Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Santa Monica City Council Doesn't Want to Hear From You

It probably doesn't matter if the public has only 10 seconds to speak. Or none at all.

A proposal by the Santa Monica City Council to halve public speaker time from two minutes to one minute has roused vigorous criticism. The current Rules of Order for council meetings allows a speaker 2 minutes per item with a total of 6 minutes per speaker. Speakers are allowed to accept one donation of 2 minutes from another speaker. However, certain items already restrict a speaker to 1 minute. A further proposal is to limit multiple applicants/appellants to a time of 10 minutes total.

Council meetings are notoriously long. Different formats have been tried over the years, including expanding the number of meetings per month, then reducing the number of meetings per month, and moving the closed sessions from the end of the meeting to the beginning. In a recent op-ed in the Daily Press, former SM Mayor Mike Feinstein complained that no matter what the format, council members either didn't show up on time or didn't stay until the end. Each meeting has a closed session, where personnel and legal matters are discussed. When these closed sessions were held at the end of the evening, council members would have departed and no quorum was possible But when the closed session was moved to the beginning of the meeting, as it is now, council members were often late, causing the entire evening to start and end late.

If the late end of the council meetings are caused by council members showing up late, it is hardly reasonable to punish their constituents by cutting public speaking times.

The Santa Monica Transparency Project, a volunteer group concerned with openness and accountability in city government, opposes the proposed reduction in public speaking time. "These changes interfere, limit, and demean resident input to council at a time when council states better communication is a top priority," the Project wrote in a recent letter to the City. The group is not impressed with the city's website where more "community conversation" is supposed to occur. "These steps do not replace specific comments on specific agenda items up for a decision at city council meetings," the Project writes. "Less time to speak on items up for a decision at council meetings equals less citizen input!"

A "conversation" website is also not the same as on-the-record, televised comments preceding a vote.

The Project continues, "The ability for citizens to speak directly to Council is unique and irreplaceable."

It is no real surprise that the City Council doesn't want to hear from the public. They are not beholden to the public but to the Santa Monicans for Renter's Rights, the local political group that has held power in Santa Monica for the past forty years. The political leaders in this town want one thing - to look like global heroes - and fear another - their gigantic pension liability. For this reason, we see legislation that seeks to solve the world's problems (as if that could happen because a city of 90k population institutes a labyrinth of dangerous bike lanes) and rampant development far beyond the LUCE zoning plan of 2010.

It probably doesn't matter if the public has only 10 seconds to speak. Or none at all. The legislation we see coming from City Hall, laws that congest traffic, reduce quality of life, allow crime, and make this city worse off, have nothing at all to do with what the public wants.


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