City Council appointed an activist from the Pico Neighborhood who serves on a city commission to the seat vacated by Tony Vazquez.

Council chose Ana Maria Jara Tuesday night from a pool of 76 applicants. Jara, a 40-year resident of Santa Monica, served as vice chair of the Social Services Commission and previously served as chair of the Commission for the Status of Women.

She is also a member of the Human Relations Council, Familias Latinas Unidas, a newly formed Latino parent group at Santa Monica High School and various boards at Santa Monica College, where she has worked for more than 25 years as an administrative assistant.

Jara takes the seat as the City of Santa Monica battles a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit filed by another Latina resident of the Pico neighborhood, Maria Loya. 

The judge in the case recently ordered the City to move to a district-based election system on the grounds that its current at-large election system discriminates against minorities. The City plans to appeal the decision.

Jara testified in the case that she does not believe the City marginalizes Latinos or Pico residents and does not support district elections.

Loya said she thinks Council appointed Jara because she is a Latina from Pico who is loyal to City Hall.

“Her selection by this desperate Council is part of a strategy to undermine our neighborhood’s effort from having an independent and authentic resident voice that will stand up to the power structure,” she wrote in an op-ed submitted to the Daily Press.

Several Pico residents spoke in support of Jara before Council voted 5-1 to appoint her. (Councilmember Sue Himmelrich originally voted for Rent Control Board member Caroline Torosis, but changed her vote to Jara later in the meeting.)

“When the Council vacancy was announced, we agreed that Ana Maria would be the best person for this role,” said Liz Cruz, a member of Familias Latinas Unidas. “She is a working-class mother and grandmother and a 30-year renter. She’s an advocate for renters’ rights, closing the achievement gap and protecting vulnerable youth.”

Jara’s supporters led the room in a round of applause as Jara rose, crying, to be sworn in. She addressed the Pico community after taking her seat on the dais.

“I am so humbled by this opportunity and the faith all of you have deposited in me to serve you at a different level,” Jara said. “I look forward to continue serving everyone as I have been doing for years on end. It’s taken years for us to be able to do this, and today we become part of history.”

Jara identified safety, housing, economic development and community wellbeing as her priorities as a councilmember on her application.

“Our housing concerns include creating affordable options, having access to those options, and the longevity of those options,” she wrote. “At a local level, the diversification of housing options is essential to maintaining the existing housing stock. Smart growth includes options for a variety of residents from low-income to moderate-income residents.”

Jara and other councilmembers encouraged applicants who did not win the seat to apply for City boards and commissions.

“Council is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown. “There are 20 boards and commissions that feed their voice to this council and we need those who applied to serve.”

McKeown and Himmelrich originally nominated former Planning Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy for the seat, with Mayor Gleam Davis nominating Santa Monica College trustee Barry Snell. In the second round of nominations, Davis and McKeown voted for Ana Jara after Mayor Pro Tempore Terry O’Day nominated her.

Tony Vazquez vacated the seat earlier this month to serve on the State Board of Equalization. His wife, Maria Leon-Vazquez, applied to fill the seat and positioned herself as an advocate for Pico but withdrew her application Tuesday. Council had until Feb. 7 to appoint a new councilmember.

This article was updated Jan. 23 at 3:30 p.m.

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  1. Ana Maria Jara might be a Pico resident; however, she does not represent the Pico Neighborhood; she was the only person of color; she was the only person of color put up by the City Council as a witness to testify AGAINST the Pico Neighborhood’s voting rights lawsuit. She does not attend the Pico Neighborhood meetings and does not advocate for the issues of all the Pico Neighborhood residents.

  2. As a lifelong Pico Neighborhood resident, I am overjoyed at the appointment. Not just for my community, but for all Santa Monica: for our renters, for our youth and vulnerable families, for our undocumented community, for advocates of equity and social justice- we have representation in ways we haven’t seen. No disrespect to other candidates, but the lived experience of Council Member Jara and her social position brings a unique lens and perspective that is much needed. Congrats Ana, Si Se Puede!

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