If you’re picking up the newspaper today, hoping to find our voting recommendations: Sorry.
With a few exceptions, we’re going to leave it up to you.
Endorsements are tricky. In a small city, we stand to lose much and gain little from throwing our weight behind certain candidates. Endorsements are especially tricky this year when a philosophical divide over the value of new development seems to splinter this city. Several major newspapers across the nation have done away with endorsements entirely.
Instead, we’d like to present you with our take on the candidates and the measures and provide a couple endorsements where there seem to be particularly obvious choices.
Why did we wait until today? We don’t want our language quoted in the campaign mailers that have choked mailboxes throughout our city. Millions of dollars have been spent this campaign season, with much of it going toward the campaign literature full of out-of-context quotes from local newspapers.
So here it is, in the order that they appear on the ballot:
Sue Himmelrich: Sue is has served on the Planning Commission since January of last year.
First a word about the Planning Commission: A few residents have told us they won’t vote for any of the three planning commissioners running for council because they assume that the Planning Commission is responsible for the all the new construction in the city.
That’s not the case. For one thing, they serve an advisory role on the big development agreements. City Council can and do ignore recommendations from the commission.
Secondly, the three current planning commissioners, including Himmelrich, have voted in opposition and in the minority on several large projects in recent months. All three, for example, opposed the Hines development agreement, which was approved by the council and ultimately overturned through a referendum.
With that off our chest, let’s get back to Himmelrich.
The digs against her: She’s relatively new to Santa Monica politics.
Himmelrich wears this dig on her sleeve: She’s new to Santa Monica politics so she’s not an insider. She’s worked on numerous state and national Democratic campaigns. It’s been a while since she spent an election night in the city by the sea because she’s often elsewhere working on a presidential campaign.
For a non-insider, she’s sure garnered a lot of endorsements, most notably receiving support from the city’s largest political party: Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights. The SMRR support was won late in the campaign from six Steering Committee members, one of which had served as her paid treasurer. SMRR co-founder Denny Zane is her campaign manager and did some lobbying on her behalf.
Himmelrich has spent $130,000 on her own campaign – an amount that some say is unfair but that Himmelrich says is proof of her dedication to help the city.
In a city whose politics can swing from neo-liberal to conservative, Himmelrich is a Democrat with a capital D. We think she’ll play well with others, push for less development (but not none), and support traditional SMRR values like rent control and affordable housing.
Jerry Rubin: The fact that Jerry, 70, has been booed a few times this campaign season should speak to the level of this election cycles’ vitriol. Jerry’s like the city’s gadfly mascot. He runs for council every year. He loses every year. He’s at every City Council meeting, speaking from the audience in his trademark shorts and tan legs. He probably has a better attendance record than most of the members sitting on the dais. Jerry drones favorably on about nearly everything that comes before council. If Jerry wins a seat, council meetings will be a lot longer next year, and we would be very surprised.
Pam O’Connor: Mayor O’Connor is easily the most polarizing figure in this campaign. Not unlike Rubin, she supports every development that comes before council. At Squirm Night, our candidates’ forum, she couldn’t recall the last time she’d opposed a development agreement.
Still, she has a base of supporters who are happy about all the new development that’s been popping up in preparation for the incoming Expo Light Rail. O’Connor is an outspoken advocate of public transportation and some people love her for that. Some of her supporters are folks who see density and public transit oriented development as the way of the future.
Others are members of the business community. Some are the developers themselves.
We have concerns about her chumminess with developers; she accepts a lot of campaign contributions from them. Several thousand dollars worth over the last decade were likely illegally accepted – the Los Angeles County District Attorney is investigating. Her responses to these “mistakes,” as she calls them, have been less than remorseful. She frames the likely illegal contributions as chump change.
And while O’Connor often owns her pro-development stance in public forums, the claim on her candidacy statement that reducing over-development is one of her top priorities seems bogus. Vote for O’Connor if you want more growth.
