Fifteen candidates are running for the four open seats on the Santa Monica City Council in the November 6 election. Two of 15 are incumbents. One is a former Councilman. Some have run previously and lost.
The Dispatch asked each candidate the same questions.
Gleam Davis, an incumbent and attorney, is seeking re-election because she said she “enjoyed her time on the City Council and gained insight and experience” that will help her move forward on city issues if elected to another term.
She credited herself and her Council colleagues with significant strides in the areas of education, sustainability, and overall quality of life in the city. In terms of education, she noted they extended the ”facilities use agreement” between the School District and the City, made strides in sustainability by approving plans for the city to become water self- sufficient by 2020, as well as obtaining a settlement with the companies that polluted the ground water at the former Papermate site. She believes the quality of life in the City will be improved by the Council’s decision to construct two new parks in the Civic Center, the traffic synchronization project, the Expo line, the realignment of bus circulators to coordinate with the Expo service, and the rebuilding of parking structure 6. Davis praised City staff, saying they are “amazing, and hard working” and “provide excellent service to residents.”
In Davis’s view, the most pressing city issue is traffic and parking.She would like to improve traffic by realigning Big Blue Bus services and improving local bus circulator services. She believes the downtown parking problems could be reduced with more “centralized parking so people can park once.” Davis also wants to create more shared parking, get employees off residential streets, and she would like to use social media and other electronic means to let people “know where parking is available.” Another important issue to Davis is the loss of state redevelopment funds and the “challenge to fill that gap” so that the city can “fund the high level of services the residents are used to and want.”
Davis believes development is “appropriate near light rail and bus routes.” However, she believes a “a citywide view of development [should be taken]” so that decisions can be made about what the city should look like in 10-20 years from now. She also supports the creation of “complete neighborhoods in which residents can live and work.
“It is important to renovate the Miramar Hotel,” she said. “It’s not pedestrian friendly, it’s a walled compound.”
She wasn’t happy with the proposal that the owners presented to the Council as it was “too massive,” and she “didn’t like the way it interacted with the surrounding streets and buildings.” Davis hopes that the proposal will be redesigned to make the project “a net benefit to the community.”
She still has “unanswered questions” about the latest revision of the Village Trailer Park mixed use project, and is “supportive of the current residents who want to remain there. She is “grateful and encouraged that the developer is going back to the drawing board.”
Roberto Gomez, a community volunteer who used to work for US Bank, is seeking a seat on the Council because of “inaction and indifference by the city to the plight of those who live in the Mountain View Mobile Home Park” which is owned by the City.
As a resident of the park, he “pleaded for help and got no help, not even a phone call.” Gomez believes the current Council “appears to vote in blocs” and is “not only non-responsive to residents but believes there is more than that, they are in cahoots together. The city is bought and paid for by the developers on the backs of the residents.”
He is also critical of City staff because “they are more sensitive to all the other tenants in the city and their legal rights than they are with their own tenants at Mountain View. I have no one to turn to” on park problems.
In Gomez’s view, the key city issue is “over-development on the backs of city residents.” He believes Council members are not voting independently because they are “making back door deals with developers. No building is safe if it is more than 10-15 years old.”
Gomez opposes further development in the City, as “we’ve already reached a saturation point, which was reached a long time ago because we have to tear down buildings.” Additional development would mean, “our quality of life will go down and we will become another New York by the sea. The developers don’t care and don’t live here.” His main goal is “to bring the feds and state in to investigate illegal transactions between the city and the developers.”
In Gomez’s view. the City’s decisions about the Village Trailer Park redevelopment are being made “to set themselves up for future development” decisions. He is “ worried the Village Trailer Park redevelopment will set a precedent so the city can’t deny someone else.” Gomez also stressed, “If the city is allowing the removal of 109 units at the Village Trailer Park, this cancer will spread.” He had no comment on the Miramar Hotel project.
Armen Melkonians, a civil/environmental engineer, wants to become a Council member “to make decisions that make a difference.”
He believes there is a “big white elephant in the chamber nobody is looking at – a looming city budget crisis.” In his view, the Council is “scrambling with development agreements (DAs) to raise revenues in the short term to deal with a budget crisis but the DAs will have long-term adverse impacts on the community.” In contrast, he finds the city staff to be qualified and responsive and “to have a vested interest in the well-being of Santa Monica.”
