2009 is our year to get more serious about preserving existing, occupied affordable housing in Santa Monica. In tough times, we can work together to make sure more of our neighbors don’t suffer eviction.
Let’s make sure the new Land Use and Circulation Element, likely to be adopted this year, includes meaningful protection for the stable, long-term Santa Monica renters who depend on existing apartments.
While LUCE reshapes a selected six percent of the cityscape, our residential neighborhoods remain at risk. Developers could continue to profit by demolishing apartments in residential neighborhoods to build oversize luxury condos.
That’s why I’ve already made the proposal that we reduce the allowable massing of new market-rate multi-family housing in existing neighborhoods.
I first brought that up at a Council meeting last spring, and reiterated it in July. As we begin 2009, I bring it up again.
Less massing means better neighborhood compatibility, and less overshadowing of existing housing by huge new condos. New units are likely to be smaller in square footage for more affordable and sustainable living. Sensible sizing could also reduce the economic incentive to demolish existing affordable housing.
Current economic woes may slow demolitions and development in the short term, but let’s remember that the new LUCE is a 20-year plan. This is our chance to protect our neighbors, our neighborhoods, and the city we love.
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CALA Commentary on New ADA Reform Law
When Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, the intent was to ensure that disabled Americans would be able to access public buildings and be treated fairly in the workplace. Lawmakers surely did not anticipate the unintended consequences of their good intentions.
The ADA’s purpose was for businesses to make “reasonable modifications” to ensure access, not to create a cottage industry for personal injury lawyers to abuse the law and exploit regulatory technicalities for their own financial gain.
In the past several years a small group of unscrupulous serial plaintiffs have wreaked havoc on small businesses across California, filing thousands of lawsuits for alleged ADA violations.
The reason California has been such a lucrative state to file ADA lawsuits is because it is one of the most generous states in the country when it comes to fines. The federal ADA only allows private lawsuits to seek compliance with accessibility standards. However, California law allows a plaintiff to ask for up to $4,000 in damagers for each alleged ADA violation no matter how minor and even if it did not deter access in any way – for example, a sign being the wrong color or a ramp elevation grade a percent too steep. In addition to that fine, businesses can also be sued for thousands of dollars for each day the violations are not remedied.
Serial ADA plaintiffs are gaming the system to extract a quick cash settlement to “go away,” earning the reputation of filing so-called “shakedown” lawsuits. Many business owners say these types of plaintiffs sue numerous businesses in an area at one time, use nearly identical language in each lawsuit and always demand a quick cash settlement without a requirement that any alleged violations are fixed. Since most small businesses can ill afford the exorbitant cost of fighting any lawsuit, regardless of merit, they opt to pay a settlement.
Some 18 years after the original act was passed, less than three percent of California businesses are ADA compliant. Business owners claim it has been very difficult for them to comply given conflicting state and federal standards, voluminous and changing legal requirements over the years, a lack of ADA training for building inspectors and architects, and inconsistent interpretations of damage provisions.
For years the business and disabled communities have been at an impasse on the best way to increase access while reducing what many business owners refer to as “legalized extortion.” The two sides have finally come together with a comprehensive ADA reform measure in the form of Senate Bill 1608, which received unanimous support in both houses of the state legislature and goes into effect January 1.
One of the most important provisions in the new law is a stipulation that a plaintiff may recover damages only for a violation they personally encountered or that deterred access on a particular occasion, rather than for alleged violations that may exist but did not cause a denial of access. Other key provisions include:
A requirement that all inspections relating to permitting, plan checks or new construction in privately-owned buildings be conducted by a building inspector who has gone through the State Architect certification training program and is a Certified Access Specialist (CASp).
Incentivising building owners to use state-certified access specialists to ensure compliance.
A temporary stay of litigation and a streamlined court procedure for businesses that have utilized a CASp but are still sued.
A new state disability commission which will be tasked with evaluating and providing recommendations on further disability issues having an impact on the disability community and business.
These reforms will help achieve the true intent and spirit of the state and federal ADA laws. It does not take away the right of any person to sue if they are denied access or encounter a genuine violation. It does clarify the laws and creates less opportunity for abusive, shakedown lawsuits.
With the current state of our economy, these reforms could not come at a more opportune time for small businesses struggling just to keep their doors open.
Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse
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For the past few weeks I have been musing about our city’s mayor-election system, which amounts to a popularity contest among city council members who seem to use their voting power to reward or punish their colleagues. Trading personal favors can be, of course, a political practice of office-holders using “good old boy” criteria.
Still, it is possible to take a loftier perspective. As a 40-year resident of Santa Monica I have appreciated the attitude of past council groups who, in electing our mayor, have followed a collegial rotation schedule rather than continually handing the title back and forth among a favored few. Those councils considered a candidate’s contributions to the city as a whole, measured by his/her seniority and vote-gathering history.
In voting for mayor last month, our city council by-passed a worthy candidate, Kevin McKeown, whose responsiveness I have appreciated as a citizen. He answers his emails, attends community gatherings (such as the League of Women Voters) and openly discusses the decisions he makes, which impresses even when one disagrees on a particular issue.
