The City Council election is a year off but one early bird is already getting the worm. Councilwoman Pam O’Connor is the first member of the dais to announce her re-election bid — for her fifth term.

Cheryl Richardson and Kim Karie of The Karie Group hosted a fundraising breakfast on Sept. 22 in the ballroom at Casa Del Mar. I wasn’t invited, but hear from numerous well-connected sources that the event was well attended by “the usual members of the business community” who rang O’Connor’s cash register to the tune of about $5,000.

The Karie Group is a “real estate investments and counseling” firm according to the local Chamber of Commerce directory. Co-principal Kim Karie has close ties with Tim DuBois, president/CEO of the Edward Thomas Collection (Casa Del Mar and Shutters hotels). Karie also works as a lobbyist and is a consistent, low profile operative for hotel and business interests. She was also involved in numerous local (special interest-backed) political campaigns and her clients include highly capitalized firms such as Macerich, owner of Santa Monica Place.

Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights usually opposes the developers, land use attorneys and real estate/property owners who are avowed enemies of rent control, unions and fair wages. So, some of you are probably asking if O’Connor is abandoning SMRR’s powerful political machine that endorsed her previous runs?

O’Connor has become increasingly unpopular with many key SMRR leaders. Even her staunch support for SMRR’s number one plank of affordable housing barely kept her on the ticket in her previous (2006) reelection bid.

O’Connor is also on the board of directors of the Metro Transportation Authority and Expo Construction Authority. When the draft environmental impact report for Phase 2 of the Expo Light Rail was released in January, many were shocked to see it recommended a maintenance/train storage facility next to Exposition Boulevard homes — many of which are owned and occupied by SMRR leaders. There was much grumbling from Pico neighbors, transit supporters and some SMRR faithful that O’Connor didn’t give them a “heads up” about the proposed facility.

O’Connor also supports an alignment that would take trains down the center of Colorado Avenue at street level — which I believe has more to do with development opportunities on the corridor than safety, reduced traffic impacts and on-time operation of the Expo Line, itself.

What is most troubling about O’Connor is her closeness to big business and development interests. The veteran councilwoman was criticized during the 2006 election for accepting $3,100 in donations from 13 employees and friends of Macerich to help retire previous campaign debts.

According to campaign financial statements on file at City Hall, in March, 2008, O’Connor also accepted $2,250 in personal donations from employees and associates of Houston, Texas mega-developer Hines who owns the Paper Mate property on 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard. Hines plans to develop the 7.16-acre site with entertainment related office and post production uses. Hines itself contributed $99,000 to defeat 2008’s slow growth ballot Measure T, or better known as R.I.F.T., the Residents’ Initiative to Fight Traffic.

Persons associated with Newport Beach real estate investment firm Buchanan Street Partners (Hines’ partner on the Paper Mate property) also donated $1,000 to O’Connor.

O’Connor may be cozying up to developers, hotel owners and business interests as a fall back position if SMRR’s support evaporates. Or, maybe she’s already jumped ship. While she’s always claimed that she can’t be bought, big money developers and business persons wouldn’t be parting with cash if they didn’t expect something out of it.

Public becomes snarly at Expo EIR update

Expo Phase 2 light rail draft environmental impact report revisions were presented at a public meeting last Wednesday. Unlike the previous Expo scoping meeting a few months ago, this gathering rippled with dissatisfaction and complaints. Members of the Pico Neighborhood Association Board of Directors bemoaned the proposed Expo maintenance/storage yard east of Stewart Street. Others complained about safety and traffic issues — especially with traffic-jamming, street level (at grade) rail crossings at major intersecting streets.

O’Connor, who slipped in late and quietly left early, missed numerous speakers criticize her for not having the community’s back and ignoring her constituents.

Expo Authority consultant Stephen Polechronis described how the city of Los Angeles requested non-street level (grade-separated) crossings at five key intersections between Culver City and Santa Monica’s border. “Santa Monica didn’t request any changes,” he said. One observer whispered to me, “Why would it? There’s no traffic management or planning, here.”

Not one person in City Hall suggested mitigating traffic and safety impacts from dozens of trains crossing major north/south streets such as Lincoln Boulevard, 20th Street and a half-dozen other key intersections hourly? What a monumental failure in governance!

But, I get it. City Hall is using Expo to screw up traffic so bad, they think we’ll abandon our personal vehicles and start walking, bicycling, hopping on busses or Expo trains when the time comes. Nuts!

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