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OPINION -- Most Residents Don’t Think They Have Influence at City Hall -- It’s No Wonder Why

By Charlyce Bozzello

Over the last few years, Santa Monica has committed to measuring “wellbeing” among its residents.

The City even hosted a Wellbeing Summit last November, which cost around $269 a person to put on. As one resident noted, “It was a very expensive event that only reached a small, self-selected group of residents.”

Judging by the latest data from the 2019 Wellbeing Index, it looks like a propensity for hearing from just one small group of people might be a theme at City Hall.

It turns out only one in five residents -- or 20 percent -- think they can influence the City’s decisions. That’s down from 29 percent in 2017.

It’s no wonder why. The past couple of years have been defined by what’s been described as the “helplessness residents feel when it takes months to... get transparency from our city administration about veiled, back-room decisions.”

Sadly, this helplessness could be the result of several decisions made by the City.

Consider the City Council’s recent backroom deal between the City’s Commission on the Status of Women and Unite Here Local 11.

The result was the passage of a union-backed bill that included harmful work schedule regulations for hotel housekeepers. Although hotel workers spoke out against it, their concerns fell on deaf ears.

There’s also the City’s commitment to fighting the voting rights lawsuit brought against it, even though it’s costing an inordinate amount of taxpayer dollars.

While the City still won’t disclose the total amount, speculators put it at around $20 million last year.

As the lawsuit’s plaintiff has said, “So much for the transparency and the accountability that the City Council talks about” ("City Officials Won't Reveal Cost of Voting Rights Litigation," March 5, 2019).

Then there’s the ongoing battle over the Plaza at Santa Monica. While many community members oppose the project, Local 11 has pushed for the tallest version of the structure in an attempt to secure more dues-paying union members.

The verdict is still out on whose side City Council will choose, but past experience should tell residents not to hold their breath.

From growing concerns over crime and homelessness to worries about affordability, there’s a laundry list of issues residents don’t feel are being adequately addressed.

Perhaps if City Hall spent more time listening to residents, it wouldn’t need a Wellness Index to find out just how few Santa Monicans feel they have agency when it comes to their local government.

Charlyce Bozzello is the communications director at the Center for Union Facts.

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