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Group Urges No Vote on O’Connor

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

August 3 -- With a well-timed assault on City Council member Pam O’Connor, the group widely credited with blocking an ambitious plan to redevelop Santa Monica Place may be looking to knock the three-time incumbent from the Santa Monica for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) slate and ultimately from public office.

Three days before the powerful renters’ group holds its annual convention, the steering committee for the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) is urging SMRR members not to vote for O’Connor because she accepted money from the mall developers while their project was under consideration.

“This Sunday ask hard questions of Ms. O’Connor about her funding from a developer which had proposed the largest real estate project in Santa Monica’s history,” said a press release from SMCLC, a coalition of residents and civic leaders.

O’Connor -- who voted on January 25, 2005 against the proposal to rebuild the struggling indoor mall and add three 21-story condo towers -- said the contributions, which came after the council sent Macerich back to the drawing board to draft a new proposal, did not influence her position.

“I was a solid no vote on the project,” O’Connor said. “I don’t see how voting against Macerich makes me less of an independent.”

During March 2005, O’Connor accepted 13 contributions totaling $3,100 from Macerich officials and their spouses, campaign records show. Most of the contributions were for $250, the maximum allowed under Santa Monica law. The contributions were nearly enough to retire the debt from her 2002 campaign ($3,600).

“SMCLC believes that in accepting over 86 percent of the funds to retire a longstanding campaign debt from a single developer, and by accepting those contributions during the period when she would be voting on a proposal from the developer, Ms. O’Connor has shown a lack of judgment and raised serious questions about her independence,” states the SMCLC press release.

Leaders of SMCLC – a political action committee formed to oppose the project – are not alleging that O’Connor broke any laws, nor has the group publicly backed any candidates.

But they said the contributions “cast doubt on her ability to make prudent, autonomous decisions on similar projects in the future,” the statement continues.

O’Connor said she is for “balanced growth” in Santa Monica, and often listens to business concerns.

“Just because (Macerich) made a mistake in what would be right for Santa Monica, you don’t demonize them,” she said. “(SMCLC) is trying to characterize Macerich as evil developers, but they’re a Santa Monica business.”

O’Connor acknowledges she agreed to accept contributions to retire most of her debt incurred during her 2002 election because she was taking care of her mother who was sick.

“I typically take lunch meeting with people, and if people want to contribute, then they are welcome to do so,” she said. “I don’t promise people anything… and I don’t go around making deals.”

Former mayor Denny Zane -- a co-chair of SMRR -- characterized SMCLC as an independent group of slow-growthers, who have largely been friendly to SMRR and includes SMRR members. He even signed letters in support of the group when they first opposed Macerich, but said he is not a member.

“Clearly, they look like they are trying to encourage people to vote O’Connor out,” Zane said. He added that during SMRR conventions, there “has always been a strategic debate whether to back a full slate or just two positions.”

On Sunday, Zane will encourage members to vote for all three candidates -- O’Connor, Council member Kevin McKeown and challenger Gleam Davis -- seeking the SMRR endorsement, he said.

At least one former SMRR candidate, current Council member Richard Bloom, said nearly every council member has accepted contributions from Macerich.

“The irony here is that (SMCLC) is questioning the independence of one person who has been visibly more independent than anyone else,” said Bloom. “Pam is a woman of impeccable honesty and integrity.”

He also fretted what the well-timed attack could mean for the tenor of the upcoming election and for SMRR.

“Unfortunately this may be the leading edge of what this years’ election season may look like,” he said. “Frankly, I expected the real nastiness to come from Santa Monicans for Sensible Priorities, but I guess not,” he added, referring to a business-backed group that opposes SMRR.

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