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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 US.

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 of $340,000,000.

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 $3,800/person!

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 every year.

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 factual blunders.

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 of Directors.

Paul DeSantis is a sponsor of the VERITAS and heads the Yes on Measure HH (VERITAS) Committee

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