The LookOut Letters to the Editor
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Dear Council: Give More to Schools, Defend Anti-Corruption Law, Enforce Codes

Following is a letter from the Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS):

Dear Mayor, Councilmembers and Santa Monica Community,

Does it mean anything to our local schools that our community has added 20,000 new jobs during the past ten years, while at the same time experiencing a decline of 6,000 residents?

We believe it does.

The impact of this job growth, which includes a greater proportion of higher paying jobs than in surrounding areas, is already well-reported in terms of its effects on housing for Santa Monica.

Our city is home to the greatest concentration of multi-family housing on the Southern California coast. But because of the effects of job growth and changes in state law, about 2,000 units of housing each year are becoming no longer affordable to persons of very low, low, or moderate income.

In response, the City of Santa Monica has committed more than $100 million beginning through the year 2000 and ending in the year 2010 towards the purchase or construction of about 850 units of housing that will be permanently affordable to persons of very low, low, or moderate income.

This is an unprecedented commitment, yet it speaks to the scale of the dislocation.

This investment is made possible because the City of Santa Monica participates in the economic benefits of adding 20,000 new jobs to our community, primarily from the gain in commercial property values and the resulting redevelopment tax increment revenues.

In terms of single-family housing in Santa Monica, last year's median housing prices were two-and-one-half times those in Los Angeles County, with greater increases expected. Each year, about 6 percent of our single-family homes and condominiums are sold; and in general, our community is becoming more affluent.

What does this mean for our community's schools? We have a school system with a history of providing a level of programming among the finest in the state; yet today, it is a system burdened by crowded classrooms from grades four through high school; insufficient academic counseling for our high school students; reduced support for reading programs and school libraries; and deficient in areas of enrichment, physical education, arts, special needs, retention and intervention programs, early childhood, and after-school programs.

We also have a local economy that is placing extraordinary stress on our families of very low, low, and moderate income, reducing their ability to participate fully in their children's educational development. This same economy provides many other families the means to choose private schools, which are able to provide the kind of education that these families no longer believe they can find at our public schools.

The Community for Excellent Public Schools believes that our public schools face numerous obstacles to educating their entire populations and achieving excellence, and that our local schools in particular are challenged by the dislocating effects that have accompanied our community's rise to its recent status as a world-class destination and commercial center.

We believe this is a community crisis, and that there is public good will to find a community solution. In the early 1990s, this community significantly increased its response to the need in our schools to stem the tide of neglect experienced state-wide. We began funding our schools using local dollars, including increased parcel taxes, the partial dedication of a new parking facilities tax from the City of Santa Monica, and property rentals. We also began rebuilding our schools, using voter-approved bonding authority.

We believe we can have a local public school system that is the pride of every family in this community once again. We must find a way to connect our school's funding to the positive benefits of our local economy, in ways sufficient to restore and enhance our schools' many wonderful programs, if our schools are to be a true reflection of this community they serve.

We believe we have a responsibility to take this message of hope to all parts of our community, to build the consensus and will for strengthening and enhancing our children's education by tying our schools' benefit to our community's benefit.

Together, our community has constructed solutions for housing. Together, our community can do as much for its children.

Community for Excellent Public Schools
Judy Abdo
Shari Davis
Rick Gates
Don Girard
Linda Gross
Craig Hamilton
Patricia Hoffman
Louise Jaffe
Harry Keiley Ralph Mechur
Denny Zane


Budget Meeting Reminder and Letter from CEPS to Council and Community

Next Tuesday, June 19, the SM City Council will finalize the budget for next year. The budget is $357.2 million and includes significant and important advancements for lifelong learning in general and our public schools in particular.

I am happy to report that the budget includes

  • Continued funding for the design and expansion of our city libraries
  • $300,000 in one time moneys to upgrade playgrounds for home and center-based preschools and childcare
  • Continued support for subsidies for early childhood education
  • Continued support for intergenerational tutoring
  • Increased funding and emphasis on summer and after school CREST programs focusing on improving enrichment and tutoring
  • Funding to monitor elementary school playing fields after school and on weekends in a new community playground access partnership between the city and the district (hours and ages yet to be finalized)
  • An additional $500,000 in ongoing money to the district's general fund, bringing the city's contribution to the general fund up to $3m annually

This is all great and if we are to compare what Santa Monica does for our public schools and our youth to what other communities do, then we are definitely looking good. If however, we are to compare what Santa Monica does for our public schools and our youth to what Santa Monica can do, then I think the glass is only half full and we still have a ways to go. $3 million is less than 1 percent of the city's annual budget....

