Our Country is in crisis- on both the national and local level. In both instances, the populace is polarized and feels marginalized by politicians whose job it is to represent us and not their own best interests. This article does not attempt to resolve this disconnect, but rather shine a light on the hypocrisy, inequity and similarity between what is occurring – both nationally and in our City’s local politics. When one looks deeper into what is happening, the parallels are surprising and, revealing. A few of these “crossovers” are elaborated below:
Controlling political parties
Is there a difference between Russian collusion electing Trump and off-shore development money helping keep our city council in power? The Republican Party is now the party of Trump whose personal agenda supersedes what is best for our country as a whole. In a similar fashion, Santa Monica’s City Council and outside interests (e.g. SMRR and developers) have a disproportionate influence over City’s politics often at the expense of Santa Monica’s residents.
Our city’s budget deficit is growing as quickly as our nation’s deficit. Trump’s policies have increased the federal debt by $1.7 trillion with our annual deficits following suit. In similar fashion, Santa Monica’s expenses, and pension liabilities, are both growing at an unsustainable rate. Our City budget has increased 20%, and the pension liability 30% over the last three years. In both cases, our governments are spending money they don’t have, they are putting the financial future of our City, and its residents’ security at risk. But like tariffs, the city keeps delaying necessary controls.
Our Current City Council seems to be more interested in expensive “vanity projects” like the new City Hall annex rather than providing affordable housing and services for existing residents. These projects do little to enhance the character of the City or provide for the needs of the community. The most egregious example of this is the new City Hall Annex where the City will spend 300% more than required just to boast the latest in “green technology”. While admirable, the technologies employed do not serve as a viable example of what our City residents might find useful, affordable or allowable under current City codes. Another, example of wasted City funds are the new restrooms in Clover Park that will cost 400% more than a typical park facility. Also, the City recently paid $500K for purchase of a mural that was installed in a “staff only stairway” in City Hall that will be inaccessible to public view, and recently announced a $130 million refurbishing of Memorial Park which is 3 to 4 times what it should cost!
Misguided Housing Policies
One of the first official acts of Trump’s was his attempt to dismantle Obama’s FHA loan program providing home loans for low-income families. Meanwhile our City Council continues to permit the demolition of existing, more affordable housing in favor of market rate residences- often much larger and costlier while displacing low income residents. These events often cater to a temporary work force that is less likely to have a stake in our community.
While the current administration in Washington continues to support coal
and oil as our nation’s primary sources of energy, Santa Monica is promoting a more sustainable energy future but without a clear strategy, or the necessary regulations to protect those that comply. Despite having a climate budget of $800M, the City has yet to approve a solar ordinance and fails to provide necessary measures to protect those that follow the new law. As it stands, it’s possible that residents who comply will have no assurances that their solar panels will be protected from the shading of adjacent buildings in the future and hence rendered useless.
Meanwhile, under this Council, our wagon is hitched to tourism, but what’s the carbon footprint of 8.3 million visitors per year – 23,000 per day!!
“Open Space and the Protection of Our Natural Resources”
Under the Trump administration, Federal lands intended for preservation are allowed to be used by private enterprises and lost for the public’s use. Environmental regulations are being weakened and iconic landscapes lost.
One tends to be happier when in touch with nature, but in Santa Monica we are seeing more of our open space and skyline lost to large, out of scale projects wedged into our small City with the approval and blessing of our City leaders.
President Trump’s 2020 budget attempts to “pull the plug” on electric vehicle tax credits that currently gave electric car buyers up to a $7,500 refund on their federal taxes. He’s quoted as saying that “All-electric is not going to work” in reference to GM’s strategy to transition to more electric vehicles.
In Santa Monica, our civic leaders talk of supporting new, sustainable technologies but often fail to enact preemptive measures and policies which hasten their acceptance and viability. Like tariffs, the city keeps delaying the process. Unregulated electric scooters are just one example where lack of early controls has resulted in significant inconvenience for both pedestrians and drivers. The same lack of foresight with regulations for solar panels and water conservation could also result in unanticipated problems that slow their adoption and reduce their efficacy.
And while Trump is looking for money to build his border wall, our city council is busy approving more housing, but where’s the water? As they say, “the Path to Hell is paved with good intentions”, often due to lack of study and forethought.
Our national government can’t control immigration while locally our government can’t control scooters, bikes, Uber, and AirBnb. And what will happens when curbside chaos becomes exponential – delivery trucks, ride-hailing services, bikes, scooters, and autonomous vehicles will be added to the mix, along with city busses, pedestrians, garbage trucks, parked cars, bicycle racks and meters?!
“Transparency, Prestige & Power”
When Trump held recent “tete a tete” meetings with Russia’s Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jung, he did so without any press allowed at key meetings. This lack of transparency was worrisome given the danger that both leaders pose to our security. Recently our mayor visited Dubai for a conference of “influential leaders”. Our previous mayor took a similar trip to Paris for a worldwide conference on climate change. Although both trips were paid by City funds, the specifics of their visits, and the relation to our City’s environmental policies, remains a mystery. In fact, it might have been more productive, and less costly, for them to visit similarly sized cities in the United States that have already instituted conservation policies and regulations promoting their city’s transition to a future – one that could also serve as models for Santa Monica.
And more Transparency
The concealment of Trump’s tax returns from the public is an ongoing concern and one wonders what exactly he has to hide. And our own City Council also operates with opacity. Our council’s expenditures to date, in excess of $20m (!!!), to protect their power from district elections is also not shared or disclosed to the public who foots the bill. Should the City Council be allowed to strategize in private sessions regarding the inherent prejudice in our current electoral system? Should they be able to use in excess of 20 million dollars of City funds to protect their own interests at the expense of those who are currently without equal representation? In a true democracy, neither should be tolerated, nor supported, particularly at public expense. But a recently approved $8 million budget for outside public relations consultants keeps the spin going.
Appointments, Vacancies and Personalities
Trump claimed he would surround himself with “nothing but the best” while over 200 appointees are under indictment, fired, or resigned. While Trump has his Cohen, Santa Monica had its NMS (now WS Communities) and fills vacant council seats with backroom appointments!
In summary, is Washington the land of the free – or just the wealthy! Is Santa Monica still a residential beachfront community or just another urban downtown for tourists. Are we, the public, being treated as useful idiots – being ruled by incompetence both nationally and locally? Do Washington and Santa Monica hear public opinion or sway public opinion? A certain degree of humor surrounds these comparisons, but they are, unfortunately, not fake news. As a nation and a city, we need help!! Citizens of our nation and the residents of our city are being “trumped” !! We need to manage our success so we can retain our values.
Ron Goldman FAIA and Thane Roberts, Architect for SMa.r.t.
Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow
Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Daniel Jansenson Architect, Building and Fire Life-Safety Commission, Ron Goldman FAIA, Samuel Tolkin Architect
For previous articles see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writings.