By Daniel Larios
October 22, 2014 – Santa Monica’s leading political education advocacy group is quickly becoming a major player in the November 4 election, having raised more money this year than it did in all previous elections combined.
The Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) -- which is backing Pam O’Connor and former Lookout columnist Frank Gruber in the race for three open City Council seats -- has raised $54,545 since September 11, nearly double the total $31,696 it raised in the previous four elections.
The education group, which is chaired by former city council candidate Shari Davis, announced last month that it is backing two challengers and two incumbents in the race School Board and all four incumbents in the College Board race.
“With this election cycle being such an active election cycle, we feel that voters should be educated about the candidates and which ones will support our public schools,” Davis said. “That brings people’s attention to the campaign.”
The donors -- who include friends and supporters of the endorsed candidates, as well as their campaigns -- want to elect officials who are good for education, Davis said.
“It’s a combination” of solicited and unsolicited donors, Davis told the Lookout. “We’ve reached out to individuals about the election and drew interest from donors.”
Contributing to the organization’s campaign are hotel backers Ocean Avenue LLC and the Edward Management Company with donations of $2,500 and $5,000, respectively.
Both companies have each donated $25,000 to a Super PAC headed by Mayor Pro-Tem Terry O’Day to support O’Connor and Gruber. (“Santa Monica Election Fundraising Revs Up for Final Stretch,” October 20, 2014)
Ocean Avenue LLC is looking to rebuild the Fairmont Miramar Hotel by replacing the current ten-story building with a 21-story tower, 280 hotel rooms, 120 luxury condos and 40 affordable housing units.
The Edward Thomas Management Company owns Shutters on the Beach Hotel and Hotel Casa del Mar.
The biggest contribution to the organization is $25,000 from Chairman and CEO of Electro Rent Corporation Daniel Greenberg.
A Van Nuys resident, Greenberg is an education advocate who, along with his wife, attorney and civic activist Susan Steinhauser, previously made a $250,000 donation to support Santa Monica College (SMC) scholarships in 2012.
Greenberg sits on the Board of Directors of The Broad Stage and National Public Radio, Inc, whose biggest affiliate KCRW is broadcast in Santa Monica.
Other notable donations include $5,000 from the “Craig Foster for SMMUSD School Board” campaign committee, $5,000 from the “Re-Elect Louise Jaffe for College Board” campaign, $1,000 from Councilmember Gleam Davis and $100 from Planning Commissioner and city council candidate Sue Himmelrich.
Of those candidates seeking the CEPS endorsement, only the twelve gained the necessary 60 percent support from the Steering Committee.
For the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) School Board race, CEPS is backing incumbents Laurie Lieberman and Ralph Mechur, who served as one of the group’s co-chairs from 2000-2003, and challengers Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein and Craig Foster.
Notably absent from the slate is incumbent Oscar de la Torre, who received the group’s endorsement in his reelection bid in 2010.
For the SMC Board race, the group has endorsed incumbents Louise Jaffe, Nancy Greenstein, Barry Snell and Andrew Walzer.
Jaffe – who served as one of CEPS’s co-chairs in 2003 – and Greenstein were endorsed by CEPS in 2006. Snell was endorsed by the group in 2006 for his first run for SMMUSD School board and again for his reelection bid in 2010.
For LA County Supervisor for the Third District, the group is backing former state legislator Sheila Kuehl against former Santa Monica mayor Bobby Shriver.
For California State Senate, the group is supporting school board member Ben Allen over attorney and activist Sandra Fluke.
Founded in 1999 and formally recognized as a group in 2003, CEPS is the City’s biggest education advocay group, leading efforts to fund Santa Monica schools over the years.
In 2004, the group pressured the Council to pump a total of $7.6 million in City funding into the school district by 2009.
In 2007, CEPS successfully led the passing of Measure R, which provides $11 million a year in permanent funding to District schools.
In 2010, the group again led a successful effort to pass Measure Y and YY, a half-cent sales tax hike to help raise money for Santa Monica and Malibu schools and emergency services.