CITY HALL — The search for the seventh member of the City Council has officially begun.

Nearly three weeks after Councilmember and former Mayor Herb Katz died, his colleagues declared the late architect’s seat vacant, a step that is required to launch the process to appoint a replacement.

Candidates, who must be registered voters in Santa Monica to qualify, will have until Feb. 17 to file an application with the City Clerk’s Office. The council is expected to make a decision at its Feb. 24 meeting.

The seat must be filled with an appointment within 30 days of it being declared vacant or a special election will be held to determine the new councilmember.

Katz died Jan. 7 after a long battle with cancer. The Sunset Park resident served 16 years on the council, including one year as the mayor in 2008. He was recently re-elected to a four-year term in November.

The appointee will serve until the 2010 election and will need to run again to finish the term.

This is the first vacancy since former Councilmember Asha Greenberg resigned in September 1998, replaced by current Councilmember Richard Bloom, who was elected in 1999 after officials failed to agree on an appointee.

It’s for that reason why Councilmember Bobby Shriver, who said the process 10 years ago “read a little silly,” suggested that a special election be held from the outset.

Shriver added that an official elected by residents would lend more legitimacy to their vote, which could be significant during close debates on issues such as the Land Use and Circulation Element, the 20-year update to the general plan.

“I think it would be a very unhappy situation if four people, particularly four people from one point of view, would be able to amass their votes and appoint another person from their point of view,” Shriver said. “I think that would be an unhappy result.”

Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, the strongest political group in the city, currently holds a 4-2 majority on the council. Shriver and Councilmember Bob Holbrook are the only two members who are not aligned with the organization.

All other councilmembers agreed that an appointment would be the best option, pointing out that a special election is expensive, costing anywhere from $100,000 to $150,000. Holbrook said that he would like to find someone with similar views as Katz.

Bloom pointed out that language in the city charter doesn’t give the council the option of holding a special election first.

“It doesn’t say the City Council may fill by appointment, it says that a vacancy shall be filled by appointment,” Bloom said.

Some residents have requested that the council appoint the fifth place finisher in the November election — Ted Winterer, the vice president of the Ocean Park Association.

Winterer, who attended the meeting, agreed with Shriver that a special election should be held.

“Let’s see who has the fire in their belly to run, who really wants to serve and let’s let the public weigh in on who that person will be so they know when the decision is made on these LUCE revisions, their voice has been heard,” Winterer said.

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