Terence Later: Later runs for council every year and loses every year, but where is he when he’s not running a campaign? We can usually find him hanging out at Chez Jay. A great guy, king of the selfie, he favors keeping the Santa Monica Airport open, and not much else.
Frank Gruber: Gruber, a former planning commissioner, is often paired alongside O’Connor for his willingness to consider development. A developer-backed political action committee has spent large sums of money supporting his campaign and Gruber has acknowledged that he’ll accept money from developers.
If you think that all development is bad development, spend an hour talking with Gruber. He’s done his homework and while you might not agree with him on everything, you may find some comfort in his scrutiny and intellect.
One of his foremost arguments is that a major land-use document passed in 2010 allows for too much office development. If elected, he says, he’d amend that document.
We think Gruber, with his ability to parse the minute details, would be an excellent advocate for those who want to see the airport closed. Gruber claims he’d like to see a park built there.
Phil Brock: Whatever residents are yelling about, Brock will yell with them. The Recreation and Parks Commission chair has a flair for the dramatic issues.
Brock, who has vocally opposed a number of development agreements in recent years, is a favored candidate of the very, very, very slow-growth group Residocracy and the relatively pro-development retiring City Councilmember Bob Holbrook. Like Holbrook, Brock was born and raised in the city by the sea.
As a lifelong resident, Brock’s been a strong supporter of the Boys and Girls Club.
Brock’s viability has been questioned throughout the campaign, but so was the referendum that ultimately overturned the controversial Hines development agreement – a referendum for which Brock collected the most signatures.
Brock said early and vehemently that he wouldn’t accept campaign contributions from developers, but then he did. When questioned about it, he returned the $650.
We expect from Brock: Fire and brimstone speeches, more green space.
We don’t expect: New developments, nuance.
Nick Boles: The new kid on the block sounded pretty green at the start of the campaign. He’s since developed the controlled, sound bite responses of career politicians. Something about the middle-class, millennials and education. We’re no fans of the political machine or the “get in line” expectations of its insiders. But Boles could stand to sit through a few more years’ worth of city meetings. Tangible plans and stances would be great, too.
Whitney Scott Bain: If you want a candidate who will fight to keep the airport open, for the rights of senior citizens, an ice-staking rink (which we already have) and not much else, vote for Bain.
Zo√´ Muntaner: Muntaner has a knack for rants on facebook, via email and public comment at city meetings. She’s not happy with the council or City Hall. We’re not clear on any tangible plan to change the status quo.
Kevin McKeown: The other incumbent, McKeown is the closest thing to a sure bet this election. Of the current council members, McKeown is arguably the most vocally “slow-growth.” He’s gotten a lot of endorsements this campaign season, notably from SMRR.
McKeown can be abrasive on the dais and has never been appointed to mayor by his council mates. Expect him to be effective in voting down big developments if, and only if, he is elected alongside another slow growth candidate.
Richard McKinnon: McKinnon is another planning commissioner who opposed the Hines agreement. McKinnon is charismatic and combative on the dais. On the campaign trail, though, he’s been more politically on message.
He vocally supports green energy, biking and pedestrian-friendly measures. He vocally opposes the hotel expansions and developments proposed along Ocean Avenue. He supports 84-foot height limits downtown.
In the instances that McKinnon does favor a development agreement, we expect him to fight eloquently for stronger community benefits.
Jon Mann: For a guy who wants to buck the system, Mann tries every two years to be a part of it. Another perennial candidate, and perennial loser, Mann has gained a bit of steam from the crowd that thinks everything City Hall does is wrong. He’ll be the first to call BS but, like many of the other unhappy candidates, he has few coherent plans to mend the system. Vote for Mann if you want a councilmember who will bash his colleagues, bash city employees and make council meetings really weird. Oh, and net neutrality.
Michael Feinstein: If former Mayor Feinstein didn’t exist in Santa Monica politics we’d have to invent him. Feinstein’s views can’t be pigeonholed as easily as many of the other candidates. A co-founder of the Green Party, Feinstein hasn’t run for council since he lost his reelection bid in 2004, but he’s stayed active in Santa Monica. Some of his ideas sound strange at first but, as he speaks about them (and he will speak with you about them), you may find your mind changing.
