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Happy in the Aggregate

By Frank Gruber

I turns out that there are two ways to get elected to the City Council in Santa Monica.

The most popular route, taken by two-thirds of the winning candidates this year, and three quarters in 2000, is to gain the endorsement of both Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) and the Police Officers Association (POA).

The other way is not to be endorsed by either SMRR or the POA. That is the Robert Holbrook strategy.

Clearly, a candidate is in trouble if he or she obtains the endorsement of only one of the two organizations. Viz., Abby Arnold and Matt Dinolfo.

Interestingly, in 2000 Herb Katz started out with the POA endorsement, but not the SMRR endorsement. He must have realized the danger he was in with only one, but not both or neither, of the two organizations behind him.

Cagey old pol, Katz, he did something to annoy the cops so they dropped him from their mailers. Functionally free of both endorsements, he won, and set the precedent for Holbrook, who cut to the chase by not getting the POA endorsement in the first place.

Another thing we learned in this election is that the endorsement of the Westside Greens is quite effective, but only if it's coupled with that of SMRR and the POA.

Incumbency helps. A lot. One might think, judging by the infrequency by which Santa Monica voters reject incumbents seeking reelection, that Santa Monica, not that theme park down the road, is the happiest place on earth.

Of course, we know that's untrue. Santa Monicans are unhappy. They must be -- otherwise, the City Council wouldn't be so busy, burning the midnight oil, hiring code enforcers and traffic cops in the face of yawning deficits.

The problem is that Santa Monicans can't agree on their unhappiness. The City's surveys consistently show that given three choices to complain about anything, to mention any problems they believe Santa Monica has, at the most only about 20 or 25 percent of us can agree on anything in particular.

Everybody is unhappy but since everybody can find at least one or two council members to agree with, come election day, our gripes cancel each other out. The smart money is always on the incumbents. We are happy in the aggregate.

Speaking as a Santa Monican who is happy to acknowledge my individual happiness, I wish our incumbents would derive more confidence from the power of their incumbency, and instead of trying to patch every tear in the social fabric instantly, instead of responding to every complaint immediately, that they pondered a little before throwing more money at a problem, making up some new rule or changing some long charted course.

But then what do I know about Santa Monicans? I supported five measures on the local ballot, and only one passed. I opposed two measures, and only one failed to pass.

Clearly, I am so out of step with the electorate that I am qualified only to be a columnist.

This was a dismal election that ran from the catastrophic (the failure of the parcel tax to get the necessary two-thirds vote) to the lamentable (the failure of the living wage ordinance), to the outrageous (the fact that a police union made up of city employees who don't live here, who make their choices in the metaphoric dark of night, who have no compunction about slandering elected officials, have so much influence on the electorate).

At least Veritas lost. Oh, would that have been a mess.

Until all the absentee ballots are collected and before the precinct-by-precinct data is available it's premature to make definitive comments about what the results mean, but a lot of results -- especially the failure of the parcel tax -- seem best explained by low turnout among Democrats in the renter districts. The gubernatorial election was a turn-off, and there was no Senate race this year, or even a sexy statewide ballot measure.

If Barbara Boxer were running with the fate of the Senate in the balance, results might have been different.

Still, it's a strange year when a school tax fails in Santa Monica and Malibu but a school bond passes with 68 percent of the vote in Los Angeles -- and only eight months after the Santa Monica College bond passed in a spring election with 70 percent of the vote, on much lower turnout.

The schools need and deserve more money -- let's hope the District can figure out what went wrong and come back with a proposal that works.

In the meantime, my favorite post-election comment came from Seth Jacobson, a spokesman for the hotels who opposed the living wage ordinance. As quoted in The Lookout, he said, regarding the aftermath of the hotels' victory: "Our attitude is we're here and we want to talk if they want to come to the table."

Wait a minute. I have the distinct recollection that the local living wage movement got started precisely because the hotels have done and continue to do everything they can to prevent the possibility that they might "come to the table" with a union representing their workers sitting on the other side.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it's because of the living wage ordinance that the hotels hire union busters, require their workers to listen to anti-union diatribes, and hassle union supporters. Maybe now that they have defeated the ordinance the hotels will "come to the table."

But I doubt it.

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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