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Special Education and Plastic Bag Ban Stretches City Council Meeting Beyond Midnight:

More than 50 speakers participated in lengthy public hearings on two separate agenda items at the January 13 meeting of the Santa Monica City Council. The six-hour meeting wrapped up at 12:15 am.

The meeting kicked off with a moment of silence for the late Mayor Herb Katz and an appearance by Katz’s daughter, Dana Katz Wood, who thanked the council for their support of her father and their well-wishes at his recent funeral.

Scores of people showed up to give public input on the issue of $804,470 in funding for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD). In 2007, the city council voted to withhold that funding until the district could prove it was taking positive steps to resolve problems with its Special Education program. Since that time, SMMUSD hired Barber and Associates to review the Special Education program. After Barber and Associates made 27 recommendations to the school board to fix problems ranging from the process for developing Individual Education Plans (IEP) to staffing concerns, the district, under the leadership of Interim Superintendent Tim Cuneo, began working with the San Ramon School District which had experienced problems that were similar to those within SMMUSD.

In September, Cuneo hired the Claros Group to assist in the development of an action plan for dealing with Special Education issues. The board also worked with the SMMUSD PTA to create a Special Education parent network and a 16-member task force comprised of eight parents and eight staff members to review past reports and Special Education studies and recommend strategies to improve the quality of Special Education throughout SMMUSD.

More than 20 people, including parents, PTA members and members of the Special Education District Advisory Committee (SEDAC), spoke in favor of releasing the funds to SMMUSD, while a half dozen people said the funds should be withheld or partially withheld until more progress is made, reasoning that once the funding is made available, there will no longer be motivation to keep up with improvements.

After a two-and-a-half-hour period of public comment and questions from the City Council, they unanimously voted to release the funding to SMMUSD.

Following the SMMUSD item, about 15 people spoke in favor of a newly introduced ordinance to regulate smoking in common areas of multi-unit residential properties, while one person spoke in opposition to the regulations. The council directed staff to gather more information on the legal issues pertaining to the ordinance.

The introduction of an ordinance prohibiting retail establishments from providing single use plastic carryout bags and regulating the use of paper carry out bags in Santa Monica retail establishments drew more than two dozen students from Santa Monica High School. The students were unanimously in support of a ban on single use plastic bags, and they provided visuals that prompted laughter – student Melanie Delia covered herself in plastic bottle tops and student Andrew Brown was outfitted entirely in plastic bags. Representatives from Heal the Bay and the Surfrider Foundation were among the supporters of a ban on single-use bags, while one opponent voiced his opinion, saying he was a member of a web site group aiming to spread the word that using plastic bags manufactured locally is a better option for local businesses than using re-usable bags made by overseas corporations. The group has threatened to sue if the ban moves forward, a legal twist that prompted the council to postpone the first reading of the ordinance to ensure it will stand up to litigation. All councilmembers voiced support for a single-use bag ban, but they collectively said they want to ensure the ban will stand up to legal challenges.

A recommendation to authorize the City Manager to terminate the fire dispatch agreement with the City of Los Angeles and reactivate the Fire Dispatch Center in the Public Safety Facility with Santa Monica Fire Department Dispatchers was unanimously supported by the council. Several members of the Santa Monica Fire Department stayed at the meeting into the wee hours.

The next council meeting will be held on January 27.

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