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Liberal Establishment Makes Comeback

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By Jorge Casuso

December 5, 2022 -- It's official: Santa Monica's liberal establishment roared back in the November 8 races but fell one seat short of regaining power on the City Council after failing to unseat incumbent Lana Negrete.

The election results certified by the LA County Registrar Monday showed candidates backed by Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR), the hotel workers union and the local Democratic Club winning mostly by wide margins.

In addition to sweeping the races for School, College and Rent Control boards, all the measures the groups supported were approved.

Council Sweep Marred by Vote Split

Rent Board Commissioner Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick took the two top spots in the race for three council seats by wide margins -- Torosis winning with 17,741 votes, followed by Zwick with 16,148.

"What this election proved is that SMRR is still the dominant political force with voters when joined by the Democratic Club and union," said former mayor and SMRR Co-Chair Denny Zane.

"Lana finished almost 5,000 votes behind Jesse, and Jesse before the election was largely unknown to voters," Zane said. "That's a big margin."

Negrete -- who was the target of a relentless negative campaign -- finished some 4,500 votes behind Zwick but managed to hold on to her Council seat with 11,654 votes ("Councilmember Negrete Declares Victory in Reelection Bid," November 28, 2022).

Her return to the Council was paved after the Democratic Club broke ranks with SMRR and Unite HERE Local 11 and backed fourth-place finisher Natalya Zernitskaya, who had 10,684 votes (“Dem Club Membership Breaks with Tradition in 'Surprising Upset,” September 30, 2022).

Zernitskaya and Planning Commissioner Ellis Raskin, who finished sixth with 10,197 votes, split the liberal vote, denying the establishment a clean sweep and control of the Council.

"In the case of Lana, what mostly happened is that we had four candidates for three seats," Zane said. "That was all Lana needed to win."

Except for the failed effort to unseat Negrete -- giving her unusual clout on key votes -- the city's liberal establishment made a major comeback after losing control of the Council in 2020 ("A Perfect Storm Swept Incumbents Out of Office," November 23, 2020).

Its negative campaign against Negrete not only likely widened her distant third-place finish, it helped defeat slow-growth activist Armen Melkonians, who was similarly targeted and finished 470 votes behind Zernitskaya.

Albin Gielicz finished a far distant seventh with 4,018 votes despite the backing of the police union and Chamber of Commerce, followed by Whitney Bain, who finished with 3,428 votes despite having no major endorsements.

Troy Harris had 3,394 votes, Samantha Mota had 2,485 votes and Jonathan Mann, who was making a record 16th Council bid, had 1,518 votes, 11 more than Arthur Jeon, who dropped out of the race after making the ballot.

7 of 8 Local Ballot Measures Win

Measure GS -- Mayor Sue Himmelrich's $56 per $1,000 transfer tax hike for properties that sell for $8 million or more -- won with 19,467 yes votes to 16,926 no votes.

The tax hike will generate an estimated $50 million a year to fund affordable housing, homelessness prevention and public schools and has no expiration date.

Meanwhile measure DT, Councilmember Phil Brock's far more modest rival transfer tax hike, was trounced with 12,376 yes votes to 23,413 no votes.

SMRR's Rent Control tenant base secured victories for two key measures. Measure RC will reduce the annual rent adjustment from 6 to 3 percent after winning with 20,149 yes votes to 14,166 no votes.

While Measure EM -- which gives the Rent Board authority to disallow or modify general rent increases when the federal, state or local government declares a state of emergency -- won with 20.543 yes votes to 14,700 no votes.

In addition to the estimated $50 million generated by Himmelrich's Measure GS, the City's general fund will see an influx of new funding after two other tax measures won by landslides.

Funding to address homelessness and public safety will get an estimated $4.1 million a year boost after Measure CS -- which raises the bed tax on hotels, motels and home shares -- won with 27,282 yes votes to 9,651 no votes.

Measure HMP -- which will generate between $3 million and $5 million a year by imposing a 10 percent business tax on every licensed cannabis business -- won with 23,646 yes votes to 12,056 no votes.

In a much closer race, Measure SMC -- a $375 million bond measure to fund improvements at Santa Monica College and help build housing for homeless and low-income students -- won with 23,790 yes votes to 17,422 no votes.

It finished with 57.73 percent, more than the 55 percent needed to win.

Measure PB, which expands eligibility requirements for members of the City’s Personnel Board to those who work full-time in the City or have a business license, also won easily with 20,350 yes votes to 13,560 no votes.

Landslides in All Board Races

None of the three board races were remotely close, with all seven incumbents winning re-election and every winner cruising to victory after establishing insurmountable leads on election night.

In the race for four open School Board seats, incumbent Laurie Lieberman finished a strong first with 20,371 votes followed by fellow incumbent Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein with 18,921 votes.

Stacy Rouse, the only Malibu resident on the ballot, finished a close third with 18,754 votes, followed by Alicia Mignano with 18,450 votes.

Three candidates backed by A Brighter Future slate -- which aimed to shake up the status quo and also endorsed Rouse -- all finished more than 6,500 votes behind Mignano.

Esther Hickman had 11,868 votes, Angela DiGaetano had 11,226 and Miles Warner had 11,121 votes.

School Boardmembers Keith Coleman and Craig Foster did not seek reelection, although Coleman received 4,801 votes after failing to pull out of the race before the deadline.

Three incumbents on the College Board -- Sion Roy, Nancy Greenstein and Barry Snell -- will return to the seven-member board, where they will be joined by Tom Peters, all winning with more than 21,000 votes.

Roy received 23,270 votes, followed by Greenstein with 23,141 votes, Peters with 22,250 votes and Snell with 21,742 votes. Patrick Acosta II, the only other candidate in the race, had 8,682 votes.

Facing no competition, Rent Board incumbents Ericka Lesley and Kurt Gonska, who were recently appointed to the five-member board, will be joined by Daniel S. Ivanov, the only other candidate on the ballot.

The board races, Zane noted, "weren't even close" with SMRR-backed candidates winning in every race. "SMRR's back," he said.

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