Early last week, the news media was abuzz about a newly formed citizen organization calling itself Santa Monica Forward (SMF). The group billed itself as “community members, residents and local activists who had come together to promote values that will shape the future of the city.” Then, the big, red flag went up. The group’s co-founder and spokesperson is former Mayor and Councilwoman (Nov. 1988 – Nov. 1994) Judy Abdo.
Abdo is a powerful and long-time member of the Santa Monica for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) Steering Committee, is the (appointed) Santa Monica representative on the Metropolitan Water District Board and Chair of the Santa Monica Pier Corporation in addition to having served on numerous city boards and commissions over the years.
She was co-chair of the Save Our City (SOS) committee that opposed 2008 ballot measure Measure T that called for a temporary cap on commercial development Abdo and her SOS Co-Chair, Councilman Terry O’Day (also a SMF founder) raised an astounding $800,000 from developers, hotels and business interests to defeat T.
Abdo told the Daily Press the group came about “because some residents didn’t agree with some of the statements made by other organizations at public meetings when they claim to represent Santa Monica citizens at large. “People are feeling … they didn’t have a place to have their voices heard,” she said. I was perplexed. “Is this an April Fools’ joke … but, it’s not April 1?”
Between the local news coverage, a website and a Facebook page, there’s plenty of information about SMF including a list of its 67 founders/members which is top heavy with development and bicycling advocates and established community leaders.
Founders were obviously assembled based on their pro-City Hall, social engineering agenda. I wasn’t invited to join. Neither was Recreation and Parks Chair Phil Brock or most slow-growth activists. Also, conspicuous is the absence of SMRR’s most prominent leaders such as its founder Denny Zane and Co-Chairs Patricia Hoffman and Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein from SMF’s member list.
In addition to three pro-development councilpersons (Gleam Davis, Pam O’Connor and O’Day), Assemblyman Richard Bloom is a co-founder along with a number of persons in the business and developer community and individuals associated with Southern California Streets Initiative — the pro-development, smart streets advocates behind Santa Monica Next.
With a number of bicycling proponents, folks from the affordable housing clique, some SMRR-endorsed public office holders on both school and college boards, and other SMRR hangers-on and sycophants aboard, the statement, “They didn’t have a place to have their voices heard” is laughable.
Don’t kid yourself. This is an organization with a “take no prisoners” development agenda. SMF organizers are concerned that Residocracy, neighborhood groups and independent activists may be gaining too much influence and political clout and their goal is to neutralize any challenge to the status quo before it gains too much momentum such as the recent noisy and somewhat successful efforts of neighborhood leaders to pare down some of the more objectionable zoning code updates dealing with height, density and permitted commercial uses in residential neighborhoods.
SMF’s leaders have held positions of power and influence here for years and they want to keep it that way while newcomers are jumping on the SMF train to promote their own but similar goals. However, SMF is really just another reincarnation of previous “dirty tricks,” developer backed so-called citizen groups that usually pop up at election time like “Santa Monicans for Quality Government ” (2010). “Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future” (2012) and “Responsible Leadership for a Better Santa Monica” (2014) – also formed by O’Day.
“We are working for a diverse, progressive, sustainable and equitable Santa Monica. We stand for fact-based, inclusive and civil public discourse,” SMF states prominently on its Facebook page. Yeah, just like before the last election when Abdo identified herself in automated phone calls to voters as a member of SMRR’s Steering Committee and enthusiastically endorsed O’Connor for council after SMRR didn’t.
Everyone expects SMF to raise a lot of money to promote its causes and attempt to marginalize Residocracy or any slow growth/pro-resident movement between now and the municipal election 20 months off. In the meantime, SMF’s members have begun a letter-writing campaign advocating for their more housing (AKA development) including affordable housing.
Remember that “fact-based discourse?” The six signatories to SMF’s recent pro-housing letter assert that if Santa Monica doesn’t build the 4,995 new homes that the Land use and Circulation Element (LUCE) calls for by 2030, “We will we only will exacerbate the (housing shortage) problem and lose even more ground on affordability.” Not true.
There’s so much demand for coastal-adjacent housing that even building 10,000 or 20,000 apartments here over the next 15 years isn’t going to trigger any decline in rents or home prices. In fact, the demand is so strong that rents/purchase costs will soar for the foreseeable future no matter how many housing units are built. Housing costs are rising because of insatiable demand, not slow growth.
Forget learning the truth from Santa Monica Forward. For decades, we’ve all been fed unmitigated bull-pucky by City Hall policy makers and the SMRR leadership that pulls their strings. Remember “No net new car trips” and “Housing is not development” or “More pedestrian and bicycle friendly streets will reduce traffic congestion?”
Expect a lot more of the same because SMF organizers are used to running things and will say and do anything to get their own way.
Bill Bauer can be reached at email@example.com.