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Outrage: What's Most Predictable About Santa Monica Politics

By Frank Gruber

Wow -- twenty-seven Santa Monicans completed applications for the seat on the City Council that became vacant when Herb Katz died.  Reading through the applications, I was moved.  There were times when the prose got a little purplish and abstract, but for the most part, the applicants -- most of whom are not political figures in Santa Monica -- expressed a simple desire to be good citizens.

Read together, the applications are a civics class made real.

I made a prediction back in January ("Herb Katz Would Have Loved This," January 19, 2009) that the four Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) council members would not be able to agree on a replacement, and the result would be a special election, although my hope was that the council members would agree on a placeholder, i.e., a civic-minded person who would pledge not to run to complete the term in 2010. 

(I want to correct a historical mistake I made in the column.  I wrote that in 1998 four SMRR members on the council could not make a decision about a replacement for Asha Greenberg, but my memory was faulty.  It turns out -- and I know this because former Council Member Michael Feinstein has posted a video of the 1998 meeting in question on YouTube -- that because of the timing of Ms. Greenberg's resignation from the council the meeting to choose her successor occurred after the 1998 election but before Kevin McKeown's election had been certified, and on the council at that time there were only three SMRR members -- Mr. Feinstein, Ken Genser and Pam O'Connor; the three non-SMRRs were Paul Rosenstein, Bob Holbrook and Ruth Ebner.  Apologies for the error.)

Since writing the January column my read on the situation has gone back and forth.  In the weeks after writing the column, I began to believe that in fact the four SMRR council members would agree on someone -- primarily because the two most likely choices I kept hearing about were the co-chairs of SMRR, Patricia Hoffman and Gleam Davis, and, importantly, neither of them had taken a position on Measure T, the "Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic," that so divided SMRR last year.

With SMRR divided, the co-chairs both said they did not want to publicly endorse or oppose the measure.  While there is a logic to this, that they didn't take positions on Measure T increases the chances that they could obtain votes from both Kevin McKeown and Pam O'Connor, two SMRR council members on opposite sides of the initiative. 

(As discussed in the related story in today's Lookout, neither Ms. Hoffman nor Ms. Davis completed the "matrix" form I sent to all the applicants answering how they would have voted on the most-publicized issues of the past two years, which include certain controversial development issues. ( "Matrix: How They Would Have Voted,"February 23, 2009.)

There also seemed to be no support, except from Council Member Holbrook, for electing a placeholder.  (Only one applicant for the seat -- Jean McNeil Wyner -- pledged in her application that she would not run for reelection in 2010.)

The train to appoint a new SMRR council member seemed unstoppable, and I prepared myself for events -- the council will vote on the appointment tomorrow night -- to prove me wrong.

But wait!  Perhaps I revised my prediction too soon.  What do you know, but the most predictable thing happened in Santa Monica politics -- those die-hard development-despisers I call Santa Monicans Fearful of Change (SMFCs) became outraged.

Their view has been that democracy demands that the council select the first runner-up in the November council election -- Ted Winterer, a co-author of Measure T.  No matter that in an election where each of the nearly 51,000 voters had four choices, only about 12,000 used one to vote for the personable Mr. Winterer.  No matter that he finished with about 5,000 fewer votes than Mr. Katz, the fourth-place finisher, who had views about development rather different from Mr. Winterer's.

Mr. Winterer's supporters will surely remind Council members Ken Genser and Pam O'Connor that in 1998 they said that the council should choose the first runner up, Richard Bloom.  They will reply, however, that the situations are not comparable because the 1998 election was so close between Mr. Bloom and Council Member Holbrook that when the meeting to appoint Ms. Greenberg's successor took place it wasn't clear -- because absentee ballots were still being counted -- who had won.

In any case, as anyone who has been reading letters to the editor lately knows, the SMFCs have gone on the attack and are putting pressure on Council Member McKeown not to "sell out" by voting for anyone other than Mr. Winterer. 

This is going to be a tough choice for Council member McKeown.  He knows that if he spurns SMRR he might not receive an endorsement in 2010, and in that case he would probably lose his bid for reelection.

That's because no candidate running on a no-growth platform has been elected to the council without a SMRR endorsement.  Council Member McKeown undoubtedly remembers the 2004 election and what happened to his former Green Party buddy Michael Feinstein, who had bucked SMRR by endorsing a non-SMRR, Green Party candidate in the 2002 election.  In 2004 he did not receive a SMRR endorsement and lost his bid for reelection.  Mr. Feinstein had previously been one of the city's top vote-getters.

Council member McKeown has strong political reasons -- and, to be fair, strong ideological reasons -- to stick with SMRR, but he's going to upset the SMFCs if he doesn't stick with Mr. Winterer, especially if he votes for Ms. Davis.

While Ms. Hoffman has kept her views about recent development issues close to her vest, Ms. Davis, as a member of the Planning Commission, has endorsed the framework for the land use and circulation element update (LUCE), including the "10-foot" potential bonus that was the subject of a contentious 4 to 3 vote on the council. 

Although Council member McKeown strongly supported Ms. Davis when she ran for council in 2006 as, if memory serves, a "true progressive" (which some observers took as a dig at Pam O'Connor, who was running for reelection), the SMFCs will not be happy with him if he votes for her tomorrow night.

I almost have sympathy for Council member McKeown, which is hard for me since he maligned anyone who opposed Measure T as sell-outs to developers.  But I say "almost" because although it's hard not to feel a little sorry for someone who has carried so much water for the SMFCs being repaid with such insistent demands, the fact is that Council member McKeown should have known with whom he was getting into political bed.

As Ken Genser and Richard Bloom could tell you, you can never be pure enough for the SMFCs.

What did Bette Davis' character say in "All About Eve?"  Something about fastening your seatbelts?


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