I’ve had issues with Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), the we’re-the-only-game-in-town political party that basically controls the City Council, the Rent Control Board, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, and Santa Monica College. I thought it was absurd for an organization of 4,000 people to be empowered to make decisions for a city with some 90,000 residents. That was before the annual SMRR convention revealed the actual math of the organization and its power structure. Since then, I’ve become convinced that as a progressive democratic political organization, SMRR has gone past absurd and is now totally ridiculous.
Over the course of four hours, it became apparent that only a small minority of delegates to the convention are actual renters. In addition to its core constituency being under-represented, this once progressive organization hypocritically voted to support a tax that isn’t — with some members of those notorious Steering/Executive Committee’s chastising the delegate who asked whether or not the tax could be considered progressive.
The real fireworks of the day happened once all the voting was over and the delegates had spoken. Candidates who were well known, well organized, or well liked had handled their business and got what they came for. The delegates to the convention specifically rejected other hopefuls, however, some with long histories of SMRR endorsements. Many delegates stayed all day in order to vote against candidates they didn’t support (it got so bad for people like Oscar de la Torre and Pam O’Connor that neither could get to 100 votes in the later rounds). That was when some delegates began questioning Patricia Hoffman, one of the party’s leaders. They wanted to know whether or not it was possible to prevent the Steering Committee from undermining the work they had done to keep de la Torre and O’Connor from being endorsed by the organization.
Her words that day and the committee’s actions since have answered that question with an unequivocal “No!” which they will attempt to sugarcoat by drawing the distinction (without a difference) between “endorsing” and “supporting” O’Connor, de la Torre, and Ralph Mechur. But neither the Steering Committee nor the candidates in question will be able to change the math of that minuscule support; which came from only about 85 delegates and eight committee members.
Hoffman’s letter to the editor of your Daily Press last Thursday was incredibly revealing. She said, “There is a small steering committee of dedicated members who spend hundreds of hours annually working on issues in our city, as well as on regional and state issues affecting us. … When the convention fails to endorse a full slate, the steering committee is charged with determining … if it wants to add candidates to fill the slate. This allows those of us who work hardest on tenant issues to use our judgment on how best to protect tenants.”
For the record, that’s the co-chair of SMRR telling its members that “dedicated” people who “work hardest on tenant issues” know what’s best for you; so sit down and be quiet.
A tiny town like ours having a political party in the first place makes as much sense as Somalia having a space program. We live in a place where you are as likely as not to bump into the school board president at the Twilight Dance Series on a Thursday night or a City Council member at a Farmers’ Market on a Saturday morning; and we live in a time when information is available instantly. There can’t be that many of us who need SMRR to tell us how to vote.
A while ago, I asked for 600 people to join me in creating a New Energy Caucus within SMRR. I’ve changed my mind. Clearly SMRR’s power structure (the five people on the Executive Committee) is a monolith that has never considered, much less planned for, intra-organizational disagreement or the orderly transfer of power. So instead of working to bring new energy to life, the best thing for the rest of us to do is wait for the old energy to die — and for this formerly proud, progressive, democratic, people’s organization to die with it.
Kenny Mack is a multi-platform content provider with four-quadrant crossover appeal who will pay $100 to anyone who can produce a copy of SMRR’s bylaws or the parliamentary procedures for the convention. His past columns are archived at www.ifyoumissedit.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.