October 31, 2020 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Council Wrestles With Oaks:

The Santa Monica City Council has asked the City Attorney to explore the possibility of placing an initiative on the ballot that would replace the Oaks initiative, which was approved by City voters in November of 2000 as Proposition LL. According to the City staff report, “The measure prohibits any [City] official from receiving a personal or campaign advantage from anyone whom the official has voted to grant a public benefit for stated periods of time.  A ‘public benefit’ is, among other things, any contract or permit exceeding $25,000 in value.  A ‘personal campaign advantage’ includes, among other things, any campaign contribution, any gift worth more than $50, and any employment for compensation.  If the public benefit is conferred upon a corporation, the prohibition applies where the applicant had a 10% or greater interest in the entity.” The report also alleged that the measure’s prohibition “appears to interfere with the constitutional right of individuals to participate in the political process through contributions.  Additionally, the prohibition purportedly applies even where the official who voted for the project opts to seek state or federal office.  This aspect of the measure appears to be preempted by state and federal law which regulates contributions to state and federal candidates.  Moreover, the measure appears to impermissibly discriminate in favor of those who oppose projects. Thus, the measure would not prohibit a neighbor who opposed the project and stood to gain financially from a denial, from making a contribution to a commissioner who voted against the project.”  When the measure was approved, the City Council refused to order its implementation and the grounds that it was un-constitutional and challenged it in court. To date, “two trial courts have said the initiative was unconstitutional … and two Courts of Appeal have declined to rule on its merits,” according to City Attorney Marsha Moutrie.  Council member Ken Genser alleged that the proponents of the Oaks initiative have tried “to keep courts from making that fundamental decision of whether its constitutional or not.”  Carmen Barber, an Oaks initiative proponent, disagreed,  noting, “We have seen hundreds thousands of dollars of taxpayer money used to fight the will of the voters…In this instance, we’ve had four judges both at the trial level and at the appeals level say the City can’t sue itself in order to fight a measure they think is unconstitutional….if the City engages in further litigation by appealing the lower courts’ decisions to the State Supreme Court… each Council member who would vote to go forward with this process could personally be held responsible for the misuse of taxpayer funds in this way.” Barber also declared that the “initative has never been declared unconstitutional” by the courts and would not be difficult to enforce because, unless a City official blatantly violates the law, the “City’s only obligation [to implement it] is to notify contractors of the measure’s provisions.” Council member Bobby Shiver summed up the consensus of the Council when he stated, “Clearly, we all share the value that government should not be corrupt and no one should receive improper benefits for their service. What I’m nervous about is any appearance that we’re trying to thwart the will of the voters and we don’t support clean government.” He went on to propose that staff explore the possibility of placing a measure before voters that would make the Oaks initiative’s aims “Constitutional, enforceable and transparent. In other business, the Council expanded the Preferential Parking Zone ZZ to include Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Streets between Wilshire and Montana, Montana and California Avenues between Fourth and Seventh Streets and Idaho and Washington Avenues between Fourth and Lincoln.It also appointed Robert Sullivan to the Personnel Board.

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