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Frank Gruber

The 2006 Election: the Local Propositions

By Frank J. Gruber

There are five local measures on the Santa Monica ballot -- four changes to municipal law, and one school bond. In ballot order:

Meas. U. This measure gives the City Manager power to fire or discipline department heads outside of civil service protections. It makes a lot of sense, and there has been no opposition to it. It's hard to hold the City Manager responsible for policy decisions if he lacks the power to dismiss department heads because he disagrees with their policies.

Vote yes on U.

Meas. V. You would think that in a city that values its location on a beautiful bay more than anything, a measure that will cost property owners a few bucks a week to clean up storm water runoff would have unanimous support.

The Bay has come a long way. The other week at the annual barbecue the Victorian throws for Ocean Park neighborhood I met a 72-year-old man who has lived in Ocean Park all his life. Not only this gentleman, but also his father, attended the old Washington Elementary School on 4th Street. He regaled me with memories of O.P.'s wild youth. Along the way he also told me that when he grew up, in the 40's, parents didn't allow their kids to swim in the Bay because of untreated sewage and the fear of polio.

The Bay is much cleaner now because of major public investments from the Hyperion treatment plant to the City's dry water runoff filter at the Pier. But there is still work to do, and now there are federal mandates for clean water the City must achieve.

Meas. V is an important funding mechanism for investing in a cleaner bay, but unfortunately the usual crowd of "right-wing nihilists," as I have called them in the past (Peter Tigler, Don Gray, Matthew Millen, Bill Bauer, and others), is spreading misinformation to try to convince voters that the City will waste their money on development of the Bay for boating and commercial fishing.
This is ridiculous. The money from Meas. V will fund the City's "Watershed Management Plan" (which can be downloaded from the City's website). The Plan's purpose is to clean the water that drains to the Bay from thirteen separate basins within the city limits. There is nothing in the Plan about building a breakwater or commercial development.

The nihilists, who have opposed one bond or parcel tax after another, just don't like to pay taxes, and they'll stretch any facts to -- pun fully intended -- muddy the issue.

One of the claims that they make is that most of the pollution in the Bay comes from outside of Santa Monica. Whether this claim is true is irrelevant, given that in any case, there is pollution from within Santa Monica that we need to clean up. Meas. V money will in fact reduce pollution that leaks out of Santa Monica's eastern areas into Los Angeles -- which is our obligation.

We could wait around for state or regional solutions, but the quickest and surest way to get rid of our dirty runoff is for Santa Monicans to pay for the new storm water and other facilities ourselves, from a dedicated funding stream not subject to other spending demands on the City's general fund. Meas. V parcel tax money will also enable the City to obtain matching state and federal money to pay for part of the job.

As for pollution from outside the city, voters in the City of Los Angeles have approved $500 million in funding to clean their run-off, and statewide voters have the opportunity now to approve Prop. 84, which will fund watershed clean-up on a regional basis.

Vote Yes on V.

Meas. W. My position on Prop. W, which amends the so-called Oaks Initiative passed in 2000, is that I am for anything that will get rid of the Oaks Initiative. I wrote about Oaks (Prop. LL) and how overbroad and overboard it was in my second "What I Say" column It was a bad idea then, and it's a bad idea now.

Of course, most people don't know how ridiculous the Oaks Initiative was. They lump it in a "good government" category without thinking about how it would stifle -- assuming it could be enforced constitutionally -- reasonable political activity not by politicians, but by citizens.

Santa Monica has the most basic and best means of limiting political chicanery -- a low maximum ($250) on political contributions to candidates. There are problems with our system -- individuals and independent committees can spend more -- but Oaks does not address those issues.

Columnist Steve Lopez of the L.A. Times has jumped in and more or less accused the City Council Members who voted to put W on the ballot of being corrupt, and canonized Kevin McKeown for opposing it (although I remember Mr. McKeown telling me back in 2000 that he appreciated that I opposed Oaks as unworkable).

Unfortunately, the Council Members who voted for it and who are being made to look ridiculous by Mr. Lopez have themselves somewhat to blame. Calling the measure "The Good Government Act of 2006" invites derision.

But the best example I can think of showing how ridiculous Oaks is, is a case involving Mr. McKeown. In a case of poetic justice, he had to refund a political donation he received from Ellen Brennan, a member of the Pier Board, because the donation violated Oaks.

To borrow a concept from Voltaire, I don't generally agree with Ms. Brennan's positions, but I'll defend to my death her right to make a donation to Mr. McKeown's campaign.

Vote yes on W.

Meas. Y. Do I have to opine on this one? Do we care that some old stoners want to protect their right to fire up the bong?

Do I believe that marijuana should be legal; yes. In fact, I would go further than this proposal and say that all cases of minor smoking marijuana outside of school should be matters between them and their parents. It's much worse to bust a kid for marijuana than to give an adult the equivalent of a traffic ticket for lighting up.

But I'm against this measure. Perhaps the City Manager can give directions to the police department to look the other way when it comes to marijuana use, or even casual dealing. But voting to include an operational police policy in the City Charter? And creating a bureaucracy to enforce it?

Until drug laws are reformed on a national level, the selling of drugs is going to be associated with real crimes, often violent. I don't approve the drug laws, but I do not believe the police should have to wonder if they are over-prioritizing marijuana usage when they are pursuing a reasonable lead (e.g., from smelling marijuana) that they have grounds to believe would unearth a more serious crime.

So I am voting no on Y.

Meas. BB. BB is a big bond, several times the size of previous school bonds. No doubt the fact that education bonds can now pass with 55 percent of the vote instead of two-thirds has encouraged the School Board to think bigger.

But BB is not too big. One thing I learned from my stint years ago on the Oversight Committee for Prop. X, the prior local school bond, is the applicability of "penny-wise, pound foolish" to capital projects. The school administrators, for instance, were so scared about asking the voters for money, and so mindful about giving everyone a little bit of benefit, that they had to skimp on the program.

When I joined the committee I was shocked to learn that they had budgeted portable classrooms rather than real school buildings -- the kind our parents built for us when we were kids. Fortunately there was a state bond at the same time that enabled us to build at least a few real classrooms.

The series of bond issues that Santa Monica and Malibu voters have approved starting in the early 90's have been a huge success. Our District was ahead of the curve in school financing, and the better facilities are a key reason the performance level of the District has improved so dramatically.

I suggest reading the ballot summary of BB to obtain an idea of the wide scope of work that is necessary to keep our schools in good condition. Then the amount of the bond will appear more necessary than big.

Vote yes on BB.

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