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Measure T (Party) Redux  

By Frank Gruber

February 22, 2010 -- This is a column where I get to be a Pollyanna about something that has most of the politically-obsessed in Santa Monica all riled up. That something is the vote (or more likely votes) that the City Council will take tomorrow night to fill Ken Genser's seat.

There's been abiding negativity about the process to fill the vacant seat. It began with the argument between Council Members Kevin McKeown and Bobby Shriver over whether to have an application process like the one the council used last year when it filled the vacancy caused by the death of Herb Katz.

Mr. McKeown wanted the council to solicit applications from anyone. Mr. Shriver said that he thought that that process would be a charade, because even though dozens of residents might apply, only a few well-known figures already involved in politics had a real chance to be appointed.

Mr. McKeown was unable to get enough votes on the council to initiate an application process, although the City Clerk, Maria Stewart, has established a process where people interested in being considered can list their names and contact information.

This argument about the process led to crankiness around town. This is ironic because both Mr. McKeown and Mr. Shriver were, in their own minds, battling cynicism. To Mr. McKeown it was cynical realpolitik to announce that there were only a handful of candidates with a chance to be appointed, but to Mr. Shriver it was cynical to ask for applications from people who had zero chance.

This reminds me of that scene in Catch-22 when Yossarian is in bed with his girlfriend, and they have an argument about religion. Both of them are atheists, but they disagree about the god they don't believe in. The god one doesn't believe in is mean and stupid. The god the other doesn't believe in is just and merciful.

I don't agree with either Mr. McKeown or Mr. Shriver that the other was cynical, but that's not the reason I'm a Pollyanna. My point is that if you look at the candidates for the job, what's not to like?

The two candidates with the most serious chances of being appointed are Terry O'Day and Ted Winterer. Guess what? They happen to be the candidates who finished just out of the running in the last two council elections. So why shouldn't they be the top candidates?

I mean no slight to others whose names have been mentioned. Patricia Hoffman has indicated in public remarks that she is not that interested in being appointed, and her name hasn't appeared on the City Clerk's list, but had she been more interested, she would have been a highly qualified choice, given her years of experience on the School Board, the Bayside District board, and other local institutions.

Oscar de la Torre has also indicated that he would like to sit on the council; he may be looking more at the November election, since he has also not filed with the City Clerk, but certainly he is an experienced politician in Santa Monica, having won election twice to the School Board.

Why shouldn't we expect that the serious candidates for City Council be people who have been seriously active in local politics?

Not only that, but politicians with values and experiences much like those of O'Day, Winterer, Hoffman and De la Torre have done a good job governing Santa Monica for several decades now. Don't think so? Look around; look at L.A., or Glendale, or Burbank or any other city in the region, and compare the past 30 years there with the past 30 years here. Be honest -- aren't you glad you live here?

As for predicting the vote, that's hard. Many scenarios are possible, including a 3-3 deadlock between O'Day and Winterer. Lately there's been a lot of speculation about the candidacy of Rent Control Board Member Jennifer Kennedy, who has filed with the City Clerk.


Ms. Kennedy was elected to the Rent Control Board with the endorsement of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR), and there is some feeling that she is a SMRR alternative to Mr. O'Day and Mr. Winterer, inasmuch as SMRR didn't endorse either when they ran for the council.

Ms. Kennedy also has experience in local affairs, by her service on the rent board, but having never run for City Council nor served on the Planning Commission, she is something of an unknown quantity with respect to the development issues that supply, for better or worse, most of the grist for Santa Monica's political mills.

Although neither Mr. O'Day nor Mr. Winterer received SMRR endorsements, both of them have supporters and detractors within SMRR and among the SMRR council members. It seems unlikely that the four SMRR council members will unite and vote Ms. Kennedy into the seat in an early ballot. But if there is a deadlock, she could win if the council members want to avoid a special election.

But there shouldn't be a deadlock. I disagree with the common view that there are vast differences between O'Day and Winterer. On every issue other than development their views are well within Santa Monica's norms, and on development, despite the rhetoric, they're not far apart.

There hasn't been a big change on the Planning Commission since Mr. Winterer took Mr. O'Day's place on it. Mr. O'Day is somewhat more open to new development, but Mr. Winterer hasn't been an automatic "no" vote by any means. Just a few weeks ago he spoke in favor of redeveloping the Papermate site.

The differences are perceived as big because while Mr. Winterer was one of the drafters of 2008's Meas. T, the "Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic." Mr. O'Day was one of the leaders of the fight to defeat it. Because developers bankrolled the opposition to the initiative, and despite his sterling environmental credentials, the supporters of T call him a tool of developers.

But this is how the supporters of Meas. T categorize anyone who opposed it. They believe that T was a measured response to the possibility of too much commercial development. They can't understand why people like Ken Genser, Sheila Keuhl and Terry O'Day opposed them. To fill the void, they yell corruption!, which is sort of silly if you know the people involved.

They don't understand that they were attacking the judgment of a collective city government that believes, with good reason, that it has done a good job managing growth in Santa Monica for 20 years.

The supporters of Meas. T were in effect saying that they don't trust government and they don't trust politicians -- particularly those on the Santa Monica City Council. Remind you of certain winds blowing around the nation these days?

Just as tea partiers are faux-conservatives, the Meas. T'ers were faux-progressives.

Ted Winterer is a solid citizen and a reasonable fellow. He may be appointed to the council tomorrow night. Both sentences are also true for Terry O'Day. I don't endorse candidates in this column, and in this case I'm happy enough about that.

But to predict which candidate can more easily obtain that elusive fourth vote, it would seem to me that Mr. Winterer has a special obstacle. He has to persuade four council members to trust him when he led a movement based on distrust of them.

Frank J. Gruber is the author of Urban Worrier: Making Politics Personal, available at Hennessey + Ingalls and Angel City books in Santa Monica, at City Image Press, and on

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