His dialogue is refreshing in a city divided. He might disagree with you but that doesn’t mean he won’t listen.
Feinstein isn’t a no-growther – he’s said he’d accept campaign contributions from certain developers – but he does oppose several of the controversial development agreements in the pipeline.
Expect: Negotiation, conversation, smart analysis, green ideals and the unexpected.
Jennifer Kennedy: Another planning commissioner who opposed the Hines development agreement, Kennedy cut her teeth in Santa Monica civic life working and volunteering for SMRR, whose Steering Committee voted to support her campaign.
She’s not as loud as some of the other candidates and at times this year it’s felt like she’s been lost in the loud election shuffle.
Prior to her current stint on the Planning Commission, she served on the Rent Control Board.
Expect dedication from Kennedy who hasn’t missed a single Planning Commission meeting in the last two years. That’s a Cal Ripken Jr.-like 55 straight meetings, which often go late into the night (and sometimes early into the morning) on vitally important issues that are as exciting as watching paint dry.
If you agree with Kennedy – keeping most new Downtown projects at 84-feet-tall or less, more affordable housing, stronger rent control policies – expect her to vote with you. But if you’re looking for fist-pounding declarations, look elsewhere.
Board of Education:
We are going to use this space to endorse one candidate for the Board of Education. This shouldn’t be interpreted as a slight to the other six candidates but as a philosophical belief that Malibu should always – but especially now – be represented on the board.¬†Craig Foster, who has advocated on behalf of Malibu schools, is ‚Äî in our opinion ‚Äî qualified.
The environmental issues at Malibu aren’t going away anytime soon and many Malibu parents feel their voices aren’t being heard by the all-Santa Monica resident board. Foster is pushing to split the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District into two districts ‚Äî an idea that is gaining traction. It might not be long until Santa Monica has a district all its own. But until then, Malibu should be represented.
Here’s our take on the other six candidates, in the order in which they appear on the ballot:
Laurie Lieberman: Lieberman, one of the three incumbents in this four-seat race, is running a strong campaign. If you like the way the district is headed, vote for Lieberman.
If you are looking for a board member who will exercise more control over district officials, look elsewhere.
Of the current board members, she’s been the most vocally supportive of the current district administrators. She believes that the Malibu schools are safe and that the district is doing enough to address the environmental issues.
Dhun May: A challenger, May is concerned about environmental issues at the school. She’s a frequent audience member at Board of Education meetings but she’s acknowledged that she’s not entirely caught up on some of the nuanced issues facing the board.
Ralph Mechur: Mechur, like Lieberman, believes the district is doing enough to address the environmental issues in Malibu and that the board is exercising enough control over district officials.
Recently, he’s challenged officials on some of the issues, like the hot classrooms in the new Edison Learning Academy building.
He also says he wants to develop a plan to remove all building materials containing PCBs throughout the district, regardless of the PCB levels.
If you like the current direction of the district, vote for Mechur.
Oscar de la Torre: De la Torre, an incumbent, will always stand up for the little guy, even if the little guy might be wrong. He is the most likely member of the current board to hold the administration’s feet to the fire. He’s been a champion of the Malibu parents who feel more should be done about the environmental issues.
Top officials at City Hall have said that de la Torre repeatedly fails to properly document finances at his nonprofit, The Pico Youth and Family Center. De la Torre has said that the claims are false and trumped up. In the most recent battle of words, City Council unanimously sided with City Hall, voting to provide de la Torre with less funding than they had in years passed.
While we appreciate de la Torre’s watchdog-like nature on some Board of Ed issues, if City Hall’s claims are true, we’d have some concerns about de la Torre’s ability to work with the district’s nearly $100 million budget.
Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein: The co-chair of SMRR, a challenger, has a positive message at all the candidates’ forums – declining to characterize any decisions made by the current board as a failure. We’re hoping he might be a little more scrutinizing if elected.
