Sue Himmelrich is running for City Council. The following answers were submitted in response to questions from the Daily Press.

Name: Sue Himmelrich

Age: 61

Occupation: Attorney at Western Center on Law and Poverty

Neighborhood: North of Montana

Own/Rent: Own

Marital status: Married to Michael Soloff for 26 years

Kids: Hilary, a law student at University of Michigan; and Molly, a senior at Bowdoin College

Political affiliation: Lifelong Democrat

Schooling: B.A., Harvard College, J.D., Columbia University School of Law

Highest degree attained: J.D.

Hobbies: Reading, gardening, traveling, cooking, preparing for and attending planning commission meetings

Reading list: Recent: All Our Names by DinawMengestu. All time favorites: Vanity Fair (Thackeray), anything by Mark Twain, Gravity’s Rainbow (Pynchon)

How do you get to work? Drive my Chevy Volt or carpool with my husband

Favorite place to have a quick, 1 on 1 meeting in Santa Monica? My house

Favorite dinner spot: My house

Last sporting event you attended: My nephew’s lacrosse match

Why are you running for City Council, what makes you qualified to lead, and what role do you see yourself playing on the dais if elected?

I believe that Santa Monica is at a critical juncture. The issue to me is: will we continue to be a real residential community with superb schools, services, and neighborhoods, or will we become the playground of the 1%? I am running for City Council because I believe the destiny of our community will be determined in the next 4 years, through decisions on pending developments, our choice of a City Manager who reflects our values and through decisions that prioritize residents and the fabric of our community. My legal education, my diverse background in business and in community services, and my willingness to listen to all points of view makes me qualified to lead and to engage in creative problem solving. On the dais, I hope to strengthen the backbone of the City Council and up the ante for creative and independent thinking.

What are Santa Monica’s three major strengths and weaknesses? What will you do to ensure the strengths remain and the weaknesses are contained?

Santa Monica’s three major strengths are its ideal location, its engaged residents, and its progressive approach to regional problems. Its three major weaknesses are its ideal location, its engaged residents, and its progressive approach to regional problems. Our ideal location makes us the perfect destination for everyone looking for a place to live, work, or visit. This creates relentless pressure on the prices of housing, commercial space, and hotel rooms. Our engaged residents guide us in solving our city’s problems and in making decisions about our policies. But democracy is messy and it takes a larger time commitment on the part of everyone in government – staff, councilmembers, commissioners, outside stakeholders, and the residents themselves – to come to a consensus. Finally, our progressive approach to regional problems makes us a leader in many cutting edge issues, such as sustainability, affordable housing programs, downtown revitalization, public art projects and programs, alternatively powered vehicles, bike and pedestrian plans, and the like. But our progressive approach sometimes leads us to go where no city has gone before and to make amateur mistakes (witness our new BBB stops).

Homelessness used to be considered the City’s major problem but the topic has dropped from the public debate. Has the City solved the problem? Where does homelessness fall in the City’s list of priorities and why isn’t it a more common topic this year?

The issue of homelessness has been overshadowed by the community’s anxiety about overdevelopment as a result of the endless onslaught of new proposals for overdevelopment. But homelessness is still here – with at least 60,000 homeless in the County of Los Angeles alone. I participated in this year’s homeless count and counted not one homeless person in a 6 square block area of Ocean Park. Yet I was in the very same area last weekend and counted at least 10 homeless persons in a two block stretch. I heard anecdotally that the week before the count the city was escorting homeless persons out of Santa Monica. If this is true, it is unconscionable. Homelessness, in my opinion, is in the same ranking of importance as affordable housing because without the latter, we create the former.

Measure H and its companion HH will increase taxes on the sale of property over $1M to support construction of affordable housing. Do you support these measures?

We have an extreme jobs/housing imbalance in our city, with 90,000 residents but a population of 250,000 or more during the day. This is exacerbated by our location on the ocean, which means that we have only 2 directions of egress, east and south, (north being very limited). Because of this imbalance and the fact that Santa Monica has some of the highest housing costs in the region, we desperately need to put affordable housing for low and moderate income families near our Expo LRT stations.

We know that families at income levels less than 30% of Area Median Income (now $65,200 for a family of four) drive 25-30% fewer miles when living within 1/2 mile of transit than those living in non-TOD areas. When living within 1/4 mile of frequent transit they drive nearly 50% less, whereas higher income households drive more than twice as many miles and own more than twice as many vehicles as Extremely Low-Income households living within 1/4 mile of frequent transit. See, http://chpc.net/dnld/AffordableTODResearch051514.pdf . Building truly affordable housing near the Expo LRT has a double effect of alleviating traffic and maintaining the economic diversity of our city.

