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Development Key Issue in Dem Club Recommendations

By Jorge Casuso

August 19 – Putting slow-growth values above partisanship, the steering committee of the local Democratic Club recommended that the group endorse three City Council candidates who span the political spectrum but agree on restricting development.

On Sunday, the committee voted to recommend incumbent Council member Ken Genser, who is backed by Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR); fellow incumbent Bobby Shriver, who is backed by SMRR’s opposition, and independent candidate Ted Winterer, who failed to win the powerful tenants group’s nod.

SMRR incumbent Richard Bloom, who has been backed by the Democratic Club in his previous council bids, failed to win the committee’s recommendation.

The club’s membership will make a final decision at a meeting September 2 that group leaders expect will draw a record turnout.

“Everybody is a Democrat, that’s the important thing,” said Julie Lopez Dad, a former Planning Commissioner who chairs the steering committee. “The membership has the final say. They overturned decisions before. I think it will be a much larger turnout than usual.”

Boosting the turnout will be education activists who are expected to pack the meeting to weigh in on the race for three four-year seats on the School Board.

The steering committee only recommended endorsing incumbent Maria Leon Vazquez and challenger Ben Allen, both endorsed by SMMR.

Jose Escarce, who was endorsed by SMRR’s steering committee after he fell short of winning the backing of the membership, failed to get the necessary 60 percent of the club’s steering committee vote, as did independent challenger Chris Bley.

Incumbent Ralph Mechur, who is running unopposed in the race to complete the final two years of an appointed four-year term, also won the committee’s recommendation.

The dozen members of the steering committee who voted on the recommendations Sunday spent nine hours interviewing candidates and debating the choices. In the end, the council choices came down to what promises to be the hot-button election issue – development.

“It does have to do with development and their responsiveness to the residential community,” Dad said of the endorsements.

Bloom, who voted to explore taller building heights in select parts of the City, a move opposed by Genser and Shriver, says he will seek the membership’s endorsement.

"I'm disappointed but not surprised," Bloom said of the steering committee vote.

Bloom said it is unfair to paint him as pro development.

"Since I was elected, the City has had a complete reversal on its policies on development," Bloom said. "We're much more circumspect. We're focused on mixed-use development and on protecting residential neighborhoods."

Bloom said he supports the update to the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) of the general plan, which allows taller buildings in select areas of the city in exchange for community benefits and proposes ways to fight traffic.

In his previous successful bids to win the group’s endorsement, Bloom was a staunch supporter of a pioneering living wage measure championed by the club and was an active member of the group.

If it was the first time Bloom failed to win the group’s support, it was also the first time the club endorsed a candidate – Shriver – who did not seek the SMRR endorsement.

“There’s a very strong SMRR component in the Democratic Club,” said Dad. “But I don’t regard Bobby as being anti-SMRR. I don’t think that’s a correct assessment.”

Winterer, who is a member of the City’s Recreation and Parks Commission, is a staunch anti-growth advocate who co-authored Proposition T, which would cap most commercial development at 75,000 square feet a year for 15 years.

The Democratic Club will weigh in on Prop T, as well as a $295 million Santa Monica College bond and a proposed update to Santa Monica's Utility Users tax (UUT), at a meeting September 10.

The candidates and measures that win the membership’s endorsement, which requires 60 percent of the vote, will appear on the club’s slate card and their literature will be available at the group’s campaign headquarters.

Also seeking the committee’s recommendation in the race for four open council seats were Mayor Herb Katz and challengers Susan J. Hartley, Herbert Silverstein and Michael Kovac.

In the race for three seats on the College Board, the steering committee on Sunday recommended all three incumbents -- Margaret Q. Quiñónez-Pérez, Susan Aminoff and Rob Rader.

The committee also recommended backing Joel C. Koury and Christopher Braun in the race for two open seats on the Rent Control Board.

The County Democratic Party is expected to make its endorsements – which don’t always mirror the club’s – on September 9.

Both endorsements are expected to be important in an election that promises to draw a record number of voters to the polls for a hotly contested Presidential race and the highly divisive Prop T, also known as the Residents’ Initiative to Fight Traffic (RIFT).





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