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Mirror Contributing Writer

“Being on the Council is a tremendous responsibility, but I feel blessed to be able to assume that responsibility. It’s the most amazing seat to be in to learn. I meet amazing people and have a great staff. This job has brought me tremendous personal growth in abilities and knowledge.”

Ken Genser, Santa Monica Mayor and six-term Council Member.

The first time Ken Genser went to a museum, his aunt and uncle took him to the Southwest Museum. His strongest memory of that visit is of the tunnel into the museum. He was impressed with the thickness of the tunnel walls. It was the beginning of a lifelong interest in walls, architecture, and how things are built. Although he went on to work for design firms and worked with Bill Alexander, who designed one of the first cantilevered houses in the Hollywood Hills, it was his interest in buildings that propelled him into local politics.

He was a boy of nine when he started having physical problems. His family lived in Ladera Heights. The area was subdivided but empty. Tumbleweeds blew out from the oil fields and across his neighborhood, and jackrabbits were plentiful.

It wasn’t until he was in high school that his doctors were able to put a name to his physical problems. With all his medical problems, he had a hard time in high school. That didn’t stop him from schoolwork or from going on to Berkeley to study architecture and to be part of Berkeley political life.

The philosophy of the architecture school was that social problems could be solved through good design. He learned theory but not the nuts and bolts of architecture and so he came back to L.A. to the newly founded Southern California Institute for Architecture (SciArc). This was when the school was on Nebraska Avenue in Santa Monica.

While at SciArc he got an opportunity to move into the Sea Castle apartments. It took him a week to decide to move into the then seedy area where Sea Castle was located. But with rent at $180 per month, including utilites, he moved in and lived there for 12 years. In an important way, living at Sea Castle was the start of his political career.

The Sea Castle owners defaulted on the mortgage and the tenants formed a Limited Equity Partnership. HUD wouldn’t deal with them but they got the attention of Anne Morgenthaler who wrote an article about the tenants. Ken’s photo was published in the Outlook story and that got him onto the Ocean Park Community Organization (OPCO) Housing Committee.

Ken remembers his first time speaking in front of the Planning Commission was to support the R2R zoning ordinance. “It was a real stretch for me to speak in public that time and for many years after that.”

By 1983 he was appointed to the Planning Commission. The arthritis he’d had since he was nine was still with him but didn’t stop him from working for American Youth Hostel Inc. and more importantly for Santa Monica, running for Council in 1988. He has been a Councilmember since that time. During the 2000 campaign he had to be rushed, by friends, to Cedar’s, but continued running the campaign from his hospital bed. He won, but it was also the year he had to be on dialysis and eventually he had to have a kidney transplant.

He says his good friends get him through his medical problems and his work on the Council is very motivating.

“I think I help to affect issues. I’m not the one with the big vision, but I hope I bring a sense of what Santa Monica means and a dose of practicality to make sure things can be implemented. I know there are people who will disagree, but I really try to represent the people in our community.”

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