Guest Column: An Open Letter to Ralph Mechur

Letter to the Editor

The following is an open letter addressed to Ralph Mechur.

Dear Mr. Mechur,

I appreciated your quote reported in the media following your reappointment to the SMMUSD Board of Education that you are “reaching out to people who feel that I was not the best candidate.” In this spirit, I am reaching out to you as you begin your new term:

I lived 15 years in Santa Monica before moving to Malibu 15 years ago. My older kids attended Franklin, Roosevelt, Samohi and Olympic, and my younger child has attended Webster Elementary and Malibu High schools. I served a number of years on SMMUSD’s Special Education Advisory Committee. All this to say that I have first-hand knowledge of the two communities, what they share in common and what is different. I would like to make three points:

1. The residents of Malibu do not believe they are listened to, understood or respected by the school board. These feelings are deep, pervasive and supported by actual experiences. Despite the board members’ insistence that they do listen, understand and respect Malibu residents, it wasn’t until I actually moved to Malibu and lived here for a while before I came to comprehend the profound reality of this situation.

The fundamental problem is that a board consisting of an overwhelming majority of Santa Monica residents — who are primarily answerable to an overwhelming base of Santa Monica voters — doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. That may be hard to hear and even harder for well-intentioned Santa Monica leaders to accept, but it is the simple, inescapable truth. Realistically, given the political, cultural, demographic and geographical realities, a Santa Monica-centered board won’t ever know what it doesn’t know. 

As someone who has now lived 15 years in each of the two communities and been very active in the schools throughout that span of time, I truly don’t believe that there is, in fact, a solution, other than giving the residents of Malibu the local control that they rightly seek. 

Malibu has been a self-governing city for 24 years, and Malibu residents believe that the Santa Monica-controlled school board refuses Malibu’s requests for self-governance because Santa Monica’s elected leaders want, in practice if not in principle, to maintain power over Malibu and to control Malibu’s resources. Since there is no other explanation, this realization makes the residents of Malibu angry and bitter.

2. I believe that many in Malibu opposed your candidacy because they did not believe that you, as an individual and as an elected official, believe in the principal of local control for Malibu — despite the fact that local control is a core value for which Santa Monicans have always fought for themselves. During the election, the candidates tended to articulate two different messages.

One set of candidates said, “I believe in the principle in self-governance and local control, and unless it can be shown that a Malibu School District can not be viable, I will support Malibu’s efforts to establish independence.” Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, Oscar de la Torre and Craig Foster enunciated this position clearly; Laurie’s comments leaned in that direction.

Other candidates’ message was “I believe that the SMMUSD Board of Education and the SMMUSD administration do a fine job in running Malibu’s schools. Before I would support local control, I would need to be convinced that Malibu residents could do better than the wonderful job we already do for them; and I would need to be shown that Santa Monica would have to be better off without Malibu being part of our resource base.” Malibu residents perceive you to hold this latter position.

3. If you were to reach out to those who feel you were not the best candidate (which, I think, is more or less the Malibu community), I would recommend that you make a clear and public declaration, to be repeated as often as is necessary, that you support in principle the right of the residents of the City of Malibu to achieve self-governance, and that you will direct the district in practice to work with AMPS to achieve that end, unless and until it can be shown that the harm self-governance would bring would significantly and substantially outweigh the benefits that local control would bring. 

What do you think? If you can sincerely take this position, you will have reached out to those who challenged your candidacy in not only the best way but, at the end of the day, the only way that will matter. The residents of Malibu look forward to working with you to this end.