Melkonians believes the city budget crisis is a crucial issue and that “Santa Monica can solve its immediate budget crisis with long term solutions as opposed to the short-term solutions the current Council is adopting. He also concerned about Santa Monica Airport and believes “100 percent that there is no future for an airport in Santa Monica. I would work towards a long-term resolution to shut down the airport.” Another crucial area, in his view, is parking and traffic. As a civil engineer, he has “real world experience. These problems are complicated and are local and regional. I will work with other agencies to fund and resolve the regional impacts and I will work locally with the appropriate officials to help solve the local congestion and parking issues.”
Melkonians supports “responsible, sustainable growth,” not the DAs the Council is currently negotiating that are “contrary to sustainable growth objectives.” He believes that the proposed Miramar expansion proposal “fails to meet the 2010 LUCE guidelines. It does not respect the transition between commercial and, corridor, and residential neighborhoods.” To Melkonians the Village Trailer Park is “another example of a DA with short-term benefits such as approximately $5 million direct benefit to the city at the expense of a loss of affordable housing. It doesn’t make sense to get money from the developer, part of which will be used for affordable housing while displacing existing residents in affordable housing units.”
Tony Vazquez, a former Council member and a consultant for small school districts and municipalities, wants to return to the Council because he is concerned about jet traffic at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) and excessive automobile traffic in Sunset Park.
He believes the current Council doesn’t have “a clear direction of which way to take the city,” which he blames on the loss of institutional memory caused by the deaths of former Council members Ken Genser and Herb Katz. He believes he could help fill that vacuum. Noting that key City staff people are relatively new to him, he went on to say that they too need new leadership “to get a better focus on where the city needs to go.”
Vazquez views the increased jet traffic as a key city issue and would “support a reduction in operations at SMO.” When it comes to traffic he wants to “explore making Ocean Park Boulevard two lanes because it is a boulevard and continue the synchronization of traffic lights on cut-through north and south streets.” He also wants to explore “ways to encourage people to get out of their cars including sufficient parking” at the Expo Light Rail stations at Bergamot and 4th Street, and would like to utilize shuttles to get people form North of Montana and Sunset Park to the Expo stations.
In terms of future development, Vazquez wants new projects to be looked at “with a clear eye to the whole city.” He also wants the City to be careful to “not sell us out for insignificant community benefits” from developers, but to hold out for authentic, useful benefits such as hiring locals and significant help to our schools. He does not support the Miramar Hotel proposal, agreeing with the residents who believe it needs to be scaled back, be more pedestrian friendly, and make a stronger commitment to the community. Vazquez wants to “not only save the Village Trailer Park but to bring it back to the green lush that it once had.”
Ted Winterer, a Planning Commissioner, who’s a writer and does some real estate marketing, is running for the Council because he “loves Santa Monica.
“My wife and I are raising our children here. They’re 5 and 10 and I want to protect Santa Monica so it will be a great place to live in when they grow up.”
Specifically, he wants to ensure that the $2 billion or more in proposed development now doesn’t negatively impact the character and scale of the city. He also wants Santa Monica to have adequate affordable housing, mobility on our streets, more parks and open space, great public schools, clean air and beaches, and first rate police and fire departments –- “all with a balanced budget.”
He has “great respect for all the work the Council does on behalf of the City, but sometimes feels there is a disconnect with resident concerns as if they never have been stuck in the noise and pollution from the airport or never battled for parking spots on residential streets.” He has worked with city staff as “a commissioner and community activist and finds them to be hardworking, thoughtful, and dedicated to the city.”
To Winterer the two most crucial city issues are its fiscal health and traffic. “These issues work against each other. There’s a lot of pressure with the loss of the redevelopment funds, to approve a lot of new development and at the same time residents are very concerned about traffic. The challenge for the current and future Council is to make sure pursuit of new revenue from development doesn’t exacerbate traffic.”
In terms of future development, Winterer stated, “Clearly, properties will be redeveloped per the LUCE along our transit corridors, the downtown, and the east end of town. We have to manage that growth responsibly.” The Miramar Hotel owners have a “clear need to redevelop their hotel and they should” in Winterer’s view. However, he is opposed to their initial proposal. He found its architecture “uninspired” and objects to its proposed addition of 200 luxury condos as too large. He would “support a revised plan that maintains the existing number of hotel rooms and does not add mass to the site. I also want world class architecture.”
