CITYWIDE — Every candidate and measure backed by Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights found electoral victory according to early election results, leaving Santa Monica a one-horse town for the time being.
SMRR’s four-person slate swept the City Council, all three incumbents won their positions on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education and landlord Robert Kronovet was ousted from his spot on the Rent Control Board.
Three incumbents for the Santa Monica College Board were also backed by SMRR, but ran unopposed.
A hoarse but happy Patricia Hoffman answered her phone Wednesday morning.
“I think this is the first time ever that every position SMRR took and every person it backed has prevailed,” she said.
Hoffman attributes the success toward a simple, clear message and adherence to core principles.
That came despite the perception from outside that the organization’s cohesion was beginning to splinter, particularly at its July convention when it failed to strongly endorse four candidates for the City Council race.
“I think we have enough stability within our organization and have changed our organization enough to keep it a vital entity within Santa Monica,” Hoffman said.
Although results will not be finalized for weeks, the following is a run-down on Santa Monica races as they stood Wednesday.
Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer and former Councilmember Tony Vazquez prevailed alongside incumbents Terry O’Day and Gleam Davis in the City Council race, beating out a crowded ballot of hopefuls.
Winterer won the most votes, with 13,586 or 15.12 percent, followed closely by O’Day, who was less than six-tenths of a percent behind.
Davis almost hit the 13 percent mark with 11,605 votes and Vazquez cleared the hurdle for fourth place with 9,129 votes or 10.16 percent.
This is Winterer’s third attempt at a City Council seat after several years spent on the Planning Commission. The darling of the slow-growth and anti-development crowd, he lost to sitting Councilmember Robert Holbrook in 2010 by only 56 votes.
The 2012 win felt good, if tiring, he said.
“People kept telling me the third time’s the charm,” he said Wednesday.
Vazquez will return to a seat of power in Santa Monica after almost two decades absent from the scene. He came out strongly against the Santa Monica Airport during the race, and got a lot of support from Unite Here Local 11, a union political action committee.
Vazquez has strong core values and will reach out to the less privileged in the community, although his stance on development remains untested, Hoffman said.
Incumbents like Davis and O’Day tend to be safe in Santa Monica, which rewards public service with more of the same.
This was not the typical race, however.
The field was left wide open with only two of four incumbents running for their seats.
Mayor Richard Bloom sacrificed his spot to run against Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Marina del Rey) for the newly-drawn 50th Assembly District, and Councilman Bobby Shriver chose this year to take a step back from politics.
The two seats attracted a solid pool of candidates including education advocate Shari Davis, who came in just below Vazquez in the vote tally, Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon, newcomer John C. Smith and long-time political columnist Frank Gruber.
Added to that was the influence of hundreds of thousands of dollars of outside funds from known quantities like SMRR and the Police Officers’ Association, and new organizations like developer-backed Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future and Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth, which was organized with the help of political consultant Sue Burnside by individuals who rallied against the expansion of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel.
“I’m glad to have it behind us,” O’Day said. “It was a difficult campaign season, a strange campaign for Santa Monica, but I’m happy with the opportunity to continue to serve.”
That still left 11 contenders waiting until results came in during the wee hours of Wednesday morning only to face disappointment.
Election results trickled in Tuesday night and Wednesday morning after thick fog prevented helicopters bearing ballots from making it to the counting area in Norwalk, forcing officials to reevaluate their ground game and bring the ballots in by car.
Gruber made it to 1:26 a.m. before calling it a night, according to his campaign’s Facebook page.
Gruber said he was not sure if he would be running for City Council again, and was also unsure about a potential return to the Lookout news website, where his column on Santa Monica politics ran for 11 years.
Shari Davis also remained noncommittal about her potential return to the City Council race.
McKinnon, however, had no such qualms.
“If you have an agenda and want to do something in public life, you have got to be on the council in Santa Monica,” McKinnon said.
Board of Education
The three Board of Education incumbents won back their seats despite a vigorous showing from three challengers from Malibu seeking direct representation for their small community.
Board President Ben Allen and Boardmembers Maria Leon-Vazquez and Jose Escarce took the top three slots, with challenger Craig Foster only one percentage point behind.
“It was a very competitive election and I congratulate the three candidates from Malibu because they ran a great race,” said Escarce, who declared that his fourth term on the school board will be his last, “for sure.”
The three Malibu candidates, who formed what they called the “Reform Slate,” entered the race just days before the filing deadline with little notice.
They ran on a platform that included cutting school administrative costs on the one hand and the separation of Malibu from the school district on the other. Most of their funding came from $30,000 in loans made to themselves.
Now that the election is over, the candidates intend to double down on efforts to form a separate Malibu district and simultaneously create a broad coalition of support in Santa Monica and Malibu for a 2014 run, said candidate Seth Jacobson.
“We’re gearing up for 2016,” he said. “We’re going to go after Ralph (Mechur), Laurie (Lieberman) and Nimish (Patel) in a big way.”
This race is not over yet, however.
A supplemental pamphlet sent by the Santa Monica City Clerk’s Office to voters in the district confused Malibu absentee voters because the documents didn’t sync up to the official ballot from the county.
The slate will ask to confirm that the sample ballot issue did not affect the vote count, Jacobson.
In the meantime, Malibu’s continued lack of representation will become another plank in the argument to separate.
Rent Control Board
The only landlord on the Rent Control Board was ousted from his spot Tuesday, leaving only SMRR-backed representatives to arbitrate disputes over rent control housing in Santa Monica.
Robert Kronovet made history in 2008 when he snagged a spot on the five-member board in a tight race that took weeks to conclude.
He was the only person who represented the supply side of the housing equation, and was hampered by a Fair Political Practices Commission ruling that forced him to recuse himself during discussion of rent increases.
Incumbent Ilse Rosenstein and newcomer Christopher Walton took 34.75 and 35.09 percent of the vote respectively to Kronovet’s 30.17 percent.
Kronovet was disappointed more for his city than himself.
“It’s a little upsetting. Not for me, I’m fine,” he said. “Voters in the city of Santa Monica are not sanguine to what it really means to have a lopsided form of government like they have now.”
SMRR-backed elected officials now hold almost every seat in Santa Monica city government with the singular exception of Robert Holbrook’s City Council spot.
“I just don’t think they fully understand or have grasped that if you have anything you want to do now, you have to be a part of SMRR, and if not, you’re not important,” Kronovet said.
Hoffman said it a different way.
“Robert Kronovet put on a very good campaign, and people really understood that SMRR is the group that cares about them and Rent Control,” she said.
Also in the Rent Control column, voters approved Measure GA which changed the method by which rents are increased for rent controlled-properties.
Now, the increase will be a straight 75 percent of the increase in the consumer price index, a measure of the costs of goods and services. It’s much simpler than the so-called “pie” method, which sometimes required the board to hire outside consultants to figure out, said Tracy Condon, administrator for the Rent Control Board.
“It’s a good government measure. It really makes it more clear and predictable,” Condon said.
There was no organized opposition to the measure, which passed with over 60 percent of the vote.
Anyone who would be opposed to it, like landlords, have long since given up such “exercises in futility,” said Wes Wellman, spokesperson for the Action Apartment Association, which represents property owners in Santa Monica.
“There was no organized opposition because organized opposition by landlords running against something backed by SMRR would accomplish nothing,” Wellman said.