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Proposed Change Sparks Worries Over Lobbying Law for Santa Monica  

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

April 20, 2017 -- City officials said they were only trying to clarify -- even strengthen -- a law designed to shine a bright light on the scores of paid lobbyists who jockey for influence at Santa Monica City Hall.

Shock set in, though, when neighborhood associations -- among the City’s most outspoken critics -- read the staff report authored by City Clerk Denise Anderson-Warren, whose office handles lobbyist registration ("City Council to Consider Changes to Santa Monica's Lobbying Regulations," April 13, 2017).

The report recommended that the law be amended to address to “continual, generic lobbying such as that done by neighborhood groups or the Chamber of Commerce.”

“Staff suggests adding information regarding individuals who continually lobby on behalf of a group must register," the report said. "General terms such as ‘outreach and promotion of interests of members’ may be used to describe lobbying activity.”

Alarmed, neighborhood groups and activists quickly spread word of the language.

“It would be an attempt to stifle free speech and citizen participation in community groups,” said Diana Gordon of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) a watchdog group allied with neighborhood groups.

“This would be a very disturbing, highly divisive and anti-progressive proposal,” she said in an April 17 letter to the council.

“It was very disturbing to many of us,” Nancy Coleman of the North of Montana Association told the City Council Tuesday.

By the time the item reached the council Tuesday night, a clear exemption to the lobbying law was included that covered neighborhood groups, non-profit organizations and the chamber of commerce -- as long as no hired representatives lobbied on their behalf.

The council approved the changes unanimously.

In discussing the report, Anderson-Warren acknowledged the report could have been better written, avoiding “unfortunate confusion” in its wake.

But City Manager Rick Cole said his office had reviewed the report as well without seeing any red flags.

He said it was “never the intention” of either office to put unpaid community activists in the same league as lobbyists.

To do so would “completely contravene” the intent of the law, he said. Cole added that he regarded new language as a technical change, only.

Mayor Ted Winterer called the issue “a modest kerfuffle” and Council Member Kevin McKeown expressed frustration.

“We’re really trying to make a good law a better law,” he said.

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