The Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) annual membership convention is Sunday, Nov. 1, at Lincoln Middle School’s auditorium near 15th Street and California Avenue. Sign-in is at 12:30 p.m. and the meeting begins at 1 p.m. sharp.
The nearly 40-year-old renters’ rights group will elect members to its steering committee and conduct other business. Decisions made Sunday will strongly influence 2016 municipal elections. Co-chairs Patricia Hoffman and Denny Zane will run this year’s event.
As for me, I have better things to do with my time. I’ve happily allowed my membership to lapse knowing that most decisions are deals made in back rooms behind closed doors.
There were all kinds of shenanigans at work at last year’s annual convention. Rules apparently were discarded and ultimately, the endorsements of many major candidates for City Council, Santa Monica College Board of Trustees, Rent Control Board and school board were conducted behind closed doors, weeks after the confab and well away from public scrutiny.
Secrecy and obfuscation are the norm at SMRR. The names of key players, like members of its powerful Steering Committee, bylaws and even minutes from meetings are kept from the public and members alike. Its leadership desperately wants to maintain power without challenges.
SMRR’s main thrust these days is “more affordable housing.” The organization is still passively committed to renters’ rights and controls on development. However, it has yet to square its unequivocal support for virtually unlimited housing development with “controls on development.”
Most new development here is new, multi-story apartment buildings with ground-floor retail. Despite SMRR’s rhetoric, the vast majority of new construction is market-rate apartments for out-of-towners who want to live here and not for Santa Monicans, Santa Monica seniors, our displaced or disabled — despite what they tell you.
SMRR is so focused on its own agenda that it doesn’t care one iota about me or any other tenant as long as it can co-opt us and fool us into voting for politicians who’ve promised to continue their leadership’s personal social engineering obsessions.
There’s a special urgency to the SMRR confab this year. Their “Renters Write” newsletter suggests that “groups that support luxury hotels, market-rate housing and bigger developments are organizing and hoping to elect a pro-development SMRR steering committee.” But, isn’t that exactly what SMRR’s leadership and politicians back: more hotels, market-rate apartments and bigger developments like the pending 12-floor Plaza at Santa Monica on Fourth Street?
Of course, the latest newsletter is full of mutual back-patting and hysteria. Mayor Kevin McKeown, whose wife Genise Schnitman sits on SMRR’s powerful steering committee, warns that “those who actively oppose affordable housing — what if they took over SMRR?” He then blames “outside interests” at last year’s SMRR convention for “stealing the organization’s ability to support Council candidates.” Please.
McKeown continues, “What if SMRR stopped making renter protection a priority? What if SMRR become a front for pro-growth interests favoring developer profits over neighborhoods. Are you willing to risk that?” he writes.
But SMRR has done exactly that. Two years ago I notified McKeown that a Pacific Palisades-based developer was scooping up smaller, older neighborhood apartment buildings, buying (or forcing) out tenants and then deploying its own in-house crews to remodel without city permits or inspections.
Dozens of buildings in the Wilmont area were or are involved in year-long renovation periods. Pre-renovation rents doubled and tripled when granite countertops, laminated wood floors and other improvements were completed.
McKeown’s response was “nothing could be done” as Costa-Hawkins (a late-1990s California state law that gave developers the right to buy out tenants, renovate and then raise rental rates for new incoming tenants) took precedence over local ordinances.
We’re losing hundreds of existing “affordable” apartments annually to speculators and developers as SMRR leaders, while claiming to have our backs, play their power games and push for more and more new development. Oh, well.
Growth on Lincoln Boulevard
Tonight, a new development at 1626 Lincoln Blvd. (near recently approved multi-story, apartment/mixed-use projects at the Norms and Denny’s coffee shop sites at Lincoln Boulevard and Colorado Avenue) is before the Architecture Review Board.
Unfortunately, the ARB can only deal with cosmetics such as paint color, signage and landscaping, not massing, size or density. Plans call for a 55-foot building with five floors.
The 64-unit affordable housing development is part of a proposed development agreement for a 7-floor, market-rate, mixed-use project at 500 Broadway (formerly Fred Segal) that will include 262 market-rate residential units. You know that SMRR leaders are salivating all over this project, and the “low income” units at 1626 Lincoln are the icing on the cake.
The questions on my mind are: Why is this going through now before a development agreement on 500 Broadway is finalized? And why aren’t some of the low-income units on-site at 500 Broadway, which is now apparently a 100-percent market-rate development? So, where’s the diversity? But folks, a done deal is a done deal.
Appearances may not be deceiving
A Daily Press letter writer last Thursday criticized me for assuming there’s diversity in our city by going to the market, looking at people in checkout lines and prognosticating their income levels.
There are clues to most people’s general financial status if you know what to look for. Observations are not always foolproof or 100-percent accurate. However, it’s usually the people who lack the powers of observation, life experiences or just don’t notice who often mistakenly think that Santa Monica lacks (economic) diversity.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.