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Chamber Candidates Come Out Swinging

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

September 20 -- Two days after clinching the Chamber of Commerce’s deep-pocketed endorsements, four business-backed candidates came out swinging at a fundraiser Friday, looking to land the first punches aimed at knocking Santa Monica’s reigning renter’s organization from its majority on the City Council.

While each said they are running independent of one another, incumbent Council member Herb Katz, physician Matt Dinolfo, Pico neighborhood activist Kathryn Morea and representatives for State Parks Commissioner Bobby Shriver told the nearly 50 chamber members gathered at Shutters on the Beach Hotel that they are united on one front: ousting Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) from its long-held council majority.

“Unlike SMRR, I will bring leadership with integrity and a moral compass,” said Dinolfo, who took issue with a SMRR mailer sent recently to voters that he said questions the chamber’s support of City renters’ issues and charges that “the chamber has never seen a big development project that they didn’t like.”

“What they said were half-truths. Nobody who’s running up here is against renters’ rights, and they, in fact, have been the biggest developers in the city,” said Dinolfo. “Fear tactics should not be a part of this campaign.”

Dinolfo also went on the offensive, charging that SMRR should not be taking credit for a council action approved earlier this year that carves out at least $6 million from City funds for the School District.

Dinolfo noted that SMRR members on the council only approved the measure after their hands were forced by an education advocacy group, Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS), which ran a signature drive to place a measure on November’s ballot -- if the council did not give money to the school district directly.

“Only after CEPS gathered 15,000 signatures, they (the council) reacted because they were forced,” said Dinolfo, who says he is seeking a CEPS endorsement.

CEPS, which has several prominent SMRR members on its steering committee, is expected to make its endorsements next week.

Katz, an architect who is seeking his fourth council term., said he expects to be the brunt of a SMRR campaign to paint him as pro-development.

“They’re probably going to take out a couple of hit pieces on me,” Katz said. “With them, it’s no longer saying ‘We have to govern’, now it’s, ‘We have to stay in power.’ That’s sick.”

Chris Harding, a land use attorney and chamber member who introduced Katz to the group, asked chamber members to give Katz the maximum $250 donation per person.

“Herb needs all the help he can get,” Harding said. “He’s already been attacked by SMRR, and he’s likely to running against the police association.”

The Santa Monica Police Officers Association, an influential and well-funded group, did not endorse Katz for the first time in his political career.

Malissa Feruzzi, candidate Bobby Shriver’s fiancé and campaign manager, joined Katz in accusing the SMRR-majority council of fostering an atmosphere of overzealousness in enforcement of City codes.

But Feruzzi insisted that Shriver’s run-in with city inspectors over the height of hedges around his North of Montana home was not the only issue he cares about.

“A lot of people say Bobby got his start in local politics because of the hedges,” she said. “I’d like to clear up that misconception. It wasn’t really about the hedges. That was just a symptom of an underlying disease.

“He entered politics locally because of outdated laws and these sudden urges by the council to go out and enforce things,” Feruzzi said.

In previous years, many City codes -- such as those regulating fence and hedge heights -- were enforced only when residents complained about them, instead of on a pro-active basis.

Morea, who led the fight for permit parking in the Pico Neighborhood, attacked SMRR for what she called its anti-business stance.

“The SMRR-controlled did exactly what they wanted to do,” Morea said. “It’s like they try to make businesses out to be evil.”

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