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Politics Now, Politics Later  

By Frank Gruber

March 1, 2010 -- I'm feeling sorry for Ted Winterer. Not because the Santa Monica City Council appointed Terry O'Day instead of Mr. Winterer last week to the seat made vacant by the death of Ken Genser. Mr. Winter is a grown up and, as reported in The Lookout, he had a realistic view of his chances. I talked to Mr. Winterer after the City Council's meeting, and I can report that he's cheerfully ready to make another run for a seat on the council this November.

My sympathies for Mr. Winterer relate to the quality of the support he received at the meeting. Mr. Winterer was ill-served by the supporters who accused the council members of being corrupt (always a good strategy when trying to persuade people to do what you want is to accuse them of dishonesty), by the supporters who claimed for themselves the mandate of all the residents of Santa Monica, by the supporters who claimed that Mr. Winterer would have been the choice of Ken Genser (do they have any idea how unseemly that is?), by the supporters who made the tired argument that because Mr. Winterer came in just out of the running in the last election he deserved to be appointed to the seat, by the city council member who everyone thought was Mr. Winterer's main booster, Kevin McKeown, who abandoned Mr. Winterer after three ballots.

The eight ballots that the council took to appoint Mr. O'Day were nonetheless exciting -- even exhilarating. It was three-dimensional chess. Not only did you have to pay attention to the politics of the evening, but also to the politics of eight months from now -- those of November, when it's likely that an extraordinary five of seven city council members will be defending their seats.

None of the three incumbents completing regular four-year terms, Pam O'Connor, Robert Holbrook, and Kevin McKeown, have indicated that they will not run for reelection. Gleam Davis and Mr. O'Day have said that they will run for the balance of the terms of the council members they replaced.

As always, it will be important which candidates Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) endorses, and handicapping the SMRR convention in August provided the subtext for last week's council meeting. Two of the council members, Mr. McKeown and Ms. Davis, not only improved their prospects to receive endorsements, but also made endorsements more difficult for their likely opponents to obtain.
Mr. McKeown and Ms. Davis first polished their SMRR credentials by strongly supporting Jennifer Kennedy for the open seat (Ms. Davis voted for Ms. Kennedy on all eight ballots and Mr. McKeown switched to her for most of his votes from the fourth ballot on).

But the council vacancy was not the only vote at the meeting that was relevant to SMRR politics. There was also the vote on Mr. McKeown's motion to slow down the processing of development agreements. Both Mr. McKeown and Ms. Davis (who has always been considered a moderate when it came to the politics of development) banked future support from the anti-growth element of Santa Monica politics (which has a strong presence within SMRR) by voting for Mr. McKeown's meaningless resolution.


I say "meaningless" because while Mr. McKeown said he was making his motion to make sure that the development agreements would be consistent with the new development standards of the land use and circulation element updates to the general plan (LUCE), and to give staff time to work on the LUCE, both issues were red herrings.

None of the development agreements will be completed until after the LUCE is adopted, and by law the development agreements will need to be consistent with the new general plan. It's also been clear throughout the hearings on the development agreements that the Planning Commission and the planning staff care a lot about the fit between the development agreements and the LUCE. (Incidentally, these hearings didn't slow down the LUCE process because they occurred while the LUCE was undergoing environmental review.)

Mr. McKeown's motion was Politics 101 -- throw red meat to the base. Yes, as Mr. McKeown said, a "majority of the council appears not to share [his] concerns," but that's because a majority of the council is not concerned at every waking moment with currying favor with every unhappy voter in Santa Monica.

What was surprising at last week's meeting was the sudden glorifying of the LUCE by the anti-growth party. What did it mean that so many people who have been criticizing the LUCE during its six years of development were praising the document last week as Santa Monica's salvation? Could it be that they want to delay the development agreements now, and the LUCE later?

As Planning Commission Chair Hank Koning has pointed out, both the development agreements and the LUCE will benefit from being worked on at the same time. The provisions of the LUCE as they have been drafted provide both developers and the city's planners with guidance in what the city wants and needs for the future, while the development agreements provide the planners, working on the final stages of the LUCE, with real-world examples to study.

While it is unlikely that Mr. McKeown, a long time SMRR favorite, and Ms. Davis, who has served as a co-chair of the organization, would not receive a SMRR endorsement, their actions last week increased the difficulties for candidates such as Mr. O'Day (who has good relationships with many SMRR members but is not liked by the anti-growth faction) or Mr. Winterer (who is strong with the anti-growth faction but, as seen by the vote last week, may need to rebuild some bridges to many of SMRR's leaders).

The meeting also generated pressure on Council Member Pam O'Connor. Ms. O'Connor has always received the SMRR endorsement for her previous campaigns, but she usually has to fight off attacks from the anti-growth faction in the organization.

The endorsement picture will likely be further complicated if Oscar de la Torre decides to run; he would also seek an endorsement, and he has a lot of support from the Pico Neighborhood/Latino group within SMRR. Jennifer Kennedy may also run, and she has a base in SMRR, too.

More to come.

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