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Letters to the Editor:

Dear Editor,

There are lies being told in our community. And many of our community leaders (good people) will privately admit it, but are afraid to do so publicly because of the political and financial power of those who are telling them.

Developers from around the nation are funding a deceptive campaign against Proposition T – the local measure that would place an annual cap on new commercial development in Santa Monica.

Let me say up front that I have not endorsed Proposition T, nor do I have anything against developers. Development isn’t my passion. Schools are. As a Santa Monica parent and 10-year advocate for increased revenues for our local schools, I’ve focused my volunteer energy on developing education funding measures here, organizing campaigns to pass those measures and as a volunteer statewide legislative advisor to PTAs on how to do the same around the state.

I haven’t paid a lot of attention to development issues. But when I opened my mailbox and saw threats about Prop T “cutting millions from classrooms,” “devastating our schools,” and “jeopardizing our children’s future,” I did pay attention. If Prop T were going to do this to our schools, I would be one of the leaders of the charge to defeat it.

So, I looked carefully at the issue. And when I learned that Equity Office Properties in Chicago, Stockbridge Real Estate Fund in San Francisco, and Felcor Lodging Trust, Inc. in Irvine, Texas have, among other developers, contributed more than $400,000 to pay for these frightening mail pieces… well, who knew that developers around the country were so concerned about preserving Santa Monica’s schools? OK, we know they are not.

The reality is they all own property here in Santa Monica. They all have plans to develop that property, and they don’t want to see any limits on their ability to do so. And, they have every right to make a fuss about that. It’s big money at stake for them. But do they have a right to lie about the impact that development limit would have on our schools? No, they do not.

Still, if Prop T were going to hurt our schools as an unintended consequence and developers were willing to foot the bill to get that message out, OK by me. So what could be the connection between a development limit and school funding? Here’s what I learned is the entire basis for their argument: If Prop T passes, and if the result is fewer new commercial development projects get approved under it than might otherwise be approved by the city under the limits in its yet-to-be-finalized land use plan, it is possible that this one revenue stream to the city (out of a very diverse budget portfolio that other cities can only dream of) could grow slower than … well, than whatever the land use plan would have allowed without Prop T in place. And, if all this happens, the city council might choose schools or even firefighters over say, more new bronze trash cans, to reduce funding for? What? Exactly.

The entire argument that this measure could impact city or school funding is wildly speculative. It is based upon comparing the potential rate of new development under Prop T to the potential rate of new development under a plan yet to be determined by the city. Perhaps this explains why the City Attorney’s impartial analysis in the ballot pamphlet does not include any dire warning against decreased revenues to the city, let alone our schools.

Prop T will put an annual cap on commercial development in Santa Monica. It has nothing to do with school funding, and will have no adverse impact on our schools. That’s why our local PTA, which studied Prop T, took no position on it. The well-heeled players funding the campaign against Prop T are not bad people, but they are a powerful interest group and an attractive ally to those in political power in our city. If you desire a future in the political establishment in Santa Monica, it’s tempting to align with them, and by the same token, risky to oppose them.

But the bottom line is this: whether you are for or against slowing commercial development in Santa Monica, this debate should be based on facts, not fiction. And the fact is the claim that Prop T would devastate our schools is false and irresponsible.

There is a real threat to school funding here that neither the developers nor anyone else for that matter is talking about. If Prop SM doesn’t pass (the reauthorization of a utility users tax that is already collected) it could be a direct hit on our local schools because it’s part of the formula to increase city funding to SMMUSD. Alas, there is no wealthy special interest to fund any campaign to pass it.

Rochelle Fanali

* * * *

-To the Editor:

I urge residents to look into the history of bond requests from Santa Monica College. I believe every voter in Santa Monica “supports education,” as evidenced by the history of approving bond measures, paying parcel taxes, etc. However, SMC has taken advantage of our generosity, and is asking us for a bond measure for the 3rd time in six years, when they haven’t even spent the money from the last one yet.

Take a look at what SMC provides for us locally, and I think you will agree that more traffic and parking problems are not what we need right now. If we have money to spend on education, we should be putting it into our own school district, where our own residents will benefit directly. SMC has something like 85 percent of its enrollment from outside Santa Monica. It has become much larger than the “community” college it was designed to be.

And we Santa Monica taxpayers have paid for that.

Don’t be fooled by the “pro-education” rhetoric being offered by the supporters of this measure. We are all pro-education, and we have a responsibility to see that our education dollars are spent wisely and appropriately. No on Measure AA!