Winterer believes it is a mistake to include the Village Trailer Park in the City’s Creative District and “premature to look at the park proposal before the development of the Bergamot Area Plan.” As a Planning Commissioner, he voted “to reduce the scale of project as proposed and enhance the relocation benefits for the existing tenants.” He also supported “looking at an alternative proposal to preserve half the park for the existing tenants and develop the other half.”
Repeated attempts to reach candidates Jonathan Mann and Terence Later for interviews failed.
Jerry Rubin’s full name is Jerry Peace Activist Rubin. Some years ago, when the City Clerk wouldn’t allow him to list his occupation as “peace activist” on the ballot in one of the many Council elections he’s run in, he went to court and added “peace activist” to his name.
We prefer to think of him as Jerry “Win-Win” Rubin, because though he has lost every election he’s run, he believes everything can be a “Win-Win.”
He says he’s “running because he loves Santa Monica,” and he describes his semi-perpetual Council candidacy “as part of my all around activism.” He told our reporter that he wants to involve people in the election process and raise issues that would not otherwise be addressed — but he did not identify those issues.
He thinks he’d be a good Council member because he is “an independent thinker, hard-working, dedicated, and cares deeply about Santa Monica.” And, of course, he speaks on almost every item at every meeting — even when he has nothing to say.
Rubin believes “we have a very good City Council and city staff who are getting a lot done. The many challenges the city is facing can be looked at as an opportunity for people to work together to find win-win solutions.” He defines win-win as a way to “get closer to finding viable solutions.”
In fact, we don’t have a very good City Council and City staff. Indeed, for some time, virtually every time the Council wins-wins, residents lose-lose. The “challenges” the City is facing are not “opportunities,” they’re problems, and there are more this year than there were last year, and there will be more next year unless residents take back the town in the upcoming election.
Rubin is also concerned about Santa Monica Airport because of the “ongoing problems including toxic air pollution, noise and safety issues,” and his brother is one of the primary critics of the airport. He feels It’s “time to work for a 2015 closure date when the 1984 agreement [with the FAA] expires.” After closure “so much could be done with the site that could benefit residents and visitors and our economy. It could be used for recreation, more open space, community gardens, affordable housing, educational facilities, and an environmental center.
He also supports improving the city’s Big Blue Bus system “to encourage people to get out of their cars,” and enjoys telling the world that he doesn’t have a car – though he sells bumper stickers.
He co-founded Treesavers, fought to save the trees on Second and Fourth Street, and wound up in jail. Good for him. But that was then and now he believes Santa Monica “needs development and developers should not be seen as the enemy of Santa Monica.” He opposed the RIFT initiative which would “have mandated a development moratorium. Buildings can go a bit higher if it makes a project more workable and allows for open space” and if the developer provides “good community benefits.” In fact, RIFT did not call for a moratorium, but for reasonable annual caps on commercial developments. Rubin would support a Miramar Hotel project “that provides for a lot of open space and also highlights the historic landmarked Mortem Bay Fig tree.” In addition, he would permit condos in the project, as if 200 condos are added, about a dozen affordable housing units must be added.
The crucial issues to Rubin, as well as virtually everyone else in the area, are development, traffic, and parking.
He believes “the developer of the Village Trailer Park has been trying more than most developers I’ve seen to provide solutions for the residents living there to be able to have housing options to remain in Santa Monica. I believe the project as proposed would be of benefit to the community.” The residents disagree.
One of the late great New York Times’ columnist Russell Baker’s most memorable columns focused on the crucial difference between “serious” and “solemn.” In his view, the Beatles were serious, the Stones were solemn. Bridge was solemn and poker serious. Mr. Win-Win Lose-Lose Rubin is solemn.
Santa Monica is at a crucial moment in its history. We need serious people on the Council and the staff, if we are to preserve this gloriously idiosyncratic and thoroughly serious beach town.
We would not deny Mr. Rubin his apparently insatiable need to speak on every question whether he has anything to say or not, we simply wish he were serious.
— Peggy Clifford