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Council Appoints Negrete to Fill McKeown's Seat

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By Jorge Casuso

June 29, 2021 -- The Change faction on the City Council flexed -- and likely expanded -- its power Tuesday, with the appointment of Lana Negrete to fill a vacant Council seat.

It is the third seat filled by appointment in less than two and a half years and gives the Council its first majority not backed by one or both of the City's two major factions -- Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) and Santa Monica Forward.

Lana Negrete
Lana Negrete and family (from the GoFundMe page for the Santa Monica Music Center)

Negrete, who will fill the vacancy left by Councilmember Kevin McKeown's abrupt retirement this month, received the backing of the three Change Councilmembers -- Phil Brock, Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra, who were joined by Gleam Davis.

Councilmember Kristin McCowan subsequently changed her vote to Negrete, who until her swearing in minutes later was a member of the the newly formed Public Safety and Reform Advisory Commission.

Negrete becomes the third Hispanic on the Council and its only renter, and she gives native Santa Monicans the first majority on the dais in decades.

"The Council really reflects Santa Monica now, and I'm really proud of that," said Brock, who was born and raised in the city.

Jones of the Bay

The nomination process was brief, with the same pool of candidates vying for the open seat in two of the rounds.

In the first two rounds, Rent Board member Caroline Torosis -- who was endorsed by SMRR -- received three of the four necessary votes, Planning Commissioner Mario-Fonda-Bonardi two and Negrete one.

The next two rounds pitted Torosis and Negrete head-to-head, with the two initially splitting the vote.

In round four, Davis switched her vote to Negrete, giving her the four votes needed.

Negrete marks the third Councilmember on the dais who was initially appointed, and not elected, to the post.

In filling the seat, the Council may have been influenced by the prospect of resorting to a special election that would have cost $528,000 in the wake of drastic cutbacks in programs and services due to the coronavirus shutdown.

Mayor Sue Himmelrich, a supporter of holding an election, said the cost and numerous calls from constituents had an impact on her decision to participate.

"I really believe in elections and the democratic process," Himmelrich said before the votes. "My plan was to abstain."

Tuesday's vote marks a turning point in Santa Monica politics. The Council now has a majority that was not backed by SMRR or Forward, which represent the city's political establishment.

The three Change councilmembers were swept into office last November by a voter revolt that unseated three incumbents, as many as had been defeated in the previous 24 years.

They ran on a slow-growth agenda and were backed by the city's neighborhood groups, as well as the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC).

For Tuesday's appointment, SMRR endorsed Torosis, who has deep establishment ties, while Forward sat out the process after the Change candidates, along with Himmelrich, indicated they would not back the group's choice.

Negrete, who is active in the local PTA and sits on various boards, runs two music stores -- one in Santa Monica that was damaged during the riots, the other in Culver City.

"I have come back from a pandemic and complete destruction of our family business during the riots on May 31st," Negrete wrote in her application."

"Not only did I literally sweep up the glass and start to rebuild the very next day but I created and build out our online platform and restructured our Culver City location completely," she wrote.

Among the goals Negrete listed is addressing homelessness and crime -- which along with curbing development were the main planks of the Change slate's agenda -- and to protect renters and support youth programs.

"I plan to work tirelessly to address our homeless issue in the city," Negrete wrote. "I want our city to be safe for my children and for the many children who come to my business to take music lessons and whom are harassed by the homeless that sit in front of our store.

"I want to see smart growth in Santa Monica, protecting our renters and sustaining our rent control apartments so that our citizens can age comfortably in the city they call home."

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