Letter to the Editor:
I am the co-chair of LEAD, a new education advocacy group focused on Leadership, Effectiveness, Accountability and Direction for the Santa Monica – Malibu Unified School District. Our organization has added our name to the growing list of Santa Monicans who oppose RIFT. LEAD is an advocate for transparent public decision-making processes, especially with regard to education policy. Contrary to LUCE, RIFT was developed by a small private group and was never publicly reviewed before it was filed.
LEAD has given serious thought to our decision to oppose the RIFT measure. The biggest issue for LEAD is the impact on school funding. Independent analysis projects the City losing up to 11 million dollars a year in 2008 dollars, by year 16 of this measure. There are several areas of revenue that will affect local schools, including developer fees and property taxes. The City of Santa Monica and the School District have a historic agreement that helps keep our schools strong and better funded than our state provides for. RIFT will put this funding agreement in jeopardy from Day 1. With state budget cuts constantly nipping at our heels, we cannot afford to put this City funding at risk.
Additionally, RIFT does not exempt youth-serving non-profit organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club and the Pico Youth and Family Center. These organizations would be hard-pressed to compete for square footage with a major developer under the RIFT measure.
Finally, we are concerned about RIFT’s lack of exemption for medical services that support our hospitals. These issues are too great to the health and welfare of our children to disregard.
LEAD feels that the unintended consequences of RIFT are simply too large for us to ignore. Our schools will be hurt financially by this measure and as we all know, strong schools give us strong communities. That is why LEAD opposes RIFT.
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In the realm of policymaking, even the best of intentions can have disastrous consequences.
That is what the leading spokesperson for the so-called RIFT ballot measure – Diana Gordon – and her sponsors are proving. In responding to widespread concerns amongst public education leaders that RIFT would, if passed, result in substantial City funding cuts that threaten our public schools, Ms. Gordon is claiming that RIFT will cut annual City revenue by $11 million in 2023 (RIFT’s last year) out of a budget she estimates at $1 billion — or only about 1 percent.
This shows a serious misunderstanding about both the scale of lost City revenues and the relationship of that loss to the City budget. The only independent fiscal study conducted on RIFT to date — prepared by two highly respected consulting firms — concludes that RIFT would cut General Fund tax revenues by $11.8 million in 2023, expressed in 2008 dollars, not inflated 2023 dollars. Adjusting the $11.8 million number by 5.77 percent annually — the compound annual average rate at which the City’s General Fund tax revenues have increased since the mid-1990s — the 2023 General Fund budget impact of RIFT would be $27.4 million in 2023 dollars.
Ms. Gordon’s comparison to the City’s entire budget — including a number of special funds (e.g., infrastructure enterprise funds, Cemetery Fund, Pier Fund) — is also misleading. This $11.8 million loss includes only General Fund tax revenues and not losses to City enterprise or other funds, which together make up the City budget. In 2008, the City’s General Fund budget (the primary source of funding for all City services, including a contribution to our schools), is $251.7 million.
The correct comparison is between $11.8 million in lost revenues and the City’s current $251.7 million General Fund, or between the inflation-adjusted value of the loss and the inflation-adjusted value of the General Fund in 2023. This is about 5 percent in either case (i.e., five times the impact stated by Ms. Gordon).
Though Ms. Gordon tries to minimize it, a loss of $11.8 million per year is not trivial. Compare this amount with the current cost of City services. $11.8 million is nearly half our expenditure on fire protection and one-fifth of police. It is more than the cost of running the City’s libraries, more than our affordable housing capital fund, one and one-half times more than the City’s contribution to the School District, and more than all general fund and pier fund capital projects combined. These discretionary programs are most at risk from RIFT.
All Santa Monicans want solutions to our traffic. But qualified, independent analysis shows that RIFT WILL NOT SOLVE TRAFFIC CONGESTION and it will cut City funding for our most important community services, including our public schools. By suggesting that it is acceptable to risk our exceptional schools, libraries, police, fire and other services, Ms. Gordon also misunderstands Santa Monicans and their values.
Co-Chair, Scue Our City
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In response to the July 30th article, “Flying with a little less Baggage,” it’s clear the city of Santa Monica has a conscience. And it’s feeling guilty. Guilty that the city’s airport has jet aircraft spewing toxic fumes into the resident’s lungs day after and day. How does the city deal with such guilt? They come up with a revolutionary program allowing passengers and pilots to voluntarily buy carbon offsets from a non-profit organization based out of Maryland. Does the city of Santa Monica feel less guilty now? I’ve heard of this program before. It’s called cheat-on-your-spouse and buy them flowers to offset the guilt. Well city of Santa Monica, you’re cheating on us and avoiding the real issue – jet fumes. Flowers just aren’t going to cut it.
