Council Will Discuss Lottery to Pick Members of SMO Development Committee


When I interviewed Jesse Zwick for the first What’s Next podcast on Santa Monica Next, he proposed for our second segment a discussion of public participation. He argued that the current public participation process under-represents large portions of the public as the people that participate self-select. Renters who may not be plugged into local associations, parents that just don’t have the time or energy or people that aren’t part of the political majority can be excluded. The city’s advisory boards, commissions, and other existing public processes are good and important. However, that the overall public process could be improved…be more representative, if instead of a self-selected competitive process, that citizens on these advisory boards be chosen at random and be compensated for their time.

And now the city may use such a program to advise the City Council on what to do with the land that currently houses the Santa Monica Airport (SMO), should the city choose to close the airport on January 1, 2029. The Council will discuss a proposal at next week’s meeting (agenda, item 7a)  for the non-profit Healthy Democracy to hold a lottery and lead a public process that would lead to a recommendation. The City Council that would still make the final decision on what happens with the airport land, or if necessary the citizen’s through a new ballot initiative.

While the Council will not make a final decision on a process at their Tuesday meeting, there is already strong opposition to the idea from, well, from the people who are used to having their voices heard who don’t appreciate the thought of renters and others getting a louder voice. This isn’t an assumption on my part, they say as much in a letter from Northeast Neighbors you can read the letter at the city’s premier source for information about Pizzagate and alien conspiracies, the Santa Monica Observer.

 A majority of renters in the city are shielded from much of the impact from property-related tax increases yet renters constitute more than 70% of city households. Randomly selected city residents without any technical background in the financial issues at play will likely be ill-prepared to know what questions to ask, risking significant bias based on what information they are provided with and what information is accidently (sic) (or otherwise) omitted.

If we attempted to debunk every piece of mis-information in the article and letter, we’d have to increase the size of our hosting contract at Siteground. But in short:

  1. 1) The city has not “completely scrapped” the idea of a park, it is merely trying to figure out how to pay for a park,
  2. 2) Leonora Camner is not, nor has she ever been, a member of the Santa Monica City Council,
  3. 3) When Camner introduced city staff to Healthy Democracy, it was as a member of the city’s Housing Commission, 
  4. 4) Healthy Democracy is not a project of Public Access Democracy, where Camner is a member of the coordinating committee; nor are they in any way Public Access Democracy. Healthy Democracy is an independent 501c(3) public charity. You can see their page on Guidestar, here.
  5. 5) All of the stuff about Camner is just a smoke screen. She doesn’t even have a position on whether or not the proposal for a lottery selection system is a good or bad idea.
  6. 6) Measure LC, passed by voters in 2008, clearly limits what kind of development is allowed on the SMO property unless voters amend it at the ballot box,
  7. 7) As stated above, the committee would be an advisory committee and the ultimate say will be with either the City Council or voters.

Northeast Neighbors’ letter includes a link to an article in New America that lays out the benefits and challenges of Healthy Democracy’s model. It’s not always easy, or popular, to attempt new programs and ideas. However, for Santa Monica to make a decision on whether or not a visioning process for the airport land should use Healthy Democracy’s model should be made based on facts and an open analysis by the Council. Relying on the letter or article in the Observer does the opposite of that.

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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