SM Fights: Taxes & City Hall Hiring
August 13, 2020
By Leonard "Guzz" Brophy IV
Election season is heating up in Santa Monica. The ballot is nearly complete, minus the SMMUSD board race that needs to be finalized for technical reasons. The City Council field is crowded with 21 people competing for four four-year seats. There is a separate council election for Kristin McCowan to keep the seat she was appointed to last month, but she will have no competitors.
In addition to those council contests, voters will also be deciding on elections to the SMMUSD, Santa Monica College, and Rent boards as well as two ballot measures. One measure calls for raising the real estate tax from .3 percent to .6 percent for properties sales of $5 million and more. The other would change City Hall hiring practices and promotion policies to add diversity to the staff. City officials said in a July report that this would be done by "eliminating legacy practices and artificial barriers that impede progress."
The ballot argument released this week favoring the tax says its approval would "protect Santa Monica, especially public health and vital public services that so many people rely on," and then went on to list a bunch of programs (to horrify as many people as possible) that would be saved through this tax. Among them is 911 services.
Are we truly to believe that unless this tax passes, our 911 services could be affected. Don’t believe such nonsense. That doesn’t mean this potential tax isn’t worthy. The City has had to make many cuts due to Covid-caused financial ruin that would even make a hardcore libertarian blush.
"Every penny raised by [the] Measure will be spent here in Santa Monica and cannot be taken by the State of California or the County of Los Angeles," states the pro-argument, which was signed by Mayor Kevin McKeown, League of Women Voters President Natalya Zernitskaya, education activist Shari Davis, emergency room nurse Tim Van Pelt (creative pick), and SMRR co-founder Denny Zane.
The opponents have a very different take.
“NOW IS NOT THE TIME FOR A TAX INCREASE THAT HARMS SMALL BUSINESSES,” the opponents wrote in bold with all capital letters. "Covid-19 and civil unrest have impacted our community; now, the City Council wants to raise taxes on small businesses. Small and independent rental property owners will be adversely impacted."
They claim the tax could "result in more large multinational corporations owning the apartment and condo complexes in our city; we don't need more national corporations becoming our landlords."
This argument—signed by realtor Ryan Ole Hass, landlord (and rent board candidate) Robert Kronovet, as well as business owners Irma Vargas and Patricia M. O’Neil—is silly. The truth is this tax affects very few people who are also all rich. There’s no sympathy going to these "victims." Almost nobody cares. This measure has a 100 percent chance of passing.
The civil service measure is very confusing, and anybody who takes time to read it has way too much time on their hands. We at the Observer support diversity and think it would be good for the City to make sure its offices look more like the nation as a whole. But we don’t need the technical details.
"Voting yes allows your City to reform and modernize its staff recruitment practices to further ensure that the City's personnel structure aligns with our values of equity, transparency, inclusiveness, and diversity, and is better reflective of the greater community," the pro-argument states.
The opponents claim this is a "power grab" and the City Council, which unanimously voted to place the measure on the ballot, is trying to "brazenly hire its preferred City employees."
Writing the pro argument: City Councilmember Sue Himmelrich, SMRR co-Chair Michael Soloff, Santa Monica Democratic Club President Jon Katz, Santa Monica Police Officers Association Chair Erika Aklufi, and former Coucnilemebr Tony Vazquez. The anti-argument came from Peter Tigler, Michael Fernandez, Michelle Duncan (former City employee), former Pico Neighborhood Association Chair Don Gray, and Clara Ben Ray.