Is Measure FS fair to all residents?

Yes. The current annual per-unit registration fee is $174.96. Landlords are allowed to pass through approximately 90% of that amount.

In 1979, when the 100% pass-through of registration fees to tenants was enacted, rents were strictly controlled at their 1978 level. Since 1999, however, Costa Hawkins allows landlords to set rents for new tenancies at any rate that the market will bear. This has resulted in a steep increase in median rents; less than 35% of all rent-controlled units have never been re-leased at market rents. Thus, any concern that sharing the cost of the registration fee works any actual hardship on landlords is unfounded, whereas it is clear that paying the full cost of the registration really can work a serious hardship on the many remaining low-income tenants.

California is in the midst of a historic drought. Where does Santa Monica get its water from? Where can the City find more resources? Has the City done enough to conserve water? Has it done enough to educate consumers and incentive saving by residents?

As of January 2013, the city consumed approximately 10 million gallons of water per day. At that time, the City sought to reduce this number by 200,000 gals per day or 2%. Yet a year later, by January 2014, water consumption was not reduced at all — in fact it had risen 20% to 12 million gallons per day. This was not only a result of the drought. The increased water usage is also a result of new development that is not required to supply its own water, exclusive of the city’s supply. Through the development agreement process, we could and should require new development to supply its own water exclusive of the city’s supply. We also have failed to adequately analyze the impact on our water supply of construction itself. Despite extensive and detailed studies of water consumption strategies for construction projects (see, e.g. http://www.strategicforum.org.uk/pdf/Final_Report_in_WRAP_Template_FINAL_13_Jul_2011_132e1f6ea11053.pdf ) Santa Monica has not adopted such strategies, but rather has adopted de minimis mitigation fees. I would advance adoption of these strategies for new construction.

Finally, although there are some incentive programs in place for residents, the City should implement an aggressive water audit program for residents and businesses to assist them in identifying water waste issues. Businesses, including hotels, must do their fair share in cutting water usage, and it is unfair to place a larger burden on residents as we are doing now. We should ensure that hotels and other businesses are employing best practices for water reduction, including the obvious environmental strategies such as installation of ultra-low flow toilets, adjusting flush valves or installing dams on existing toilets, using faucet aerators, high efficiency showerheads, discouraging the daily change of linens where practicable, installing water-saving pool filters, drought resistant landscaping, etc.

The goal of the City of Santa Monica for several years has been to become water self-sufficient, that is independent of imported water relying only on local groundwater and recycled water by 2020. We are not there, but we should continue to strive. Doing so would enable the city considerable independence in its water policies.

To find out where your water comes from and what your water agency is doing to plan for the future: http://bit.ly/CaliforniaWater

What should City Hall’s role be when it comes to the creation of affordable housing?

Santa Monica City Hall has long had and should continue to have an active role in the creation, protection, and maintenance of affordable housing at every level. It has been the law of the city since voter approval of Proposition R in 1990 that 30% of all housing built in Santa Monica be affordable to families below the median income, half of that to be affordable to low-income households. In fact, since 1994 38% of all units build in Santa Monica have met the Proposition R goals, a remarkable achievement given the cost of land in our community. We need to continue the effort and find funding sources to replace the loss of Redevelopment dollars. We need to implement policies supporting the funding of affordable housing, including our Affordable Housing Production Program and nexus fees that fund that program. Affordable housing also includes existing rent controlled housing, and we need to protect that housing through stronger anti-displacement policies.

If elected, I would support implementing zoning measures in residential neighborhoods that disincentivize redevelopment of residential multi-family apartments into condominiums or even hotels, such as limiting combination of lots, eliminating the inclusion of half of the alley in the parcel area used for floor area ratio calculations, and requiring additional open space for larger projects; I would support the implementation of AB 2222 (now law) disallowing density bonuses for housing that displaces affordable housing, whether rent-controlled or deed restricted; and I would continue the progressive policies of our City that recently added funding for a new Legal Aid attorney to defend tenants who are facing eviction lawsuits and landlord harassment. I will also, whether I am on the City Council or not, continue to champion the city finding new sources of revenue to support our affordable housing development efforts and I will continue my work with Legal Aid and the neighborhood groups and representatives to monitor threats to renters’ security and devise methods to thwart those threats.

Do you think the City has the legal authority to close the Santa Monica Airport? Is it a wise use of municipal funds to continue with litigation over the airport given the City’s history of losing? If the airport closes, what should be done with the property? If the City can’t close the airport, what steps should the city take?

