Jennifer Kennedy is running for City Council. The following answers were submitted in response to questions from the Daily Press.
Name: Jennifer Kennedy
Marital status: Committed
Kids: Yes, they’re the best.
Political affiliation: Democratic Party
Schooling: Lifelong learner
Highest degree attained: B.A., Communications; focus on media analysis and newsgathering
Hobbies: Photography and cooking
Reading list: Staff reports and area plans. “Waiting for Yesterday: Pages From a Street Kid’s Life” by Michael Parenti is on deck.
How do you get to work? Work from home.
Favorite place to have a quick, 1 on 1 meeting in Santa Monica? Caffe Bello.
Favorite dinner spot: So many… Top four: Fritto Misto, Tacos Por Favor, Ninjin, Father’s Office
Last sporting event you attended: I go to rock concerts in sporting arenas, does that count?
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 am the only candidate in this election who has spent the last four years studying the current issues facing our community as a Planning Commissioner and served Santa Monica for eight years as an elected member of the Rent Control Board before that. On the Rent Board, I have helped draft regulations that protect tenants and preserve rent control. As a Planning Commissioner I have voted “No” on overdevelopment, I’ve scrutinized development proposals and fought successfully for more public amenities and neighborhood protections. As a hands-on activist in our community for nearly 15 years, I have worked with residents, community leaders and elected officials to support public education, support truly affordable housing for working families, and enhance our sustainable environment. I am running for City Council because I want to control growth, to ensure that development is equitable, sustainable, and enhances our public realm, and to defend residential neighborhoods from the adverse impacts of nearby business areas. On the dais I will act on these priorities, and I will help create a more robust, accessible, and open public process to ensure truly meaningful community engagement. I have the experience and commitment to make informed decisions that benefit our safe, vibrant, beautiful, diverse community.
What are Santa Monica’s three major strengths and weaknesses? What will you do to ensure the strengths remain and the weaknesses are contained?
Strengths: 1) rent control, 2) we have a have a robust tax base because Santa Monica is a desirable place to live, work and play, 3) Santa Monica has a state of the art environmental programs and services.
Weaknesses: 1) Most of the workforce lives outside of the city, 2) traffic circulation, 3) land values exceed the reach of most citizens.
I will continue to strengthen renter protections and preserve rent control to provide stability to renters and our community. I will not take for granted the robust tax base we have and will be a responsible steward of our City’s finances. I will continue to advance Santa Monica’s already-robust environmental protections and requirements, including improving Santa Monica’s water conservation and waste recycling programs, and addressing climate change head-on. As I have done during my time on the Planning Commission, I will continue to help improve circulation and reduce traffic. As I have done as an elected member of the Rent Control Board for eight years and as a community activist, I will continue to work to preserve existing affordable housing and create affordable housing opportunities for working families, seniors and those on low fixed incomes in Santa Monica.
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?
Homelessness is an ongoing issue in our community and is a top priority of mine, and of the City. The City and the homeless population are one community. At the moment, the City has programs to provide “housing first” services to those that are homeless for five years to address the chronically homeless population. The initiative known as the Chronic Homeless Project is a result of the service registry and vulnerability index created in 2008 to track the chronic homeless population and provide services. It is an effective program but service providers, residents and community leaders in our community are talking continuously about ways the City can provide better service. One possible way is to improve upon the CHP by incorporating homeless prevention services (shelter as well as meals, substance abuse recovery, skills training) and providing them to at-risk individuals or families at an earlier stage, such as those that have been homeless for less than five years.
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?
Yes, I support the proposed affordable housing measure because it would enable preservation of affordable-housing stock through rehabilitation as well as production of new housing by non-profit providers. This measure will enable the City to control how much affordable housing is built without relying on developer-driven projects that erode the charm and unique character of Santa Monica.
Is Measure FS fair to all residents?
Yes, Measure FS is fair to all residents. Measure FS will require landlords to pay their fair share of registration fees for rent controlled units. Right now, landlords pass nearly all of that fee through to tenants. If Measure FS passes, the amount of the fee tenants pay will be reduced, and the maximum fee the Board can charge will be capped. Our robust rent control laws provide housing security and help build strong communities.
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?
Santa Monica gets its water from Northern California and the Colorado River through the Metropolitan Water District, a supplier of water to Santa Monica, as well as through local wells. I strongly support the City’s efforts to take aggressive steps toward water self-sufficiency by the year 2020, and if elected I will help further this goal by increasing efforts to capture and reuse more run off, require businesses to reduce consumption the way renters and homeowners have been doing, and to strengthen programs that better incentivize installation of drought-tolerant landscapes on private and public property.
What should City Hall’s role be when it comes to the creation of affordable housing?
Santa Monica’s City Charter requires that the City create affordable housing. Santa Monica has a responsibility to provide affordable housing for working families and individuals, as well as persons with disabilities and those on low fixed incomes, including seniors. Santa Monica’s policy is that people who lose their homes through no-fault evictions or the Ellis Act, have priority to receive affordable units. Affordable units are also made available to people who work here. With all of this demand, it is important that our community support Measures H and HH on the ballot this November. Measures H and HH would enable preservation of affordable-housing stock through rehabilitation as well as production of new housing by non-profit providers. This measure will enable the City to control how much affordable housing is built without relying on developer-driven projects that erode the charm and unique character of Santa Monica. On the Planning Commission, I have fought to require developers to provide larger units (not extremely tiny studios) that will serve families, and to provide deeper affordability for those larger units. I will continue to work to protect neighborhoods to keep tenancies and existing affordable housing in-tact.
