The LookOut news

Police, Fire Unions Send Controversial Flyer, Again

By Jorge Casuso

Oct. 27 -- Proponents of a measure to restrict historic districts are up in arms over a flyer from the city's public safety unions that uses their popular measure, which is not on the November ballot, to urge voters to oppose an initiative next month that would carve out election districts.

Sent to Santa Monica voters this weekend by the police and firefighters unions, the glossy color flyer touting City Council candidates comes just days after a similar mailer was sent to Santa Monica voters by the two unions that equated the election districts under measure HH (VERITAS) with historic districts.

"It's just a lie. It's an absolute lie," said Tom Larmore, who authored the homeowners' measure. "It's just a sleazy campaign tactic. To send out a piece that lies to Santa Monica voters is just outrageous, especially coming from a police officer.

"It's very clear the police union is just trying to confuse people and make them think that HH would create historic districts, and it just might work," Larmore said. "This is just the sleaziest campaign tactic you can imagine. They're using the popularity of the (homeowners') campaign to defeat VERITAS."

In a section endorsing other races besides council, the flyer urges voters to vote "NO" on Prop HH, which among other things would carve out seven election districts, set term limits and elect a mayor at large with veto powers. Under the vote "NO" on HH endorsement are the words "No Historic Districts."

The reference is to the "Freedom of Choice Initiative," which would require an owner's permission before the City can designate a single family home as a landmark or include it in a historic district. The initiative qualified earlier this month for a special election next Spring with nearly 10,000 signatures.

The flyer comes days after the police and firefighters unions sent the same message in a mailer urging voters to back incumbents Kevin McKeown and Pam O'Connor and challenger Matteo Dinolfo and to oppose election districts by saying "No to Historic Districts."

In that flyer, distributed citywide, the unions wrote: "People are trying to limit your voice in your own City government. Would you like it if you asked a Police Officer for help and he told you he couldn't because of what district you lived in? Say NO on 'HH'. Don't let special interest money ever prevent your voice from being heard. No to Historic Districts."

Police Union President Shane Talbot could not be reached on the weekend to comment on the latest flyer. But he told The Lookout last week that the mistake on the initial flyer was an honest one and that he was unaware that there was a special election concerning historic districts.

As a result, he assumed the lawn signs across the city that said "No historic districts" referred to the districting measure on the November ballot. "Unbeknownst to me there was this special election," said Talbot. "I saw these signs (that said), No Historic Districts."

Councilman Robert Holbrook, who backs both measures, said he doesn't buy Talbot's excuse.

"I think what they're doing is deliberate and I think it's sad," Holbrook said. "I didn't think they could go lower (after the first mailer), but they just lowered the bar."

Proponents of VERITAS said they were shocked by the first mailer, which seemed to be threatening voters with less police protection if VERITAS is approved.

"I think it was a totally unethical and irresponsible thing to do," said Irene Zivi, one of the sponsors of VERITAS. "To make a mistake like this, even if unintended, is pretty damaging.

"I don't see why the police and fire unions with a majority who don't live here are trying to tell the citizens of Santa Monica what kind of electoral system they should have," Zivi said.

Talbot said that the mailer was only drawing "a correlation" between a hypothetical situation where an officer may be unable to act and the way a council member would respond under VERITAS. "It's ludicrous to believe the police department would not respond," he said.

VERITAS, Talbot added, is a "public safety issue" and the unions' biggest concerns are the term limits and mayoral veto power. In addition, by carving out election districts, VERITAS will pit districts against each other, which could affect the distribution of City services, Talbot said.

"It has the potential of impacting where services are directed," Talbot said. "It's not just the police department. There's no question police and fire are going to respond to emergencies."

But, he added, "what happens when were talking about routine patrols? We don't know what would happen." Council members, Talbot predicted, "will be looking out first for their district and then for the good of the city."

Police Chief James T. Butts Jr. said the analogy used in the flyer "is not appropriate."

"We don't deploy police based on political boundaries, but on the public safety needs," Butts said. "I would be concerned that this will make people fearful. There is no correlation between political support and distribution of police officers."

Fire Chief Ettore A. Berardinelli defended the unions' right to express their views but said that VERITAS would not affect the distribution of services.

"The local union can express their views and that's what they've done," Berardinelli said. "The Santa Monica Fire Department has been delivering high-quality service for 113 years. We will continue to provide that service to all of the city."

Constance Tillotson contributed to this report.

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