When Santa Monica voters step inside the election booth Tuesday, Nov. 2, they will have the power to shape the future of their city, their schools and their quality of life. Months of campaigning, accusations, record defending, pontificating and promising have come down to this. This week, the rhetoric is rendered moot, for the future is in the hands of the voter.
Through the myriad public forums, interviews, story coverage and reader feedback, we at the Santa Monica Daily Press have identified what we feel to be the issues that have a firm grip on the city’s collective psyche. In terms of the crowded, often contentious, City Council race, our elected officials will be called upon to deal with the issues of traffic congestion, the lack of workforce housing and fears of overdevelopment — all of which, in the end, come back to traffic via a workforce shut out of the city’s continually escalating real estate market.
We need a City Council that will not only maintain a strong grasp of the issues, but one that also brings an injection of innovation to the table. Finding that delicate balance will be the task at hand for the next council. With these interests in mind, the Daily Press Editorial Board endorses incumbents Kevin McKeown and Gleam Davis, and newcomers Ted Winterer, Susan Hartley and Jean McNeil Wyner.
Kevin McKeown: Four-year term
McKeown is the resident’s candidate, a true pothole-filling politician who has shown not only a willingness but a desire to deal with the day-to-day gripes of residents. He answers residents’ e-mails, attends numerous community meetings and reflects the views of many progressives who call Santa Monica home. While he is criticized for taking the city into uncharted waters, exposing it to litigation or outside criticism, his activism and proactive style help make Santa Monica a leader in sustainability and social justice. We trust he will continue to be a voice for residents and hold developers accountable for the impacts their projects have on the community.
Gleam Davis: Two-year term
Appointed to the council in February of 2009 following the death of Councilman Herb Katz, Davis has shown a willingness to look at all sides of an issue and make a reasoned decision that makes Santa Monica a better place to live. She has worked to preserve affordable housing and livable neighborhoods, while at the same time has been pragmatic when it comes to development. She is intelligent and committed to expanding education and opportunities for our youth. We believe she is a strong advocate for the future of our city and can also hold city staff accountable and not just rubber-stamp recommendations. Davis has a firm grasp of the issues residents care about most and has solid plans to reduce traffic congestion.
Ted Winterer: Four-year term
As a former member of the Recreation and Parks Commission, and a current member of the Planning Commission and the Ocean Park Association board, Winterer has walked the walk. He is an advocate of slow growth and clearly speaks for residents who want to retain Santa Monica’s vibe. He has worked with city staff to address parking problems on Main Street and he has been an advocate for locally-owned businesses. He brings common sense and a willingness to hear all arguments before making a reasoned decision. In addition, Ted represents a much-needed demographic on the council. He’s a family man and a homeowner with kids in our local public schools. Winterer has run a professional campaign and has secured credible endorsements. If Winterer can’t win, other serious candidates shouldn’t even bother running. All we will be left with are incumbents and fringe candidates, meaning change will come to the council only if death strikes or someone decides to walk away.
Susan Hartley: Two-year term
We often hear from readers that City Hall does not listen to the residents. With Hartley on the dais, residents will be heard. Hartley’s heart belongs to the residents who are fed up with the increased development and traffic congestion. She represents those residents who fought to protect ficus trees from being destroyed by City Hall. As vice chair of the Airport Commission, Hartley pushed for runway safety enhancements at Santa Monica Airport and is willing to do battle with the FAA to protect residents from deadly overruns. As an attorney specializing in employee rights, she has fought for those without a voice and will do so again for residents if elected. She’s intelligent and able to power through complex documents, something needed as City Hall enters into more development agreements. She’s also independent, not answering to Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights nor the business community. She will protect our quality of life and hold power players accountable.
Jean McNeil Wyner: Four-year term
As you can tell by now, the Daily Press has a thing for strong, opinionated women and Wyner certainly fits that mold. Don’t let her kind heart fool you. Wyner can be tough and if elected she pledges to cut wasteful spending and be an advocate for small businesses. She will provide a balance on a council that seems to want to solve all of the world’s social ills no matter the cost, and give the business community a sorely-needed advocate. Having served on more than two dozen nonprofit boards, Wyner has the connections to make things happen and understands how organizations function. She won’t have much of a learning curve starting out and will be able to tackle complex issues from the start.
