Council Places Three Measures on the November Ballot
By Jorge Casuso
City Council members spent less time Tuesday night placing three measures on the November ballot than they did deciding who would write ballot arguments for or against the charter amendments.
The council had no choice but to place a hotel-backed living wage initiative and a citizen sponsored initiative intended to weed out corruption in City Hall on the ballot after sponsors gathered the necessary valid signatures.
But the council itself placed a third measure on the ballot that will allow the City to exempt civil fines from a $500 limit imposed in 1907, when a dollar was worth 20 times more than it is today.
Deciding against specifically targeting owners of aircraft that violate airport regulations - the key issue that spurred the proposed change --, the council opted to pose a broader question to voters.
The ballot question will read, "Shall the City Charter be amended by adding language explicitly exempting civil fines from the $500.00 limit applicable to criminal penalties for Municipal Code violations?"
The broader language will cover violations that may not be foreseen but that could crop up in the future, said City Attorney Marsha Moutrie.
Residents near the airport said the current fines do little to deter violations committed by roaring jets that are making their lives unbearable.
"We are especially concerned with aircraft owned by large corporations with deep pockets and the $500 fine is pocket change for them," said Cathy Larson, who was representing Friends of Sunset Park.
Councilman Richard Bloom echoed the concern, pushing for a narrower definition that would explicitly exempt "civil fines for airport noise violations from the $500 limit." But his motion failed when it was not seconded.
"The fines at the airport should be our major concern," said Bloom, who was a founding member of Friends of Sunset Park. "If we take a broader approach, the sense of the public may be that we are opening the door more to fines than we should."
Council members, however, said they were confident that residents near the airport would get the message out.
"We can count on the residents of Santa Monica to make it clear that this is not a fast one by the City and that the self interest will encourage them to be participants," said Councilman Michael Feinstein."
The council then voted to have the ballot arguments written by Council members Bloom, Feinstein, Pam O'Connor, Paul Rosentsien and Robert Holbrook.
The number of council members signing the ballot argument will likely be winnowed down, and they will be signing as individuals and not as representatives of the City Council. But because the order of preference relies on the number of people the person signing represents, council members would be at the top of the list.
Calling a hotel-backed living wage initiative "false" and "fake," six council members vied to write arguments against a measure they were forced to place on the November ballot.
Quoting from an article that appeared in The Lookout shortly before the meeting, Mayor Ken Genser denounced the use of large corporate donations to qualify the measure. According to campaign disclosure statements obtained by The Lookout, five major hotel operators donated more than $400,000 to qualify the initiative.
"This is just unheard of in a community of this size," Genser said. "The people of this community have to ask themselves why are the giant hotels spending $400,000 to put on the ballot a measure that covers 200 workers."
A short report released by city staff last month showed that the nation's first business-backed living wage initiative would cover about 200 workers employed by companies that receive contracts or subsidies from the City.
"It's one of the unhappiest votes I've ever had to make on the City Council," said Councilman Kevin McKeown.
The council then voted unanimously to have the Mayor, along with Councilmen McKeown, Bloom, Feinstein and Rosenstein, attach their names to the argument opposing the measure. The five signatures will likely be winnowed down.
The council also placed on the ballot a "Taxpayer Protection Charter Amendment intended to weed out corruption in City Hall. The amendment would "prohibit any City public official, who approves giving a public contract or other benefit to any person from receiving 'personal or campaign advantages' from that person for up to six years."
The council voted to have Genser, along with Council members Pam O'Connor, Bloom and Rosenstein among those who would sign the opposing argument.
"While it is well-intended, the specifics when applied to Santa Monica may have the impact of stifling public participation," O'Connor said.
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