A funny thing happened on the way to the election. People started to get real.

Last week, I attended an informal gathering of neighborhood group leaders and grass-roots community activists who get together from time to time to discuss politics. This was an “invitation only” forum for City Council candidates.

The majority of the regulars in the group had previously voiced support for incumbent Kevin McKeown and Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer, who are running for four-year terms.

Most of the folks in the room are for top-notch resident services and against over-development. Almost all supported more restrictive development standards in the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) and 2008’s Measure T ballot measure, which, if approved, would have capped commercial development.

The majority of the 15 or so people around the conference table felt that residents had been shortchanged by the recent LUCE process despite much public input over four years. The prevailing opinion was that developers, their attorneys and real estate interests got the extra height and expanded business uses they wanted after intense, last-minute maneuvering and arm twisting — and residents lost.

I’ve been critical of Gleam Davis, one of the two appointees running for a two-year term. Davis explained why she supported an extra 5 feet of maximum height (86 feet) in the massive Bergamot Transit Village development proposed for the Paper Mate property on Olympic Boulevard. It had to do with more usable ground level store and gallery ceiling heights, didn’t add an extra floor and provided only a minimal overall height increase, she explained.

While I didn’t agree with her, I thought she presented a good case. However, instead of voting for her constituency — the majority of Santa Monicans who favor lower building heights — she voted for a big Texas developer and his project’s future tenants, whoever they may be.

Davis did redeem herself when she said, “Traffic was the city’s number one problem.” She advocated for efficient traffic flow, synchronized traffic signals and expanded inter-city (as opposed to intra-city) Big Blue Bus service. “Transit should move people around town,” she said.

Jean McNeil Wyner, running for a four-year term, has a lengthy record of community service. She’s been a board member and/or chair at more service nonprofits than you can shake a donation envelope at. But, when it came to knowledge about City Hall, she fell short. Her long and close ties with the Chamber of Commerce bothered some at the assemblage.

Wyner had no idea architects Gwynne Pugh and Hank Koning, who sit on the Planning Commission, also have fat contracts with City Hall — considered a clear conflict of interest by most attendees. Wyner said she’d work to prohibit citizen commissioners from doing business with the city, if elected.

Like Wyner, Susan Hartley, running for a two-year term said, “Residents aren’t being listened to.” Hartley didn’t like the new taller buildings going up on Broadway and many other major streets. “I like to see the horizon once in a while,” she intoned.

She opposes Measure Y, the “badly-written” half-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot because “the city has plenty of money.” She supports Measure YY (that suggests half of Y’s revenues, if voter approved, should be used for education) to send a message to City Hall to support our schools.

She was especially critical of high employee wages and generous benefits as well as costly events like the Glow beach arts festival held over the weekend. She’s in favor of closing the Santa Monica Airport in 2015 and building a great park with a community garden, restoring the golf course and building a solar and wind farm there to generate energy for the city.

Robert Kronovet, running for a two-year term, opposes Measure Y. He also says the city already spends too much and needs to cut back. There are too many city employees, outside consultants and that extravagant spending for things such as social (homeless) services and low-income housing projects must be dramatically reduced. If spending isn’t cut, “Santa Monica will be in a financial crisis,” he warned.

Kronovet also feels traffic is a major issue. He proposes building a 1,000-car parking structure in the Civic Center and another 5,000 parking spaces under public parks. He would synchronize traffic lights and lower the citywide speed limit to 25 mph. He’d promote tourism, small businesses and redirect $20 million in city funds to the schools.

All four candidates who addressed the group had major flaws, however, I agree with the gathering’s consensus that Davis and Hartley made the most sense and are the best choices for two-year City Council terms.

Attendees already had major issues with both incumbents, Pam O’Connor and Bob Holbrook (running for full-term seats), and declined to voice support but reserved the right to revisit the issue at a later date.

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