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Santa Monica Slow Growth Activists Forging Council Slate to Challenge Incumbents
By Jorge Casuso
July 25, 2018 -- The battle lines are being drawn in Santa Monica's November race for three City Council seats with the forging of a slow-growth slate intent on unseating the incumbents.
Realtor Kate Bransfield -- a political activist on the City's north side -- pulled nominating papers for City Council on Tuesday.
She immediately joined forces with Armen Melkonians, a slow-growth activist who runs Residicracy, an online grassroots group that includes Bransfield among its leaders.
"Common sense needs to be broght into City Hall," said Bransfield, who sits on the board of the Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition (Wilmont). "I'm a pretty commonsense kind of person.
Bransfield and Melkonians -- who need to gather the signatures of 100 Santa Monica voters to make the November 6 ballot -- say they are looking for a third candidate to round out the slate.
The deadline to submit nominating petitions is August 10.
"We are putting together a slate of non-incumbents and non-political machine candidates," Melkonians said. "We want to offer voters an alternative."
In 2016, Melkonians -- who failed to win the backing of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR), the City's most powerful political organization -- finished a distant fifth in the race for four Council seats, which was swept by incumbents.
This year's election would be Bransfield's first run for office.
Both prospective slow-growth candidates acknowledge they face a tough challenge. Only two incumbents have been defeated at the polls in the past 24 years.
What's more, two of the three incumbents running have served on the Council for at least two decades -- Councilmember Kevin McKeown is seeking a sixth four-year term, while Pam O'Connor is seeking a record seventh term.
Councilmember Sure Himmelrich faces re-election for the first time.
Melkonians and Bransfield say they are counting on the organizing experience they gained fighting major developments over the past four years.
Residocracy first flexed its political muscle in 2014 when the group gathered approximately 13,500 signatures to place a controversial development approved by the Council on the ballot.
Presented with a resident-signed petition the Council rescinded its vote to approve the proposed 765,000-square-foot development in the City's light industrial district ("Council Repeals Approval of Controversial Development," May 14, 2014).
Two years later, the group gathered 10,000 signatures, enough to place a slow-growth measure co-authored by Melkonians on the 2016 ballot.
LV -- which would have capped the height of most developments at 30 feet -- lost by about 10 percent of the vote after it was heavily outspent by opponents ("More Than $1.2 Million Spent to Defeat Santa Monica’s LUVE Measure," February 6, 2017).
This time, Bransfieldd and Melkonians are counting and on what they see as a growing voter backlash against the status quo that reaches beyond the issue of development.
Voters are still worried about major projects slated for Downtown, but there is also a growing fear of crime, the perspective candidates said.
"I sense Santa Monicans are starting to wake up and saying, 'I don't like the way the City is run," Bransfield said. "They sense the City is out of control, and it is out of control."
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