Kurt Gonska was unanimously appointed as an interim commissioner of the Rent Control Board last week to fill the spot left vacant in August when Board Member Naomi Sultan resigned her post after moving out of the city. 

In addition to Gonska, three other individuals presented applications to fill the vacancy at the Sept. 8 meeting. Of the applicants, Gonska was the only one who is running for the seat in the upcoming November election, meaning that if any of the other candidates had been selected they would have only served a brief four-month term. 

Gonska, who said he has lived in rent-controlled housing since 2014, cited his experience with landlords as his motivation.

“Having gone through it myself, having seen how effective you all are when you work with tenants who are having issues to help them navigate and get resolution on those issues, I really feel passionate about joining you and helping my neighbors, helping fellow Santa Monicans navigate those issues and take advantage of the rights they have here,” he told the board. 

The other three applicants were Alex Elliot, chair of the Santa Monica Disabilities Commission, Ron Gilbert, a former building manager and Marc Mouallem, a real-estate agent and software developer. 

Each applicant was given three minutes to present their case to the board for why they should be chosen. Elliot said he wanted to serve the brief term to help make RCB meetings more accessible, Gilbert shared specific concerns about the building where he lives and Mouallem said he was working on an app to facilitate interactions between landlords and tenants and saw the opportunity as a chance to “give back.” 

The board showed interest in some ideas presented by the other applicants but Gonska’s desire to serve a full term won them over. 

“It was a non-starter for me if you didn’t apply to serve the full four-year term,” Commissioner Caroline Torosis said.” Serving two months is not very productive for us and if you’re committed to this, you’re committed to the full four-year term, and you’re committed to running, so, for that reason, I think Mr. Gonska is the only candidate we can appoint this evening.” 

Commissioners also expressed appreciation of the dedication Gonska has shown to rent control issues, even without being on the board.

“I’m convinced from the extent of his participation in both rent board meetings, city council meetings, planning commission meetings, community meetings, activism during recent weeks when rent control questions came before us, my conversations with him about this issue, that he understands our law and that he’s ready to hit the ground running,” said RCB Vice-Chairperson Anastasia Foster. 

Gonska was present at city council meetings this summer during which rent increases for rent controlled units were discussed.

“The dedication that he showed in showing up even though he was not an appointed board member, also that he has real life experience as far as having to go through the ebbs and flows of fighting with a landlord and knowing the steps that need to be taken, shows he has the passion and dedication that we need for commissioner,” said Commissioner Lesley. 

Gonska’s term began immediately following the Sept. 8 vote and his name will appear on the November ballot for voters to elect him for a full term. 

Gonska is one of three candidates for three seats on the board this year, meaning the race is all but decided. Along with Gonska, the likely RCB members this fall will be Ericka Lesley, an incumbent appointed to the board following another vacancy this summer, and Daniel S. Ivanov, an attorney and first-time RCB candidate.

grace@smdp.com

Grace Adams

Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...