Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights took one small step back to credibility at its annual membership meeting Nov. 1.

The election of members to the organization’s Steering Committee was the key action. Not only does this powerful cabal of 11 individuals set policy for the group, they also can interpose and endorse candidates for local elections when the rank and file can’t make a decision.

One of SMMR’s longest lasting and most powerful figures Judy Abdo was up for re-election to the committee. But, Abdo has been on a power trip, playing fast and loose with SMRR’s rules. The crapola hit the fan during the 2014 election when Abdo participated in a competing telephone campaign aimed at voters.

Last November, I wrote, “How about Judy Abdo’s recorded phone pitch to voters? She identified herself as a member of the SMRR Steering Committee and asked folks to vote for [Frank] Gruber and [Pam] O’Connor. One problem: SMRR didn’t endorse them although her intent was to imply that they did… Many say Abdo should be removed from the Steering Committee for abusing her power. Fat chance of that happening.”

Guess what, folks? It happened. It took nearly a year.

Attendees at this year’s confab were handed a flyer when they entered the auditorium. Signed by Councilwoman Sue Himmelrich, Mayor Kevin McKeown, Rent Control Board member Nicole Phillis, SMRR co-chair Denny Zane and Planning Commissioner/Steering Committee member Jennifer Kennedy, it read: “One Steering Committee candidate has used her position to promote City Council candidates running AGAINST our SMRR slate.

“’This is former Mayor Judy Abdo, a member of the steering committee of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights calling to urge you to vote for Pam O’Connor and Frank Gruber for City Council.’”

The flyer continues, “SMRR steering committee members are entitled to support candidates of their choice. They are not entitled to use their SMRR position to mislead voters as to who SMRR’s candidates really are.”

Leslie Lambert, a Sunset Park resident and dogmatic supporter of housing development also didn’t prevail in her shot at a committee seat. However, Unite HERE, Local 11 hotel union activist Jackie Martin did.

The eleven SMRR Steering Committee members are Zane, Kennedy, Martin and Co-Chair Patricia Hoffman along with long timers Michael Tarbet, Genise Schnitman (wife of Mayor Kevin McKeown), Linda Sullivan, Bruria Finkel, Sonya Sultan and Roger Thornton. After he made a $10,000 donor to the organization in 2014, Michael Soloff (attorney and Sue Himmelrich’s husband) was added to the committee.

Mayor McKeown also made a poor showing at the confab. Not only did he give a long, self-gratuitous speech or “filibuster” that pissed off attendees, he was also overheard telling folks he opposed making renters pay for drought-related water rate increases through any kind of landlord/owner pass through.

No matter how high water rates go or what penalties are forced to pay because of water-wasting tenants, our mayor believes that renters should NOT have to share the costs — or apparently conserve.

A pass-through would be a big incentive for tenants to reduce water use. You’d think that a person who is passionate about sustainability and the environment would see that. However, McKeown’s ego and his social engineering agenda seems to be growing along with the cost of water these days.

Fate of the Pier in council’s hands tomorrow night

Tomorrow night, City Council will make seven appointments (Item 8B) to the Santa Monica Pier Corporation Board (SMPC). The seven person SMPC replaced the old Pier Restoration Corporation (PRC) three years ago.

The SMPC is charged with marketing the Santa Monica Pier. It is currently made up of present and former City Hall insiders and political cronies. The SMPC is charged with coming up with a new direction and vitality for updating the more than 100 year old Pier (actually two piers side by side) while still maintaining its unique quality and charm.

Tuesday, night council can make board appointments that will hopefully lead to enhancements and a new vitality for the Pier. Council must choose carefully as its future as a beloved and prime Santa Monica asset and landmark is at stake.

I’d vote in a whole new Board of Directors if it were my choice. Obviously, applicants from the former PRC (that was disbanded by former City Manager Rod Gould for being  “dysfunctional”) who are applying for a term on the SMPC board shouldn’t be considered. They had their shot.

The same with members of the current SMPC board. They haven’t accomplished a lot (and also received Gould’s criticism for non-accomplishment) either, short of a public meeting a couple weeks ago under Chair Judy Abdo. (Yes, the same one) So, why keep repeating history?

Applicants from Pier and Pier-adjacent businesses should also be excluded because of potential conflicts of interest, plus they have their own Pier Lessees Association to guide Pier policy.

Applicants should be political agenda-free. Applicants seeking a position to further their personal business or a competitive advantage through a Pier board appointment shouldn’t be considered. Council would also be wise to not load the SMPC Board with persons from other established “Downtown” commerce and tourism advocacy boards for diversity’s sake.   

New SMPC board members must be aware of the residents living near the Pier, keep their quality of life in mind and be willing to respond quickly and positively to their concerns.

The Pier needs creative, active and aggressive individuals to meet the Pier’s challenges such as character of upgrades, amount and kinds of development on the Pier, cultural programming, community activities and more.

Such persons must be able to balance tourism, pier business and resident needs. Most importantly, the Pier must remain hospitable to all economic and ethnic groups. After all, it’s the “People’s Pier.”

Bill can be reached at