Judy Abdo was elected to the Santa Monica City Council in November 1988 and served as Mayor for two terms, 1990-1991 and 1992-1994.
When SMRR (Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights) became a major force in local politics in the early 1980s, Judy Abdo was one of their hardest-working activists. Eventually, she became a City Council member and was twice elected Mayor.
Today, Abdo works for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District as Director of Developmental Services, overseeing the pre-school and before-and-after-school programs.
A former director of OPCO (Ocean Park Community Organization, which helped revitalize Ocean Park in the 1980s), Abdo serves on the Main Street District Board and also continues to be active in SMRR as a member of the steering committee.
Looking back to her time as Mayor, Abdo says, “The first time I was elected, we were very involved in planning issues. We were always interested in the environment.” Big developments were seen as a threat to the environment, and Abdo, like others in SMRR, had to walk the line between those who saw her policies as anti-development and those who thought she was “selling out.”
“There was some disagreement over development,” she recalls. “It wasn’t really a radical/moderate split. It was more like: what are our biggest priorities?”
City Council member and current Mayor Robert Holbrook, who was also on the Council during Abdo’s tenure, recalls: ”Sometimes there were issues involving development and zoning, on which Judy and SMRR had kind of a hard view, constantly pushing zoning lower and lower. They had much concern about how it might affect people. But it was expected. I was in the minority, they were in the majority.”
But both sides agree that Abdo had an ability to bring people together. Holbrook says: “Sometimes we didn’t agree on issues but we never clashed. We always got along really well. Oftentimes we worked together on something. She wanted cool calm meetings and she was very successful doing that.”
Former SMRR candidate Abby Arnold says of Abdo: “Judy made a difference because she was a feminist as well as a woman. She did a lot to promote leadership among women, and to change city policies that had sexist and anti-family effects. She also worked to build bridges across the political spectrum, which had an impact on the quality of city policy during her term.”
During Abdo’s second term, she was faced with the crisis of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which caused more destruction in Santa Monica than the public and the authorities were initially aware of.
“I spent the entire year [of 1994] working on earthquake-related issues that began the day of the earthquake and never really let up,” says Abdo. “I was immediately in touch with federal and state emergency people, and then I worked through the political process to try to bring disaster relief money to Santa Monica.”
She was challenged in getting FEMA aid to Santa Monica “because the federal system is set up to help single-family homes and businesses and not set up to help a community that has mostly renters.” But she notes that FEMA responded much more quickly to the earthquake crisis than it did to the recent hurricane disaster in the Gulf Coast area.
Abdo continues to work on environmental issues. She meets with the Environmental Task force “almost every month” and is the City’s representative to the Metropolitan Water District. Were she still Mayor today, Abdo says, “I’d be working on the issue of sustainability, much more than I did at the time. I think it’s even more important now.”