As I see it, in the past decade our city has benefited tremendously financially from a variety of positive trends and wise policy decisions. The result has been an economic boom and a great increase in tax dollars available to the city for distribution.

During this same (and longer period), our schools -- like all California public schools -- have been in a chronic state of financial embattlement. Our schools do not have the funding necessary to support the breadth and depth of high quality programming and educational opportunity our community expects and our diverse student body deserves.

In the 20th and earlier centuries a good education was desirable; in the 21st century, a good education is essential. I believe that our City can and should break new ground in recognizing excellent public schools as essential and in going the extra mile to make them happen.

At this point in the City's budget process, it is probably unrealistic to hope that more ongoing money will be found for our schools. Onetime money however remains a definite possibility. Below are just a few areas where I would like to suggest onetime money could be very significant:

  • Strategic Plan: Next week, we welcome John Deasy as our new superintendent of public schools. With our new superintendent comes a new beginning. Mr. Deasy, in agreement with the district's Financial Oversight Committee and the Board of Education, intends to lead the process of developing a strategic plan that will clearly link resources, strategies, and evaluation to objectives that support our common vision of an excellent education for all of our students. The developing of this guiding document will require a consultant and constitutes a need and use for onetime money.
  • Increased Reserve: John Deasy seems extraordinarily well-suited to tackle the range of issues confounding our public schools. We all want him to be successful. As of this writing, the state budget has not been finalized. At the end of the June 7 School Board meeting, it was announced that the governor has asked that more than $500 million be cut from the education budget. This does not bode well for us (or any CA school district.). Our schools are looking forward to a new beginning, a new focus, a new era of working well together but without additional city funding the reality may very well be that we will be looking at yet another impossible rehashing of what program to cut, which children to neglect.... Who wants to see that happen?
  • Energy Efficiency: Rising energy costs further deplete district operating costs. The city has identified education and sustainability as top priorities for this year's budget. Onetime money directed to the district to improve energy efficiency will result in long-term ongoing savings that the district can then spend on programs -- sustaining human energy!
  • Intervention: 440 Santa Monica students grades 2-5 have been recommended for summer school programs because they have been identified as not meeting grade level expectations required for promotion. During the mid-year budget process, the City rejected funding for intervention for students in danger of retention because they did not consider it to be "onetime." To me this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and a bad one. Better that we invest well in our students today, so that they will be able to progress with their peers tomorrow.

Our schools have many uses for onetime money. Let's face it: everyone has uses for money. So, the question really is priorities. Lifelong learning and high quality public schools are very high priorities for me and I believe that they are high priorities for the Santa Monica community, not just parents but the entire community. However I cannot speak for the community.

It requires many, many, many individual voices to speak out to be heard and recognized as the voice of the community. If we want our City Council to invest more money in our schools and our youth, we need to tell them, very, very clearly that this is a really important priority and we want it funded with the same vigor, creativity, and deep-searching that goes into funding the programs and projects closest to them personally.

So, please, please, please email Council today. Reaffirm your commitment to education; thank them for what they are already doing and urge them to further increase funding in this budget for our schools.

And, (yes, I know this is really hard) please, please, please COME TO CITY HALL at 6:45pm on JUNE 19 -- bring your neighbors, bring your children, bring your parents and turn out to show support for our schools and school children.

I look forward to seeing you Tuesday.

Thanks, Cheers, and Onward!

Louise Jaffe
Santa Monica


June 15, 2001

Dear Councilmembers:

As you know, Proposition LL was enacted by 59% of Santa Monica voters on November 7, 2000. It qualified for the ballot with the signatures of over 12,000 Santa Monica residents, collected by volunteers. Prop LL is now the law of the City, as it has been for over six months.

We have obtained a copy of a lawsuit entitled City of Santa Monica v. Maria Stewart, Case No. SC067033, filed by the City on June 12, requesting declaratory relief in regards to Prop LL. With this filing, the City has placed itself in a position of obvious conflict of interest. Although the suit is ostensibly brought against the City Clerk for her refusal to implement the initiative, she has done so under the direction of the City Attorney and the City Council.

Last December, the City Attorney filed papers on behalf of the City of Santa Monica with the Court of Appeal in San Diego which joined in the briefs of other cities arguing that a similar initiative in Vista was unconstitutional. City Council members have repeatedly expressed their view that Prop LL is unconstitutional. As recently as the May 22 council meeting, for example, Councilman Ken Genser argued, "there's pretty ample evidence that at a minimum [Prop LL] could be unconstitutional." The City Council and City Attorney have made their position on the initiative very clear by publicly and repeatedly voicing the opinion that Prop LL is invalid.

