Surprises and suspense at Santa Monicans for Renter's Rights convention

Election season began in earnest Sunday afternoon as the Santa Monicans for Renters Rights voted on its recommendations and endorsements in the November 4 races during their annual convention. Of the candidates vying for the three open seats on the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees, incumbents Barry Snell, Nancy Greenstein were the only two candidates SMRR endorsed, with newcomer Maria Loya and fellow incumbent Louise Jaffe falling short of the 55 percent necessary to secure the last nomination.

“The group’s very important to me and if I didn’t get the endorsement…I don’t know what to say,” Greenstein, founding member and former chair of SMRR, said.

SMRR’s endorsement is one of the most powerful in the city; as 77 percent of SMRR endorsed City Council candidates and all but one SMC BOT candidates have gone on to win.

Snell, who won SMRR’s endorsement for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in 2010 but lost in the election, called this year’s endorsement, “big.”

“I got the endorsement last time and I wasn’t successful, this time I will run a really strong campaign. I’m really humbled by this endorsement,” Snell said.

Though she did not win the endorsement, Loya put forward a platform of increasing local attendance at the college as well as what she called the “two tier system exists in the college.”

“I think there is a lot to do in terms of outreach. Right now the college receives close to $28 million dollars from international students and I would propose to use a percentage of that and dedicate that money for outreach and support services of local students,” Loya said.

Snell’s platform for students focuses on outreach as well. “[I will] meet as many people of Santa Monica, hear as many issues that are effecting the college and really try to formalize a campaign that’s really focused on the issues and be student focused,” Snell said.

Greenstein put forward her track record of working with the students of SMC.

“I think what I already do for students is: I listen to them and I engage them. My priorities are student success and all of the things that are associated with student success,” Greenstein said.

In the race for City Council, the SMRR endorsed, no one after a runoff vote that turned contentious.

The audience for the vote spilled out of the John Adams Middle School Auditorium, causing multiple stoppages to move the overflow crowd to the north side of the cafeteria, where the candidates could be heard.

The first round of voting advanced Sue Himmelrich, Kevin McKeown, Richard McKinnon, Jennifer Kennedy, and Frank Gruber, though none of the candidates came close to winning an endorsement.

After the second balloting was held and no remaining candidate had gained a significant amount of votes from the first balloting, SMRR chair Patricia Hoffman ruled to end the vote and move the decision to the group’s steering committee.

However, the floor attempted to overrule Hoffman and have a third ballot, even though the meeting was well over the scheduled time. In an action that caused confusion and required multiple recounts, the majority voted for a third ballot, yet it did not reach the required two-thirds majority to win.

The deadlock vote was not the only action in the council race. In a surprise announcement, Ken Robin withdrew from the race and threw his support behind Phil Brock. He left the race, citing an inability to win.

Robin threw his support behind Brock because, “he’s the one that stands out as not having gotten involved in all the different ways they have interpreted the Santa Monica Rent Control and Santa Monica Renter’s Rights platform.“

However, Brock failed to make it past the first round of balloting.

In addition to the endorsements for the upcoming races, the SMRR voted to recommend passing voting for the city’s airport initiative and against the Airplane Owners Association initiative.

Also, the group, which advocates for renters and housing rights, voted nearly unanimously to support a fee on property sales over one million dollars that will create more affordable housing in Santa Monica.

In relatively easy votes the group endorsed incumbents Oscar de la Torre, Laurie Lieberman, Ralph Mechur as well as former SMRR co-chair and Santa Monica College Political Science professor Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein for the four open positions on the Santa Monica-Malibu School Board

In the simplest vote of the day all but one member of SMRR voted for the Rent Control Board slate of Todd Flora, Nicole Phillis and Steve Duron, who were the only Rent Control Board candidates who sought the group’s endorsement.