Armen Melkonians, founder of the Residocracy movement, speaks to a crowd of supporters gathered outside of City Hall. (Daniel Archuleta

Residocracy endorses Brock, McKeown, and Himmelrich

By David Mark Simpson

Daily Press Staff Writer

CITYWIDE – From the folks who brought you the referendum of the Hines development project, here’s the latest set of City Council endorsements.

About 500 Residocracy members voted to support the Recreation and Parks Chair Phil Brock, incumbent Kevin McKeown, and Planning Commissioner Sue Himmelrich.

These three candidates are the same three candidates that the 10-member Residocracy Advisory Board voted to recommend when the vote began last week. A fourth candidate, Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon, was also supported by the advisory board – although he received five votes from the board, while the other three candidates received seven votes apiece.

Residocracy is not going to release the vote totals, according to the group’s founder, Armen Melkonians.

“We’re just going to focus on our endorsements,” he said. “It wasn’t a close call.”

Brock got 67.5 percent of the vote, according to Residocracy, with McKeown taking 61.2 percent and Himmelrich getting 52 percent.

Anyone who was a member prior to the group’s July candidates’ forum was eligible to vote for any of the nine candidates who returned questionnaires on time.

Members voted on, the group’s website. Infiltration was not an issue, Melkonians said.

“We had probably about 40 to 50 people who had not registered before who voted and their votes were not counted as per our rules,” he said. “We did have some double-voting but the back-end takes that out. We had about 20 of those.”

The advisory board also voted to support Board of Education candidate Oscar de la Torre and Santa Monica College Board of Trustees candidates Maria Loya, Dennis Frisch, and Nancy Greenstein. They support Measure LC and Measure FS, while opposing Measure D, Measure H, and its counterpart Measure HH.

The latter two measures, if both approved, would fund affordable housing projects through a tax on the sale of million-dollar real estate.

Measure H approves the tax and HH sets that cash aside for the affordable housing development. Melkonians said that the board was concerned that the funds would not reach the end-goal of providing affordable housing.

“Also, with all the development that’s going on, it’s probably not the right time to discuss more development until we put a handle on it overall,” he said.

College board candidates, Ed board candidates, and the measures were not voted on by the membership.

“Our goal in the future is to have everything decided by the membership but because it was our first process, logistically getting all of that information on our website, having the different ballots was a little difficult so the board did the endorsements for the other races,” Melkonians said.

Brock was the top-signature gatherer during the Hines referendum process.

“I’m running for my neighbors,” he said. “I’m running for the neighborhoods. That’s what I’m in this campaign for. I’m honored that my efforts have been recognized. It’s an honor an it’s humbling to know that the residents know I’m going to fight for them.”

Himmelrich said she was “thrilled” with the endorsement. She and McKeown, along with Planning Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy were endorsed by Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), which, SMRR co-Chair Patricia Hoffman told the Daily Press recently is not a “no-growth” organization. SMRR is also a huge supporter of affordable housing.

Residocracy has vocally opposed many of the developments that have come before council and the Planning Commission.

Himmelrich, however, said that she doesn’t see SMRR and Residocracy as all that different from one another. When asked if the Residocracy endorsement would push her into a no-growth corner she said no.

“One of the things we all need to do more than perhaps we’re doing it now,” she said, “is think about both sides of everything, talk to everybody, and not be as closed-minded or single-minded as to what your particular view is.”

McKeown, too, was appreciative for the endorsement.

“In this highly charged election year, residents themselves are taking an unprecedented role,” he said in an e-mail. “With all the support I’m receiving as a Council candidate, that from the grassroots is most gratifying.”

Council candidate and former Mayor Michael Feinstein pointed to frustrations he had with the endorsement process.

“I agree with goals generally associated with Residocracy around preventing over-development and promoting responsive local government,” he said in an e-mail. “There is a long slow-growth tradition in Santa Monica that precedes Residocracy, in which I have played a key role. It would have been helpful to Residocracy voters to see bios on the voting page from more than only four candidates, so information like this would have been readily available to them. Despite having walked the talk, I was not given that opportunity; meaning Residocracy voters had vastly unequal information about the choices before them.”

Though the membership vote followed exactly along the lines of advisory board vote, Melkonians said the group was clear on its website that the support from the board was not an endorsement.

“We got a lot of feedback before the process even began that there were a lot of residents who weren’t clear and wanted direction to see how the board was thinking,” he said. “We felt we kind of owed that to our membership.”

Each of the advisory board-supported candidates got glowing write-ups on the same page where Residocracy members cast their votes. The write-ups were written collaboratively by the board at one of its meetings, Melkonians said.

“The board consists of community leaders from across the city,” he said. “No special interests. It’s residents who have been doing this for, in some cases, 30 years of community advocacy. The four people we recommended were the only people that got votes from the board. It was clear from the board that people were being supported by the board members.”

Residocracy will support its candidates in the same way it supported the Hines referendum. The controversial development project was approved by council and then challenged through a signature-gathering process backed by the group.

“We’re basically going to be focusing on a neighbor to neighbor grassroots campaign,” Melkonians said, “which proved successful in the Hines referendum.”

As with the referendum process, for which the organization raised cash – including $10,000 from the Huntley Hotel and $1,250 from Himmelrich – Residocracy is accepting contributions.

“The way Residocracy works, and the way we feel like we help to get the money out of politics is, what we do as a community network of residents, first we take a position and once that position is taken, then we will accept money,” Melkonians said. “We never accept money for a position prior to taking a position. We find that that’s the best way to eliminate any undue influence.”


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