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OPINION: The Price of "Development Peace" In Santa Monica

By Charlyce Bozzello

October 10, 2018 -- Councilmember Kevin McKeown -- who's running for reelection this November with support from the hotel workers union and developers -- recently declared Santa Monica to be "entering an era of relative development peace" ("Why Are Santa Monica's Elections So Noncompetitive This Year? Political Observers Weigh In," October 1, 2018).

It's more accurate to say that McKeown and his colleagues have learned an important lesson from this summer's fight over a proposed "labor peace agreement."

Rather than risk another public backlash by appearing to do favors for Local 11, they'll preserve the veneer of "development peace" by keeping their favoritism under wraps ("Santa Monica Leaseholders Get Break as Minimum Wage Hike Kicks In," July 2, 2018).

The latest example is the Council's cynical decision to use the #MeToo movement and the city's Commission on the Status of Women as a vehicle to advance a potentially harmful new law favored by the union.

Emails obtained through a public records request describe how the scheme works.

Some history: In July, Unite Here Local 11 filed a lobbying disclosure with the city regarding a “hotel housekeeper protection policy.” (The union has pushed for similar measures in Long Beach and Rancho Palos Verdes -- in both cases, exempting unionized workers.)

Unusually, instead of going straight to City Council with the proposal, the union brought the policy initiative to members of the city’s Women’s Commission.

In a memo and presentation, Danielle Wilson, a research analyst for the union, laid out the union’s three demands for “hotel housekeeper protection” legislation, which includes restrictions on how and when hotel employers can schedule their employees.

Why bring the issue to the Commission and not to the City Council?

Commissioner Madeleine Brand spilled the beans in an email to her fellow commissioners.

"I have spoken with Danielle Wilson from UNITE HERE Local 11 and she shared that City Council has asked that they work quickly to get something to them requesting they take action on the issues outlined in the document [provided by Local 11]."

She then explained that Local 11 "is asking that our Commission submit a letter to City Council asking them to support Common Sense Legislation for Santa Monica hotels.”

It isn't clear what makes these ideas "common sense."

The proposed legislation is based on findings from one union-funded report that was based on survey results from 500 workers at Chicago hotels and casinos.

Missing from the union's presentation was any evidence on the extent of a potential problem in Santa Monica, any survey of current hotel policies on harassment and any indications of the possible repercussions of the policy.

If this is how decisions are made in Santa Monica -- funneled through city commissions and kept out of the public view until the last possible moment -- it’s no wonder this election season seems quiet.

How can residents voice opinions when their local government lacks basic transparency?

That's not the worst part. While the City Council and local interest groups are busy covering their tracks, real issues like the city's rising crime rate are not getting the attention they deserve.

Social media pages from multiple local groups point to countless instances of trespassing and theft as well as violent crime. The city is up to six murders this year, three within the last month alone.

McKeown's "peace" is a false one. The Council is still up to its old tricks with Local 11, while real concerns go unaddressed. Residents may wonder if this perceived peace is merely just the calm before the storm.

Charlyce Bozzello is a communications manager for the Center for Union Facts

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