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Slow-Growth Group Backs Three Challengers in Race for Four Council Seats

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By Jorge Casuso

September 8, 2020 -- Blasting incumbents for ushering in "unsustainable growth" and pushing the City into "financial chaos," a prominent slow-growth group on Tuesday announced it will back three challengers in the race for four full-term Council seats.

The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) -- which last year terminated its political action committee -- dove into this year's Council race with a call to upset the status quo at City Hall.

"We need a change," the Coalition wrote in a statement endorsing Arts Commissioner Phil Brock, Planning Commissioner Mario Fonda-Bonardi and Christine Parra, Culver City’s emergency preparedness coordinator.

"We need competent leadership who will work for Santa Monica’s residents and small businesses, not for the special interests who contribute to Councilmembers’ campaigns," the Coalition wrote in its announcement.

The group did not back School Board member Oscar de la Torre, who is part of a slate with the three endorsed challengers.

It also did not endorse incumbent Ted Winterer, who won the backing of the slow-growth group in his three previous Council bids, choosing to leave a seat open.

SMCLC leaders said the incumbents have favored big developers over residents by backing "huge" projects that spur "unsustainable growth."

"They have approved huge commercial developments that residents have publicly and clearly opposed, consistently ignoring residents’ needs in favor of big developers," the Coalition wrote.

"Catering to these developers has caused unsustainable growth, gridlocked traffic, less open space, and punishing costs to residents for our water."

The largest developments in the planning pipeline -– three mixed-use hotel projects Downtown –- have not gone to the City Council for final approval.

The Coalition also contends that the current Council has "pushed Santa Monica into financial chaos" by misspending taxpayers' dollars for years ("Coronavirus Shutdown Forced Inevitable Cuts, Fiscal Expert Says," May 13, 2020)

"Years of unfunded pensions, vanity projects, and spending that far exceeds that of similar-sized California cities, has put our city and its residents into a deep financial hole," the Coalition wrote.

This has resulted in "huge cutbacks in services to residents, despite our paying the highest local sales tax in California."

In addition, the Coalition criticized the Police Department's response to the riots that erupted in the Downtown area on May 31 ("Santa Monica Demonstration Turns Violent, Looters Ransack Stores," June 1, 2020).

"On this Council’s watch, peaceful protesters were tear gassed while looters were left unchallenged to destroy our downtown, and so far, no one has been held accountable," the Coalition wrote.

The endorsements come nearly two years after the Coalition filed its terminating campaign disclosure statement in December 2019 ("Santa Monica Coalition Pauses Political Activities," February 13, 2019).

The group -- which endorsed one candidate, incumbent Sue Himmelrich, in the 2018 Council race -- said it would wait to see what future Santa Monica elections might hold.

Launched in 2005 to stop the proposed redevelopment of Santa Monica Place, the Coalition has been a political influence in the city, although it typically spends less than $15,000 on political campaigns ("Mall Owners Seek to Put Redevelopment Plans on Hold," August 11, 2005).

SMCLC has bolstered the campaigns of slow growth candidates, including Himmelrich, Winterer and Mayor Kevin McKeown, which the group did not endorse in 2018 after he opposed a slow-growth initiative two years earlier backed by the Coalition.

McKeown, who finished first in his previous re-election bids, finished third.

The Coalition's endorsement comes four days after the Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) announced it was endorsing the four incumbents in the race for four-year seats -- Winterer, Gleam Davis, Ana Jara and Terry O'Day.

CEPS also endorsed newly appointed Council member Kristin McCowan in the uncontested race for a two-year seat.

“CEPS is proud to endorse community leaders who have demonstrated that they make education a top priority,” CEPS Chair Shari Davis wrote in a statement.

“As our community seeks an inclusive and equitable recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, we believe these candidates will make certain that support for education and public schools," Davis said.

CEPS endorsed School Board incumbents Maria Leon-Vazquez and Jon Kean, along with challengers Jennifer Smith and Keith Coleman in the race for three open seats on the seven-member board.

School Board member Ralph Mechur is not seeking re-election.

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