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Not so invincible; and the place that is Chez Jay

By Frank Gruber

December 8 -- I suspect that the leadership of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) is wondering what could have gone so wrong that Robert Kronovet, a Republican landlord, has won a seat on the Santa Monica Rent Control Board.

As reported in The Lookout, this is the first time that anyone opposed by SMRR has won election to the board in its nearly 30-year history. ("Historic! SMRR Foe Wins Rent Board Seat," December 3, 2008)

As a columnist who has considered Rent Control Board elections so predictable that I have never written a word about them, I am not the person to explain to SMRR what happened.

I mean, there is always the obvious -- assuming the election was predictable and taking it for granted.

But perhaps I can provide some solace, and make a suggestion to SMRR that the organization look at the bright side.

You see the loss of the seat can be turned into a rhetorical victory because it puts the lie to the contention -- sometimes made in this column -- that an endorsement by SMRR is tantamount to victory in Santa Monica elections and that the vote at the SMRR convention in August of election years is the most important vote in the city.

SMRR can now say that its candidates don't win because of the organization's clout, but because they are in fact, actually, really -- popular.

I was just speaking a few weeks ago with a non-SMRR politically active person in town who told me, when I said that the continued reelection of the City Council incumbents (both SMRR and non-SMRR) indicated that Santa Monicans were basically happy, that I had to be kidding myself because everyone knew that it was impossible to defeat incumbents.

Hey -- if a Republican landlord can win a seat on the Rent Control Board, nothing is impossible.

Memo to Santa Monica's disgruntled: stop whining and work harder. Don't waste your time on monstrosities like Measure T, and put your effort into organizing a real campaign, with candidates. Mr. Kronovet can be your inspiration.

But -- to defeat the incumbents, you'll still need voters who are unhappy, and they're a minority in Santa Monica.

* * *

Just how big that minority is can be estimated by looking at the final numbers the County Registrar-Recorder published last week for the election. Measure T, also known as the Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic (RIFT), lost 23,037 votes to 18,410; if you do the math, the measure received 44.42 percent of the vote.

But that's the percentage of voters -- 41,447 -- who voted on the measure. The total votes cast in Santa Monica was 50,912 (87.23 percent of registered voters!). The pro-T vote was only 36.16 percent of the number of Santa Monicans who voted.

The RIFTers might reply by saying that no one has any idea what the 18.6 percent of Santa Monica voters who refrained from voting on T think about development or traffic or city government.

But I'm going to guess.

Let's remember something -- the RIFTers and other Santa Monicans Fearful of Change are always telling everyone that they are the "residents" of Santa Monica, and that somehow the rest of us who live here who see things differently are carrying water for "greedy developers."

After RIFT's defeat, Council Member Kevin McKeown admonished us not to forget that "almost half of Santa Monica" voted for RIFT. I wonder if Mr. McKeown would like to revise that to "a little more than a third."

And what would he say if the anti-RIFT vote had been only 36 percent of the total?

Remember how the RIFTers crowed about their 10,000 signatures? It would seem that with their rhetoric, the burden of proof was on them to get the votes out. If 18.6 percent of Santa Monica voters didn't care enough about RIFT to vote on it, that's certainly not evidence that they were readying their pitchforks to storm City Hall.

* * *

The vote numbers do tell a story about Santa Monica, and the story is about a city that looks positively to the future.

While RIFT, which was a phony solution to traffic congestion was losing badly, Santa Monica voters were overwhelmingly approving County Measure R, the sales tax to build the Wilshire subway and other transit improvements, i.e., a real solution but one that will raise taxes. The city's vote for R was 34,450 votes to 10,312; that yes vote was 77 percent of the votes on the measure and 67.66 percent of total votes cast. (And note that the total vote on R in Santa Monica more than 3,000 votes more than the total vote on T.)

The state measure for high-speed rail won in Santa Monica 30,365 to 15,589.

The vote for Santa Monica College's bond was similarly impressive: 25,604 to 15,463.

Need I say that Prop. 8 lost here 37,763 to 10,997 and Barack Obama won here over John McCain 39,870 to 9,449?

What an electorally cool city.

* * *

Okay, I like to mock the notion that Santa Monica's existence can be summed up with the words "beach town" (sleepy or funky). But that doesn't mean that the city doesn't have elements that conform with the fantasy of a beach town.

And one of those very real places is surely Chez Jay, the watering hole on Ocean Avenue that was long -- 49 years since its founding -- the domain of Jay Fiondella.

Mr. Fiondella died last month and on Saturday Chez Jay hosted a party to honor him. Here are some pictures.

The party outside Chez Jay, The party inside, and Mayor Herb Katz tends bar. (photoes by Frank Gruber)



I was not a regular at Chez Jay, but I did have some memorable meals there, including a dinner with friends to commemorate the 25th anniversary of my wife's and my first meeting. For that the eight of us got the fabled "Table 10" in the back, which we didn't know then was a/k/a the "Kissinger table."

Which begs the question -- how many sleepy beach towns have joints that were hangouts for both Henry Kissinger and Daniel Ellsberg?

What I recall most about Jay Fiondella was the graciousness, wisdom and humanity, not to mention humor, that he brought to meetings on the Civic Center plan over the years.

The good news is that operations at Chez Jay will continue as before under "old management" -- that of Mike Anderson, the long-time manager and Mr. Fiondella's partner, who will be running the place as it's been run.

And "place," by the way, is how Mr. Anderson likes to refer to Chez Jay; he told me Saturday that he doesn't see Chez Jay as a bar or as a restaurant, but as a "place" for people to make themselves at home.

Place. That's what Santa Monica is -- a place.

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The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
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