Tahvildaran-Jesswein, a professor at Santa Monica College, has the educational background. Expect passion and communication.
Patricia Finer: Finer’s primary concerns are the environmental issues at Malibu schools. Her children went to private schools.
In a local election full of important conflicts, the battle for the airport is arguably the most important. Only one measure stands out for obvious endorsement and that is¬†Measure LC.
And the reason we like Measure LC is because we strongly dislike Measure D.
Measure D, which Measure LC was put forth to oppose, has been a farce since the beginning, when aviation groups piggy-backed on the momentum of a referendum of the controversial Hines development agreement.
Measure D would require a public vote, instead of a council vote, on significant land-use changes at the airport. The language is hard to parse and it’s unclear what its long-term impacts will be. The City Attorney notes that it could make it harder for council to make changes to leases at the airport or to require more environmentally-friendly fuel to be sold there.
Measure D backers claim that closure of some or all of the airport would lead to major development in the area. Their solution: Keep the airport there instead.
Measure LC’s solution: Require a public vote on guidelines as to what can and cannot be allowed on that land. Why wouldn’t you rather have a wide range of choices for that land?
And then there’s the money.
Measure D-backers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get it on the ballot. Paid signature gatherers haunted the Farmers’ Market, grocery store parking lots and the Third Street Promenade for weeks. The Daily Press talked to a paid signature gatherer who claimed a hang-gliding park would be placed on the land if the measure passed.
After Measure D gathered the requisite number of signatures, supporters sent out a campaign mailer with the names of some of the residents who’d signed on the its behalf.
One problem: A bunch of the residents later admitted they didn’t know what they’d signed. The Daily Press got several calls from residents who said they’d signed the measure not realizing it protected the existence of SMO.
As of the most recently available campaign disclosure statements, more than $800,000 has been spent in support of Measure D. More than half a million of that comes from aviation advocacy groups on the other side of the country. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is based in Maryland and the National Business Aviation Association is in Washington, D.C. AOPA has noted that a number of its members are from the Los Angeles-area. Well, a large majority of the more than $116,000 raised by the Measure LC-backers comes from Santa Monica residents.
This is not an endorsement for the closure of the airport. When and if it comes time to have that debate, there will be all kinds of facts to be hashed out by both sides. This is an endorsement for Measure LC, which will combat a misleading measure grossly overfunded by outsiders.
On ballot full of hard choices, this should be your only no-brainer.
Renters: Want to pay a lower registration fee? Vote for Measure FS. It will guarantee at least a $12 reprieve from the $156 you paid last year. And the discount would likely be closer to $50 at least for the first couple years.
But, if you think City Hall’s Rent Control department is bloated and overpaid, and you can stand having to cover most of your own registration fee, vote against Measure FS.
The measure would allow for two things. First: Landlords would have to pay for half the Rent Control registration fee. Last year the fee was $175 and landlords only had to pay $19.
Second: It would raise the maximum allowable annual registration fee to $288.
Rent Control Board members have said it’s unlikely that the fee would rise to $288 for many years but, because that’s not promised in the measure, you’re relying on the word of politicians.
Why might one be concerned with the increased fee? Last year 25 full-time Rent Control employees received $3.8 million in total compensation, according to City Hall’s financial records. Only three of the employees were compensated less than $100,000 for their work and the five highest paid Rent Control Board staffers pulled in more than $1.1 million combined.
Measure H and HH
If you support affordable housing, trust City Hall, and don’t own property worth more than a million dollars, you should definitely vote for Measures H and HH.
With the dissolution of the redevelopment agency, City Hall is left without a reliable funding source for affordable housing in the city by the sea. Measure H would raise the tax imposed on the sale of million dollar homes. Measure HH would advise City Hall to set that additional revenue aside for the production of affordable housing.
While it doesn’t guarantee the money will go toward affordable housing, we’re fairly confident that City Hall wouldn’t screw around with such a high profile new revenue source. Santa Monica has long been labeled a strong advocate of affordable housing. These measures will serve as a bellwether.