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OPINION – An Open Letter to the Santa Monica City Council from Kevin Shenkman, Attorney for the Pico Neighborhood Association

By Kevin Shenkman

For nearly five years now, we have been bitter enemies. We have fought over Latinos’ voting rights in court, in the media, and everywhere else either side could think of that might inflict pain on the other side. As you might expect, I have no love for any of you, and I relish the day when your appeals run out and you must surrender unconditionally in the voting rights lawsuit.

Yet, in watching the City of Santa Monica struggle with the financial fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, I sympathize with those most hurt by the City’s budget cuts. As is too often the case, it is those most vulnerable who bear the brunt of those budget cuts -- the hundreds of City employees who are being terminated (whether by layoff or “voluntary” separation) and the Santa Monica residents who depend on city services -- while City Manager Rick Cole who has been paid over $400k each year leaves with a golden parachute that would make hedge fund managers blush.

It is impossible to not think of how many of those working-class city employees could have been spared from the anguish of unemployment and economic uncertainty if the Santa Monica City Council in 2015-16 had chosen to respect the voting rights of Latino residents by adopting district-based elections, rather than spend an undisclosed amount of money (estimated to exceed $10 million) fighting against the California Voting Rights Act and the voting rights of minorities throughout California. In addition to what the City has spent on its own high-priced attorneys at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, the City, because it lost at trial, will also have to pay us (the prevailing plaintiffs’ attorneys) an amount almost certain to be tens of millions of dollars.

Saving just $10 million could have kept at least 100 of those city employees for a year, while we all recover from the economic downturn. Some of you (Greg Morena and Ana Jara) were not on the council when these tragic decisions were made by your predecessors. And others of you (e.g. Sue Himmelrich) may not have been too keen about your council colleagues’ insistence on fighting against Latino voting rights, but went along with them nonetheless.

To make matters worse, the amount the City will have to pay as a result of its unfortunate decision is increasing every day. But, as with all decisions in life -- if you make the wrong decision, it's never too late to make the right one.

So, I invite you to make the right decision now. Drop the ill-conceived appeal now, and we will work with you on implementation of the district elections ordered by the Los Angeles Superior Court, and we will be reasonable in accommodating the City’s payment of our attorneys’ fees. For you to do otherwise would be unfair to the hundreds of additional city employees who could lose their jobs if you continue to make the wrong decision. You know how to reach me to discuss an amicable end to our years-long fight -- your duty to your constituents demands it.

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