He was the top vote-getter in the 2006 election. He is halfway through his third term but has yet to be elected mayor. Why are so many of our Councilmembers willing to dismiss the voice of the voters and withhold the mayor’s seat from a long-serving top vote-getter?
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Carlos Mencia’s self-deprecating racism is not funny.
Ironically, the PTA of the most Mexican school in Santa Monica – Edison Language Academy – is inviting to a fundraiser a Latino comic who has become rich and famous by putting down Mexicans in front of predominantly white audiences. It is clearly hypocritical to raise funds for a bilingual education program by having Carlos Mencia at Barnum Hall this Sunday using the racist epithets (b*, w*b*, etc.) he is known to utilize in his comedy. For this reason, members of the Association of Mexican American Educators (AMAE) have decided to protest the comic.
After 1847 when racial epithets against Mexicans originated and flourished, the number of Mexicans lynched matched the number of blacks lynched in the South. Lynching and psychological terrorism was also a Mexican legacy. In more modern periods, these slurs lose the original etymological context but retain the rancor of discrimination. Another problem is that Chicano/Latino youth, feeling alienated in schools and the curriculum, sometimes participate in using these words against themselves.
While his “Mind of Mencia” is widely watched, so was Sarah Palin. Mencia has made millions making a predominantly white male comedy audience comfortable with their racism. One Chicano pointed out to me that whereas George Lopez makes fun of Latinos he also uplifts Latinos; Mencia almost entirely relies on put-downs of Mexicans. Although he is half-Mexican, half-Honduran, he has an issue with positive Chicano identity.
As a contemporary of Mencia, I recall in high school during the conservative 1980s, my friends calling each other “b**.” Their identity was influenced by Rambo, Robocop and Reagan. I was influenced by my older brother in college who had joined MEChA, the Chicano activist group. In my first year in college a sorority girl called me this slur from a second story window; this led to the sorority’s windows being broken various times during that year (as a young man, my friends and I were not into writing letters to the editor).
Some are comparing Mencia’s use of the slur to Black youth’s appropriation of the n** word. Black and Chicano histories share experiences but are distinct. The n** word has a different meaning when used “in-house,” and even this use is controversial within the Black community. Mencia can take a cue, however, from the pioneering career of Richard Pryor. Like Malcolm X and Mohammed Ali before him, after taking a trip to Africa in the 70’s, Pryor experienced a transformative sense of African history and pride, and dropped the use of the n** word from his act. This was a political decision and gesture that requires learning, reflection and action.
Mencia needs to read some history and see his responsibility to his Latino audience. While AMAE does not want to undermine fundraising for the most Latino (63 percent) and lowest-funded elementary school in Santa Monica, we also refuse to condone racism. Edison’s principal and PTA should’ve been more thoughtful. Maybe Mencia will cut out his anti-Mexican slurs in Santa Monica, or entirely. Maybe we’ll all stop laughing at racism. Maybe the school district will fund all schools equally and champion a culturally relevant curriculum. But that is not my decision.
The role of AMAE is to advocate for Latino students, teachers and community, and to participate in dialogue about public policy. For those who disagree, we can continue the discussion outside Barnum Hall on Sunday.
Elias Serna, President-elect
Association of Mexican American Educators
Santa Monica – West Los Angeles Chapter
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“Buy a Toaster, Get a Bank.”
That was a sad joke that a friend of mine sent to me a few days ago.
Remember when the advertisement was “Open an account at our bank and receive a free toaster” ???
My friend’s joke was a comment on how the World is all screwed up. Now Banks, which we blithely trust to hold our money safely, have to be RESCUED by us, the Taxpayers who are also Depositors.
But there is a deeper meaning in the joke above.
The deeper assumption is that Consumers can Buy Their Way Out Of This Crisis. The false idea is that all we need do is keep spending and all will be well.
Well folks, I am here to tell you that this is the poison, called Keynesian Economics, that you have been fed for about 70 years. It is now clear that you cannot dig your self out of a hole by trying to dig DEEPER.
And, by golly, it did work for a while, as any Ponzi Scheme will; that is, until the tide goes out and reveals who has been swimming naked.
Why is it that Money is:
a) the thing that most of us worry about the most, and,
b) is the thing that you understand and were educated in school about the LEAST?
Why is it that we do not teach to our kids the comparative schools of economic thought: Austrian, Keynesian, and Monetarist – in depth or even at all?
Why do otherwise educated people say “I really do not understand Economics.”
I would submit to you all that we have better offerings in “Drivers Education” than in understanding the much more important topic of What is Money and How it Works.
Now is the time for all of us to learn what we should have in High School. Do not fear this; it is NOT rocket science. You can readily understand the key concepts by doing two things:
1) Go to your local library and read Whatever Happened to Penny Candy by Maybury. This will teach you why we live with inflation and why we do not need to.
2) Go to mises.org and start your own self-education process by reading the Bailout Reader Series at mises.org/story/3128 , all of which is free.