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News Analysis -- Tuesday's Local Elections Will Likely Bring Little Change
By Jorge Casuso
November 5, 2018 -- Based on Santa Monica's recent political history -- and the dearth of candidates and hot-button issues on the ballot -- Tuesday's election will likely bring little change.
The seven candidates vying for three seats is at least a 30-year low, and with just two incumbents losing their bids for re-election in the past quarter century, history is leaning in the incumbents' favor.
But that doesn't mean there won't be a new face on the Council come year's end.
Challenger Greg Morena is poised to either win a seat on November 6 or be appointed to a seat shortly after the election.
Morena is the only Council candidate who has the backing of Santa Monica's most powerful political organizations -- Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR), Santa Monica Forward and the Police and Firefighters unions.
In an unusual move, both the City's public safety unions and the Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) endorsed Morena, along with the three incumbents -- Sue Himmelrich, Kevin McKeown and Pam O'Connor.
If Morena fails to win a seat but finishes fourth, he would likely be the top choice to replace Council member Tony Vazquez.
Vazquez is expected to win a seat on the the California Board of Equalization in the heavily Democratic Third District and has said he will step down if he does ("Vazquez Council Seat to Likely Open After November Election," August 14, 2018).
The odds of being appointed to a vacant Council seat are even more likely in Santa Monica than ousting an incumbent.
Only two Council members have failed to be re-elected in the past 24 years -- Vazquez in 1994 and Michael Feinstein ten years later.
On the other hand, in less than ten years, two Council members have been appointed to fill vacancies created when longtime Council members died in office.
Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis joined the Council after Herb Katz died in January 2009 two months after being elected to a fifth four-year term, while Council member Terry O'Day was appointed the following year after Ken Genser died during his 22nd year on the Council.
Which leads to the only local measure on the ballot that drew an opposing argument, if not an opposition campaign -- Measure TL, which would restrict Council members to three terms ("Ballot Arguments Underscore Key Differences Over Term Limits For Santa Monica Council," August 8, 2018).
Outside of the local Democratic Club, the City's political establishment opposes the measure sponsored Mary Marlow, who heads the local government watchdog group the Santa Monica Transparency Project.
The campaign for the Measure has been bankrolled by Marlow and non-monetary contributions. TL has the backing of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC), the city's other watchdog group.
None of the three other measures on Tuesday's ballot -- including a record $485 million bond to renovate and replace Santa Monica public school facilities -- even drew an opposing ballot argument.
A brewing opposition is mounting a last ditch unfunded campaign to defeat Measure SMS ("Opponents of School Bond Measure Mount Last Ditch Effort to Sway Voters," November 2, 2018).
But based on recent history, the chances of defeating a school bond are slim. Over the past dozen years, the two bond measures -- which require 55 percent of the vote to win -- have easily been approved.
The two other measures on the ballot have largely flown under the radar.
Measure SM requires a super-majority vote for developments that exceed zoning limits and for changes to the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) and zoning code ("Council Approves Ballot Measure Requiring Super-Majority Vote on Development," June 28, 2018).
Viewed as an effort to quell Santa Monica's development wars, the measure would have no impact on proposed projects currently in the planning pipeline ("Super-Majority' Ballot Measure Would Have No Impact on Proposed Developments," June 21, 2018).
Measure RR would amend the City Charter to allow non-citizens to sit on three City boards and commissions.
The measure would change the eligibility requirements for service on the Library Board, Personnel Board and Airport Commission from "qualified elector" to "resident" bringing them in line with other City bodies with appointed volunteers.
Both measures are likely to win. But those hedging their bets based on history could always be in for a surprise.
The three incumbents could lose, three of the challengers could be elected and a fourth appointed by a new council that ends up with a rookie majority.
Stranger things have happened, as recently as 2016.
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