Dissatisfied with their city attorney's tolerant attitude toward the homeless, a group of Santa Monica residents has launched an initiative drive to make the office elective rather than appointed.
Organizers of the initiative drive, who call themselves Santa Monicans for the Citizens Protection Act, say City Atty. Robert M. Myers' policy of not prosecuting homeless people for some misdemeanors has created an unsafe environment, particularly for the elderly and children.
"The level of violence by the homeless is out of control," said Leslie Dutton, an initiative drive organizer and president of the American Assn. of Women, a conservative group.
Dutton said initiative organizers decided to act in response to a recent stabbing of an elderly woman in a Santa Monica supermarket. A transient has been charged in the March 4 attack on Frances Finnen, 89, who is recovering from her wounds.
"When an 89-year-old lady can't go to the supermarket on a Sunday morning, it's a sad state of affairs," Dutton said.
Dutton said that, by making the city attorney responsible to the electorate rather than to the City Council, voters can remove someone they feel is not properly upholding laws.
"The city attorney is supposed to prosecute everyone who breaks state and local laws," she said. "It's not up to Bob Myers to decide whom he will and will not prosecute."
Myers, who was appointed city attorney in 1981 and can only be removed by the City Council, said his office has "properly performed its duties." He said the only two misdemeanor crimes he generally declines to prosecute are for public inebriation and for sleeping in parks because "it serves no criminal justice purpose and . . . clogs the courts."
Myers, who regularly works as a volunteer in efforts to feed the homeless, said all other charges involving transients are decided on a case-by-case basis.
Myers said he could not discuss his personal opinion on whether his office should be appointed or elected because, if the initiative is placed on the ballot, he and his staff would be required to write an impartial summary of it for voters.
Elected city attorneys are rare in California. The post is an elected one in just 10 of the state's 456 cities, according to the League of California Cities. Among them are Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Compton and Redondo Beach.
Still, supporters of the initiative say a change is needed to make Santa Monica parks and streets safe again.
"It's real basic," said Pam Hanson, 32, a mother of two children who is another organizer of the initiative drive. "There's some common sense that needs to come back to this city. We have misplaced priorities. It's at a point where the elderly and the children cannot enjoy the parks without being harassed. You can't take a four-block walk without being panhandled."
The group originally submitted its notice of intent to circulate petitions for the initiative on Tuesday, then revised it Thursday to require candidates for the office to be Santa Monica residents. The measure also would tie the city attorney's salary to that of a Superior Court judge. That would mean a cut in pay from the $100,379 that Myers makes, to $94,344.
Initiative organizers also are asking the City Council to appoint an outside legal counsel to write the ballot summary on the initiative on the grounds that it would be a conflict of interest for Myers and his staff to do so.
The group has until June 11 to collect 8,288 signatures--15% of the city's registered voters--to qualify the measure.