The WHITE elephant in the room

By: Zoë Muntaner

Before I start, I want to thank our City Manager, Rick Cole for giving me 40 minutes of his time today and listening to the projects I’d like to bring forth to our city.  We had a productive exchange of ideas and the seeds of change were planted.  Mayor Pro Tem Ted Winterer joined us at the end of the meeting, we reminisced on the words of former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa eulogy of former LA Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s at his Saint Monica’s memorial last week: “Dime con quien andas, y te dire quien eres” (Google it!)

EXTRA, EXTRA, EXTRA!!!!!

A Coalition of Latino Residents and Neighborhood Groups Filed Lawsuit today against the City of Santa Monica. Challenging At-Large Election System in Santa Monica, Plaintiffs Claim At Large Elections Violate the California Voting Rights Act.

White Elephant

Santa Monica, California – Four months after minority residents notified the City of Santa Monica that its at-large system of electing its City Council violates the California Voting Rights Act (“CVRA”), and having received no response from the City, a coalition of Latino residents and neighborhood groups filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court today, demanding an end to Santa Monica’s racially-discriminatory election system.  The lawsuit was brought by the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA), Maria Loya – a Latina activist and resident of Santa Monica, and Advocates for Malibu Public Schools (AMPS).   Since at-large elections were adopted in Santa Monica 70 years ago, only one Latino has ever been elected to the City Council.  According to a report commissioned by the City in 1992, that is exactly why at-large elections were adopted in 1946 – to keep the minority residents living in the southern portion of the City from achieving representation.   “As a mother, former city council candidate and resident of the Pico Neighborhood, I want to ensure that future elections are fair.  The current at-large election system is illegal and has led to a lack of representation in local government, which in turn has led to neglect of our community.  All residents and every neighborhood can benefit from a neighborhood-centered approach to representative democracy.” stated Maria Loya.  Ms. Loya ran for City Council in 2004, and although she was overwhelmingly preferred by Latino voters, she placed 7th in a crowded field of 16 candidates for three seats.   “Aside from providing residents more fairness in their elections, district elections can decrease the influence of special interests and increase the influence of residents over what happens in their neighborhoods,” added Cris McCleod, Chair of the Pico Neighborhood Association.   Historically marginalized communities have used the CVRA to gain representation in municipal governments across the State.  “In the 14 years since the CVRA was enacted, it has brought fair elections to more than 200 cities, counties and school districts.  In the case of Santa Monica not only do the at-large elections violate the CVRA, they violate the California Constitution as well because they were adopted with the purpose of disenfranchising racial minorities,” explained attorney Kevin Shenkman who represents the Plaintiffs.  Mr. Shenkman and his co-counsel – Rex Parris, Milton Grimes and Robert Rubin – has won hotly-contested CVRA cases against the cities of Highland and Palmdale, which was ultimately ordered by the court to adopt district-based elections after spending an estimated $7 million in legal fees.  Other cities, like Hemet, Buena Park and Wildomar have voluntarily changed their election systems in response to letters from that legal team.   “In our efforts to improve Malibu public schools, we have become keenly aware of how at-large elections prevent minority groups from having their voices heard.  The intentionally discriminatory provision of the Santa Monica City Charter prevents not only the City, but also the Santa Monica-Malibu School District, from adopting district-based elections; we want the school board to be empowered to voluntarily adopt fair elections, and set an example for the students,” said Roui Israel, President of Advocates for Malibu Public Schools.  Although seen as a wealthy liberal bastion, Santa Monica is a tale of two cities where minority residents living in the Pico Neighborhood have endured gang violence and all the other problems associated with California’s less-wealthy regions.  Many residents have claimed for years that the City neglects their needs. “Our City leaders have an opportunity to bring justice to one of our City’s darkest moments, when people of color were deliberately disenfranchised.  I hope that one day every resident and every neighborhood is represented in our government. Residents deserve equal representation, a stronger democracy and an electoral system that increases the influence of residents and decreases the influence of big donors,“ stated School Board Member and Pico Neighborhood resident Oscar de la Torre.  Click on the link below to learn more:

