John C. Smith, candidate for City Council, emailed me yesterday that SMURF, Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future had sent out a mailer that said “Mid-City neighbors support” their candidates. The Transparency Group had already caught this developer PAC blue-handed when financial disclosure statements first went public. As an Independent Expenditure Committee, SMURF has the right to speak for candidates without letting candidates speak for themselves. Now, it seems, they are speaking for the residents, as well.
Even Blue Meanies have a Name
These Blue Meanies United for a Responsible Future hope to make the City Council responsible to them in when voting on their development projects in the future. These investors–MNS Properties, Inc., currently the biggest housing developer in our town; Robert's Business Park, whose project in the Creative Mixed-Use District in the Mid-City area near the Expo; Chicago-based Century West Partners, LLC, building two apartment complexes in the downtown area; Hines 26th Street, LLC, proposing to build a colossal “village” next to the expo station; BCP – 525 Colorado, LLC; Los Angeles-based Ideal Properties, LLC; and Ocean Avenue, LLC, proposing the new Miramar we have heard so much about–have raised $400,000 to pour in to their campaign to shape Santa Monica's future. This is $100,000 more than any other group has raised. And, while it is nowhere near the $2 billion raised for the national races, it is emblematic of the kind of money floating around this country, which some would claim is on the verge of an economic collapse. All of this suggests that the moneyed interests in this country have been holding off investing in America's, and Santa Monica's, future until the right government is in place that will allow them to maximize their profits at the expense of those they are pretending to benefit.
Deep History is Deep
Gleam Davis, in particular, has complained about such deceptive practices even though, it would seem, she has benefited from them. In the last election, she paid to have her name included on a fancy “Democratic Voters' Guide” put out by a group calling themselves “Santa Monicans for Quality Government.” It turned out that she had become involved in a scam designed to defeat resident-friendly candidate Ted Winterer, who now serves on the Planning Commission and is considered the top-runner for a City Council seat in the present election. It turned out that the “Democratic Voters' Guide” had nothing to do with the Democratic Party and everything to do with getting people to vote for Bob Holbrook, who SMQG funders believed to be more development-friendly than Ted Winterer, who 2 years before had led the fight for Proposition T to limit the size of new developments. Terry O'Day, who headed the fund-raising effort to defeat Proposition T, was another candidate supported by SMQG, though he never paid, as Gleam had done, to be listed on their slate. Also not asking to be listed was Kevin McKeown, well-respected by many in neighborhood associations for fighting development. His inclusion was essential. That plus its being a “Democratic Voters' Guide,” excluding Ted Winterer and putting Bob Holbrook in his place fooled enough voters so that Bob Holbrook beat out Ted Winterer by less than 40 votes. Gleam and Terry, in the meantime, have faced accusations that their votes on City Council have been bought by developers.
History repeats Itself
This year, the deceptive advertising is coming from Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future, and Ted Winterer is included in their selection, just as Kevin McKeown was included in the SMQG brochure. Many believe Ted has been included to make Gleam Davis, Terry O'Day, and Shari Davis look like slow-growth advocates. Meanwhile, Kevin McKeown has written to neighborhood leaders that he fears this might backfire and make Ted look like someone who has sold himself to developers.
Damned if you Do! Damned if you Don't!
Shari Davis addressed the dilemma candidates face, when she was asked in a resident forum whether she had accepted funds from developers: “Of course, I have accepted funds from developers. How else could I afford to send mailers to the 75,000 voters in Santa Monica? Each mailing costs $20,000. No one here has that money, but that's what it takes to win an election.” Though she, Gleam, Terry, and Ted have told audiences that they cannot refuse these funds or SMURF's endorsement, they know that voters are likely to assume that developers expect them to vote their way. Ever since the Supreme Court ruled that money equals free speech and that corporations are regarded as persons, the political process has become more compromised.
Thinking inside the Cage
This has caused those opposing runaway development to be cagey in choosing which candidates to support. That is why, though 4 seats are open, the Santa Monican Coalition for a Livable City and Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth, both opted to endorse only two candidates, Ted Winterer and Richard McKinnon, hoping that Richard might be identified with his slow-growth Planning Commissioner colleague and ride in on Ted's coattails. But, they might have been more successful had they selected four slow-growth candidates who clearly offered an alternative to rapid growth. This might have given neighborhood associations a solid front to stand behind. But, as it is, with Ted Winterer being supported by both sides, Richard is in danger of getting lost in the shuffle.
