Our municipal elections are over seven months away and I’m already getting queries about who may be running for City Council.
This year, there are three (out of seven) council members up for re-election — Kevin McKeown, who has served four (four year) terms, Mayor Pam O’Connor with five terms and Bob Holbrook who has served six terms. McKeown and O’Connor are expected to run for re-election while Holbrook claims he’s retiring.
Candidates endorsed by the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) political machine have a 99 percent chance of being elected. SMRR has a lot of political clout, mainly because they’ve convinced renters, who constitute about 70 percent of the voters, that if they don’t vote SMRR, they’ll lose rent control and face eviction or exorbitant rents
Of course it’s not true, but it works like gangbusters. Plus, there’s Unite Here Local 11 with its army of hotel union campaign workers knocking on doors and getting SMRR’s message out.
SMRR’s endorsements are determined at their annual convention, which is held in late July/early August. SMRR members (who’ve paid their dues and have been in the organization 90 days or more before the convention) can vote to endorse candidates for various locally elected offices.
The big issue is development. Everyone’s attention is focused on the roughly 770,000-square-foot Bergamot Transit Village project proposed by mega-developer Hines on Olympic Boulevard. SMRR’s steering committee finally voted to oppose the development a few weeks before it was to go before council for consideration.
There’s a pro-development/slow growth rift within the organization which is why it’s been lethargic in responding to the growing public backlash against the huge amount of development already in the pipeline.
Much to the displeasure of a majority of residents, a development agreement for the Hines project was recently approved by council.
Three SMRR-endorsed council members voted to approve the agreement — O’Connor, Mayor Pro-tem Terry O’Day and Gleam Davis. Holbrook, who is not endorsed by SMRR, also voted in favor of it. Three SMRR-endorsed councilmen — Ted Winterer, Tony Vazquez and McKeown — voted “no.”
McKeown will receive SMRR’s endorsement for council as he is well regarded and is a staunch supporter of SMRR’s goals — housing (including affordable housing), social services, sustainability, living wages and environmental protection.
O’Connor has lost popularity and won’t get the rank and file endorsement (as in 2010) or the SMRR steering committee endorsement, which comes into play only when the rank and file leaves an open seat unendorsed.
Denny Zane, SMRR co-founder, former councilman and mayor and major SMRR power player, said he’d support the Hines project (density, traffic and all) if it had more housing and less office space.
Unfortunately, Zane and a number of SMRR leaders, including most SMRR-backed councilpersons, don’t view thousands of units of new housing as detrimental in terms of traffic, crowding, pollution and demands for resources. It’s idealism over common sense.
Armen Melkonians (who ran for council in 2010) leaped into the political void with his new Residocracy.org. He promised an online people’s voice and a mechanism for organizing public referendums on developments and other issues.
Within 24 hours of council’s 4 to 3 vote to approve the Hines project, citizens were hitting the streets with Melkonians’ petitions to nullify the agreement. Once again, SMRR leaders were late for the parade but managed to eke out support for the referendum.
With two open SMRR endorsements, SMRR honchos are contemplating running Planning Commissioners Sue Himmelrich and Jennifer Kennedy. This is a classic case of what’s wrong with SMRR’s leadership. It’s not who the people want, it’s what SMRR’s oligarchy wants.
To start, SMRR should endorse Phil Brock, who is a long-time Recreation and Parks Commissioner, an early Residocracy supporter and a slow-growther. Melkonians says he isn’t running, but he’s popular, demonstrated a knowledge of community needs and is dedicated to residents, not an agenda.
Wednesday night, the Planning Commission unanimously voted down an application by Palihouse (hotel) owners for an alcohol Conditional Use Permit (CUP) required for a California State Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control license to dispense beer, wine and spirits.
Neighbors argued successfully that an alcohol CUP at the new, boutique Palihouse, located in the former quaint Embassy Hotel and Apartments at 1001 Third St., would exacerbate a non-conforming use — a commercial hotel operating in a quiet, residential neighborhood — and substantially increase the hotel’s nuisance factor as well as exacerbate the already impossible on-street parking situation.
Fifty-plus residents stayed late and spoke against the application, which was also opposed by all seven of Santa Monica’s officially recognized neighborhood groups. Nevertheless, one commissioner, Amy Anderson, suggested approving a more restrictive alcohol CUP — a motion that failed.
Anderson wasn’t alone in missing the point by supporting a commercial business operation in a residentially zoned neighborhood. City Hall’s planners recommended approval of the CUP only with limited hours of alcohol service.
Way too often planning staff, appointed commissioners and elected officials do the bidding for business interests and developers — all with extensive financial resources and high priced attorneys at their disposal. But aren’t they really supposed to be representing residents and protecting our interests? Here, we’re treated like enemies or ignored and that must stop.
Will Palihouse owners appeal the commission’s decision to City Council? Is the Pope Catholic? Council will soon have an opportunity to decide whether the well-being of residents and our neighborhoods takes precedence over businesses profits.
Maybe, just maybe, the tide is turning.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org