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Santa Monica Voters Usher in New Era
By Jorge Casuso
November 6, 2020 -- Santa Monica voters mounted a revolt at the polls in the November 3 election, ousting three City Council incumbents -- as many in one race as have been defeated in the past 26 years.
With a record 50,250 votes counted as of Friday afternoon, challengers Phil Brock, Christine Parra and Oscar de la Torre continued building on what has become an insurmountable lead in the race for four full-term Council seats.
Only Councilmember Gleam Davis survived the onslaught of voter discontent that led to the defeat of the three other incumbents -- Terry O'Day, Ted Winterer and Ana Jara.
As of 4:25 p.m. Friday, Brock led with 17,216 votes, followed by Davis with 16,638 votes, Parra with 16,100 votes and de la Torre with 15,552 votes.
The four winners were followed by Councilmembers O'Day with 14,974 votes, Winterer with 14,719 votes and Jara with 13,886 votes.
"Residents are retaking the City," said Brock, a member of the slate Santa Monicans for Change that included Parra and de la Torre. "We ran to make sure residents have a seat at the table."
De la Torre, who solidified his fourth place finish after 1,451 votes were counted on Friday also claimed victory.
“I couldn’t stand on the sidelines seeing the City that raised me being destroyed," he said in a statement. "This new City Council is being formed with the power of a clear resident mandate."
The historic shift in power marked the first time in 40 years that a slate of candidates has won without the backing of the city's powerful tenants' group or developers who spend large sums usually to back the status quo.
Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) endorsed Davis, Winterer and Jara, while Santa Monica Forward, which is largely bankrolled by developers, also backed O'Day.
Only the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) -- a slow-growth watchdog group -- backed the three winning challengers.
"The magic of some formerly golden endorsements has faded, and residents are looking elsewhere to rely on and understand our political future," said Diana Gordon, who heads the Coalition.
The election also marked the first time so many native Santa Monicans were swept into office together since at least the 1970s.
Brock, de la Torre and incumbent Kristin McCowan, who won an uncontested race for a two-year seat, grew up in Santa Monica and attended local public schools, all three graduating from Samohi.
"The residents want people from the city who know the streets, who know the alleys, who know what is needed to run the City," Brock said Friday night.
A perfect political storm converged on the popular beach city of 93,000 to lay the groundwork for such a seismic shift in power.
A pandemic upended the way campaigns have traditionally reached voters, eliminating fundraisers, live debates and door-to-door canvassing.
Social media gave residents an outlet to vent their frustrations with government, offsetting some of the influence wielded by costly fliers mailed by well-heeled Political Action Committees (PACS).
The violence and looting that swept through Santa Monica's Downtown on May 31 stoked fears that the city was becoming less safe, despite statistics touted by incumbents that showed crime was down.
And three large projects proposed for Downtown -- along with the Council's embrace of a State mandate to build nearly 9,000 new housing units by 2028 -- helped fuel a grassroots slow-growth movement.
"This election is a referendum on the growing loss of trust residents have in City leadership on crime, homelessness, overdevelopment and the mishandling of May 31," Gordon said.
"Changing the Council to a resident-friendly one is one essential step to regaining this trust."
The Los Angeles County Registrar will use the weekend to "verify signatures for the VBM (Vote By Mail) dropbox, mailed ballots and uncured ballots received," said City Clerk Denise Anderson-Warren.
The County Registrar will then provide the outstanding number of votes on Monday during a delayed canvas, Anderson-Warren said.
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