the Bad Government Initiative, go the Web at www.goodgov4santamonica.ws
Ed. note: In subsequent issues, the Mirror will publish other views of VERITAS