Tom & Laurie Charchut

“Bond-fatigued” Sunset Park residents

* * * *

Councilman Shriver (Letter to Editor 10-16-08) states that Measure T is a tough decision. For me it was an easy one.

Here’s why:

The statement that limiting commercial development equals less traffic makes common sense only if Santa Monica were an isolated community. But we are not. So even with less commercial development in Santa Monica we will still see an increase in traffic. Much of the traffic in Santa Monica is the result of folks from outside of Santa Monica driving through Santa Monica to get to somewhere outside of Santa Monica – one of the horrible joys of having a freeway and Highway 1 run through our City.

If we don’t have the shops and services (oh yes, Measure T includes these not just big office buildings) that Santa Monica residents want to go to located in Santa Monica, then we have to drive to Venice, West Los Angeles or Brentwood or even further afield. That’s a longer drive (instead of perhaps a walk or bike ride) and that’s more traffic.

The statement that Measure T will somehow preserve the low scale, open feeling and prevent tall, dense buildings is not true. Measure T has nothing to do with these issues, and exempt buildings – housing, mixed use with 100 percent low income housing, schools, etc. – can still be built to current develop standards.

The Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) update that the City has been working on in concert with Santa Monica residents generally reduces building heights except at a couple of Transit Oriented Districts where the objective is to encourage the use of alternative transportation modes. The LUCE strategies will do more to control the scale and location of new development than will limiting commercial uses.

The LUCE update also has a “No New Net Trip” policy. This means that new developments will be required to mitigate traffic generation so it’s equivalent to adding NO added vehicular trips. This will be done through carpooling, ride sharing, improving transit services, making the streets more bike and pedestrian friendly etc.

The argument that the people of Santa Monica, their City Council and Planning Departments will make sure our great nonprofits and hospitals can continue their service is exactly why the Save Our City group – which is opposed to Measure T – has the endorsement of the majority of City Councilors and Planning Commissioners and many Community leaders including School Board Members, Police and Fire associations and Health care representatives.

It’s true that if required an amendment to Measure T could be put on a Ballot by the City Council. But that’s like saying Prop 13 is a disaster let’s get it repealed. It’s not so easy to do and is a huge waste of money and effort. You don’t put a measure on the ballot to see if it works. I am sure the school district or one of the nonprofits in the City would love the money being spent by both sides of this issue and then we would have to do it again.

Measure T does allow a large project to proceed if approved by a vote of the people. But that really only works for a very large project (a Waldorf Hotel like Measure H in Beverly Hills) due to the expense and time involved. So smaller mixed use projects with some retail, some market rate housing and some affordable housing located in commercial districts will simply not be proposed.

Yet these are exactly the type of projects that the City needs to improve the Jobs/Housing imbalance without destroying our residential neighborhoods and that the residents who participated in the LUCE update preferred.

For these reasons and out of respect for those many Santa Monica residents who gave up their time to participate in the LUCE process, I cannot vote for T.

Hank Koning

Vice Chair Planning Commission

* * * *

Editor:

I don’t know Tricia Crane, but I applaud her for writing the editorial that appeared in your paper last week (“Point of View: City Council Leadership Empowered Special Ed Families” Oct 16 – 22, 2008). I appreciate her ongoing efforts to help special education families and her not backing down.

My son has ADD and I fought for him for years and won what he needed in his classes. However, I know that special education parents in our school district have been treated sub-humanly for as long as my kids have been in the system. I hope the City Council keeps the pressure on so that special education parents gain respect and that the kids get the services they are entitled to and so desperately need.

Rah! Rah! for you for publishing this important message about the members of City Council who have supported reform in special education. I, too, am voting for Shriver, Katz, and Genser. They should get a shout-out for their diligence! And I am voting for the two non-incumbent school board candidates – Chris Bley and Ben Allen- – to shake up that dysfunctional group!

Mary Ellen Reardon

* * * *

To the Editor:

Because of a particularly misleading statement in a mailer opposing Measure T which was received by residents on October 16, the Board of Directors of Friends of Sunset Park must reiterate its position in support of Measure T.

The FOSP board endorsed Measure T with only one “no” vote. The lone dissenter is quoted on the cover of the “No on T” brochure as saying: “I studied the traffic analysis. Measure T won’t reduce traffic,” and he’s identified as an FOSP board member.

The statement is misleading on several counts: It’s designed to make the reader think that the board member is speaking for the FOSP Board. In fact, he’s the ONLY FOSP board member to oppose Measure T.

Measure T is designed to slow commercial development in our over-developed city for 15 years, to slow the rate of traffic growth. We can’t develop our way out of traffic congestion.

