The problem with a general presidential election is that tens of thousands of residents voting on federal or state offices and propositions don’t care about local issues or who’s running for City Council and school board. The results are often unfortunate.

Santa Monica Patch interviewed local voters who admitted that local races were of no interest. One voter said he went, ”eeny, meeny, miny, moe.” Others were “overwhelmed by the volume of political pamphlets stuffed into their mailboxes — like from Bill Bloomfield?

With no clear-cut basis to chose candidates, many voters take the easy way out. Vote for nice sounding names, women, along party lines, pro-environment or use a list they’ve been given.

When it comes to getting out the vote, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) is the undisputed top dog. The 33-year-old cabal controls every facet of local government including school board, college board, City Council and Rent Control Board.

Local elections are decided when two to three hundred dues-paying SMRR members endorse candidates for all open offices at their annual convention in July. The endorsements are supplemented after the convention behind closed doors with additional nods from SMRR’s powerful steering committee.

This year Ted Winterer and Gleam Davis were endorsed for City Council by the general membership while Tony Vazquez and Terry O’Day were added later. SMRR leaders vowed to differentiate between the methods of endorsement in their election materials this year. However, as in previous years, all endorsees were billed as “The SMRR Team” thus rendering rank and file endorsements worthless.

SMRR’s success is in convincing renters (about two-thirds of the city’s voters) that their team is the only thing between them and higher rents and, heaven forbid, outright eviction. It’s complete nonsense because rent increases and evictions are governed by the city charter and the courts.

However, the scare tactic is simple and effective. Many renter/voters vote with a list of SMRR candidates and measures in hand because they mistakenly think it’s in their best interest. Santa Monica voters elected all four SMRR endorsees for City Council.

Most also don’t realize that SMRR-backed tax or bond measure costs are paid by the very tenants SMRR claims to protect or that SMRR’s endorsements are almost always based on agenda, party loyalty and cronyism.

Smart, capable candidates not in SMRR’s inner circle have no chance while less desirable persons are elected way too often. It explains why both our school and city governance is so flawed.

Education support groups, special interests and public safety unions all jump on SMRR’s bandwagon. To them “picking winners” is following SMRR’s lead.

The developer-funded Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future (SMURF) PAC spent $441,000 on campaign materials supporting Gleam Davis, Shari Davis, Terry O’Day and Ted Winterer. But all their slick, color mailers didn’t achieve much. When the ballots were counted, Winterer, Gleam Davis and O’Day won but Shari Davis — not endorsed by SMRR — finished out of the money.

While activists were watching for well funded developer-backed groups or Political Action Committees (PACs) pushing pro-development candidates, they were either unaware or didn’t care that another outside influence was about to seize control of our election for its own purpose. UNITE HERE! Local 11. The hotel union was back — and in a big way.

They were a major factor in SMRR’s victory. Top level union leaders and organizers from all over the country flocked here to run SMRR’s campaign. An army of hotel workers along with paid and non-paid volunteers and Santa Monica College students walked precincts urging everyone to vote SMRR.

In return, SMRR-endorsed council persons are expected to “OK” new hotel projects and require both new and existing non-union hotel managements to approve card checks. The card check agreement requires recognition of the union when it collects signed cards from a simple majority of hotel employees. The agreement fast tracks the unionization process and makes it easier for the union to grow.

The union’s involvement even included campaigning for school board incumbents Ben Allen, Jose Escarce and Maria Leon-Vazquez. The Doubletree Hotel’s lease on district property adjacent to Santa Monica High School is up for renewal in the coming months.

The union expects Allen, Escarce and Leon-Vazquez to insist on card checks and generous wage packages as a requirement for any new lease arrangement — something that they wouldn’t get if the three challengers from Malibu won — especially Seth Jacobson who was retained by local hotels to fight the union’s living wage efforts in the early/mid 2000s.

Don’t expect a change in present policies with either the school board or new council. Neighborhood activists will have to monitor development and other key issues very closely. One project, not yet on the Planning Department case list, is a high-end, “world class hotel” on the present Holiday Inn site at Colorado and Ocean avenues.

Preliminary reports indicate FelCor Lodging Trust wants to build three towers, one of them 195 feet (or 17 floors) tall. They hope to begin the Development Agreement process early in January of 2013. Maybe this is the luxury “Frank Gehry-designed hotel project” I’ve been hearing rumors about for months

As long as SMRR maintains their grip on the throat of local governance, elected officials will do what they, outside interests or what SMRR leaders want.

There’s little the rest of us can do but complain because there’s no real desire or effort to beat the SMRR machine at the polls where it counts.

 

 

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com