CITYWIDE ¬ó Candidates, start your engines. Campaign season is upon us.
While the presidential candidates have been duking it out publicly for months, Monday is the first day for Santa Monica¬ís political hopefuls to pull papers for the local elections, and candidates are already lining up for their shot at public office.
Four City Council seats, two Rent Control Board seats, three positions on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education and three spots on the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees are all up for grabs.
If previous elections are any guide, that means that Santa Monicans can batten down the hatches for four months of campaigning, cajoling and more paper mail than they receive at any other point of the year except maybe the winter holidays.
As the players in the democratic drama make themselves known, here¬ís a rough map of the road to Nov. 6, Election day.
Today is the first day that people feeling the itch of civic duty can pull nominating papers, documents that prove that somebody in Santa Monica wants to see a particular name on the November ballot.
Make that 100 somebodys.
Prospective candidates have just over four weeks to file 100 valid signatures with the City Clerk¬ís office. Those signatures must come from Santa Monica residents that are registered to vote, and any errant or duplicate signatures will be thrown out during the vetting process.
As City Councilmember Bob Holbrook knows, getting signatures can be a stressful experience.
Holbrook, who is not up for election this year, has walked Santa Monica door-to-door in search of signatures. The experience gives candidates face-time with the people they hope to represent and can give them a first-hand look at Santa Monica¬ís diverse neighborhoods.
It can also acquaint a person with the more arcane provisions of the Santa Monica municipal code.
While on a signature hunt one year, Holbrook stopped by a house with a gated front yard. The front door was on the other end of a walkway, lined with lush plants.
While he contemplated entering the front yard to knock on the door, something made the decision for him.
¬ìThis neck came around the corner,¬î Holbrook said.
The owner of the house, who happened to be absent, owned emus. Emus are the second tallest birds in the world, right after ostriches. Holbrook described the attack-emu ¬ìlike something out of Jurassic Park.¬î
When he joined the council, Holbrook made it a point to check on the legality of emu-keeping within city limits. It¬ís a-OK.
Setting the physical dangers of signature gathering aside, there are other pitfalls. Holbrook has seen candidates come up with over 100 signatures only to find that a handful were invalid, cutting off their candidacy before it really began.
Well-intentioned people sign nominating papers not knowing that their zeal for the democratic process will hinder the candidate down the road. Holbrook no longer takes chances. Over his years on the campaign trail, he has developed a rolodex of voters he knows meet the nominating requirements.
Candidates don¬ít seem to have trouble surpassing the 100-signature bar. City Council elections, in particular, are crowded affairs, with upwards of 10 people qualifying.
The City Council flirted with the notion of upping the required signatures to 200 while giving candidates who couldn¬ít meet that mark the option of gathering only 100 and paying an in-lieu fee for the remaining Hancocks as a way of making sure that prospective candidates had more ¬ìskin in the game.¬î
That provision failed, and with it an attempt to get candidates to cover some of the city-incurred costs for their runs. According to the City Clerk¬ís office, a single candidate can cost municipal coffers up to $14,000 for the production of candidate videos and the airtime they use on City TV alone.
Although the nominating process is only just under way, the field for the City Council race, in particular, is already filling up.
Four incumbents are up for election, and at least one is wide open for a fresh face if they have the ability to take it.
Mayor Richard Bloom will end his 13-year run on the Santa Monica City Council as he vies against Assemblywoman Betsy Butler for the 50th Assembly District, which encompasses Santa Monica, Malibu, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis has already announced her decision to win her seat outright. She and Councilmember Terry O¬íDay were both elected to fill seats left empty by the passings of Herb Katz and Ken Genser, respectively.
O¬íDay has not made a formal announcement, and may still be reeling from the loss of thousands of dollars in campaign funds to Kinde Durkee, a campaign treasurer for many Democrats that admitted to taking $7 million from the campaigns she administered.
