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NEWS ANALYSIS -- Does City Council Have the Votes to Appoint a New Member


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January 22, 2019 -- Ask Santa Monica political leaders, observers and consultants who they think the City Council will pick Tuesday night to fill an empty seat on the dais and you'll get a unanimous response.

They don't know.

While nearly a dozen of the 76 candidates who submitted applications have been elected or appointed to major boards and commissions, it is unclear whether any of them has four of the six votes needed to fill the seat vacated by Tony Vazquez.

The Council, five of whose six current members are former Planning Commissioners, has traditionally turned to the powerful board when choosing a new member.

And among the applicants, there are three who fit the bill -- Commissioners Jason Perry and Richard McKinnon, and former commissioner Jennifer Kennedy. (For the final list of applicants click here).

Four other applicants sit on major boards after having been elected with more than 10,000 votes each -- School Board members Maria Leon-Vazquez and Oscar de la Torre, College Board member Barry Snell and Rent Control Board member Caroline M. Torosis.

Then there are two former elected officials -- Mike Feinstein, who served on the Council from 1996 to 2004 (two of them as mayor), and former Rent Board Commissioner Robert Kronovet, who served from 2008 to 2012.

Others who have served on major Boards or made strong showings at the polls are Shari L. Davis, who finished fifth behind Vazquez in the 2012 race for four Council seats, and Albin Gielicz, who serves on the City's Tourism Board and is a member of the Recreation and Parks Commission.

Normally, it would seem easy to pick from among the dozen most qualified candidates -- if race and gender didn't weigh into the equation.

"Diversification on the Council should be a priority," said a top political leader.

"Ideally," said Santa Monica for Renters' Rights (SMRR) Co-Chair Patricia Hoffman, "we really do want a diverse Council that's reflective of the population of the city.

"Holding up a cultural mirror is important," said Hoffman. "It can't be ignored."

Those privy to the Council's preferences say that picking a minority (ideally a Latina), although not a requirement, is a factor that could weigh heavily in Tuesday's choice.

Of the candidates who have held elected office or sat on major boards and commissions, that would leave Latino School Board members Leon-Vazquez and de la Torre and College Board member Barry Snell, who is black.

Another candidate who is considered a possible front-runner is Ana M. Jara, a Latina resident of the Pico Neighborhood, who is vice-chair of the Social Services Commission.

Jara finished fourth among four candidates in the 2004 race for three School Board seats and is a member of Familias Latinas Unidas (FLU), which works in partnership with police and City leaders on immigation issues.

In her application, under the heading "qualifications," Jara listed her long tenure as a renter and her experience working with "multicultural and multiethnic groups in a real way."

"I have lived in the same rent controlled apartment in Santa Monica for almost 35 years," wrote Jara, who has worked for Santa Monica College for 25 years. "As a strategic and tireless advocate, I have worked on smart and inclusive solutions to a wide range of issues.

"My perspective from the ground level has shaped my work on these issues," she wrote. "I bring refined skills in working with a diverse community, particularly multicultural and multiethnic groups in a real way."

Snell, who was appointed to the College Board in 2014 and has been re-elected twice, was also elected to the School Board and is a member of the board of Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., which runs the City's central business district. .

In his application, Snell noted his experience as a Certified Public Accountant with a Masters Degree in Taxation.

"I believe that my financial background and my understanding of public finance could be helpful in the area of the City's pension issues, along with balancing the City's budget," Snell wrote.

Under "personal qualities," Snell, who like Jara is a renter in the Pico Neighborhood, said he brings "a diverse and practicable experience" to the Council.

"I am an independent thinker that will listen to all the facts before making a decision," wrote Snell, who was elected to the college Board in 2014 and re-elected in November.

In her application, Leon-Vazquez, who is seeking to fill the seat vacated by her husband after he was elected to the State Board of Equalization, stressed her longtime ties to the Pico Neighborhood where she grew up and the importance of adding diversity to the Council.

"The council has to be representative of all of its diverse constituents," wrote Vazquez, who is a project manager for Santa Monica College (SMC).

"My presence as a member of the council would guarantee a voice to protect any further gentrification of our affordable units in the city, especially in the Pico Neighborhood."

Leon-Vazquez's chances, however, could be hampered by a conflict-of-interest investigation after voting to authorize contracts with consulting firms that had hired her husband ("District Probe of Santa Monica-Malibu School Board Member Shies Away from Judgment," January 19, 2018).

School Board member Oscar de la Torre, who created and runs the two-decades-old Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC), also has a proven track record at the polls, winning re-election in November to a fourth four-year term.

But his tense relations with the City -- he is a plaintiff in a voting rights lawsuit that could lead to District elections -- make him a highly unlikely choice.

Although there are plenty of qualified candidates, said SMRR Co-Chair Hoffman, it is unclear whether any of them can get the four votes necessary to be appointed Tuesday night.

"There are people who can get three votes," Hoffman said.

The question is, "Where are people going to move when their fist choices don't get a majority," she said.

The Council has 30 days as of January 8 to fill the seat.

If it fails to make an appointment Tuesday night, it could re-open the application process and vote again on January 29 and, if need be, on February 5.

If no appointment is made, voters will choose a new Councilmember in a special election November 5 to serve until November 2020.

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