SANTA MONICA - To those who follow Santa Monica politics it is no surprise to hear that a city employee took it upon themselves to make a policy decision without direction from a policymaking body like the Council or the Housing Authority Board. City activists refer to such overstepping of authority by staff as the Deep State of Santa Monica, one where elected or appointed officials are treated by staff as merely an afterthought. It appears that the longer the staffer has been employed with the City, and the higher on the City Hall totem pole they are, the more likely they are to be remotely controlled by the developer-related special interest groups that in effect run the city, i.e. Santa Monica Forward and SMRR.
Ostensibly, those special interest groups like to feign a concern for affordable housing, homelessness and a few other progressive causes. However, their true interests lie solely in maintaining their political power through associations with the real estate industry. In fact, they like to use unhoused citizens as pawns in their favorite narrative, which calls to "Build, baby, build!" – as if one could build their way out of the homelessness crisis.
The truth is that progressive ideas are far from those organizations' minds, even though they shamelessly engage in paying lip service to them. "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion" sounds hollow, if not convenient – but for certain carefully curated political goals only.
Those goals do not include achieving actual diversity, equity or inclusion in the City of Santa Monica.
City staffer made unilateral decision to affect the composition of policymaking body which is supposed to be comprised of seven councilmembers and two housing voucher holders, including one with lived experience of homelessness
With authoritarian rather than democratic tendencies, the elitist special interest groups and the City staffers on their leash work hard to prevent low income tenants and unhoused Santa Monicans from having a meaningful voice in the city.
One example is the fact that for decades now the City has been in violation of federal law that mandates the establishment of a functional Resident Advisory Board (RAB) for housing voucher holders, with meetings and operations the Housing Authority is required to support.
Another example is that the Housing Authority is required by federal law to ask the RAB at least once a year if they have a candidate to represent them on the Santa Monica Housing Authority Board (SMHAB), a policymaking body that is supposed to be comprised of the seven City Councilmembers and two housing voucher holders. The Housing Authority has not been doing that.
And finally, the federal law requires that there be one housing voucher holder with lived experience of homelessness representing on the Housing Authority Board. The federal law is very specific: the representation must be on the policymaking body of the Housing Authority, which here is the SMHAB – not to be confused with the Housing Commission, which is merely an advisory body to the Council and the SMHAB.
In 2021, among mounting advocacy for the representation of a voucher holder with lived experience of homelessness (for which there is a dire need also considering the homelessness crisis) Housing Program Manager James Kemper made the unilateral decision to ask HUD for a waiver of the requirement pertaining to the composition of the policymaking body. James Kemper applied for the waiver without the knowledge or direction from the Santa Monica Housing Authority Board – the the policymaking body whose composition the waiver would affect.
A waiver is only warranted when the Housing Authority "is unable to fill the seat." James Kemper provided to HUD false information suggesting that this particular seat could not be filled in Santa Monica – he did that despite an interest from voucher holders with lived experience of homelessness to represent on the Board. James Kemper also did that even though he was very much able to appoint a voucher holder *without* lived experience of homelessness to the SMHAB, and did so. Clearly it is the lived experience of homelessness that is a dealbreaker for James Kemper.
While acting without authorization from the SMHAB, and by providing false information to HUD, City employee James Kemper did obtain a waiver from HUD. Now the City is hiding behind the unwarranted and unethically obtained waiver, and claims they do not have to seat a voucher holder with lived experience of homelessness on the policy making body of the Santa Monica Housing Authority... It appears the city will stop at nothing to prevent a Santa Monican with lived experience of homelessness from sitting on the dais.
All this is happening while Santa Monica is posing as a progressive city sensitive to Diversity Equity and Inclusion issues, and concerned about the homelessness crisis. Looks a lot like virtue signaling, doesn't it?
One might ask: but why is the City so threatened by the federally mandated representation of low income tenants and tenants with lived experience of homelessness?
Could it be that such individuals when sitting on the dais alongside the seven Councilmembers could publicly give testimony about the City's ineffective "homeless services" that devour millions of tax dollars each year and mostly enrich the nonprofit organizations which offer them instead of helping unhoused people, and about the dysfunction of the Housing Authority which receives federal tax dollars from HUD but is so severely mismanaged that it has not cared to raise the voucher payment standard for the City's poorest 1,700+ households in seven years despite the rising market rents? Could it be that a formerly unhoused representative might talk about how the dysfunctional Housing Authority is known to make low-income people homeless, prolong their homelessness and violate their civil rights with impunity?
The City of Santa Monica prefers to hold on to the good ole patriarchal set up where city staffers making six figures and elitist councilmembers (none of whom have ever experienced homelessness) sing praises of the city's homeless services and affordable housing nonprofit organizations which handsomely line their pockets with tax dollars, but the survivors or said homeless services who participate in affordable housing programs are not welcome on the dais for fear they might very publicly expose the truth.
Concerted efforts by staff to prevent low-income and formerly unhoused Santa Monicans from having their federally mandated right to self-representation is what is going on in our fauxgressive city. It is happening in plain view, on City Manager David White's watch, and with the following seven councilmembers /members of SMHAB looking on: Mayor Gleam Davis, Mayor Pro Tem Lana Negrete, Phil Brock, Oscar de la Torre, Christine Parra, Caroline Torosis, Jesse Zwick.
(Olga Zurawska is a writer for Santa Monica Observer where this article was first published. Smobserved.com.)