Deciding who to endorse for the City Council was difficult. The Editorial Board weighed many factors and was impressed by several candidates. We felt Bob Holbrook, Pam O’Connor, Terry O’Day and Robert Kronovet were strong, however, other candidates made a greater impact. Holbrook and O’Connor have served this community well and should be commended for their dedication, however, we feel it is time for them to step down and give other qualified residents an opportunity to help shape this city’s future. We’ll miss Holbrook’s common-sense approach to issues and his love of Santa Monica. We will also miss O’Connor’s influence on regional transit issues. That said, we feel their viewpoints will be well represented on the council. O’Day is connected, educated on the issues and a staunch supporter of the environment. But who isn’t on the council? There were some concerns about his connections to developers. And Kronovet, what an entertaining candidate. He had the guts to tell it like it is regarding homelessness, becoming the lone candidate to declare homelessness a public safety issue and we agree with him. We also liked his fiscal policy and his willingness to trim the city’s budget. But when it came to some of his pie-in-the-sky ideas, it’s hard to take him seriously. That said, we wouldn’t be surprised to see any one of these folk on the dais come December.
Restoring trust in the school board
With more revenue from City Hall expected to be diverted to the public schools, we need a Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education that will show real leadership, ask the tough questions and hire the right people to make reforms. The Daily Press Editorial Board has lost confidence in the current leadership, like many parents in the district. We need a change. We need intelligent leaders with backgrounds in finance who have the wherewithal to hold people accountable. Our students and teachers aren’t the problem. That’s why we are supporting incumbent Oscar de la Torre and challengers Laurie Lieberman, Nimish Patel and Patrick Cady.
Oscar de la Torre
While he may be controversial, there is a need for someone like de la Torre on the school board. He is a product of our local schools, has gained the trust of students at risk and is an advocate for students of color. He has been the most vocal critic of district staff and the superintendent, showing he isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers to get results. The Daily Press believes in de la Torre’s sincerity. He wants to end youth violence in our community, he’s working daily toward that end and deserves your support.
As an advocate for education, Lieberman has devoted countless hours to helping the district find ways to overcome budget deficits. She is a co-founder of the education advocacy group LEAD and served on the executive committee of the Santa Monica High School PTSA. She is a former deputy city attorney and has been a resident of Santa Monica for 30 years. She knows the issues and has the experience to make meaningful changes.
The same can be said about Patel. Having served on the district’s Financial Oversight Committee and on the steering committee for education advocacy group CEPS, Patel has the experience and the institutional knowledge to help guide the district during tough economic times. He has degrees in accounting, business and law, possessing skills that are critical to running a public organization with millions of dollars at stake. He has children in local public schools, which means he’s invested.
A teacher for over 30 years in our local schools, Cady knows what is happening on the ground and can speak to how cuts impact students and teachers. He is also a resident of Malibu and will give that community representation that has been lacking since the departure of Kathy Wisnicki. He can help to heal old wounds and get Malibu parents back in the fold. We are concerned with his loyalty to teachers in light of future cuts or concessions from unions, but we feel it is important for teachers and students to have representation and Cady is the candidate to do that.
Nothing new to report here
Santa Monica College Board of Trustees; and Santa Monica Rent Control Board
We don’t want to spend too much ink here given that these two races have not generated any excitement in the community. For the SMC board, its all incumbents and no challengers, which means this race won’t even appear on the ballot. The incumbents will simply be appointed and remain. While we’re a tad disappointed no one new decided to throw their hat into the ring, we feel the current board and college staff are working well together, offering courses that reflect the community’s needs while trying to reduce traffic and parking impacts. They’ve used bond money well and are collaborating with City Hall and the school district in an effort to be a better neighbor.