One notable hold out is Councilmember Bobby Shriver. Rumors have swirled for over a year whether Shriver will run in 2012, go for another elected office or step out of local politics for a stretch, but the councilmember is steadfastly refusing to satisfy curiosity with a definitive statement.
Non-incumbents who have announced their intentions include Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer, education advocate Shari Davis, peace activist Jerry Rubin, former columnist Frank Gruber and newcomer John Cyrus Smith.
On the Board of Education front, sitting Board President Ben Allen and board members Jose Escarce and Maria Leon Vasquez will have to run to keep their seats.
Those who decide to run may see some competition from Malibu parents that feel marginalized by the dominance of Santa Monica residents on the Board of Education.
Malibu will ¬ìlikely¬î field a candidate, but it¬ís difficult to find someone to run when many feel that the odds are stacked against them, wrote Craig Foster, of the parent group Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, in an e-mail.
Representation has been a key issue for Malibu residents, who are in the process of trying to separate from the district altogether.
On the Rent Control Board front, Robert Kronovet, the sole landlord in the group, is up for re-election. It¬ís unclear who, if anyone, will run for the two open seats given the dearth of candidates when former Rent Control Board member Chris Braun ran unopposed for his appointed seat in 2010.
Finally, the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees took heat in the past year for an incident in which students protesting a two-tier pricing model for summer classes were pepper sprayed outside a board meeting.
In the intervening months of public discussion and student outcry, many students reminded board members sharply that they are elected and that their constituents were not happy. Given the fact that only 15 percent of SMC students live in Santa Monica, it¬ís unclear if student organizing can directly impact Rob Rader or Margaret Quinones-Perez¬ís re-elections.
The role of money in political campaigns at every level has been a key issue since the Supreme Court¬ís 2010 decision to allow unfettered corporate spending in elections.
The City Council attempted to reign that spending in at the beginning of 2011, but was barred from doing so by First Amendment protections conferred to corporations by the Citizens¬í United decision.
The City Council did vote to raise the maximum campaign contribution from the standard $250, which had been in place since 1992, to $325 for City Council and Rent Control Board races. Proponents of the change felt that it would allow candidates to raise more money from individuals to stave off attacks from private interests.
School board and SMC races do not have contribution limits spelled out in the Santa Monica municipal code, nor are they defined in their respective policies or bylaws.
Factions within the community concerned by the influence of outside money in local politics have formed to keep an eye on where donations to primarily council races are coming from.
Members of the Santa Monica Transparency Project analyzed the 2010 campaign contributions, and found that many council members had taken money from developers that did work in Santa Monica.
Those groups, and the Daily Press, will be keeping an eye on campaign contribution filings that must be turned in to the City Clerk¬ís office at regular intervals.
According to the Fair Political Practices Commission, the first deadline for all committees for the period between March 31 and June 30 is July 31. The next filing dates fall on Oct. 5 and Oct. 25. After that, updates are filed daily.
Traffic. Over-development. The impacts of the Santa Monica Airport.
Many of the problems listed by community groups in the city sound familiar, likely because they¬íve been on repeat for many years.
Groups like the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City feel that many members of the current City Council have done little to solve these critical issues, and put them on notice.
¬ìThere are five council members who vote for anything developers want, regardless of traffic, quality of life impacts,¬î wrote Diana Gordon, co-chair of SMCLC. ¬ìNow that there are a couple of open seats for the council, we need to fill them with people who will take residents¬í concerns into account on these critical development issues.¬î
Those in education have their own problems to deal with.
A crushing budget from the state lopped 22 percent of state contributions from the local district, and the community colleges have lost millions as they cope with a decrease in classes and increase in needy students.
Attempts to solve those problems have met with stiff resistance from students, who fear their public education will be privatized.
The Nov. 6 election could bring many new players into Santa Monica politics, or it could retain those that have committed themselves to office thus far.
It seems unlikely that either group will have an easy time of it.