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Opinion -- Former City Manager Calls on Santa Monica Citizens to Engage in More Civil Debate
I am increasingly concerned about the inability of Santa Monica residents to disagree civilly on matters of public policy. Prevalent though that problem may be in national politics, vituperative debate seems worse here on the local level, where we bump into each other at the supermarket, the doctor’s office, the deli or the movie theater. Discourse here tends to be intensely personal and needlessly strident. It does little to bridge honest disagreement.
The fact that someone disagrees with me on a matter of public policy does not mean that the person is uninformed, unrealistic, “blind to the facts,” venal or corrupt. We simply view the facts differently, interpret information differently, weigh different factors and come to different conclusions.
Fortunately, in Santa Monica, the iterative review processes that precede final action on policy matters provide ample opportunity to present our personal viewpoints. Why can’t we do that rationally and respectfully instead of impugning the motives and integrity of others?
Last Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting was a case in point and demonstrated some of the best and worst of public meeting disagreement. There were speakers who marshaled their facts and spoke persuasively about the Hines project, pro or con. Others chose instead to attack the character of and motives of other speakers or decision makers, including those of Mayor Pam O’Connor.
I have known the Mayor professionally since the early 1990’s. She has both an academic background and career experience that inform her approach to municipal issues. She serves our community while recognizing that Santa Monica is not an island. So, she has worked regionally through the Southern California Association of Governments, the MTA and the Construction Authority for the Exposition line to represent us, advocate the best of Santa Monica’s policy approaches to our neighbors (sustainable practices high among them) and bring home lessons from their successes and failures. She can be brusque and challenging, but in my experience she listens and gives consideration to opposing viewpoints. We have benefited as a community from her broad perspective and extensive regional networking.
I believe that Mayor O’Connor and the other members of the City Council will make decisions on the Hines project, as they have on countless other policy matters, based on the facts as they see them and on their own individual judgment of what best serves the long term interests of the community. I don’t expect to agree with every decision they make but I am nevertheless grateful for their service to Santa Monica.
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