August 3, 2021 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

SMart Column: A Better Ship of State

On Tuesday, December 8th, shortly after 5:30 PM, Oscar de la Torre, Christine Parra, and I will be among the Council Members sworn in to make decisions on your behalf as we try to right the SS Santa Monica. We are all on this voyage together. Together, you’re the captains, and Oscar, Christine, and I are among the sailors, hoping to make the rigging stronger and the boat more resilient. Above all, we want our ship to stop taking on water. We need to act with the utmost urgency as we bring residents back to the seat of power in the City of Santa Monica.

For those of you who followed my campaign, you know that I talked a lot about restoring a real sense of community, using all residents to form a new quilt from the thread and the fabric that make up our city. The first step must be to respect our neighborhood associations and involve them in the decisions the City Council makes. Our city’s Boards and Commissions form the next layer of advice, counsel, and the development of fresh ideas to help the city’s administrative staff and City Council implement plans that will serve our residents. Above all, the members of the City Council must reflect the will of our city’s residents. At the end of this hard-fought campaign, I stated that “our residents now have a seat at the table.” I mean this. 

The residents of Santa Monica and our business community know that our streets, alleys, and parks must be safe and clean. It doesn’t matter where you live in Santa Monica – you should have a reasonable expectation of safety for you, your loved ones, and your personal property. Residents, public safety personnel, and all City Council members must work together to achieve this. Our statistics have been ugly. I promise you that I will work with other City Council members and our entire community to improve these statistics. By the way, they are not just statistics. They reflect the lives of your neighbors, friends, and families affected by crime and the extreme impact of homelessness on our city.

Santa Monica’s rebirth will take time, but we do have the opportunity to create a better Santa Monica. We will need your creative input and your passion to “build back better.” All of our community’s stakeholders need to join together and share a seat at the table. As my fellow council member, Oscar de la Torre, often says, “If you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu .”

I’m honored that more of you voted for me than any other candidate, and I’m incredibly proud that you also voted for Oscar and Christine to join me on the dais. We hope to retain the trust you have shown in us.

It’s a holiday season like no other. COVID-19 is rampaging through our population. While vaccines are on the way, they won’t arrive in bulk until 2021. It is incumbent on each of us to wear a mask to keep ALL of us safe. I’ll miss visiting with my relatives on my Christmas Day birthday, but the best present for all will be to keep each of us as safe as possible during this historic pandemic. 

Former California State Senator Richard Polanco weighed in this week on the ongoing voting rights lawsuit in Santa Monica. I think it is useful to read the California Voting Rights Act author’s words today:

“Nearly twenty years ago, I introduced Senate Bill 976, which later became known as the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), because I recognized how at-large elections stifle minority voices in municipal government. Supported by nearly all of my Democratic colleagues in the Assembly and Senate, the CVRA became law in 2002, and today it is among my proudest legislative accomplishments.

I have watched with pride as hundreds of cities, school districts, and other political subdivisions have adopted district-based elections to comply with the CVRA. Since the CVRA was enacted, minority representation on California’s city councils and school boards has nearly doubled. Recent academic studies confirm much of that increase is due to the CVRA. In my 12 years as Chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus, its ranks grew from 7 to 24 members, and no doubt the increased minority representation in municipal elected offices due to the CVRA will continue the growth of minorities in statewide and legislative offices as well.

I have also watched with bewilderment as the City of Santa Monica has paid millions of dollars to a Republican law firm to attack the CVRA and the voting rights of minorities in California. While claiming to be a “famously liberal city,” the City has taken the most reactionary positions in fighting against the voting rights of its residents and minorities throughout California. If the City were to somehow win the case, it would set back Californians’ voting rights by decades.

That is, no doubt, the reason why an army of Democratic elected officials and civil rights groups expressed their support for the plaintiffs in letters to the California Supreme Court, including:

• Secretary of State Alex Padilla A coalition of 18 members of the 2002 California Legislature that passed the CVRA, including three current members of Congress (Judy Chu, Lou Correa and Tony Cardenas);

• The Latino, Black and Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucuses representing 49 current members of the California Legislature;


• Southwest Voter Registration Education Project;

• Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California;

• Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights;

• California Association of Black School Educators;

• California Latino School Board Association;

• Latino Caucus of the California Association of Counties;

• FairVote; andAsian Americans Advancing Justice.

Other progressive groups, such as the California Democratic Party, the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and the NAACP have likewise expressed their support for district-based elections to replace the inherently discriminatory at-large elections imposed in Santa Monica. In fact, the late Chairman of the African American Caucus of the California Democratic Party penned an op-ed in 2017 imploring Santa Monica to adopt district-based elections.

Despite all of that, opponents of fair district-based elections in Santa Monica – mainly some of the at-large elected councilmembers themselves – insist that district elections would make the resulting council more divisive. But what could be more divisive than a five-years-long court battle about whether the City’s election system is racially discriminatory? The fear of a divisive city council is not based in reality. The cities that have adopted district-based elections, even those forced to do so by the courts, have uniformly come to recognize that district elections make for a more responsive and responsible city government. Just ask the councilmembers in Palmdale or Watsonville –- both cities forced to implement district-based elections after losing lengthy court battles -– or the councilmembers in Pasadena, who adopted district elections in response to a movement led by former Santa Monica city manager Rick Cole. They will all tell you that the district elections they once fought against, are more diverse, more representative and so much better than the at-large elections they clung to.

In this November’s election, Santa Monica voters selected three new councilmembers who campaigned on, among other things, their support for district elections, and unseated three incumbents who professed their continuing opposition to fair district-based elections. That outcome is remarkable in that incumbents had almost never lost their bids for re-election in Santa Monica; but it was predictable in light of the growing anti-incumbent sentiment fostered by a disconnect between the city council and the residents’ wishes. At trial, the Los Angeles Superior Court was presented with a survey that demonstrated Santa Monica voters, by a margin of more than 2 to 1, favored district elections over at-large elections; still, the then-city council members were steadfast in their opposite position and in their desire to keep fighting what Santa Monica voters prefer: district elections.

With its new composition, the Santa Monica City Council has an opportunity to now put the mistakes of its predecessors behind it, end the divisiveness of a five-year legal battle that is now pending before the California Supreme Court, and put itself back on the right side of history. Ultimately, the members of the City Council will be known not for how much affordable housing they facilitated or the environmentally-friendly city buildings they commissioned, but whether they stood in the proverbial schoolhouse door by opposing minority voting rights.

Hon. Senator Richard Polanco (Ret.)

Chair, Latino Legislative Caucus 1990-2002

Senate Majority Leader 1998-2002

State Senate, 22nd District, 1994-2002

State Assembly, 55th/45th Districts, 1986-1994”

By Phil Brock for SMart (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow) 

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 City Council Member Elect, Marc L. Verville, CPA (inactive)

For previous articles see 

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