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From School Board to State Senate, Santa Monica Native Hopes to Make the Leap

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

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Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

February 11, 2014 -- Life-long Santa Monica resident, Ben Allen, hopes to be the second person in the bayside city’s history to make the jump from the School Board to Sacramento.

Following in the footsteps of U.S. Congresswoman Julia Brownley, who was elected to the State legislature in 2006, Allen announced his bid to represent a swath of L.A. County’s coastline -- including his hometown in Sacramento.

“I served as president of the Board during one of the most difficult years economically for the State,” said Allen.

“We were able to maintain the quality of education of our district while keeping our books balanced,” he said, adding that SMMUSD has one of the highest bond ratings in California.

Despite the economic slump, “the caliber of the district was maintained when a lot of districts struggled to succeed,” said Allen.

“That took some strategic thinking,” he said. “We had to make difficult choices, sometimes with tough opposition.”

While Allen got his start as an education advocate, he said he hopes to bring what he’s learned from his eight years on the School Board, which oversees the District’s $120 million budget, to tackle a wider range of issues on an even bigger stage.

“I grew up hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains and swimming in the Santa Monica Bay,” said Allen. “Preserving those natural resources would be an important part of my work.”

State Senate District 26, which Allen hopes to represent, stretches along the coast from Palos Verdes to the Santa Monica Mountains and east to West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

Allen said he wants to work to bring L.A.’s public transit system up to modern standards. He wants to push for better early childhood education as a way to address the achievement gap, which he sees as one of the root-causes of poverty.

He also wants to work with local businesses to help grow the job market.

“I’m proud that I have a good relationship with the Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “I’m a progressive Democrat who cares deeply about working with business to create good jobs for our community.

“It’s a matter of being able to listen to and engage with business leaders,” he said. “What are the things they would like to see out of government that would help them create new jobs?”

It’s also about looking to businesses to be partners in advancing social causes, Allen said.

“A growing economy helps people from all socioeconomic backgrounds,” he said.

In 2010, Allen spearheaded the expansion of the nonprofit Spark Program into Los Angeles. Spark LA, he said, is about “bringing in businesses to help mentor kids.

The nonprofit connects about 250 at-risk middle school students annually with apprenticeships in the city’s industries.

“At the heart of all of it is how do we preserve the quality of life of the beach cities,” he said.

Many political observers originally thought that Allen, who graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1996, would make a bid in 2014 for City Council with rumors that its longest-serving member may step down this year.

But with SD 26’s current representative, Ted Lieu, stepping down to run for Congress, Allen announced Saturday that he would seek Lieu’s seat.

That relieved some in Santa Monica who were concerned that, as a council member, Allen wouldn’t be able to vote on the development agreement for the controversial $255 overhaul of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel.

Richardson & Patel LLP, the law firm for which Allen works, does legal work for the Miramar’s neighbor -- and vocal opponent of the project -- the Huntley Hotel.

While Allen’s firm has not been lead counsel in the Huntley Hotel’s campaign against its neighbor’s plan to build a 320-foot tower on its property, Allen would likely have had to recuse himself, effectively leaving the Council with a 3-to-3 split on the project.

Allen will square off in the June 3 primary against three other candidates, all of whom have sought the Democratic Party nomination.

Former State legislator Betsy Butler, who lost her 2012 bid to represent State Assembly District 50 to former Santa Monica mayor Richard Bloom, is in the running. So is Sandra Fluke, a women’s rights activist who moved to California after she graduated from Georgetown University Law Center in 2012.

Vito Imbasciani, a surgeon for the California Army National Guard, announced last week that he would run for the seat.

The Democratic Party will announce its nomination in March.

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