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Campaign + Big Issues:

I thought it surprising that Santa Monica Democratic Club failed to endorse Councilmember Pam O’Connor in her bid for re-election. Normally the Democratic Club, who nimbly avoided this reporter’s request to attend the endorsement meeting, works in conjunction with SMRR, which did endorse her. The Democratic Club also failed to endorse Mayor Bob Holbrook, who has been a Democrat since the early 60s but is often labeled a Republican to distinguish him from the big D Democrats who run the party. Because he is not in lockstep with Democrats and SMRR, the groups often ostracize him. Holbrook did land the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce endorsement, however, and is prepared to raise and spend another $70,000 for his reelection campaign. When asked why the Chamber endorses him, Holbrook responded, “Because I am fair.”

Meanwhile, Gleam Davis has the CEPS, SMRR and Democratic Club endorsements. With money and effort from these three powerhouse political organizations, her chances are looking pretty good for election to the council. The question now is whether her personality and charisma is sufficient to set her apart from the other candidates. The even bigger question is will voters even show up. What will enliven the electorate to participate? They showed up for Councilman Bobby Shriver when he ran, which was also a presidential election year, but he is a force of nature and none of the current contenders have his dynamism. Nor can they put Maria Shriver and Eunice Shriver on the street asking for permission to put candidate signs up. Rumor has it they beat the now-councilmember 3-1 per street. Nonetheless, an election will be held, and major issues are on the table for the future of Santa Monica.

To my mind, there is no more important issue then the protection of our affordable housing stock. Without this, Santa Monica will rapidly become Beverly Hills, and many of yours and my favorite neighbors will be forced away. Already, to the mantra of “marketplace economics,” low cost rental housing stock in Santa Monica has been seriously depleted. A prominent local real estate agent gave me his opinion that the only solution to high rental costs and property values is more density and housing stock. It is simply a matter of supply and demand. He is right of course, but what if a community doesn’t want to double in population to accomplish this? What then? Are our homes and apartments just a commodity?

At upcoming political debates, candidates will be drilled on other matters. Most will have the “issues” covered, and some will suggest you vote for them because of their general values and attitudes. I always like to say people buy or vote not on facts but on feelings, so those that come across as likable, intelligent, values-oriented and competent will have a leg up. Of course, as the old adage goes, “That and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee.” The politician’s attitudes and $70,000 MAY get you elected.

One of the main issues to be discussed is how best to handle the homeless situation. There appears to be some movement on feeding the homeless indoors, with apparently even former city attorney Bob Meyers approving of this. Let’s see which candidates back this sensible plan. Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) is keen to put a fix on our traffic problems, so it will be interesting to see if any of the candidates come up with something unique. SMCLC will be hosting a debate at the main library on September 28, so show up and see our council wannabees in action. I hope they also discuss if we should lock in stone our financial commitment to schools, if the city utility tax should be lowered and if the city charter should be changed so council candidates are elected per district instead of at large. Will candidates want the city to densify and grow, will they question the performance of city government and are they reflecting the concerns of residents or their own bureaucracy and of outside influences? There are also localized issues per district, such as what to do about violence in the Pico neighborhood and where new parks should be located.

I am also curious if there is consensus among the candidates for building a park at the old Fisher Lumber property instead of a mixed-use commercial residential development. Will any of the candidates carry the torch for a new breakwater by the pier or advocate for a long overdue kids park on the Palisades bluffs or even, finally, spend money to upgrade the senior center at the Camera Obscura building? Will any of them push to acquire the Papermate plant on Olympic Blvd., now for sale, or will someone suggest moving Bergamot Station there if the Expo line takes their space, and if not Bergamot, how about some open space and more parkland? It would be great to see someone really stand up and show leadership.

The major issue facing the council in the coming months, post election, will be the new general land use plan being developed. Will it ask for more housing and greater density? Or will existing standards and neighborhoods be honored and supported. Where does your candidate stand on this?

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