There are scores of American cities in Santa Monica’s size class, and thousands and thousands worldwide. But I cannot think of another city, or even country, that periodically hits national, even international news, with quirky events the way our burg-by-the-bay does.
Sure, others take an occasional hit, like when the country of Norway tried to outlaw skateboards. But few, if any, other jurisdictions can compete for the routine ridicule that slaps as we seemingly careen from one high profile imbroglio to the next. Some capers have natural links, such as the octopus in a tank on the pier that recently disconnected a hose and flooded its aquarium. But most are self-inflicted. Remember the story of some homeowners who out-of-the-blue got a letter from City Hall threatening $25,000 A DAY fines if they didn’t trim their hedges? That story went worldwide. The city’s attempt to ban non-citizen mutts from its new dog park at Santa Monica Airport also generated media interest far beyond our borders. So too did our the city’s fervent attempts to prohibit fitness advocates from doing sit-ups on the public median on 4th Street. So too did the drawn out fight to zap ficus trees in downtown, a costly eco-opera that first and foremost begged the simple question: Why?
And now we have another doozie of a caper first reported in this column in April: “Who Tried to Kill the Electric Car?” In early December, electric car hobbyist Paul Pearson was “busted” in his rented garage on Pico for not having a SM business license and far more serious charges of violating some murky DMV regulations. Well, all charges were dropped on June 9th but it was something of a pyrrhic victory for Pearson, who made six court appearances and, according to him, ran up legal bills of about $5,500. (That would have bought a lot of juice from the grid for Pearson’s all electric daily driver of his own invention.) Pearson notes that the legal tab would have been far higher had not two attorneys, David Pissarra and Douglas Wicks, worked pro bono some or all of the time.
Additional facts have come to light in the curious case of Paul Pearson. The “bust” was set up by a DMV investigator who went undercover to try and do business. At that point, according to Pearson, his garage was swamped with the following contingent: FIVE SM police officers; FIVE SM firefighters; FOUR SM building inspectors; and, two DMV investigators. By my reckoning, it was a veritable first responder frenzy to take down a dude converting cars to washing machine motors, not nuclear isotopes.
Word of Pearson’s plight has gone global — even Japan called for an interview. Filmmaker Andrew Cappelletti has already released Govt vs. Green which details our city’s efforts to undo Pearson. (Get the spin doctors ready, City Hall, it just may get nominated for an Academy Award and down the tubes goes Santa Monica’s Green Goddess image for good!)
So what’s next on our incredible imbroglio menu? Could it be a recent mailing from City Hall to 30 so Santa Monica property owners — an out-of-the-blue billing of $1,600 for an “occupancy permit” for properties “Ellised” about TWO DECADES AGO. According to local barrister Tom Nitti who is representing some of the recipients, the billing is bogus for several reasons including the statute of limitations (duh) and it’s a new tax not approved by the voters as required by Proposition 218.
At least life in the burg-by-the-bay is not boring. Who knows what onerous bill or threat with the Seal of the City of Santa Monica will greet you out-of-the-blue in tomorrow’s mail. And if there is a knock on the garage door, put down your batteries and come out with your hands up! You’re surrounded!