S.M. Board Did Not Follow League Traditions
By Paul DeSantis
Why isn't the Board of Directors of the S.M. League of Women Voters
playing fair with Measure HH (VERITAS)? After reading the Board's Oct.
18th Opinion in the LookOut ("League
of Women Voters of Santa Monica Opposes Proposition HH"), it
is clear that the rush to express the preconceived notions of some of
the Board Members resulted in their shirking the League's traditions
of fairness and careful study. As a result, the S.M. organization's
pronouncements have been factually wrong and in conflict with State
and National League positions and basic American democratic practices.
Here are the facts:
The History of S.M. Government
In 1906, the Founders of Santa Monica first City Charter established
a democratic City government based upon the great principles enshrined
in the US Constitution. The ORIGINAL 1906 City Charter had checks and
balances: 1) the direct election of the Mayor, 2) the election of Council
members from within seven neighborhood districts, and 3) the Mayor's
power to veto, subject to override by the Council. The Board neglected
to point out that the ORIGINAL Santa Monica City Charter already contained
almost all of the Measure HH (VERITAS) reforms!
During WWII, the African American community grew substantially. Deed
restrictions prevented African Americans from owning property anywhere
except in the Pico Neighborhood, which prior to the S.M. Freeway, was
far larger in size and population and thus voting power. Shamefully,
in 1946 the voters, concerned about a power shift, enacted the current
anti-democratic, at-large system used in Dixie to keep African Americans
out of office. Due to the high cost and easy slate domination of at-large
elections, no one residing in the Pico Neighborhood has been elected
to the City Council in 56 years.
Long ago the Voting Rights Act helped eliminate at-large elections in
the Old South. Dixie now has democratic district elections. Isn't it
time for "progressive" Santa Monica to catch up with Dixie?
Some Term Limits Are Good
The Board tells us that: "The League opposes term limits."
ALL term limits? Does the Board oppose the 22nd Amendment to the US
Constitution, which in 1951 established a two-term limit on the President
of the United States? Does the Board oppose the two-term limit on the
Governor of California?
In fact, other Leagues sometimes support term limit proposals. In March
2002, the California League supported Prop 45, a liberalized term limit
proposal. Measure HH (VERITAS) is a liberalized term limit proposal:
after two consecutive 4-year terms, a politician must sit down one term
but after that, the politician may run again for the same office. Measure
HH (VERITAS) prevents lifetime office holders -- one of our Council
members will be on the Council for 14 consecutive years. It also allows
good officials to return. Surely, S.M. City Council members are not
more important than the Governor of California or the President of the
Multiple Related Components
The Board says it opposes Measure HH (VERITAS) because it has "multiple
components." Any system of checks and balances requires multiple
counterparts. The real test is not the number of components, it is whether
the components are functionally related. The California Supreme Court
states: "It is enough that the various provisions are reasonably
related to a common theme or purpose." In 1787, if the Founders
of our Nation used the formalistic test advocated by the Board, the
Founders would have turned down the Constitution of the United States
simply because it contained "multiple" components.
The Direct Election of the Mayor
Currently, S.M. government lacks checks and balances. The seven politicians
on City Council decide among themselves who will be Mayor. Measure HH
(VERITAS) will give the People the right to elect the Mayor. The National
League supports checks and balances and calls for the abolition of the
electoral college and the direct election of the President. Ironically,
the S.M. Board opposes the direct election of the S.M. Mayor.
Representative Government -- District Elections
The House of Representatives, the California legislature, Sacramento,
San Francisco, Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Diego and others use districts.
The Board erroneously states that districts are almost never used in
small cities. The majority of East Coast and Mid-West cities as small
as 10,000 people use districts. In California, the trend is towards
districts. Several cities similar or smaller in size than Santa Monica
use districts, including Berkeley, Pasadena, Redondo Beach and Watsonville.
The Powers of the Mayor
The Board's Super Mayor argument is nonsense. The Measure HH (VERITAS)
Mayor is NOT the chief executive. That power will continue to reside
in the City Manager. The HH Mayor will only function as the chief legislative
officer, not both the legislative and executive officer. This is the
same system used in Redondo Beach. The current Mayor's power as the
"presiding officer" is the same as the HH Mayor's power to
set agendas. And the Mayor's power to veto legislation is subject to
a five-vote override by the City Council.
Election by a Majority Vote
Measure HH (VERITAS) provides a primary every two years at the same
time that we go to the polls in the Spring for the California primary
for the Governor or the President. If a candidate receives a majority
vote (50 percent plus 1), he/she is elected. It is very difficult to
receive a majority vote in a primary due to the large number of candidates.
Therefore, in most cases there would be a run-off in the November general
election between the two candidates receiving the most votes. This will
give us more time to really get to know the two candidates and to have
more community involvement with the candidates.
It is surprising and very disappointing that the Board opposes HH's
primary. In the last twenty years, no S.M. official has been elected
by a majority vote, a record most other League Chapters would find unacceptable.
But not the Board. The Board opposes the primary because it would involve
an additional cost. Since the polls would be open anyway for the California
primaries, the cost would be minimal, perhaps $25,000 in a City budget
The Board's opposition to run-off elections contradicts the California
League's position to support systems that assure election by a majority
vote. No doubt if all elections in the US were eliminated there would
be a small savings -- and the loss of our democracy!
Don't Ask Questions About S.M.'s Bloated Budget???
The Board states that we should not ask politicians running for office
questions about our City's budget because it would be disruptive. We
disagree. The average California city spends approximately $800/person
to deliver services. Well-run cities like Redondo Beach and Long Beach
spend approximately $1,150. At the high end is liberal Berkeley at $2,200
per person. But Santa Monica makes even Berkeley look frugal. We spend
If S.M. operated at the efficient level of Redondo Beach and Long Beach,
we would have approximately an additional $200,000,000 per year. If
we operated at the level of more liberal Berkeley, we would have an
additional $100,000,000 per year. Since Council candidates currently
do not need to compete in a primary, they don't have to answer questions
during the months the budget is being formed. If politicians were required
to answer the voters' questions during the budget process, we suspect
S.M. could increase efficiency and save tens of millions of dollars
Paul DeSantis is a sponsor of the VERITAS and heads the Yes on Measure
HH (VERITAS) Committee
Where is the Board's Fairness?
The S.M. Board acted in the name of the entire S.M. League: 1) without
submitting the issue to its members, and 2) without allowing VERITAS
proponents an opportunity to speak. Please understand that League Chapters
do not take position on issues until they qualify for the ballot but
the S.M. Board, acting without membership approval, issued hastily drawn,
inaccurate press releases BEFORE the petition qualified for the ballot.
Had there been an open public process, perhaps the Board could have
avoided embarrassing itself with press releases, which contained gross
factual errors. For example, almost everyone familiar with election
laws knows that the residency requirement in California is 30 days.
That has been the law for 27 years, but the Board foolishly claimed
that VERITAS was changing the residency requirement form 2 years to
30 days. Surely, an open discussion would have prevented this and other
Responsible League Chapters
We are confident that in any other city, the local League of Women Voters
would have followed due process, carefully studied the issues -- especially
the need for elections by a majority vote -- and would have supported
bringing American democracy to their cities. In Santa Monica, however,
partisan politics rules everywhere, even within the S.M. League's Board