The city should close the airport and set a course to transform the site into a major public park with significant passive open space as well as recreational space. The policy of maintaining development around the airport to no greater than currently exists is a sound policy. I support the policy that would require voter approval of any significant changes.

I pray we never see the day when a plane leaving from or arriving at SMO misses the runway and crashes into one of the surrounding residential neighborhood. We will not forget the September 2013 crash at the airport which killed 4 jet passengers. As if the noise pollution from the jets were not enough, the airport is a documented producer of ultra fine particle pollution up to 660 meters into the residential neighborhoods. See, e.g., the letter of our Congressman Henry Waxman calling for explanation and investigation from the SCAQMD. http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/index.php?q=news/rep-waxman-calls-for-investigation-into-pollution-at-santa-monica-airport

This is yet another example of government resistance (in this case our federal government) to the legitimate complaints of Santa Monica residents.

Community benefits as part of development agreements: what is your definition of a benefit? When should the City Council demand benefits and to what degree? And should some be part of a checklist that developers can choose from, or should the council always have complete control in negotiations with developers?

Community benefits are not simply a part of development agreements. Any development project that exceeds our baseline height of 32 feet must provide community benefits. The Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), which is the framework for this rule, defines five priority categories of community benefits: 1) trip reduction and traffic management; 2) affordable and workforce housing; 3) community physical improvements; 4) social and cultural facilities; and 5)historic preservation. Community benefits must be provided after a developer meets base requirements such as mitigation fees and zoning requirements.

As a member of the Planning Commission, I have advocated for a defined set of community benefits in Tier 2 projects. I believe that at least two times the affordable housing requirements of Tier 1 (i.e., at least 10% extremely low, 20% very low, etc.) should be required for Tier 2 projects. Tier 3 projects should require at least three times the affordable housing requirements of Tier 1 projects. We should no longer relax the requirements of the AHPP and the Planning Commission has limited discretionary modification by staff of requirements because of abuses.

Other types of community benefits must be similarly proportional to the amount of height and density allowed above the baseline because height and density = increased profit for developers.

What is your definition of overdevelopment and what is your plan to prevent it?

Overdevelopment is development that changes the scale and character of Santa Monica and introduces significant new traffic to our already over-congested streets. We should consider adaptive reuse of existing buildings before we scrape and excavate on any site. We do not need to rush forward to create new development around our new light rail system before the Expo arrives, changing the experience of living and working here for all of us. Santa Monica is already one of the most housing-dense communities in Southern California. Note that 75% of our residents are living in mostly multi-family housing. We are even more job dense and very dense with visitor serving uses. Our downtown is one of the earliest and most successful models of smart-growth, pedestrian oriented, mixed-use infill development. Santa Monica already is the antithesis of sprawl and a veritable model of transit oriented development. And we have shown that it works well. That is one of the primary reasons why the Exposition LRT has such high projected ridership. TOD? Santa Monica has already done it, even if we build nothing more. So we can afford to be choosy. We need to truly prevent increases of height and density throughout Santa Monica. We may need to correct certain aspects of the LUCE beyond what is currently proposed, including revisiting how density is calculated and how FAR interacts with additional heights.

Who is to blame for the Hines fiasco and what can be done to prevent a repeat of the issue? What should happen at the Hines site now?

The blame clearly lies with a majority of the City Council. It is the job of the developers and contractors, their lawyers, and their lobbyists to extract as much profit from their deal as the City will allow. It is the job of the City Council to say “no” to any project that does not meet the needs and best interests of the City and its residents, and to negotiate the best deal possible for projects that are worthy of approval. I have said “No” to several plans and projects that did not live up to our proud sustainable history. I said “No” to the Bergamot Area Plan, the precursor and enabler of the Hines development, which was a comprehensive Specific Plan for over 142 acres in the City with no park and no EIR. I also said no to the Hines development itself, which was not true “transit oriented development” but rather a large complex of dense commercial office buildings with an expected high-income workforce unlikely to use transit and nearly 500 residential units plunked across from the new light rail station immediately adjacent to an area with almost 4 million sq. ft. of traffic generating commercial office space with little green space, minimal affordable housing, adding 7000 new car trips a day in the most traffic burdened corridor of one of the most traffic burdened cities in California. It was a prescription for traffic calamity. Thankfully, the residents rose up to stop it.

The City Council should have derailed the Hines project as it was presented years before it was derailed by the residents. Unfortunately, a majority of council members apparently gave both the developer and the city staff the “impression” they would support the project and over the years negotiations produced trivial improvements. I believe that the Hines site, which I understand is owned by CALPERS, should be developed as a combination of affordable housing and workforce housing and true neighborhood serving retail. We can do this by both using our zoning tools and competing for Cap & Trade affordable housing and sustainable communities funds.