By filing this lawsuit, the City has taken the untenable step of suing itself in order to invalidate a law duly enacted by the people of Santa Monica. It is grossly improper for the City to act as both plaintiff and defendant in this matter. This lawsuit has every indication of being a collusive suit. It is an insult to the voters, and the present posture of the litigation undermines not only the integrity of the City and its officials but the legitimacy of any judicial resolution of the issue.

We have objected in the past to any taxpayer money being spent by the City to challenge Prop LL. We presume that the City is paying for the attorneys on both sides of the existing lawsuit. At present, however, there is no party in this lawsuit who is unswervingly committed to defending the initiative and representing the will of the voters. Indeed, to reiterate, the City is manifestly hostile to the initiative, and yet is acting as both plaintiff and defendant in the proceeding.

Given that the City has initiated this lawsuit, the City Council at a minimum has the obligation to provide for a vigorous and independent defense of the initiative. Since no existing party to this lawsuit can and will provide such a defense, the City should draw upon the same funds that are currently allocated to pay for the existing outside counsel to secure legal representation for the proponents of Prop LL to retain counsel of their choice. This will allow the proponents to intervene in the action on behalf of the voters of Santa Monica to represent their interest in defending the law they enacted.

Only by this action can the City demonstrate that it is actually proceeding in good faith in an attempt to secure a fair judicial resolution of any constitutional questions raised regarding the implementation of Prop LL. Only by this action will the City ensure that the voice of an overwhelming majority of Santa Monica citizens, and the law enacted by their vote, is respected.

Since time is of the essence in this matter, we request that the Council provide a response to this request no later than June 29, 2001, so that the proponents of Prop LL may intervene in the pending lawsuit to defend the constitutionality of the initiative.

Sincerely,

Harvey Rosenfield
Jamie Court
Douglas Heller
Carmen Balber


Testimony from Ellen Brennan at the June 12 City Council meeting. The item concerned the lack of code enforcement in the Planning Department.

Stress is debilitating. It adversely affects the quality of life. As long as there have been people, they've sought ways to reduce it. One standard solution over time has been to tax ourselves and hire people to handle some specific areas of the stress and call them "the government." In Santa Monica, we call them "The City".

Ours is a successful city government. We have an annual budget of a third of a billion dollars. We have an active citizenry who elect council members and appoint boards and commissions to deal with problems and pass ordinances and regulations to address particular areas of stress.

But in Santa Monica, the system seems to break down at this point. We, citizens, assume that someone is out there enforcing those ordinances and regulations we work so hard to get passed. We find it very disturbing to discover that that's not necessarily true.

We're discovering that some of the decisions of Planning and of ARB are being ignored. Tim McCormick, head of Building and Safety, has told the public that in a department as important as Building and Safety, he is so understaffed that over 800 complaints this year can't be dealt with.

That's 800 stressful situations this City is failing to handle. Noise is so debilitating, it's used as a weapon by the military, but when we experience noise stress in our neighborhood, we call the police and are told, "We don't enforce the noise ordinance."

Why has this situation of non-enforcement been allowed to develop? There needs to be an answer to that question, because in that answer lies the key to the will or lack of will to enforce in this city.

The Planning Commission has taken an extraordinary step in coming to the council to highlight the problem. I applaud them and support their request. You're being asked to allocate budget resources for additional staff to make it possible for departments to do the enforcing we expect.

Building and Safety needs at least six additional people. They need somebody to answer the phone. This is so elementary it's shocking that I have to say it. They need staff to handle those 800 "overflow" complaints, staff to handle the growth in complaints, and staff to do
pro-active enforcement. Yes, we expect pro-active complaints. Without it, the City is telling the citizens, "We won't act until you're stressed." I suggest it's time to change this policy.

By not enforcing ordinances and regulations in a rational, pro-active manner, this city is failing its citizens. Code enforcement needs to become a city-wide interdepartmental priority. The City needs to go back to the drawing board and evaluate every department where enforcement is part of the equation. then find the will to give them staff to do their job.

This is critical to the trust we place in our city government. Red tape needs to be cut. Fiefdoms need to dissolve. This city needs to find the will to do what it is hired to do -- to reduce the stress in the city, and enforce the ordinances and regulations passed by our council members and citizen boards.

And the council can start by allocating enough budget resources to send a clear message that you support this new priority and expect to see results.


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