In a week the City Council will appoint a new Council person to replace the retired council member Greg Moreno. That nominee will fill Greg’s vacancy till November 3rd, 2020 when the seat will be up in the general election which features five vacancies (Hara, Davis, O Day, Winterer, Morena). Because of the large number of City Council vacancies, five out of seven, and because this is a presidential election with a large turnout expected, this could be an historic City election with many candidates vying for the open seats.
In all elections incumbents have a disproportionate advantage. This has been proven historically over and over again in Santa Monica. Thus, the person the Council selects to replace Morena, will be listed as an “appointed incumbent” on the November 3rd ballot giving them a substantial advantage in this crowded field. Therefore, it’s imperative the City Council appoint the best possible candidate to fill that slot, because it is likely they will be with us for the next few election cycles.
What challenges will that person face?
First. Our City is in the ICU both from the virus itself and from its economic fallout with the added burden of the massive looting of May 31st. Thus, the new candidate, along with the entire City Council, will need to rapidly stabilize the patient and plan its recovery which may take years. This will not be easy given the required staff, services and project cuts and the need to steward the limited City income and reserves for where they optimize recovery leverage.
Second. Our new candidate needs to attend to all the preexisting conditions the patient was experiencing before the virus hit. Among others is the end of retail as we know it, the fall of office space demand, the collapsing sustainability goals (lack of sufficient water, trash recycling, energy generation etc.), the snail like mobility progress, the inability to create sufficient affordable housing with the corresponding explosion in homelessness, the crime increase, the tourism decline, the City pension underfunding, and the fading school population with its attendant achievement gaps. These problems are all still here and getting worse. They are not going away and will continue to erode our already fragile City.
Third. Our new candidate will be leading a demoralized City. Its residents (owners and tenants) are mourning Corona Virus victims, are desperately trying to keep their families safe and avoid eviction and or bankruptcy, are frantically home schooling their children, are working at home and trying to keep their seniors safe, are fatigued by the clown show in Washington, are furious at the City’s massive failure to protect businesses and individuals at the May 31st looting and finally are starting to understand that even in a relatively wealthy City, the noose is tightening for everyone except the 1percent. Our citizens cannot realistically see how their lives will be better tomorrow?
So with over 117 residents signing up to be appointed to take on such momentous challenges, what should the City Council look for in a candidate?
First of all in managing the recovery of our fragile City, the candidate needs to have an intimate working knowledge of how the City government functions. This can only come from extensive public involvement or service on Boards, Commissions, Task forces and Civic organizations. While every Council person learns incredible amounts on the job, the most experienced will be the most productive the fastest.
Since the City government is always under pressure from special interests, the candidate must understand the role played by, for example, such groups among others as the neighborhood associations, the police, firemen and hotel workers unions, Santa Monica College, the hospitals, the Unified School District, the Coastal Commission, the Conservancy, the Daily Press, Forward, Spoke, Kiwanis and its kin, CCSM, SMCC, SMRR, SMCLC, DTSM and the entire alphabet soup of such organizations. They all have a role to play in the City and try to drive policy and funding to their own member’s benefit, so the candidate needs to have substantial experience understanding of how they influence the City.
In spite of all these special interests, the candidate must be credibly resident centric. This means selecting policies, funding and appointments that directly benefit both renters (over 70% of the City many of whom need eviction protection) and owners. Their ability and interest in doing this will be signaled by the projects and activities they have worked on in the past.
The candidate must also know and not be afraid of what is necessary to create a sustainable resilient city. The Santa Monica children born today will, in their lifetimes, face a City without beaches because of sea level rise with regular temperature spikes over 95 degrees plus the normal 25 year drumbeat of major earthquakes. Our City was making piece meal sustainability progress to date, but this new Council will need to provide real sustainability leadership as the climate change vise continues to increasingly tighten.
Finally the candidate must be optimistically flexible to encourage a demoralized angry citizenry. We are very far from our from the motto on the City seal: “A happy populace in a happy city”. We are a traumatized City with PTSD needing hope from a candidate that has the flexibility to try new policies and initiatives so our City can go beyond just back to “normal” which was failing, but to actually being better than the previous normal.
The good news is that over 117 residents have applied for this challenging job. They should all be applauded for their willingness to serve. Its now up to the City Council to select the best one.
By Dan Jansenson for Smart Santa Monica Architects for a sustainable Tomorrow (SMart)
Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Architect, Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner, Phil Brock, Santa Monica Arts Commission
For previous articles see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing