The LookOut Letters to the Editor
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Food for Thought, Give Teachers a Voice and Renters' Roulette

March 22, 2002

Dear Editor:

Thank you for your March 13th article ("Seeking Change: Homeless on the Promenade") on the different perspectives regarding the presence of homeless people on the Promenade. While I understand your need to edit quotes, several quotes from me were edited or taken out of context to the point they distorted what I was saying.

Most troublesome was a quote about food lines in the parks, in which you have me saying they're sponsored by "rescue missions from out of town." As I recollect our conversation, I said there were several local faith groups and other Westisde organizations who have been feeding responsibly in the parks and on the City Hall lawn for years, but in the last couple of years we have had an influx of feedings sponsored by rescue missions from out of town -- Van Nuys, Koreatown, Downey, Oxnard (all of which have homeless populations of their own) -- which have not always been orderly and not always cleaned up after themselves.

I would not want to slight our local faith community for the poor behavior of food programs from other parts of the county.

Joel Schwartz
Homeless Services Coordinator
City of Santa Monica


March 22, 2002

Dear Editor:

As President of the Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, I am writing to express my support for AB2160, a new bill that would give teachers a long overdue voice into how decisions about textbooks and curriculum are made. The bill would expand the current collective bargaining law and allow local teachers the right to bargain the procedures by which key educational decisions are made.

Teachers are a crucial component in the effort to improve California schools. Unfortunately, under current law we are left out of professional decisions that impact student learning and teacher training.

AB2160 makes sense. If teachers are going to be held accountable for improving student achievement, we must help to develop the tools and methods used to improve student learning.

For too long we have been working with our hands tied by bureaucrats who don't know our students. Teachers want to work with parents and administrators to make sure they have the best and most appropriate tools to help our students. AB2160 simply ensures that this will happen.

Sincerely,

Harry M. Keiley
President, Santa Monica Malibu CTA/NEA


March 19, 2002

Dear Editor,

The article ("Sign of the Times: So Many Apartments, So Few Takers," March 19, 2002) refers to the "minuscule" increases the Rent Control Board gives each year in its annual adjustments. This past year, we took a lot of heat from tenants for giving a 4.2% increase, especially after the electricity "crisis" passed without the expected huge jumps in utility bills.

We based our calculations, as we do each year, on a number of factors, including the consumer price index. The Board has always acted in a principled way in making annual adjustments. The formulas we have used were created by reputable and independent economists.

If prices in general go up, the rents go up accordingly. If the increase is "minuscule," it is because inflation in general is "minuscule." We aren't out to "get" landlords or deprive them of profits that any other businesses would consider quite reasonable. And those adjustments were given year in and year out, regardless of the economy.

We are trying to preserve a policy that, until the post-Costa Hawkins era, prevented landlords from price gouging at the expense of diversity and quality of life in Santa Monica. If apartment owners are now feeling the negative effects of a greedy rush to lift Santa Monica rents into the stratosphere, that is their own doing. Let's not blame 9/11 or the Board or make any other excuses for it. They have simply overreached at a time when the economy was long overdue for an adjustment anyway.

You couldn't exploit the place and demand to get rich under rent control, but if you were making a profit in 1979 renting, then you couldn't lose either. Small, assured incremental increases to keep pace with the economy evidently didn't satisfy our building owners and now some are realizing that the "market" isn't always friendly.

I also disagree somewhat with Rosario Perry's assessment that landlords are fixing their buildings up. Maybe they are starting to do that now, but just barely. I couldn't believe the conditions of some buildings that were (and still are) asking $1500-2000 for dinky old two-bedroom apartments with a quickie one-coat interior whitewash being the main "improvement." Paint the building's exterior? Fix the plumbing? Or the gutter pipes? Or put some money into the landscaping? Or the rotting steps? Many landlords have had a "forget about it" approach, unless they were forced to do repairs by threat of action by tenants.

Costa Hawkins didn't change that attitude much at all, even when the new "market" rates went into effect. What may now make a difference is the chilling of an overly hot market and the reality that you have to have something people want before they'll buy it, or in this case, rent it. And maybe another realization will sink in, which is that in the long run, the best tenants don't usually drive fancy cars. They're seniors, or families, or people who are grateful to be in and a part of a "community."

I wish Mr. Balter well in renting his apartments at astronomical prices, but he is really playing a fool's game by leaving them empty. If he leaves an apartment vacant for two or three months waiting to get top dollar, it will take him a couple of years to make that loss back.

By then, chances are the "yuppies" he'll so happily rent to eventually will have come to their senses and realized they could pay a lot less somewhere else, or they will have "moved on up" to home ownership, which is what they'd hoped for in the first place....Or their bubbles will have burst and they will have come back down to earth.

Whatever the outcome, "poor" Mr. Balter will be looking for another sucker while his nice apartment sits empty again. Wouldn't it be better, Herb, to knock, say 20 to 25% off your price and get a happy tenant who will reward your good business sense with loyalty, good will and a long tenancy?

Alan Toy
(Ed. Note: Toy is a member of the Santa Monica Rent Control Board. An early version of the story identified him as the chair. Toy is the former chair. He was replaced in January by Commissioner Bruria Finkel)

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