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Future of Santa Monica Politics Could Be Determined at SMRR Convention

Phil Brock For Council 2014

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Michael Feinstein for Santa Monica City Council 2014Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

August 1, 2014 -- School board member and leading Pico Neighborhood activist Oscar de la Torre denied a media report from earlier in the week that he is part of a voting bloc focused on getting Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) endorsements for candidates who promise to oust City Manager Rod Gould.

However, de la Torre said his group, known as the Pico Delegation, opposes Gould, who he said “has created more distrust in City government than any other city manager in our recent history.”

The Pico Delegation is concerned about several issues, de la Torre said, and they will be taken into consideration when its approximately 120 members vote Sunday at the SMMR convention.

“The Pico Delegation includes renters and working-class families, mostly Latino, who seek to be influential in the upcoming election,” de la Torre said. “We are also working in alliance with others who share our values.”

Among the issues the Pico Delegation is concerned about, de la Torre said, are rent challenges for low-income people, gentrification and what he called “the City’s biased attacks” against the Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC), which de la Torre heads.

City officials have put PYFC under close scrutiny in recent years for what they say are financial irregularities. Last month, the City Council followed Gould’s recommendation and gave the center $190,000 when it approved the municipal budget. This was down $35,000 from the previous year, and de la Torre considered this to be an “antagonistic” move.

De la Torre said he was especially troubled by City Councilmember and candidate for re-election Kevin McKeown voting for the lower amount because he is often considered the most left-leaning person on the dais.

“Everyone knows that Kevin has his personality challenges, but he usually votes the right way,” de la Torre said. “And his votes are important. He has taken it upon himself to be negative toward the PYFC and leaders of the Pico Neighborhood. We don’t know how a true progressive attacks people of color. We don’t understand that.”

The Lookout emailed this statement to McKeown, and he wrote back that he would not respond to it.

Despite his criticism, which also included an offer “to get free therapy and counseling for Kevin,” de la Torre said it is not out of the question that the Pico Delegation could support McKeown. He said the group’s leadership is having one-on-one meetings with various candidates, but McKeown has been “inaccessible.”

How much of a factor the Pico Delegation could be on Sunday in determining the SMRR endorsees is impossible to know because it depends on the number of people who attend the convention. All SMRR members who come to the convention and have paid the annual fee are allowed to vote.

Endorsements will be made for all the local races being contested in November, including the election for three council seats and four Santa Monica-Malibu school board positions. Winning a SMRR endorsement means becoming the recipient of a well-funded and active campaign that has an excellent chance of translating into an election victory .

The people who attend the convention often represent various special interests, including slow-growth proponents and other groups that have strong positions on hot-button issues. Candidates sometimes form alliances and deals are made among groups as activists aim to give their favorites an edge.

So far, McKeown is the only candidate who has announced support for another person. He said earlier this month that he hoped Planning Commissioners Jennifer Kennedy and Sue Himmelrich would get the SMRR endorsement.

McKeown’s nemesis, Mayor Pam O’Connor, will also be seeking SMRR's backing. She did not receive an endorsement four years ago. But one week later, SMRR’s steering committee voted to “support” O’Connor. Although she didn’t have the official endorsement, her name and picture appeared on SMMR’s campaign materials.

The steering committee can add candidates to the SMMR slate if fewer people receive an endorsement than the number of seats being contested in the election. At least 55 percent of the members at the convention must back a candidate for the person to earn the endorsement.

Also seeking SMRR’s backing will be former Mayor Mike Feinstein, who wants to return to the council after being voted off the dais 10 years ago.

“I am seeking votes from every person and constituency within SMRR," Feinstein said. "I look forward to being judged upon my record in office and my platform, which has been and will continue to be consistent with SMRR's own platform and values."

Former Lookout columnist Frank Gruber, who is seeking a council seat for the second consecutive election, said he has also been campaigning.

"I started campaigning a few weeks ago, and the campaign is receiving more and more support and endorsements from all over the community," Gruber said.

Others expected to seek the SMRR endorsement for the council race are Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon and Recreation and Parks Commissioner Phil Brock.

The convention will begin at 12:45 p.m. at John Adams Middle School.

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