Power of the Press
Meanwhile, slow-growth candidates, who were ignored by SNCLC and SMRG, have been getting attention from the press. Peggy Clifford of the Santa Monica Dispatch wrote a long article on the subject of development in our city and concluded her piece by endorsing four candidates: Bob Seldon, who helped found Northeast Neighbors, worked for Proposition T, and is regarded by many in neighborhood associations to be at one with them; John C. Smith, an award-winning Los Angeles television news producer teaching at Santa Monica College, who has decided to take an active role in creating good news about our city rather than producing shows about the bad news that comes with out of control development; the other two were Ted Winterer and Richard McKinnon.
What's most likely to Persuade Voters?
Bill Bauer, writing a weekly column in the Santa Monica Daily Press, has also endorsed Bob Seldon and John C. Smith along with Ted Winterer as candidates who have proved themselves worthy of the office they are running for. But the question with both of these endorsements from Bill Bauer and Peggy Clifford is “How many people read their columns and might be influenced by their endorsements?” Are voters more likely to be persuaded by the deceptive mailers they have been receiving? Or are they more persuaded by all the traffic on their streets and what they perceive as being a diminishing quality of life for themselves, the elderly, and others who have been increasingly marginalized by development?
Profits without Value
I don't know, but those mailers sure look impressive! Going back to the national election, don't we associate business with change? Developers change a city. But does change and investment create economic growth? Creating low-paying jobs for non-union workers who lack benefits might create greater burdens for society while creating greater profits for business. Funding charter schools with fewer regulations and less accountability may be profitable for investors, but what benefit is derived if the children learn less than those in public schools that have lost funds because of lower enrollment?
What's Wrong with this Picture?
But, let's bring this back to developers. I looked at the brochure that claimed “Mid-City neighobors support” the SMURF-supported candidates because we share the same priorities. I read that they were “Creating parks for families and dogs.” But we don't have these parks in my area, even though Santa Monica Mid City Neighbors has tried to get the City to create them. I read that their candidates are “Increasing parking options and reducing traffic.” But I know that the parking option two of their candidates voted for was to allow Saint John's Health Center to back out of their agreement to build an on-site parking lot so they might, instead, have valets driving these cars to surface parking lots around the city, increasing traffic in one of the most gridlocked areas of Santa Monica. Then, I read that they are “Making the right choices to manage development,” with a picture above that caption showing one of the most unattractive developments in our city. If I were Terry O'Day, Gleam Davis, Shari Davis, or Ted Winterer, I would be nervous having my name and picture on such a document. But they have no choice. And, for them, it may work out to their advantage.
Neighborhood Interests vs Developer Interests
But I see little advantage for the leaders from the various Santa Monica Neighborhood Associations, who have worked for years to integrate developments into a workable design, allowing for open space, sufficient parking, less traffic, and more vibrant cultural and commercial options for people to enjoy. Ocean Park Association, the Pico Neighborhood Association, Wilmont, Northeast Neighbors, the Friends of Sunset Park, and the North of Montana Association have worked hard to get City Planners to become more resident-oriented in their thinking. But, instead, we have seen projects precede design, with buildings plopped into our community that serve their own clients to the exclusion of residents living nearby. These projects fail to maximize the value of the land they occupy. And, when we favor developers by not requiring them to provide adequate parking, we allow them to increase traffic that impedes culture and commerce.
Below the Bottom Line
Let's be honest. Developers are interested in building projects, turning it over to managers, and moving on to their next development. They are not job-creators. They are not innovators. And they have no lasting stake in the communities that approve their projects. They are not interested in maximizing the value of the land they develop. They are interested in maximizing profits. This is understandable. What isn't acceptable is their greed and the deceit that goes with it.
When Money Talks, Do People have to Listen?
The Supreme Court in allowing Corporations to be regarded as Persons and giving allowing Money to be regarded as Free Speech, they have allowed corporations to impersonate people and to empower these impersonations with enough money to shout down everyone else's free speech. What the Supreme Court did not have the power to do was to make them into human beings. That is the real contest being fought in this election. Will human beings be able to win fighting against corporate giants?
Humiliation makes Equals of us All
I hope that readers of this piece will think that my purpose is to support certain candidates and to question the sincerity of others. I have been observing all of the candidates for City Council since the race began. I like them all for different reasons. I see their strengths and their weaknesses. They are human beings just like the rest of us. What I am attacking are those developers who would steal their identities and those of neighborhood leaders, who have worked hard to improve our city. These developers have leveled the playing field by making victims of us all.
May the Odds be Ever in Your Favor!
This contest for public office looks ever more like the Hunger Games, where all contestants are under the control of forces beyond their own control. In my next piece, I will be writing about each of the candidates as they might appear in The Hunger Games. In the meantime, may the odds be ever in your favor.