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Council Expands City Attorney's Investigative Powers, Outlaws Lying

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By Jorge Casuso

September 27, 2019 -- The Santa Monica City Council this week expanded the City Attorney's investigative powers and expressly prohibited making false statements to the City.

The two separate actions stemmed from concerns that property owners may be lying to avoid complying with Santa Monica's strict housing laws.

"There has, as best we can tell, been abuse of people filling out forms that have to do with housing matters and not doing so fully truthfully,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown.

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The prohibition against lying would cover applications, reports, and other documents the City relies on to make informed decisions, staff said.

While the Municipal Code allows certain permits and other filings to be revoked if false statements are made, it "does not have a broader, general prohibition against false statements in applications or other materials submitted to the City."

The penalty for violating the ordinance is a fine of up to $1,000, jail for up to six months, or both.

The law does not cover statements made by public speakers at Council meetings or made during "a street stop or chance encounter," said City Attorney Lane Dilg.

In a separate, but related action, the Council voted unanimously to grant subpoena power and related investigative authority to the City Attorney.

Under the newly established powers, the City Attorney can inspect documents and other items relevant to an investigation and issue subpoenas for "testimony of witnesses and production of documents, physical materials, and other items," according to staff.

The City Council currently has subpoena powers in its legislative role, Dilg said.

The new law also gives the City Attorney the authority to issue written interrogatories, to obtain sworn testimony and take evidence and to petition a court for an order to enforce the exercise of its new powers.

The law is based on similar ordinances in San Francisco and San Jose, Dilg said. The San Francisco ordinance was recently upheld by the California Appellate Court.

In a separate action Tuesday, the Council hiked the fines for property owners who violate the City's housing laws ("Santa Monica Hikes Fines for Housing Violations," September 27, 2019).

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