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?
There are ongoing legal disputes about whether or not Santa Monica has the authority to close SMO. The city must do careful, thorough risk management and assessment in order to continue funding litigation with the FAA to close the airport. I support Measure LC (I don’t support Measure D) and if the airport closes the land should be used for park and recreational space. If Santa Monica is unable to close the airport, the city should restrict aviation services and operations. The health and safety of the entire community and the adjacent neighborhoods is my top concern. Restrictions that severely limit aviation operations will help to require the airport to be a safer neighbor. Such measures include restricting aviation operations, ending the sale of leaded fuel, enhancing emission reduction efforts, closing the western end of the runway to restrict loud and unsafe jets, and increasing safety standards.
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?
My definition of a benefit is any developer contribution to our community above and beyond a basic requirement, beneficial design standard or other development standard that serves the community’s core needs. The Council should demand substantial community benefits that are in addition to the community’s core needs. A checklist would be one good component of a comprehensive system that helps the Council, residents and staff identify where true community benefits will enhance certain neighborhoods.
What is your definition of overdevelopment and what is your plan to prevent it?
Overdevelopment means development that is out of scale, beyond development limits, intrusive to neighborhoods, lacking in public amenities, and does not meet the diverse needs of the community. I plan to focus on improvements to our public process to foster better community-led development at the start of the process, and by requiring that developers invest in and generate better, more responsive, sustainable projects from the start.
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?
To prevent a repeat of the issue, the voters in Santa Monica should vote for me, because I will oppose oversized, intrusive commercial development and work to stop bad development proposals before they ever take root. I’ll fight to make sure that developers are responsive to residents, and to ensure projects enhance our public realm (not diminish it) and maintain the character and charm of our community. The Hines site should adaptively be reused and work within the zoning parameters and be subject to trip reduction and transportation demand management requirements, or redevelop as a project with ground floor retail and housing above the first floor with affordable housing and neighborhood serving retail.
What are your guiding principals for evaluating development in Santa Monica?
Developments that are responsive to the needs of our residents and neighborhoods, that equitably serve the diverse needs of our community, avoid resident displacement, ensure highest levels of sustainability, mitigate impacts, meet traffic reduction goals, support workers rights, meet base requirements, provide public amenities and real community benefits.
Where should the City look for future revenue sources to support the level of service that residents are accustomed too?
The City can find increased future revenue sources by increasing the vibrancy of our small businesses in Santa Monica. Santa Monica has a pier, an airport (for now), a beautiful beach and abundant recreational areas, and robust public services to maintain. We can work to increase the tax base that is sustainable and whose revenues stay right here in Santa Monica; our local small businesses. But because our City isn’t dependent on just one revenue source, Santa Monica has been able to maintain infrastructure and provide the services at the level that the residents want. Santa Monica has a more balanced revenue source than most cities and during the last economic decline, this balanced tax portfolio helped the City weather the downturn.
What are the top skills, abilities and personality traits you will look for in a new city manager?
I will look for a city manager that is collaborative and accessible to the community, is responsive and supportive of the concerns of the Council, implements policy direction in a thorough, well thought out manner, and is willing and able to give department heads the tools they need to be responsive to residents and the Council.
Do you trust the current city staff to provide council with information that is transparent, accurate and represents the people?
There are core issues that need to be solved to eliminate distrust in the community. City staff does provide Council with the valuable information it needs to understand facts and make important decisions, and they are diligent and willing to go the extra mile. But there are also times when more information is clearly required, either by Council or the community, and the Council makes these requests, or asks for further analysis of an issue. Ultimately, the system we have needs improvement. Santa Monica is facing intense development pressure from all sides. Developers that demand quick approvals from city leaders generate a pace and intensity that gives rise to rushed decision making. Pressure to build oversized development threatens small businesses, infrastructure, residential neighborhoods and the cherished diversity of our community. I am running for Council to improve our public process, and work collaboratively with staff and residents to take the time to control growth and produce the best projects possible when they’re proposed.
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?
SMRR’s core values and the goals it envisions for the community are spelled out in its robust platform. Topics include the protection and enhancement of tenants and rent control, of course, but also commitments to enhancing public education, parks and open space, arts and culture, development, affordable housing, workers’ rights, and more. Working with SMRR as I have for over a decade – monitoring housing legislative issues, reaching out to members about education initiatives, working to strengthen our rent control laws, or communicating with local leaders on development – has taught me about our local laws, problem solving and policy, but just as importantly, the value of collaboration. Residocracy, although it is a new community group, has collaborated widely with community members throughout Santa Monica on its successful Hines referendum. Whether a group is new to our city, or is an accomplished, 35-years-strong organization like SMRR, collaboration is a great basis for moving forward.
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?
Santa Monica is a business friendly city and the processes that are in place are there to ensure that our city produces the right projects in the right places for the right reasons. We need to focus more on supporting small, locally-owned businesses to ensure that they can open, remain vibrant, and thrive in our city, and create a good network of neighborhood serving uses throughout the city.