With three seats up for grabs in this November’s Santa Monica Rent Control Board election and three candidates qualifying for the ballot, the competition to determine who will administer the 43-year-old rent control program is all but decided.

Barring the emergence of a serious write-in candidate, the new (and returning) Rent Control Board members come fall will be Ericka Lesley — an incumbent who was recently appointed to the Board just a few weeks ago — and newcomers Daniel S. Ivanov and Kurt Gonska.

In their nomination paperwork, the three prospective board members listed their careers: Ivanov an attorney, Lesley a healthcare worker and Gonska in entertainment marketing. All three reside in rent-controlled units.

In response to questions emailed from the Daily Press, both Gonska and Ivanov wrote that they believed the nature of this year’s uncontested Rent Control Board election was a testament to the community’s commitment to strengthening Rent Control, due to the lack of what they both classified as landlord-affiliated candidates.

“In the past, landlords have run candidates for Rent Control Board, but this year they saw how strongly Santa Monica residents and activists responded to proposals that would in effect weaken rent control by essentially starting down the slippery slope of means-testing,” Gonska wrote. “Rent Control is a treasured public policy in Santa Monica, and residents want board members who will adamantly defend it. I’m confident that the three candidates who qualified for the ballot will do just that.”

Likewise, Ivanov wrote that “The fact that the RCB race is uncontested demonstrates that our community is aware that the City has a strong commitment to the foundational principles of rent control. In past election cycles, the landlord lobby and the special interests that support them have run candidates as a direct challenge to pro-renter candidates. The fact that they opted to not even mount a challenge in this election cycle, indicates that the current political climate in Santa Monica is such that it is not worth using political capital to challenge tenant advocates.”

Speaking to the Daily Press on the phone, Lesley had a different take.

“I think that … people aren’t aware of how important this Board is and what it does for them in terms of sustaining their units,” Lesley said. “They don’t understand how important rent control is.” 

Lesley said her reason for running for Rent Control Board was simple: “I just want to help people. Period.” She added that her work on the ground providing resources to the community since the start of the pandemic opened her eyes to the needs of her neighbors — needs that are only increasing due to inflation and fears over a possible recession. 

“I just want to help our community stay intact and stay in touch,” Lesley said. “That’s my biggest concern.”

Ivanov wrote that he was running for the Board because living in a rent controlled unit is “the only thing preventing [him] from getting priced out of the City.” 

“I was appalled at recent efforts by the City Council to attempt to gut rent control in Santa Monica through implementation of a ‘means-tested’ model,” Ivanov added. “I am running to serve as a bulwark against any effort to weaken rent control in our community.”  He said his background as an attorney with experience in litigation, negotiations, and advice and counsel matters gave him a unique and useful skillset.

“My diverse legal background will allow me to examine disputes between tenants and landlords in a thorough and impartial manner while making sure that the law is applied fairly,” Ivanov wrote. “As a renter that lives in a rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica, I live and experience the same issues many of my constituents face which will empower me to serve as their advocate. In addition, with my extensive record of campaign experience ranging from local to statewide, I have the communication, political, and social media skills necessary to inform the public of the work the RCB is doing in the community including key resources available to them such as rental assistance.”

Gonska said he decided to run because he wanted to protect Santa Monica’s vibrancy and diversity.

“I want to be a Rent Control Board Member because I believe that Santa Monica is the vibrant community that it is because of rent control which has enabled people of diverse backgrounds and varying income levels to afford to live here,” Gonska wrote. “We want long term residents and newcomers to be able to stay in Santa Monica for many years –  to put down roots and contribute to the strength of our community. I’ve lived in rent controlled apartments in Santa Monica since 2014 and have first-hand experience working through problems with my landlords with the assistance of the Rent Control Board and department staff. I’ve navigated complex tenant/landlord issues, and want to help my fellow neighbors do the same.”

In an unusual twist, while the election is only about 10 weeks away, the Rent Control Board is currently looking to fill one unscheduled vacancy after Board Member Naomi Sultan resigned her post after moving out of the city. Sultan’s announcement came the same day Lesley was selected to fill another vacancy, that of Board Member Nicole Phyllis, who also recently departed the city.

Applications to fill Sultan’s seat for the partial term, which ends in November 2022 following the midterm elections, are due Thursday, Sept. 1, and applicants are asked to prepare presentations up to three minutes in length for the Thursday, Sept. 8 regular Rent Control Board meeting. At that time, the interim commissioner will be appointed. 

emily@smdp.com