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Final Thoughts on the Election-- Vote Yes on Y: It’s Really all for the Schools

By Frank Gruber

November 1, 2010--If you haven’t voted already, when you go to the polls tomorrow, after you vote on the big offices, the statewide ballot measures, and even the judges, make sure you get to pages eight, nine and ten and vote in the local elections.

Two years ago almost 20 percent of Santa Monica voters didn’t reach the end of the ballot, yet you don’t have to be a local politics junkie like me to know that some of the most important contests -- maybe the most important -- are on the city ballot.

But then if you’re reading this column, you are already something of a local politics junkie.

There is nothing more important this year in Santa Monica than Measures Y and YY -- the local half-cent city sales tax and the measure that will tell the City Council to give half of the approximately $13 million that the tax will raise to the schools.

But in fact, as I see it, all of the money the tax will raise will go to the schools. The reason is that should the tax not pass, and if the bad economy were to continue, and if there would be more raids by the state government on local revenues, then the City Council will be under a lot of pressure, to keep City services going, to cut the approximately $7 million that it already sends to the schools.

The City of Santa Monica is, at least in relative terms, “rich” as Mayor Bobby Shriver (now infamously) put it when he reluctantly voted along with his council colleagues to put Meas. Y on the ballot. But, as he said at the time and as he has tried to make it clear since, he wasn’t saying the same thing about the schools. They need the money that the School District tried to raise in a parcel tax last spring, which only failed (by a small margin) because of the need to get two-thirds voter approval. Mayor Shriver made his comment only because he wanted the district to try again with a parcel tax. (See story Sales_Tax Measure Approved for Ballot, July 14, 2010.)

Mark Gold, whose comments against the sales tax at the council hearing have, along with Mayor Shriver’s, been misleadingly used against Meas. Y, said the same thing -- that the schools needed the money more than the City. He was right, and that’s why you need to vote Yes on Y: because all the money ultimately will go to the schools.

While during the financial crisis of the past two years both the City and the School District have had to tighten their belts while they relied on rainy-day funds to avoid big cuts in spending, now that the reserves are used up the City has more flexibility than the School District both on the expenditure and the revenue side.

The City, for instance, can raise bus fares to keep bus drivers driving the buses; the School District can’t charge kids to keep teachers teaching. If the City fails to fill a position, it’s not like a classroom will get more crowded.

The City has obtained concessions from city employees and saved money by not filling open positions; it has also reduced social programs. But prior to City Manager Rod Gould’s dramatic proposal in July to use a general sales tax to raise money, there was grumbling from employee unions that City services -- and their members’ jobs and pay -- might be cut while the City continued to send millions over to the School District.

Money is fungible. It so happens that the amount raised initially by Meas. Y will be about double the funds the City already contributes to the District. Since the City Council invited the public to tell them in Meas. YY to give half the new tax money to the schools, and assuming both measures pass, the practical result will be that the new tax will nearly cover the entire contribution the City makes to the schools, which will then be almost $14 million.

Some of Santa Monica’s conservatives oppose Meas. Y just as they oppose parcel taxes and bond issues. They just don’t like taxes. Although I am hardly surprised by the opposition -- I have called this faction of Santa Monica politics “right-wing nihilists” and I stand by the term -- a local tax like Meas. Y should represent -- at least in an intellectually consistent world -- just the kind of tax conservatives should like. The money raised will not fund a faraway do-gooder’s idealism, but will go to local services and local schools, and be subject to local control. (I say this without personal animus against the idealism of do-gooders.)

The tax is a declaration of independence for local government from the mess in Sacramento. It’s a tax that will in some small measure allow our local schools and our city government, both highly regarded in our community, to make plans they can rely on, without fear of budget cuts or raids from Sacramento.

* * *

I can’t resist making a few comments about the national election.

As a Democrat, I am not looking forward to the results, although I am still holding out hope that they won’t be as bad as predicted (or worse).

A bad economy will amplify the normal losses of the party in power in a mid-term election; what’s clear about the last several elections, including those that went well for the Democrats, is that swing voters, if they are unhappy, vote no to whomever is in power. They want to be happy, and they don’t have long memories. If they’re happy again in two years, the Democrats will come roaring back.

Overall I disagree with the criticism of President Obama that has come from the Left, but I don’t blame the criticism for the current political situation. The attacks on the administration from the Right didn’t need any help from the other side, and the president should have gone on the counter-offensive from the start. The Right went after Bill Clinton the same way.

But watching how the far Right, in the form of the Tea Party groups, etc., has taken control of the national debate, has made something clear to me.

Which is this: the far Left goes crazy and attacks their own leaders when they are in power, but the far Right waits until their leaders are out of power to go crazy. I mean, where were all these small government, anti-Wall Street, deficit hawks when George W. Bush was president?

Maybe this explains why the Right has been in power more than the Left for the past 40 years.

* * *

To end this column on a non-political note, Friday morning I attended the annual breakfast (the 15th) at the Miramar Hotel that the Westside Shelter & Hunger Coalition presents to celebrate the success stories of some of the clients of the various agencies that make up the coalition. These are people who work their ways out of homelessness and despair. It’s the most inspiring and humbling event you can imagine.

Actually, I will make a political comment: isn’t it interesting that homelessness has been almost entirely below the political radar this election year in Santa Monica? Maybe the recession has something to do with it -- voters have enough of their own troubles to worry about, and perhaps seeing homeowners being foreclosed on around the country gives people a different perspective about homelessness.

But -- and as seen by the full house at the breakfast, with tables full of service providers, business people, police and firefighters -- certainly progress has been made in Santa Monica in creating a more united front when it comes to the issues of homelessness. Judging by the success stories, the focus on “housing first” has united the people and agencies involved.

Here’s a picture from the breakfast of the crowd being warmed up by the (simply fabulous) a capella New Directions Choir.

(Photo by Frank Gruber)

Don’t forget to vote.

Frank J. Gruber is the author of Urban Worrier: Making Politics Personal, available at Hennessey + Ingalls and Angel City books in Santa Monica, at City Image Press, and on


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