Mayor Kevin McKeown

CITY HALL — After a decade and a half on the dais and having had, in his words, “the football pulled out from” him in other mayoral selection processes, Kevin McKeown is finally Santa Monica’s mayor.

McKeown is one of the most vocal members of the City Council and the Daily Press spoke with him about the mayor’s seat and what 2015 has in store.

Daily Press: You were emotional on the dais last month when your colleagues elected you mayor. Why did you want the title so badly?

Kevin McKeown: It’s been disappointing not to get to sit in that center chair. Not that there’s a lot of power involved but there’s just something I like about knowing that I get to be the mayor of this city that I love so much. For many years, if you look at the council photographs you’ll see me bravely smiling for the council photograph after having had the mayorship go to somebody else. I looked at the photo from (the Dec. 9 meeting) and it’s nice to see me beaming that much.

DP: There are some in the business community who would probably rather have seen someone other than you in mayor’s seat. You’re known for preferring to meet with developers when their requests come before council, rather than in private. How will balance commitments like these with your new position as the face of the city?

KM: If there are perceived wounds I’m open to healing them without changing my values. I mean clearly, I’m not a corporate thought kind of guy. The small businesses are what make this town work. There’s a lot of stuff that we and the chamber (of commerce) have worked together on over the years to make this a very successful town. Businesses here are doing well and I want to make them do better but not at the cost of quality of life for the people who live here. I think there’s a great sensitivity right now to the intrusion of business activity into residential neighborhoods, so I always look at things through that prism.

DP: There seems to be a rift on the council itself. How do you plan to, as you said on inauguration night, facilitate the council “leading from every seat?”

KM: I am open to making a new start here. I’ve actually been thinking about, we used to have liaisons to boards and commissions and that was ended for a combination of legal and political reasons … We have such an immensely intelligent and talented council at that point with special interest knowledge that we don’t all share. Maybe we should each take on a portfolio so that Pam (O’Connor) would be our mass transit expert. Terry (O’Day) would be just great on the environment. Gleam (Davis) is very tightly tied into the education community and important issues at this point. Tony (Vazquez) has labor stuff going. So maybe we each can take on a portfolio.

DP: What are the big issues that you’re concerned with in the coming year?

KM: We have to hire a new city manager. We have to deal with the airport. We’re adopting a new zoning code. We have a crisis with affordable housing. We have to figure how to fund affordable housing.

So that’s a pretty big agenda for one year but they’re all going to happen whether I want them to or not so the best I can do is say I am here. The best I can do is to say I am here to listen to everyone.

DP: Rod Gould will step down as city manager at the end of the month. What are you looking for in his replacement?

KM: For a city manager we hired at the beginning of the great recession, Rod was a brilliant hire and did wonderful things including finding a way to fund education in this town with measure’s Y and YY. Now we probably have more applications for development than anyone thinks the city can absorb. Not all 35 development agreements are going to be approved. There’s just no way we could do that. We need a new city manager who first of all can let the community know that not everything is a yes when it comes to development because that’s what people in the community feel. I don’t think they’re right but again this sort of atmosphere of extremism has painted City Hall as go-go all the time.

We need a city manager who has some experience with dealing with other governmental agencies who have more power than we do because we’re headed into a knock-down, drag-out battle with the (Federal Aviation Administration over the future of the Santa Monica Airport).

DP: The new zoning ordinance, which will dictate land uses for years to come, has been with the Planning Commission for months. How do you plan to approach it when it comes before council, likely later this year?

KM: I actually took the draft zoning code when it first came out — it was 540 pages, and I was on jury duty — so while sitting there I went through all 540 pages and annotated. So I’m familiar with every line in that draft zoning code when it comes to us. But I can’t deal with that as mayor or a councilman. We have to figure out, OK, what are the 15 or 20 big policy issues represented here and we will give the direction on how that goes. I am someone who does trust the process. The process is often bumpy. Sometimes it’s two steps forward a step back. But in the end I think it’s a good iterative way of getting multiple inputs from people.

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