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The Sounds of Silence

By Oliver Lukacs and Jorge Casuso

August 14 -- In a silence that can be widely viewed as fallout from the divisive Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights convention earlier this month, union organizer Kurt Petersen's name went unuttered during appointments to the City's tourism board Tuesday night.

Much to the relief of the City's hotels and business owners, the City Council unanimously voted to appoint restaurateur West Hooker and hotel general manager Karl Buchta to the two open seats on the Convention & Visitors Bureau board of directors.

Petersen, a leading candidate for the post just weeks ago, helped lead a successful labor-backed effort at the SMRR convention to endorse council candidate Abby Arnold, who was avidly opposed by Mayor Michael Feinstein and Councilmen Ken Genser and Richard Bloom.

The lead organizer for the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union, Petersen was a driving force behind the City's unprecedented Living Wage law, which was placed on the November ballot by opponents after its approval by the pro-labor council last year.

Both Feinstein and Genser, the council liaisons to the CVB, agreed on the nomination of Hooker, who owns Lago restaurant on the Third Street Promenade. Hooker last month completed the maximum eight years on the Bayside Board.

In the interest of brining in a new stakeholder, Feinstein nominated David McGillian for the second slot, but Buchta got 5 of the 6 votes. The mayor then reversed his decision, making the appointment unanimous.

The general manager of the Miramar Fairmont Hotel, Buchta signed an unprecedented five-year contract with the local Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union two years ago, effectively ending a bitter labor battle under the previous owners.

Buchta joins follow general manager Paul Hortobagyi of the Georgian Hotel on the board that promotes the City's $788-million-a-year tourist economy, which was slumping before last September's terrorist attacks on the East Coast sent it into a tailspin.

Despite stiff opposition from the business community, Peterson went unmentioned during public testimony Tuesday night.

As the sole public speaker on item, Kathy Dodson, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, seemed to allude to the political lightning rod Peterson posed when putting in his bid for the spot.

"We often have members that want to get appointed to the board because of certain issues they are concerned about," said Dodson, referring to the fact that half of the CVB members are chamber appointments. "And we've always been careful to make sure that our appointments are not issue related.

"The nominee has to have a breadth of experience in Santa Monica, have knowledge of tourism, and really want to increase tourism in Santa Monica," Dodson added.

Apparently finding the unsolicited disclaimer curious, Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown asked, "In your experience has this council ever tried to influence the appointments made by the chamber?"

"Not at all," Dodson said, chuckling. "I have only been in Santa Monica a year so I can't speak to the past, but I am certainly in no way trying to be accusatory. I wanted to come forward and build a partnership."

In other appointments Tuesday, Ofer Grossman, who had the backing of the Ocean Park Community Organization and Friends of Sunset Park, was appointed to the Airport Commission.

Grossman, a resident of Sunset Park and a practicing attorney, vowed to "have an open ear to the concerns of the community," which some members of the Friends of Sunset Park said was not the case with the current board.

The council also appointed Brian Andrews to the Social Services Commission, and accepted with regret the resignation of Tricia Ramos from the Commission on the Status of Women and directed staff to publicize the vacancy.
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