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Council Candidates: The SMRR Challengers

By Frank Gruber

Continuing with my evaluations of the candidates running for the City Council, this column looks at the two non-incumbent candidates Santa Monicans for Renters Rights has endorsed, Patricia Hoffman and Maria Loya.

My take on SMRR, as I have expressed numerous times, is that it has two wings that are at heart in conflict: the yes faction and the no faction.

The yes faction were the forward-thinking founders, cut from a liberal, jobs-housing-education-environment cloth. The founders, while skeptical of big business or big anything, had a reasonable attitude toward growth and development, in part because they wanted revenue to support a progressive social agenda. Like all good leftists, they had a positive attitude toward change and were passionate about what they could accomplish.

Council members such as Ruth Yanatta Goldway, Ken Edwards, Dolores Press, David Finkel, Jim Conn, Tony Vazquez, Judy Abdo, Paul Rosenstein and Denny Zane represented the "yes" part of SMRR. Council member Pam O'Connor, when she's not fulminating about education-hawks, is the last representative of this group on the Council.

The no faction in SMRR consists of the no-growth, neighborhood-protection types who in many ways defined themselves precisely by opposing the yes faction's initiatives: against the hotels and tourism (including the Michael McCarty hotel), against the College's expansion, against development at the airport, against, in fact, nearly all development no matter how benign.

The noes elevated traffic congestion over housing, a strange notion for an organization that exists because of a shortage of apartments.

The noes gradually took over and by the time they forced Paul Rosenstein out of SMRR, they came to dominate not only the organization, but also the City Council, with a bloc of four: Ken Genser, Michael Feinstein, Kevin McKeown and Richard Bloom.

Like any political organization, SMRR found it difficult to withdraw support from incumbents (with the notable exception of Kelly Olsen, whom the yes faction managed to dump in 1994). With the SMRR opposition continually shooting itself in the foot, these four have now been in power since 1999.

The reason all this history is relevant to a discussion of Patricia Hoffman is that Hoffman tries to reconcile the two factions. At last summer's SMRR convention I remember watching her beg people to be nice to each other, as the factional bullet-votes were flying around the room.

This quality of Hoffman to bridge differences is not trivial. Nor is it trivial that Hoffman has served on the boards of both Community Corp. of Santa Monica and the Bayside District. Of all people running for the City Council, including incumbents, Hoffman has, by virtue of the wide range of her civic involvements, the broadest range of experiences.

But then, what does this all mean? From her extensive record of public service, it should be easy to determine what kind of council member Hoffman would be, but instead, the record makes her hard to categorize.

Clearly, she's on the side of the yes faction when it comes to education; the test for that is her support for the College. As opposed to Genser and Bloom, she supports the current College bond and also supported the 2003 bond.

On development issues, Hoffman's record is mixed. She's a strong supporter of affordable housing, but opposed, for instance, the Boulangerie site mixed-use housing/retail development. There's a blind spot that some so-called "housers" have; they think they can solve the housing shortage by only building subsidized affordable housing, when its capitalists who have built most of the housing even poor people live in.

Regarding the homeless, Hoffman is an unabashed "bleeding heart." She says in The Lookout survey that she would have voted against both the anti-food serving in the parks ordinance and the anti-sleeping in doorways ordinance. In theory I admire her position, but in practice it's clear that only treating those homeless people who have the patience and will to succeed in the "continuum of care" will not alleviate the human tragedy of people sleeping in the streets -- something liberals should want to do.

In the end, though, my biggest hesitation about Hoffman goes back to the yes/no divide within SMRR, and has to do with whom she would line up when it came to the philosophy of governing.

It was refreshing that Hoffman, in her Lookout questionnaire, allowed that perhaps the Council had been enacting too many laws. Nonetheless, based on the whole of her record, it's doubtful, for instance, if Hoffman had been on the Council July 9, 2002, that she would have broken with her no faction colleagues and opposed the resolution making code enforcement the number one budget priority for the Planning Department. (As reported in Olin Ericksen's article in yesterday's Lookout; "PART I: The Cost of Enforcement," October 27 2004)

So, it might not be fair to Hoffman as an individual, but other than those council members who comprise the no bloc, she's the closest thing to it.

* * *

After lying dormant for years, the yes faction in SMRR began to revive itself in 2002 when, with a lot of support from Latinos in the Pico Neighborhood tired of being ignored in the real politics of Santa Monica, Abby Arnold received the SMRR nomination. Arnold lost by a whisker, probably, and ironically, because Michael Feinstein promoted the candidacy of a Latina from Pico who ran against the SMRR and SMART slates.

This year the Latino group from Pico, led by School Board member Oscar de la Torre, used its clout to make SMRR endorse one of their own, Maria Loya.

The newly-organized Latinos in general, and Loya in particular, have brought to Santa Monica politics an element that has been missing since the first days of the campaign for rent control: politics rooted directly in the needs of the disadvantaged.

So much of political rhetoric in Santa Monica is based on the comforts of the haves, that it's shocking when someone speaks up for the have-nots, as Loya has done. The most exciting political event of the summer did not have anything to do with hedges, but was Loya and her Pico colleagues standing up to no-growthers in Sunset Park in support of Lantana, provided that Lantana set up a jobs fair for Pico.

The rap on Loya is that she is young and inexperienced, but a dozen years working fulltime as a community organizer means more to me than a few years kicking around self-nominated neighborhood groups -- the typical pre-City Council qualifications of prior SMRR candidates.

Categorizing Loya as inexperienced is just part of condescension toward Loya that I see everywhere and which I can only attribute to latent bias. Very few Anglos I have talked to about the election give Loya a thought. I had an email the other day, before I started writing these columns about the candidates, from a good friend, a SMRR stalwart of the "yes" variety, who said he assumed my four votes would come from "Ken, Richard, Bobby, Michael, Patricia and Herb."

No Maria. Why?

Of course, there are issues I have with Loya, too. Like Patricia Hoffman, and others on the left, she can sometimes ignore that we live in a capitalist society. For instance, Loya says in her Lookout questionnaire, quite correctly, that, "many working class families cannot afford to shop at the Promenade anymore. I would support affordable shopping options for youth and families at the Promenade."

But then she indicates on her answers to the Matrix that she would have voted against Target.

Similarly, Loya says she is for housing, but says that downtown, where developers are building most of the city's housing, is too crowded and the City should discourage new development.

Nonetheless, I can't get that Lantana vote out of my mind.
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