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Two Thumbs Up, The Mugabe of Ocean Park and Rent Control for Yuppies

March 13, 2002

Dear friends at Surf Santa Monica,

Happy Birthday and Two Thumbs up. Thank you, for always going above and beyond the call when it came to reporting the news. I was inspired to demand Accountability of the Mayor and City Council because of the news you provide in The Lookout

Your Publication has made my life bearable. Your Publication has revealed to me that this little town has very wide boulevards and yet a couple narrow little minds on the City Council. I hope that my running as a candidate for the city council will provide a source of news worthy controversy and humor, as I run on a platform in which Santa Monica residents and businesses come first and everybody else in the world comes last.

Highest regards, respect and Love to everyone at Surf Santa Monica.


Pro Se
Santa Monica

March 12, 2002

Dear Editor,

On my way back from a trip to Harare, Zimbabwe, I couldn't help but notice the striking similarities between this wonderfully diverse, beautiful and sometimes awkward town, and that of Ocean Park, Santa Monica, USA. While the differences are stark and glaring in many respects (the average Zimbabwean earns less in a lifetime than the average homeless person takes home in a year in Santa Monica), I did observe many things that these two communities share.

Ocean Park, USA and Harare, Zimbabwe are filled with friendly, outgoing residents. They both have beautiful geographies. They both are rich in culture and they both cherish the arts and humanities. They both are politically active and, if you talk to most of the residents, they seem to have a great appreciation for the democratic process.

Yet they also both seem to be powerless with respect to having a voice on the direction of their community. They are besieged, albeit in varying degrees, with a government or community body that is wrought with tyranny, dictatorial policies and misrepresentation.

In Zimbabwe's case, it comes in the form of Robert Mugabe's African National Union-Patriotic Front. In Ocean Park's case, it comes in the form of the ubiquitous Ocean Park Community Organization (OPCO), led by its chairman, Rick Laudati.

While by no means is Robert Mugabe's dictatorial regime and that of OPCO an apples-to-apples comparison, the draconian voting and operating practices which I observed while in Zimbabwe are very similar in nature to how OPCO operates. One can see how a regime like Mugabe's comes to power.

Observing the way in which OPCO's chairman conducted himself unchallenged at the recent OPCO Congress by shoving people so they could not view the "vote tally" and intimidating speakers, and observing him in previous meetings, one gets the sense that this conduct has been going on in this community for a while. Even before the "election" at the OPCO Congress, OPCO has been besieged with numerous complaints from its citizenry, the press and has had its share of detractors, this writer included.

How can it be that a community organization (OPCO is a not-for-profit California Corporation) which is allegedly under investigation by the California Attorney General's Office, which has refused to provide any substantive or verified financial records, which has broken several of its own bylaws, whose chairman refuses to allow any of its board members to inspect its documents or place of business, which conducts dubious elections, and which has generally misrepresented the views of the Ocean Park Community at large, still exist?

What's taking place in Zimbabwe and taking place to a lesser degree in Ocean Park is pure and simple, dirty, dingy, creepy politics. However, unlike Harare, we in Ocean Park have nobody but ourselves to blame for letting it happen.

I don't know what it's going to take to topple Mugabe's regime and free the people of Zimbabwe of tyranny. I doubt it will be pretty. Let's hope that in Ocean Park's case, we can all come together and make OPCO accountable and turn it into a great institution that welcomes freedom of expression and alternative viewpoints on everything from traffic to education to architecture to housing-because if we don't -- and Robert ever has the occasion to meet Rick -- they will have lots to talk about!

Lance Schmidt
Ocean Park Resident
Former OPCO Board Member

March 12, 2002

Dear Editor,

I totally agree with Rosario Perry ("Report Chronicles Rising Rents," March 12, 2002). The rent board has been telling a lie for over twenty years. I own apartments in Santa Monica, and I remember when I had available units, low-income people had no chance at all. I would choose the best tenant, and usually it turned out to be a single yuppie who made over $100,000/year.

This was a logical and the right choice that every landlord would make -- minimize risk --
by choosing the tenant who would be able to pay rent 10 times as much. This is how Santa Monica got gentrified. North of Wilshire, you don't see too many low-income people living in apartments, and you definitely did not see it back then. This happened many times with my building.

Also, I was married before and after we split up with my ex, I was helping my ex wife, who was 19 at the time, and had a part time job, to find an apartment. I vividly remember 50 people lining up for a rent controlled single north of Wilshire, renting for $520, or so. After filling up an application, of course, my ex wife's calls were not returned. Of course, the owners chose the best tenant, who was probably a rich yuppie making over $100,000/year.

I also remember very vividly when I came to LA in 1989, and I was poor (unemployed) and had no connections and did not know anybody then. There were no for rent signs, so it was not possible to find an apartment in Santa Monica. However, there were ads in the papers, where brokers would charge a $2,500 (at least) brokerage fee for apartment in Santa Monica.

I would not qualify for an apartment then and did not have the money to pay the brokerage fee. My budget was $450 to $500 back then, and I could not find anything, not even a room in an apartment with another person. There was stiff competition for those then as well. I was turned down for a couple of places where an existing tenant was looking for a roommate to share a
room, these were not separate apartments.

I finally found a room in a 3-bedroom condo in Brentwood (non rent control) for $450/month, plus utilities. This is a true story how the rent control board really helped me in 1989, when I was really low income and needed help. Eventually, I figured out that the only way for me to live in Santa Monica and close to the beach was to buy a property and become an owner. Otherwise, I did not have a chance in hell.... and that is what i eventually did in late 1991, after saving money for the down payment.

Ross Vaisburd
Santa Monica

March 11, 2002

Dear Editor,

I would like to correct an inference made by Brandon Miller ("Walk to School, Get an Education and Eternal Vigilance," LETTERS, March 11, 2002). The Pico Neighborhood Association made no expression of approval or disapproval regarding Prop. U. Any support or opposition to this measure was done so by individuals, and their activities did not reflect any official position on the ballot measure taken by the PNA.

I can only applaud Mr. Miller in his interest, however sudden, toward the neighborhood group that represents him. Becoming involved in your neighborhood, and your neighborhood group, is one good way to effect a positive change in our city.

While he has already demonstrated one important quality -- strong opinions -- common to members of an effective neighborhood group, other qualities, including commitment, determination, perseverance, and civility, are equally, if not more, important.

The PNA welcomes Mr. Miller and all neighbors willing to work toward improving the quality of life in the Pico Neighborhood to join us in our efforts, and urges those living in other parts of the city to become active in their local neighborhood group as well.

Don Gray
Pico Neighborhood Association

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