Aside from Me and 10 Other Candidates, who Lost that City Council Election?

In my previous post, I wrote about what interests in Santa Monica politics “won” when Tony Vazquez won the fourth seat on the Santa Monica City Council in last November’s election. If, as I maintained, the winners were Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR), labor (as represented by Unite Here), and those who want to close Santa Monica Airport, who lost?

It may be logically impossible, but the losers were both developers and the anti-development faction.

Although I didn’t enjoy losing the election, to me it was at least positive for the city that Tony Vazquez won, because he was not a hero or villain for either the developers or the anti-development faction. Neither Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future (SMURF), the developer’s PAC, nor the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC), the city’s leading anti-development group, endorsed Vazquez. Nor did Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth (SMRG), the anti-development PAC put together by the Huntley Hotel.

In fact, the election showed that development is not the deciding issue in Santa Monica that so many people seem to think is. The candidate who finished in fifth place, 1,100 votes behind Vazquez and almost 3,000 votes ahead of Richard McKinnon in sixth place, was Shari Davis. Although SMURF had endorsed her, her political base was in the education community and she had little history one way or another in Santa Monica land use politics.

Or consider that the two leading candidates, Ted Winterer and Terry O’Day, each received about the same number of votes (17,714 for Winterer and 17,122 for O’Day); both candidates had SMRR’s endorsement, but on the growth/anti-growth equation, they were portrayed as polar opposites, Winterer being seen as anti-development and O’Day as being pro-development. (I’m making no judgment here about the reality of their respective and comparative views on development, only on the perception.)

Now that we have the results of the new Residents Survey, none of this should be surprising. Santa Monicans have a broad understanding of the issues and appreciate how local government works. It shouldn’t be a shock that they elected two incumbents, one former council member, and one planning commissioner.

But “losing” the election meant different things for the developers and for those who oppose development.

The developers lost not because they failed to elect Shari Davis, who, as I said before had not participated much in development politics, but because their heavy-handed involvement in the election cost them in terms of credibility and trust. By spending nearly half a million dollars, much more than any candidates or other groups spent, they offended many voters and enraged the anti-development faction. Their campaign has made it harder now for Terry O’Day and Gleam Davis to vote in favor of any development, particularly any projects proposed by developers who contributed to the SMURF campaign, because the anti-development side will accuse them of being influenced by the campaign support.

On the other hand, the anti-development faction lost any claim that they represent the majority of residents, because the election showed how few voters cast their votes based upon an anti-development platform.

The anti-development faction, in the form of the SMCLC and SMRG, supported only two candidates in the election, Winterer and Planning Commissioner Richard McKinnon. McKinnon, by virtue of the support he received from SMRG, was the first non-SMRR candidate in Santa Monica history with anti-development support who received significant financial backing. He finished with 8,039 votes.

One educated guess I’ve heard is that in this election the endorsements from SMRR and Unite Here counted for about 10,000 votes. While Winterer and O’Day have support from different factions within SMRR who may have voted for one and not for the other (some SMRR voters are strongly anti-development, and some are what in Santa Monica passes for pro-development), it’s reasonable to estimate that they each picked up about 7,000 votes on their own.

Both Winterer and McKinnon have appeal beyond the anti-development faction, but from the numbers it’s reasonable to say that 7,000 is probably a good estimate of the number of voters (including SMRR voters who voted for Winterer and not for O’Day) who cast their vote primarily on the anti-development issue.

The total number of voters this year in Santa Monica was 47,945. Do the math – we’re talking 15 to 20 percent of voters. While no candidate this year came close to receiving the votes of a majority (because many voters don’t bother to vote in the local election, and because many who do vote don’t cast votes for all four seats), it’s clear that no one can win election to the council who runs exclusively or even primarily on an anti-development platform.

That being said, 7,000 votes is nothing to sneeze at, and in 2008 the anti-commercial development RIFT initiative received 18,410 votes, about 36% of the votes cast. That number is consistent with the finding in the Residents Survey that 43% of Santa Monicans consider the amount of development to be a serious issue. (Although I have to ask, who would say the amount of development isn’t a serious issue? Not me.)

Anti-development residents comprise an important voting bloc in Santa Monica. But the agenda for the majority of Santa Monica residents is much broader than any one issue. Can we keep things in perspective?

Thanks for reading.

One thought on “Aside from Me and 10 Other Candidates, who Lost that City Council Election?

  1. Pingback: The time for speculation is now | The Healthy City Local

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