CITY HALL – Barring a wildly popular write-in candidate or an unforeseen event of the like, it’s a pretty safe bet who’s going to get elected to the Rent Control Board in November.
With three available seats and only three candidates qualifying for the ballot, our money is on incumbent Todd Flora and newcomers Nicole Phillis and Steve Duron.
Flora ran unopposed in his first election. Both Phillis and Duron are relative newcomers to the Santa Monica civic scene.
Phillis, a commercial litigator at Munger, Tolles, & Olson, moved to the city in 2011. When, as she claims, she was harassed by the landlord of her Downtown apartment, she sought the help of her colleague Michael Soloff.
Soloff, who is married to Planning Commissioner and City Council candidate Sue Himmelrich, helped Phillis out.
“That’s when I became mobilized,” Phillis said. “They were the first people who brought me to SMRR (Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights). They encouraged me to join SMRR and brought me to my first Steering Committee meeting.”
At the meetings she gained confidence and began speaking up. Soon she was working the SMRR hotline – sending struggling renters to the appropriate outlets. She helped coordinate “court watches” to combat an issue called “hubbing.”
Tenants facing evictions were, in some cases, being tried in Agoura Hills or Chatsworth where judges are less familiar with Santa Monica rent control law. The court watchers showed up to make sure everything was being handled fairly.
Phillis was appointed to the Commission on the Status of Women of which she was recently named chair.
Phillis’ rise, from victim of tenant harassment to protector of tenants’ rights has been a fast one.
“It’s not like I was a long-term tenant when I was being harassed,” she said, “but it certainly made me empathetic to tenants, especially those who have been there for a really long time.”
Most Santa Monica political hopefuls join SMRR, speak at council meetings, sit on a few boards, run for a less competitive seat, and then run for council. Duron, a privately practicing lawyer, is working his way backward.
A resident since 2006 (and during college in the late 1980s), Duron’s introduction to Santa Monica civic life came in 2012 when he decided to run for council. He finished dead last, with 2,465 votes, but Duron doesn’t see it as a total loss.
“It was an amazing experience,” he said. “I met a lot of people. I met a lot of friends. That was kind of my leap into public work here in Santa Monica. I’ve always been a public servant my whole life. That’s just kind of the way I’ve been wired. I worked on political campaigns. I volunteered as a lawyer.”
After the election he joined the Santa Monica Democratic Club where his now serves as treasurer. A lifelong renter, he joined SMRR.
He was appointed by council to the Clean Beaches and Ocean Parcel Tax (Measure B) Oversight Committee. Duron, who has a 3-year-old and 4-year-old, was also appointed by the Board of Education to serve on the Child Development Services Oversight Committee.
This year, hearing that there would be an opening or two, he decided that Rent Control Board would be right for him.
“I’ve always been a renter and it was a good opportunity,” he said. “I had spoken out about affordable housing and renters’ rights in the past. People in the community suggested I do it.”
Duron’s aim is three-fold: Educate tenants on their rights, improve communication between rent control-related departments, and protect renters and landlords.
“I want to uphold the rent control laws to the best of my ability,” he said, “to ensure tenants’ rights and that the laws are written to make sure that landlords get a fair return on their investment.”