In addition, the inside of the brochure lists a number of individuals who oppose Measure T. Please remember that Measure T was put on the ballot by more than 10,000 Santa Monica voters who acted because their pleas for a slowdown in development and traffic growth were being ignored.

Measure T supporters include Council members Kevin McKeown and Bobby Shriver, as well as current and former members of the Airport Commission, the Architectural Review Board, the Arts Commission, the Library Board, the Planning Commission, the Recreation and Parks Commission, the Rent Control Board, the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Committee, the Social Services Commission, the Virginia Avenue Park Advisory Board, Friends of 415 PCH, the Library Bond Committee, the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees, the Santa Monica College Citizen Bond Oversight Committee, the Save the Pier Committee, the Task Force on Workforce Housing, and the boards of all the active neighborhood organizations in Santa Monica.

Perhaps a decade from now, Santa Monica will have light rail or a subway to help ease the near-gridlock we have on our streets. Until then, it makes no sense to continue our current pace of development, which brings yet more traffic. No matter how expensive and colorful the “No on T” mailings are, 10,000-plus Santa Monica voters, and the Friends of Sunset Park board, urge your YES vote on Measure T.

Respectfully,

Zina Josephs

President, Friends of Sunset Park

* * * *

To the editor:

Santa Monica College used to be something that I thought was very good for theCity of Santa Monica. Unfortunately, this generally good feeling most of the residents have had has led the college leaders to an overblown ego where now the college is an out-of-control parasite that is eating away at the quality of life in Santa Monica. There are too many students clogging up our streets due to over-enrollment, and the college is continually picking our pockets with unnecessary bond issues. If the college was in such disrepair it wouldn’t be the largest community college in the area. The college has over $100 million of unspent money from the last bond measure and it is asking for more. This greed is unconscionable. Due to measures like Prop AA the taxes on my 1,100-square-foot home are now over $10,000 per year. This last year while property values have gone down, my assessment has increased nearly $1,200. I am all for giving these young adults a great education and we are currently doing that, but the college needs to be a responsible member of the community and not overburden the tax paying citizens. It is time for the college and its students to show some appreciation for the people that are paying for their education rather than act like the spoiled child that is never satisfied. Vote NO on Prop AA.

Sincerely,

Tim Maher

Santa Monica, CA

* * * *

As a special education teacher in Santa Monica Malibu School District, it has been very difficult during the last years of turmoil. I have noticed that not one teacher has stepped forward in the middle of this controversy, pain, and dysfunction to make a statement or give an opinion.

I am grateful that there is a movement calling for a change in the climate in special education in Santa Monica and that this call for change has come from the community and parents. So many times I have sat down and written letters to the newspaper, council members, the teacher’s union, etc. only to throw them away. To date I do not feel safe to voice an opinion, form true partnerships with parents, or create innovation that is fully supported at the school district level. I hope this new movement assists in forming true trusting relationships with parents, supportive district administrators, knowledgeable and empowered teachers, and a supportive community.

I think that the rebuilding of the special education community is one that requires a five-year plan. The following are some of the steps I would take to start:

* The first crucial step is to build back the trust between parents and the school district. A liaison should be assigned to communicate with parents who have many pressing concerns and questions. These questions are often directed to the teacher who has limited time. At times the parents feel put off and not important when a teacher cannot spend as much time as they need or would like. Special education teachers are time managers and deliver instruction. A liaison can field the questions and then research the answers or collaborate with teachers.

* Parents of special needs children need a place and resource to educate themselves regarding the disability of their child. Often this need is directed at the school site and the teachers. Teachers want to meet the needs of parents although many questions and nuances of a child’s disability are not easily answered. Parents become frustrated with the teacher’s lack of knowledge or experience. A parent resource center is much needed. This could be a place where new parents and more experienced parents could support each other. A resource library could be included and a catalogue of district programs could be made available. Workshops and seminars could be made available as well as input and participation of local support agencies. A section of be made available of latest research practices and research-tested practices. To step forward in the field of special education, this district could lead the way in supporting local researchers in the field of best practices in special education. This parent resource center could be a vehicle for parent support and groundbreaking work.

* Special education programs should be transparent and consistent throughout the school district. This could assist in assessing the need of the school district and providing services to the students they serve.

Let’s not forget the true heroes here are the students who day after day show up to face challenges. When I tire I of think of their relentless trudging and unbelievable sense of humor and it keeps me going.

I hope one day we can stand side by side to work for the common good of all our students in this district. I want to personally thank those City Councilmembers (Katz, Holbrook, Shriver, and Genser) and the special education parents who are fighting for our children. I am starting to have some hope for change.

Name Withheld By Request

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