SMRR Stays Neutral on RIFT
By Jorge Casuso
August 3 –A deeply divided Santa Monicans for Renters’
Rights (SMRR) membership overwhelmingly voted Sunday not to take
a position on a hotly contested anti-development initiative on the
November ballot, but, in a close vote, left the door open for the
group’s steering committee to take a stance.
SMRR officials, however, said it is unlikely the 13-member committee
would take a position on the Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic
(RIFT), which would cap most commercial development at 75,000 square
feet a year over the next 15 years. ("Anti-Development
Initiative Headed for Ballot," May 20, 2008)
“The SMRR steering committee has never done that,”
said former Mayor Dennis Zane, who is a member of the committee
and a founder of the powerful tenants’ group.
“It is legally possible, but politically impossible,”
said Zane, who told The Lookout he neither supports nor
opposes the measure.
membership votes on RIFT (Photo by Frank Gruber)
The 66 to 63 vote to allow the committee to retain its authority
to make an endorsement capped a heated debate over the measure that
pitted longstanding allies within the tenants group.
Proponents of the measure said RIFT would pace development without
“I would never take a stance on an issue that would hurt
housing,” said Council member Kevin McKeown. “Renters
are not threatened. Housing will not be constrained.”
But opponents of the measure disagreed. They argued that if developers
are kept from building mixed-use projects in commercial areas, they
would build housing projects in residential zones, displacing rent-control
“I believe this puts more pressure on tenants to get out
of their apartments,” said Council member Ken Genser.
The two sides also argured the impacts the measure would have on
“It is essential that we don’t turn into a NIMBY community,”
said Alan Toy, a former member of the Rent Control Board. “Growth
is inevitable. We need smart growth. This is lop-off growth.”
Planning Commissioner Jay Johnson disagreed. “I think it’s
the right way to go,” Johnson said.
“If I’m wrong, we can correct that change,” he
said. “They’re saying put no limits. If they’re
wrong, they can’t correct it.”
The two sides also argued over the fiscal impacts of RIFT, with
opponents charging that the measure would take a bite out of future
revenues that could be used to help bankroll the School District
and other social services.
Proponents said the fear was exaggerated, since the council could
always prioritize the expenditures in the City’s general fund.
The debate became emotionally charged when McKeown accused RIFT
opponents of making it difficult to track their finances by registering
the new group “Save Our City” with the County Clerk,
which does not make financial disclosure statements readily available
by fax or on the internet, as does the City. ("RIFT
Foes Launch Campaign," July 29,2008)
“There’s less transparency. . . (you) have to go down
to Norwalk,” McKeown said, adding that the group’s treasurer
has held that post for campaigns traditionally opposed by SMRR,
including the living wage and council races.
“What do you think they’re hiding?” McKeown said.
“We can’t let this deception go unchallenged.
“The people making the money are the developers,” he
said. “The people losing their quality of life are us.”
Dolores Press, a former council member, was more blunt. “My
plea,” she said, “is that we not climb into the politically
soiled bed” with the developers.
Former Mayor Judy Abdo, co-chair of Save Our City, took offense
at the charges. “I’m very concerned about what I’ve
heard today,” she said.
Abdo, who is a member of the steering committee, then made a motion
from the floor that “we not vote on RIFT today.”
Support for the motion was nearly unanimous.
Former council member David Finkel, then made a motion to “instruct
the steering committee not to take a position.”
“People have expressed concerns that the Steering Committee
could act,” said Finkel, who is a member of the College Board.
The motion would “put this issue to bed.”
Abdo opposed the motion.
“Many things can happen between now and November,”
Abdo said. “I think it’s a mistake to tie the hands
of the steering committee.”
A vote from the floor was too close to call, although it was clear
that RIFT opponents opposed Finkel’s motion, while proponents
A ballot vote was taken, resulting in the close 66 to 63 vote.