Much has appeared in the local press the past few weeks about the chicanery surrounding the Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood Association (Wilmont) elections. But, Wilmont is small potatoes compared to the flim-flammery perpetrated by Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) and ersatz community groups backed by hotel, business and developer interests.
SMRR is run by a 13 member steering committee. Names of current members are hard to get, however they were recently published on surfsantamonica.com.
SMRR currently has two co-chairs. Patricia Hoffman is a long-time SMMR member and currently vice-chair of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., and Jennifer Kennedy, who is on the Planning Commission.
One of its key members is the school district’s Director of Child Development Services Judy Abdo, a former mayor, chair of the new Pier Restoration Commission and council appointee to the Metropolitan Water District Board.
Catherine Eldridge is a Community Corp. of Santa Monica board member and resident of the beleaguered Village Trailer Park.
Bruria Finkle, also on the board of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., is a former member of both the Arts Commission and Rent Control Board. Her husband is retired judge David Finkle, a Santa Monica College trustee.
Maria Loya is a community activist and wife of school board member Oscar de la Torre.
Genise Schnitman is a writer and is married to Councilman Kevin McKeown. Schnitman and trust attorney Sonya Sultan are both committee members.
Barry Snell is a former school board member and former Pier Restoration Corp. member.
Linda Sullivan is a top administrator at SMC and in charge of the Broad Stage, Sullivan is married to former City Attorney Bob Myers, who is SMC’s legal counsel.
Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, an SMC Academic Senate Senator and instructor in the political science department is on the committee. He was criticized during the 2010 election campaigns for offering extra classroom credit to his students working on SMRR-backed campaigns.
Long-time SMRR members Michael Tarbet heads up SMRR’s lobbying efforts on behalf of affordable housing and Roger Thornton is an accountant and acts as a campaign treasurer for some SMRR candidates
Behind-the scenes is power player Denny Zane, one of the organization’s co-founders and a former Santa Monica mayor. Zane now heads Move L.A., a transit advocacy group. Zane and Hoffman ran SMRR’s recent convention.
If finding out who’s on SMRR’s steering committee is hard, try getting a copy of this “recipient committee’s” by-laws. Two years ago, I tried. When calls and e-mails to steering committee members and others close to the organization were replied to — which wasn’t very often, I was told “they weren’t available,” “don’t know where they were” or fed some other line of garbage.
At this year’s convention, I buttonholed City Councilwoman Gleam Davis. “Where can I get a copy of SMRR’s bylaws,” I asked? Davis looked perplexed for a couple of seconds and replied, “I don’t know. I don’t have them,” and scurried off.
If you think SMRR is secretive, how about the various phony “community groups” that seem to materialize out of the ether every election cycle — like Santa Monicans for Change (SMFC), Santa Monicans for Sensible Priorities (SMFSP) in the mid-2000s and Santa Monicans for Quality Government (SMQG) two years ago? Their roots are the hospitality industry-backed “community” organizations formed to fight City Hall’s “living wage” efforts a decade ago.
Virtually all of these so-called citizen organizations have been financed and supported by Tim Dubois, president, COO and partner of Beverly Hills-based Edward Thomas Companies which owns Casa del Mar and Shutters on the Beach hotels along with other business and developer interests. Their goal is to concoct Santa Monica’s version of the “Tea Party” — neighbors unhappy with current city policies and who want change.
Their first step: hire a public relations consultant to create a facade. Malibu publicist Seth Jacobson was behind both SMFC and SMFSP. He also was behind a series of controversial cable TV commercials attacking incumbent Kevin McKeown during the 2006 elections.
Marina del Rey publicist and City Hall lobbyist Kim Karie, whose has both hotel and developer clients, is widely credited with being SMQG’s facilitator in 2010.
Next, collect signatures on a petition or survey. Voila! The group claims hundreds of members. But, they never meet and there’s no formal organization because it’s a group in name only, managed by a publicist who controls all of its functions. Some fronts are created without any public involvement. In either case, membership rolls are never made public because there’s only one or very few real members.
During the 2010 campaign, SMQG was behind misleading slate mailers promoting pro-development candidates for City Council that included a couple of SMRR endorsees. The mailers were traced to a Hermosa Beach direct mail firm hired by SMQG.
SMQG refused to release any contributor data but later relented under pressure. Its funding sources turned out to be developers with key projects awaiting City Council approval along with the Edward Thomas Companies and a smattering of local businesses.
Can we look forward to the same hanky-panky from the usual players this coming election. You betcha!
Don’t forget National Night Out tomorrow evening from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Civic Center parking lot. Meet your favorite police officer. Enjoy free live entertainment, games, music and food. Have a blast courtesy of the Santa Monica Police Department. Parking is free in the Civic Center parking garage. Free parking? Would you believe it?
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.