What are your guiding principals for evaluating development in Santa Monica?

My guiding principles are 1) adaptive reuse first; 2) maintain the scale; and 3) what’s the rush? We do not know what to expect when the Expo comes to town and we should proceed extremely cautiously.

Where should the City look for future revenue sources to support the level of service that residents are accustomed to?

The capital side of our transit programs, including first and last mile local transport expansion, could be funded through SB 628 Infrastructure Finance Districts approved by the legislature and certain to be signed by the governor because it was his initiative. It will provide tax increment financing opportunities within _ mile of transit. Cap and trade revenues can also aid in affordable housing and sustainable communities infrastructure including investments in urban forestry. An increase in taxes on private parking or possibly raising the hotel bed tax from our current 14% to 15.5%, equal to the level in the city of Los Angeles, are legitimate sources we should consider placing before voters.

What are the top skills, abilities and personality traits you will look for in a new city manager?

I will be looking for a city manager with strong management and fiscal skills who believes in a collaborative approach to government. We also need to find an individual who shares our progressive values and attitudes.

Do you trust the current city staff to provide council with information that is transparent, accurate and represents the people?

I became involved in city politics and was appointed to the Planning Commission in large part because I discovered that the Village Trailer Park developer was, among other things, counting parking spaces as affordable housing with staff acquiescence. Since that time, I have had difficulty, even as a Planning Commissioner, receiving straightforward answers/information in response to fairly simple questions.

I do not believe you should have to file a Public Records Act request to receive information from our city government. I also would require registration of lobbyists in the city. Council members should be required to disclose relationships, including political contributions received, and recuse themselves from those seeking benefits from the City. I also would require implementation of a transparency website that provides checkbook-level information on government spending-meaning that users can view the payments made to individual companies as well as details about the purchased goods, services or other public benefits. See http://www.uspirg.org/reports/usp/following-money-2014. Finally, the independent auditor of the City finances must report to an independent audit committee of the City Council, not to the City Manager . See http://grandjury.co.la.ca.us/gjury12-13/Final%20Report%20%2012-13.pdf.

Santa Monicans for Renters Rights had different goals, priorities and membership from the City’s newest political party, Residocracy. Which of these groups has the best vision for the future of Santa Monica?

I disagree with basic premise of this question as I do not think SMRR and Residocracy really differ on most of their goals, priorities, and membership. I, for example am a member of both groups and have financially supported both groups. I know others who have done the same. Residocracy says it is committed to:

o Representing our Community Network of Residents at City Hall

o Preserving the character and livability of Santa Monica

o Reducing Traffic and Congestion in Santa Monica

o Maintaining and Increasing the Quality of Life in Santa Monica

o Insuring that Resident Interests and Concerns are addressed by City Hall

SMRR’s non-housing 2014 platform states that it is committed to:

D. SMRR supports ensuring the continued prosperity of our local economy while protecting the community from excessive development and the traffic it generates. SMRR is committed to protecting residential neighborhoods from intensification of nearby commercial development

G.SMRR is committed to the restoration and expansion of our parks and our public open space and their recreational facilities and programs. Santa Monica parks should be the pride of our community.

J. SMRR is committed to public participation in all aspects of community life, including its political life.

L. SMRR is committed to maintaining and enhancing the security and quality of life for senior citizens.

While SMRR’s platform over 36 years has become more expansive than Residocracy’s, I believe that both organizations are committed to the same broad principles. This is why I support both; this is why I have received the endorsement of both; and this is why I disagree with your premise.

Business in Santa Monica have to navigate a complicated legislative environment that can include development agreements, multiple permit processes and stops at several commissions. Is the City a welcoming place for new businesses and does the city have the right attitude towards businesses?

Absolutely. That is exactly why our city’s business community and our local economy are both so prosperous. Yes, the development community occasionally complains that the city can be tough. But, we should be tough. We are in high demand and can afford to be tough. Perhaps the real question should be: is Santa Monica friendly enough to small businesses and is it too friendly to national chains? We need to encourage mom-and-pop businesses that are being replaced at an alarming rate by large corporate interests with higher price points.

More to the point, the City cannot afford not to be tough and it can afford to be picky. The level of development pressure is extraordinary and businesses are paying a premium to locate here. When pressure is high, we can afford to be choosy. But we must be cautious not to sell our soul to the highest bidder. We need to establish sound policies – smaller footprints, local incentives, buy local programs, and the like – to prevent our tilt to homogenous mediocrity.

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