By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Some of the requests come from voters who filled out post cards handed out by the ”Truth Teams“; others filled out similar forms included in mailers or clipped the coupon from a $3,500 full-page ad in the local insert of the Los Angeles Times. (The ad ran an extra time for free due to several mistakes in the copy.)
”I’ve known occasionally for people to send in a few [revocations],“ said City Clerk Maria Stewart, who has worked as a city clerk and an assistant city clerk for 10 years. ”But I‘ve never seen an effort like this.“
”This is completely unprecedented,“ said Stephanie Monroe, a lead organizer for SMART, which is closely allied with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. ”No one has ever been successful in getting people to unsign their names. These people are saying, ’We‘ve been tricked.’ That‘s an incredible statement.“
Monroe said the revocation campaign took off after dozens followed the instructions set in tiny print on a brochure mailed to registered voters and asked that their names be struck from the petition. ”We didn’t even consider seriously revoking signatures until we got a barrage of calls,“ Monroe said. ”The same day the mailer hit, I got 30 phone calls.“ The message has become bold and more prominent in SMART‘s current mailer. ”I didn’t know the ‘living wage’ petition I signed was a phony,“ the red, white and blue brochure reads. ”It‘s really sponsored by the corporations that own the beach hotels and has loopholes so they won’t have to pay their employees a real living wage.“
The parking-lot confrontations, newspaper ads and mailers are the key strategies in an expensive living-wage war that has seen plenty of bizarre twists.
In the nearly two months since the hotels and restaurants targeted by SMART‘s proposal began circulating their petition, allegations of violent, dirty -- and perhaps illegal -- campaign tactics have been fired off to authorities by both sides, with some of the incidents chronicled by workers and volunteers who carry cameras to gather photographic evidence. So far, the evidence includes a picture of a SMART volunteer -- who allegedly signed the petition with a false name and nonexistent address -- and a snapshot SMART leaders say shows a signature gatherer’s naked rear end as he moons a ”Truth Team“ member.
Earlier this month, SMART fired off a letter to City Attorney Marsha Moutrie complaining that the signature gatherers, who work for Progressive Campaigns, have misled voters and bullied ”Truth Team“ members. Last week, the group sent Moutrie more than 40 incident reports documenting everything from misrepresentation to battery. The allegations echo complaints and litigation filed against the Santa Monica--based firm in signature-gathering efforts from Pasadena to Conejo Valley.
SMART also sent out a news release this month under the heading ”Skinheads Harass Santa Monica Community Activists.“ The release describes how a homeless activist on a ”Truth Team“ ”found herself surrounded by raucous young men with their heads shaved to the skin,“ one of whom shouted, ”Sieg heil.“
Mosher scoffs at the skinhead allegations. ”I checked the yellow pages for ‘rent a skinhead’ and I didn‘t see one,“ said Mosher, whose family is Jewish.
Earlier this month, Mosher fired off allegations of his own, this time to Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, charging that signature gatherers had witnessed ”a wide range of offensive activities, including what they characterize as harassment, forgery and battery.“ The activities -- which the letter says may ”rise to the level of crimes“ -- include shouting at close range, signing false names, and physically obstructing, verbally abusing, pushing and stalking signature gatherers. Attached to the letter were signed affidavits from several of the workers.
Sponsors of the ballot initiative, who go by the name Santa Monicans for a Living Wage, have raised more than $100,000. The initial $25,000 came from Shutters and Casa Del Mar, two luxury beachfront hotels that already pay workers at least $10.30 an hour, Mosher said.
Opponents, who contend that the proposed initiative, which calls for $8.32 an hour plus benefits, would cover only about 200 workers -- compared to the 3,000 covered by SMART’s proposal -- have raised $80,000. The money has come mostly from liberal philanthropists and foundations, as well as from smaller contributions, including $1,000 from Assembly Member Sheila Kuehl, Monroe said.
The war chests have bankrolled dueling propaganda campaigns, with each side charging the other with lying. Both sides have taken out full-page ads in the Los Angeles Times‘ local insert, and both sides have sent out mailers to most of Santa Monica’s 93,000 residents. In addition, more than 400 campaign signs have gone up -- and many as quickly torn down -- supporting the business-backed initiative.
The latest volley was fired last week by proponents of the ballot initiative. The mailer, sent to the city‘s registered voters, shows a picture of Pinocchio with his nose growing as SMART makes the case against the ballot measure. ”May we suggest a new spokesman for the opponents of the Santa Monica Living Wage?“ the flier reads, and it points out that the ballot initiative is similar to Los Angeles’ law and that luxury hotels already pay close to SMART‘s proposed wage.