Four City Council seats are up for grabs. Two of them are occupied by Gleam Davis and Terry O’Day, who are seeking re-election. The other two seats were occupied by Bobby Shriver, who’s not seeking a third term and Richard Bloom who is running for state Assembly.
The pro-development Davis and O’Day have received broad-based support including endorsements from Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), the police and fire unions, school support groups, labor organizations, a host of community leaders, SMRR power players and local activists. And, they’re benefiting from hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign support.
One of their big sugar daddies is this election year’s pretend citizens group Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future (SMURF), financed by NMS Properties, Century West Partners LLC, Ideal Properties LLC and Roberts Business Park. All these companies are in the real estate and property development business and have (or will have) projects pending in Santa Monica.
The NMS Properties website lists 21 projects open, awaiting approval or under construction in Santa Monica, alone. It’s the city’s largest mixed-use developer. NMS is owned by Noam (Neil) Shekhter who emigrated here from the Ukraine at the age of 17 and found work as a cab driver. Thirty years later, he controls hundreds of millions of dollars in local real estate.
A savvy businessman like Shekhter doesn’t hand out money for the heck of it. You can bet he expects a return for his reported $100,000 investment (so far) in SMURF.
Two other council candidates are also receiving SMURF support.
I met school activist and parcel tax promoter Shari Davis a few years ago at a Daily Press open house and asked her about the local teachers’ union president being on the payroll costing the district $60,000 a year. I followed up about legal fees being paid out to fight parents of special education students and other district fiscal policies. Her reaction was akin to a deer in the headlights.
Many are saying that her purpose as a council member, if elected, will be to get more city money for local schools. I’m thinking SMURF’s developer backers know that when they waltz up to the dais for approval of their development proposals, Davis will roll over like a wagon wheel and give them what they want as long as there’s generous “community benefit” in it for schools
Like the other three who have endorsements from police and fire unions, education supporters, community groups and local activists, SMRR-endorsed planning commissioner Ted Winterer also received an “endorsement” from SMURF. But, Winterer is a slow-growth candidate, so what gives?
There are some people who say that his name on developer-backed political mailers will cost Winterer votes from slow growth advocates. But, I think SMURF’s backers are trying to “make nice” with Winterer by supporting him because, like me, they’re sure he’s going to be elected, so why not just jump on the “Ted train” out front?
There are a few other viable challengers in the race.
Entertainment attorney and former Lookout columnist Frank Gruber is probably the most openly pro-development council candidate, but he’s not on SMURF’s slate. That tells me the “big money” doesn’t think he’ll win, despite having a healthy campaign war chest and being an almost guaranteed supporter of their projects.
Tony Vazquez was also endorsed by SMRR’s leaders. I’m hearing that he got their nod because of his long history with the organization. In SMRR, loyalty is rewarded.
Vazquez served one term on City Council (1990-94). It was fraught with controversy and charges of racism. At the time, he voted against public safety measures including a late night park curfew and he fought with police union leaders. The nighttime closures have been widely credited with reducing drug activity and other crimes in our parks.
One City Hall union activist told me that Vazquez is “back in 1993,” as he puts it. In reading Vazquez’s published campaign statements, I agree. Vazquez told the Lookout he didn’t think developers had any undue influence on City Hall. His solutions for fixing traffic problems are also naive and simplistic.
When this newspaper asked him his opinion on development, Vazquez answered that he “supported Measure ES, the school bond that will fund the renovation of the high school.” Huh?
Slow growth Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon may be just too far out for me. While I generally like his positions on growth, sustainability and development, his response to dealing with traffic issues is pure fantasy.
McKinnon told the Lookout, “Bikes everywhere should be the major thrust of the new council which must finish the bike plan within two years and start deeper, more challenging work to get people to use bikes … including kids going to school. This is a major way to get no new net (car) trips.” McKinnon needs to get realistic.
We already have too much “get ‘em out of their car” Utopian traffic management hogwash in City Hall. Usurping street space for bike lanes for the three or four percent who routinely ride bicycles contributes to more congestion. Poorly planned crosswalks, uncoordinated signal lights, mid-street planters and curb bump-outs (that prevent turns) just make things worse.
While bicycles and mass transit have their place, moving people around efficiently, quickly and safely is the real goal for the vast majority of us.
Next week: The big issues and dark horses that deserve your vote.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.