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Council Shakes Up Downtown Board

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By Jorge Casuso

June 29, 2022 -- In what promises to be a major shakeup, a divided City Council on Tuesday night appointed three business activists to Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.'s (DTSM) board of directors.

The three appointees -- Leonid Pustilnikov, Luke M. Cain and Lucian Tudor -- are part of a push for change on a Board that has been criticized for not doing enough to address an increasingly entrenched homeless problem on the Promenade.

They will replace three members who, combined, have served 32 years on the Board of the agency that runs Santa Monica's Central Business District.

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Two of the new appointees -- Pustilnikov and Cain -- are members of the Santa Monica Bayside Owners Association (SMBOA) -- which unsuccessfully sued the City to halt the demolition of Parking Structure 3.

And Tudor and Cain both are calling for reevaluating the "safety ambassadors" program the Board recently defended against calls to replace it with security guards ("Downtown Officials Reject Call to Replace 'Safety Ambassadors,'" June 6, 2022).

In his application, Cain -- a 27-year-old Santa Monica native who has helped his parents run the Britannia Pub -- called the $450,000 per month ambassadors program, which covers more than safety, one of the "significant issues that needs to be addressed."

While one of the goals for Tudor -- a "building/business owner" in the Downtown -- is to have the Board "review (the) safety ambassadors program and management," according to his application.

Of the three new appointees, Pustilnikov, a co-founder of SMBOA, is the most outspoken critic of the Downtown establishment.

"When I started investing on the Promenade, I noticed a complete lack of forethought and management," he wrote in his application.

"The established leadership had no interest in listening to business or property owners and instead let the brilliance of the Promenade fade."

Pustilnikov said he co-founded the owners' group to "unify business interests in the area and advance ideas to cure the ills facing the Promenade."

Tuesday's Council vote was a showdown between the three members endorsed by Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR) and the four newest Councilmembers.

Efforts by Mayor Sue Himmelrich and Councilmembers Kristin McCown and Gleam Davis to postpone a vote until next month failed to win four votes.

So did their efforts to reappoint Juan Matute -- a teacher, researcher, and administrator at UCLA -- to a third four-year term.

Councilmembers Phil Brock, Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra -- who ran on a Change slate propelled into office by a voter revolt in November 2020, voted not to delay the appointments.

They were joined by Councilmember Lana Negrete, who was appointed a year ago with the Change members' support.

"It's such a hot topic," Negrete said. "It feels like we just keep pushing these (back), and it's important to move forward."

The four newest Councilmembers then voted for Cain and Tudor over Matute, before they were joined by McCowan in selecting Pustilnikov over John Given, who was a member of the Housing Commission in the 1990s.

Ten applicants vied for the three open seats on the 13-member Board, which is composed of six members appointed by the Council, another six elected by the property owners and a representative of the City.

The three new members, none of whom have served on a Board or Commission, will replace Matute; Johannes Van Tilburg, an architect and property owner who has served 12 years on the Board, and Rob Rader, a member of the College Board who also has served three four-year-terms.

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