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Council Candidates Face Tough Questions at Slow-Growth Forum

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 Ivette Lopez and Daniel Larios
for The Lookout

July 30, 2014 -- In the first candidates forum of the 2014 election season, 13 people running for three seats on the City Council answered numerous questions Monday night from the slow-growth group Residocracy concerning controversial topics such as development and pony rides.

The forum took place at the Santa Monica Public Library’s Martin Luther King Jr. Auditorium, with all 146 filled with an outspoken crowd of mostly slow-growth supporters. More than 100 people were unable to get into the room due to the capacity restriction.

Candidates were allowed to give one-minute responses to questions posed by a panel consisting of Residocracy Advisory Board members. No opportunity was given to respond to other candidates’ comments.

Following introductions, the first question posed to the candidates regarded a perceived lack of trust by residents toward City government.

Mayor Pam O’Connor, considered pro-development by many slow-growth advocates, was met by a fit of laughter after giving her answer.

“Our work is done in public,” said O’Connor, responding to the allegation City business is done through so-called backdoor deals. “A Triple-A Bond rating cannot happen with backdoor deals.”

Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon said, “Trust in government lies in one feature -- either they do the right thing or they don’t. It all comes back to your vote. That’s where the trust comes from.”

Perennial council candidate Jon Mann, who is making his 12th bid, attacked City officials for what he called a failed attempt at transparency.

“They talk about transparency, but don’t know how to implement it,” Mann said.

Nick Boles, one of the youngest candidates in the field, proposed simplifying the budget so that anyone can understand it by implementing a smartphone application similar to Yelp that would give residents instant access to City data.

Boles also emphasized a need for affordable housing for the younger population.

“I want to get involved because I want to make sure young people have a place here,” Boles said. “It is our duty to elect who we believe in.’”

The next question was “With 30-plus projects in the pipeline, how is this making Santa Monica a better place?”

Peace Activist Jerry Rubin was met with boos when he cited a local newspaper’s article on how much tourists love Santa Monica. He also drew criticism from other candidates who see tourists as the main perpetrators of traffic.

“Our city is first and foremost for people who live here,” Parks and Recreation
Commission Chair Phil Brock said. “We’re encouraging people to drive. We have bus stools instead of bus benches.”

McKinnon, Mann, Councilmember Kevin McKeown, former Mayor Mike Feinstein, Planning Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy and Planning Commissioner Sue Himmelrich all expressed concerns about overdevelopment.

“Santa Monica is fine as it is,” said McKinnon, who is endorsed by slow-growth group Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City along with Himmelrich and McKeown. “It is a village attached to a major city.”

The third round of questions was tailored to each candidate, mostly asking about past actions and policies.

Brock was asked about his initial opposition and eventual approval for community athletic trainers at Palisades Park.

“How do we know you won’t flip flop again?” the moderator asked.

“The only flip flops I wear are to the beach,” said Brock, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Mann, Boles and entertainment consultant Terence Later were asked how their contributions have made a difference in the city.

Afterward, candidates answered 20 yes-or-no questions in a lightning round using signs marked with “yes” and “no” or abstain from answering.

The question that drew the most reaction from the audience was whether candidates would accept campaign donations from developers. The only “yes” was from O’Connor, with former Lookout Columnist Frank Gruber and Boles abstaining.

When asked whether candidates had accepted campaign donations from developers in the past, O’Connor was joined by Feinstein with a “yes” answer.

Candidate Whitney Scott Bain and Later both opposed closing the Santa Monica Airport.

The crowd broke into laughter as every candidate voted “no” when asked whether they liked the design of the new Big Blue Bus stops, which have recently been criticized by many people as being inconvenient and uncomfortable.

Everyone but Bain and Mann said “yes” to removing the Pony Rides from the Farmers Market.

Residocracy is expected to make its endorsements in a few weeks.

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