Like a shot fired at the starting line, this week signaled the beginning of Santa Monica’s 2018 campaign season. On Monday, the first City Council challenger, local restaurant owner Greg Morena, announced his candidacy and launched a website. On Wednesday, community activist Mary Marlow will host a kick-off event to hand out petitions for her ballot initiative to put term limits on the City Council.

Marlow has been meeting with neighborhood groups since she quietly filed the application for the initiative in January. The measure would limit Councilmembers to three terms (12 years) over the course of their lifetime. Since the measure is not retroactive, current members would still be able to run for three more terms, including Councilmember Sue Himmelrich, who is running for reelection and backing the measure.

“I’m reaching out to everybody who may be interested in the city because I want their feedback whether they’re for or against it,” Marlow said. “Either way, I want to know what’s going on.”

Marlow founded the Santa Monica Transparency Project in 2008, a government watchdog organization that reports on financial contributions to political campaigns and political action committees (PACS). She has already met with Northeast Neighbors, Wilmont, the Ocean Park Association and Friends of Sunset Park and has reached out to more groups to speak at their meetings about her initiative.

At Wednesday’s kick-off event at the Main Library auditorium, supporters will get copies of petitions to begin gathering the approximately 10,500 signatures needed to get the measure on the November ballot. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. Marlow hopes to finish the process in about three months.

She says most of the initial reaction has been positive. After she spoke at OPA this month, Marlow said one member realized two sitting councilmembers had been serving since she was in kindergarten.

“You want new blood and you want fresh ideas and you don’t get it if you don’t get new people,” Marlow said. “We need solutions. We’ve had a traffic problem for years. Do you see anything new coming from our current council? I don’t. That’s why most legislative organizations have term limits. The turnover gives you new people, fresh ideas, new perspective.”

The language in the measure amends the city charter and was drafted by public policy specialists at the Los Angeles law firm Strumwasser and Woocher. Appointees to Santa Monica boards and commissions are already limited to three terms.

The initiative faces criticism from sitting councilmembers, including Kevin McKeown who is running for his sixth term this year. The 70-year-old councilmember told the Daily Press the initiative restricts voters’ choice to retain experienced, effective representatives. Instead, he said reform should focus on public campaign finance laws.

Marlow argues fresh faces may be more critical of both lobbyists and the staff reports that are presented at public meetings.

“If you have new people they’re not so enamored with staff,” Marlow said. “Especially if you’ve been on the outside and read some of the staff reports that, frankly, are lacking. So I think new people will question more (and) ask staff to do more complete work. They are sorely lacking in that. I think there will be more scrutiny with new people.”

Santa Monica’s other long-serving councilmember, Pam O’Connor, who is also 70, has not yet announced whether she plans to run for reelection.

O’Connor, McKeown and 65-year-old Himmelrich are facing their first challenger, business owner Morena, who announced his campaign in the Daily Press Monday. The 35-year-old Morena owns The Albright restaurant on the Pier.

Planning Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy has filed preliminary paperwork to establish a fundraising committee but declined to comment on any plans to run for council.

More information is available at

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press