Santa Monica Next Wins Press Club Award for Short Series About Misinformation Clouding Policy at City Hall


When I first approached my Board of Directors about bringing back Santa Monica Next and helming it as editor in a part-time capacity, I thought most of my time was going to be writing about transit services, bike and pedestrian safety, and housing and urban development. While all of those issues have been things we’ve covered at Next, I was surprised how much time had to be spent debunking a flood of misinformation that creates a thick fog around our city council and the city’s politics.

Last night, I was honored by the Los Angeles Press Club for “best local political commentary” for a short series I did on one of those issues for “Behind the Imaginary Plot to Keep Phil Brock from Becoming Mayor”, “Conspiracy theories Win Again: Council Votes Against Minor Change to Mayoral Selection Process“ and “Brock on Our Block: Phil Brock Ascends to Mayor After Low-Key Transfer of Power at Last Night’s Meeting.“

As you can tell from the titles, the series started by tracking a conspiracy theory that started appearing on social media that then-Mayor Gleam Davis was conspiring to keep Phil Brock from becoming mayor by “changing the rules.” The conspiracy made no sense, because Davis’ proposed changes would actually make it harder to remove a sitting mayor and otherwise didn’t change the rules for who would become mayor.

In the second story, I reported with some frustration that a majority of the City Council voted down Davis’ proposal not because it was a bad proposal; but because they either embraced the conspiracy or felt that enough other people embraced the conspiracy that they shouldn’t move forward.

In the last story, Phil Brock became mayor with no opposition or theatrics. Brock ended up giving a great speech about unity and being a mayor, and a government, for the whole city.

But while I applaud Brock’s ambitions, it’s hard to see how anyone can be an elected representative of the people when there’s still so much bad information going around…especially if the people pedaling this information know that the act of pedaling it can be enough to get their way. 

For example, I’ll admit that I don’t know enough about public process and outreach to know if the system proposed by Healthy Democracy to elicit feedback from Santa Monicans about future uses for the airport is the best idea. But I do know that the disinformation peddled about Healthy Democracy and the slander of former housing commissioner Leonora Camner that happened in Council Chambers the night their proposal was rejected was gross. It shouldn’t have happened. And to have some Councilmembers embrace the misinformation and not push back against the slander is horrific.

Pulse Polls are conducted by an anti-union dark money group that consistently give results claiming Santa Monica is more conservative and reactionary than elections show, but are still treated as news by The Santa Monica Lookout…no doubt in large part because of the ads the dark money group buys on their website.

And there’s a reason that we write so frequently (as frequently as “earlier today”) about the Santa Monica Coalition and the serial misinformation they feed supporters, the media and elected officials.

I’m not going to humble brag…I’m proud of the press club award I won last night. It’s sitting in front of my tv so I can just look up and see it. I’m also tremendously grateful to the readers, volunteers, advertisers and funders for their support. But I also wish I hadn’t written the series. I would love to be writing bike lane reviews, finding the new stop signs and improved pedestrian crossings and only sticking my foot into political waters when the Council is debating a new development or new bike/ped/transit safety project. But Santa Monica is being hamstrung by the flow of disinformation, and it’s both an honor and a duty to push back on it.

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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