Santa Monica Fair Elections Website

THE KOUSSER REPORT

I became aware of the Kousser Report yesterday through one of my sources who directed me to the smfairelections.com website.  Today I gave a copy of the report to our City Manager Rick Cole in a scheduled meeting to discuss the 2016 agenda of Compassionate Santa Monica & DIVERSITY MATTERS.  Mr. Cole has never seen the report before and agreed to read it and get back to me with a comment.  Basically the report findings established that if the City of Santa Monica wants to avoid the costly litigation of a lawsuit and public embarrassment of a racially discriminatory intent to prevent fair racial representation in our city government, they should replace the at-large system with elections by district. A waste of financial resources on its way…

This begs the question: What is worst? The people who initially committed the crime or the ones that knew it happened and did nothing about it, benefiting cycle after cycle to remain in power?  Silence is compliance.

I personally have been victimized by the vicious monster of racial bias by city employees of Santa Monica. (That is subject to a whole new post intended for the future).  This is the WHITE elephant in the room (no pun intended); both city officials and residents fail to address the issue and stuff it under a rug.   The problem with that, is that it’s not a sustainable strategy.  Sooner or later someone chooses to do a “Spring Cleaning”(no pun intended, I am behind mine) and the dirt come out to air polluting a carefully crafted narrative that no longer holds. Ohhhhh, Spring what have you brought us this year!

Who was in the room?  was the question that started this blog, now we know that the white elephant (no pun intended) has been in the room all this time.  How authentically diverse is the City of Santa Monica? Can a Liberal be a Racist? Are you familiar with the Inkwell statue?  Can we have a real diverse represented democratic government with at-large election system?  Do you know that the first City Council of color was appointed not elected, and when he ran in an election he lost? This is a National conversation I intend to start here.

NORMAL PEOPLE LIKE US

On March 25, I attended the Social Services Commission meeting at The Ken Edward Center to learn about how the City of Santa Monica is addressing homelessness.  I went  with an open mind to hear different perspectives, but as I listened to reports from the Santa Monica Police and OPCC (Ocean Park Community Center) who manages most of the homeless shelters in the city, I became aware that the reason we have not made progress with the issue is the lack of compassion and tag line of this blog: Who was in the room?  I will be posting an interview with Shawn Landers in an upcoming post to discuss issues related to the Social Services Commission.  Click in the link below for more information:

Social Services Commission-Community & Cultural Services

At one point, one of the Commissioners phrased a question referring to “most of us” then went on to speak saying: “you know what I mean, normal people like US”.  I checked out, my skin started to itch, I could not stay one more second in the room… but I patiently waited until I addressed with candor the lack of compassion and empathy from the comment.  See, the only person who has spent time in a homeless shelter in that meeting was me.  I have four years of field experience with the homeless population.  Is part of my daily interactions on the bus and streets of Santa Monica.   I can tell you they are PEOPLE like us, with unfortunate circumstances and no access to mental healthcare.  If we claim to be a model of a Wellbeing Community and affirm the Charter for Compassion, we must address the issues of inequality head on without fear or shame.  The conversation is over, is time for action. Compassionate ACTION.

As the old adage goes: “Actions speak louder than words”

 

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4 thoughts on “The WHITE elephant in the room

  1. Pico Neighborhood

    Latino Coalitions? Nice play on language, there are no coalitions out there- neutral of Oscar and Maria- advocating for this to happen. Of course it’s just another slimy scheme by Oscar & Maria- Neighborhood opportunists- to exploit the struggle for their own personal gain. They prey on well intended White folks to become allies and help advance their agendas because the Latino/a Pico Neighborhood community no longer supports them. If this passes, rest assured that we will see either Oscar or Maria as the first to try and run for council, and to their surprise, they’ll learn the hard way that Santa Monica’s Pico Neighborhood community has as great of a distain for these two characters as the White elected officials they continue to bully – and may I add, they do so in the name of the struggle?! Such a shame!

    Like

    • DIVERSITY MATTERS

      I’m interested in your point of view and would like to meet to discuss it. Kindly reply with a time and date this week or at your earliest convenience. Is important to have a discussion before i approve the comment for publication.

      Like

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