West Los Angeles
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Re: SM Airport Offers Carbon Offset Service
What a curious notion “carbon offsetting”… continue to pollute, pay for it and use the funds to mitigate the negative impact on the global environment.
Are economic priorities so dear that we are willing to embrace polluting behaviors that in this case, effectively hold local people’s heads to the exhaust pipe – a form of pollute locally, take action globally.
Even if possible, using the funds to plant trees, install solar panels, or take other comparable measures in SMO’s surrounding pollution-afflicted neighborhoods would yield no positive gain on their quality of life.
Carbon offsetting is the kind of action an addict takes to support his/her reality avoidance when circumstances call for cold turkey.
The challenges of climate change demand focused attention on the local reality, acting quickly to stop pollution where we find it, not make it the object of craps table side betting.
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Regarding: SM Airport Offers Carbon Offset Service, July 21, 2008
Because the City of Santa Monica is taking this rather insignificant step and making a big to-do about it, I feel obligated to try and set the record straight.
This fits quite well into the category of smokescreens and mirrors. I agree with Santa Monica Airport Commissioner Susan Hartley’s comment at the July 28 Airport Commission meeting when she said, “This is a slap in the face to the thousands of residents suffering daily from the fumes”. For multi-millionaires to throw a dollar or two into an environmental kitty will, in no way, scratch the surface of the environmental injustice they commit each and every time they board a private jet and fly out of Santa Monica Airport.
If the City of Santa Monica truly wanted to address the air pollution crisis that has gone on now for about twenty years, they would take some time and money and begin an ongoing robust data collection of the idle/taxi/jet blasts. The data could go right into a computer modeling program that would yield important information. Modeling, after all is the EPA’s preferred method over monitoring. We do not need to waste precious time with more ambiguous monitoring studies that totally miss the target. We could wait and wait; all the while families and their pets are getting seriously sick from breathing toxic jet emissions day in and day out.
The fact is that although emission standards for aircraft are the responsibility of the FAA and the EPA, banning the gross polluting aircraft from landing at an airport has never been tested in a court of law. With regard to the new ordinance banning the faster C and D class aircraft, the City of Santa Monica points out that as the proprietor of the airport, they have the proprietary right and obligation to protect against safety and health impacts to the surrounding communities and to protect itself from liability claims. Santa Monica needs to aggressively address the air pollution issue, too, and stop with the smoke-screens and mirrors already. Again, this “Carbon Offset Option” offers no relief to the impacted residents who have been forced to breathe toxic jet emissions.
Concerned Residents Against Airport Pollution
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I read with interest Planning Commissioner Jay Johnson’s “point of view” supporting RIFT and the adjacent “letter to the editor” from Lynn Robb, vice-chair of the ARB, regarding the experience and ability of the Architectural Review Board and the City’s planning staff. My recent experience with the ARB regarding a proposed project at the corner of Montana and 17th stands in stark contrast to Lynn Robb’s statement that “all members of the ARB possess skill in reviewing or assessing design.” Instead, I found it stunning that the ARB would completely avoid or neglect confronting urban design issues presented to them and instead solely address paint colors, details, and landscape when their guidelines and criteria clearly allow otherwise. The Board not once discussed or questioned design issues that 18 neighbors raised – in addition to far more who were there but didn’t speak.
In stark contrast to Robb’s statement that “we have an extremely qualified and diligent staff,” this was not evident from the staff report, which contained many factual errors, or the ARB hearing on the project. Despite the considerable public input to the Planning Staff prior to the ARB hearing and to the ARB itself at the public hearing, the ARB simply asked a few questions of the Planning staff and then gave its approval of the project based on dead wrong answers from the Staff. The ARB spent far more time discussing how much time should be allotted to each speaker than it did addressing the concerns of the neighbors. In fact the only observations of the ARB were the suggestion of possibly adding a piece of trim at one location and adding permanent benches or seating in the courtyard for the residents of the project. The ARB gave only lip service to to the public’s and the neighbors’ concerns.
I would agree with Robb that “there are clear, published procedures” that are spelled out but unfortunately were totally ignored.
Unfortunately, this also happens to be a project with substantial public safety issues regarding traffic. If the Transportation Management and City Planning staffs can’t understand the overwhelming problems this one project will create at this intersection, how can we ever trust them to deal with traffic on a citywide scale. Not Possible! In the past four weekends alone, there have been three traffic accidents at this intersection that I am aware of!
I only hope when reviewing the 17th Street proposed project, the Planning Commission and the City Council have the common sense which the ARB, Planning staff, and particularly the Transportation Management Department seem to significantly lack. Frankly, this process and these departments need a dramatic overhaul!
Fellow, American Institute of Architects
and Santa Monica resident