The Rent Control Board is offering voters some choice with two newcomers — Todd Flora and William Winslow. They are running for two open seats. Board Chair Marilyn Korade Wilson and appointed incumbent Chris Braun are running unopposed. They are all supported by Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights and will continue to be strong advocates for rent control. If you like the status quo, here you go. If you don’t, try running in two years and make change happen.
Providing funding without much pain
Measure Y & YY: YES
There’s no denying that Santa Monica is a rich city. With a City Hall budget of more than half-a-billion dollars, it is hard to argue for more money, but the reality is the economy is still sputtering, politicians in Sacramento can’t get the state out of debt and the future is foreboding. If residents want to retain the high quality of life they enjoy (rapid police and fire response, after-school programs, well-maintained beaches and parks, sustainable policies, social welfare programs) they need to lock down locally-controlled revenue sources or risk being raided by the Legislature. We’ve seen it with our public schools, our redevelopment agency and transit funds. This is why the Daily Press supports Measure Y, and the advisory Measure YY.
If approved, Measure Y would enact a half-cent sales tax that would generate an estimated $12 million annually and have no sunset date. It would raise Santa Monica’s tax rate to 10.25 percent, one of the highest in the state. The tax would be collected in much the same way as the existing sales tax and would not be applied to food or medicine.
Measure YY is a non-binding advisory measure that asks voters if half of the money from the new tax should pay for education and other services, with the understanding that $6 million would go to local public schools.
Those opposed say the tax increase will deter consumer spending, further decreasing revenue for city services and will hurt those with lower incomes. They want City Hall to make cuts. They also argue, and are correct, that there is no guarantee that the council would give funds to schools if YY passes. That’s true, but who really believes the council would risk public scorn and not divert that money to schools? The education community has proven in the past that it has the council’s ear and will pull and tug on it when necessary.
The reality is City Hall has made cuts, employees have agreed to take on some of their healthcare costs, half of the new tax revenue is expected to be paid for by visitors, with residents and their children getting something substantial in return for all the traffic congestion caused by those who flock to this attractive city by the sea. As for its impact on consumer spending; can you name the sales tax rates in any neighboring city? When’s the last time you looked at the sales tax when purchasing something? Most can’t. And even if they could, our neighbors will more than likely try and pass a sales tax increase of their own, just as more than a dozen are doing this election cycle.
Measure Y and YY are about protecting the level of services we currently enjoy while preparing to soften the blow of cuts in the near future.
Choosing between property rights and eviction protection
Measure RR: NO
It’s almost impossible to argue against protecting some of the most vulnerable in our society, but we’re going to try.
Measure RR at first glance feels like the right thing to do. If approved, it would extend rent control protections, specify clear grounds for eviction, give tenants more time to cure minor violations of a rental agreement and (this one is important) would restrict a property owner’s ability to evict the terminally ill, disabled or seniors in cases where the owner wants to move in to a unit currently occupied by someone who falls into those groups.
The intentions are good. Clearly there is a need to provide housing for those who, in the case of the terminally ill, are struggling to survive. Supporters want voters to picture an elderly woman out on the street, her shawl wrapped around her as she shivers in the cold, her few belongings stuffed in boxes. No one wants that.
But the Daily Press doesn’t want property owners stripped of their rights either and that is why we cannot support Measure RR. Restricting an owner’s right to live in a home they have purchased is fundamentally unjust. If Measure RR is approved it will negatively impact property values and could increase harassment and intimidation by the handful of bad apples this measure is intended to combat. Landlords will be even more hesitant to reinvest in their properties, leaving Santa Monica with an increasing number of dwellings in poor physical condition.
We support the measure’s attempt to prevent evictions for minor violations, giving tenants more time to address issues like that pile of newspapers the landlord wants disposed of or the barbecue grill that was not allowed in the lease. But restricting property rights, we can’t get behind that, especially when Santa Monica has one of the strongest and most tenant-friendly Rent Control Boards in the country.
Will some of the less fortunate be evicted? Yes. But instead of punishing property owners, many of whom we’ve talked to are mom-and-pop-type operations, why not use this opportunity to find or create housing for seniors and the disabled. That’s where the focus should be.