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News, City Government, Obituary

The Unforgettable Ken Genser

Posted Jan. 17, 2010, 4:00 am

Terence Lyons

Santa Monica Mayor Ken Genser died Saturday, January 9, after being hospitalized since October 30 “due to multiple complications,” according to a statement released by City Manager Lamont Ewell. Funeral services are private, but a public memorial service will be held Sunday, January 24, at 1:30 p.m. in Barnum Hall on the Santa Monica High School campus, followed by a reception

A land use planning consultant, Genser had served on the city council for 21 years since he was first elected in 1988, the longest term in council history, and he was chosen mayor by the council in 1991-92, 1999-2000, and 2008-09.

Councilmember Richard Bloom said that Genser, 59, checked himself into the hospital October 30 in “a lot of back pain” and doctors found serious chest congestion. “He developed a lot of complications that he was not able to overcome,” said Bloom, but it is “a testament to his make-up and constitution that, in the face of such complications, he was able to keep fighting” for as long as he did.

“Mayor Ken Genser passed away peacefully with family and close friends by his side,” said Ewell’s statement. “The family appreciates everyone’s thoughts and condolences as they go through this difficult time.” In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that any donations be made to the Ocean Park Community Center (OPCC).

Ken Genser’s Legacy

Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor, who has been serving in Genser’s stead since he last attended a council meeting October 27, said, “It is with deep sadness that we mourn the loss of our Mayor Ken Genser, an indefatigable champion for quality of life in Santa Monica. He served the Santa Monica community throughout his lifetime and will be greatly missed."

Ewell said, “He led on issues ranging from affordable housing and tenant protection, land use and zoning policies to environmental quality, workers rights, parks, public safety, and funding for the schools.”

“Ken served on the Council for over a third of the 64 years Santa Monica has HAD a City Council,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown. “If you sleep safe in a rent-controlled apartment, or your family enjoys the security of affordable housing, or you earn the dignity of a living wage, Ken touched your life directly. He shared with us all a brilliant intellect, a bulldog’s tenacity, a compassionate spirit, and the heart of a mensch. At just over five feet tall, Ken was a giant.”

A lifetime Santa Monica resident, Genser began his 30-year career serving the public through appointment to a City Task Force for Revision of the Housing Element, and he chaired its Goals and Policies Subcommittee from 1980 to 1982. He was a founding member of Community Corporation of Santa Monica, serving from 1982 to 1988. He was appointed as a Planning Commissioner from 1983 to 1985, and he served as a board member of the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corporation from 1985 to 1988.

Former Mayor Denny Zane said it was “difficult to identify anyone who has had as much of an impact on the community” as Genser, calling his influence “transformative.” “He was a slow-growth champion who helped shape the character of the city.”

Genser was elected to the city council in 1988 with the support of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) and became part of the SMRR majority on the council that year after a four-year gap in SMRR control of the council. Although Genser consistently fought what he regarded as overdevelopment in Santa Monica, he opposed the 2008 development-limiting Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic (RIFT) and Zane’s similar but less restrictive 1992 Commercial Allotment Program. Zane said that Genser thought developers were entitled to predictable standards and that Genser did not like the process employed by the proposals – too subjective, too competitive, “almost like an RFP process.”

Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Laurel Rosen mourned “the loss of such a strong leader in our community. In times past his relationship with the Chamber had its ups and downs, but Mayor Genser had become a good friend of mine and of our Chamber. … When Ken talked in his thoughtful way people listened including me.”

“Thoughtful” was a theme that ran through the personal recollections and the multitude of emails that Santa Monicans shared in the days following Genser’s death. In a statement that was typical, he told the Mirror a year ago that the city council is “the most amazing seat to be in to learn. I meet amazing people and have a great staff. This job has brought me tremendous personal growth in abilities and knowledge.” [Santa Monica Mirror, “Hometown Hero,” February 26-March 4, 2009]

As McKeown observed, “Ken dazzled us all with his dogged ability to think through solutions that would make life better in Santa Monica. He had the vision to make great things happen, and the attention to detail to make them happen great. Time and again, faced with the most complex land use decisions, Ken could thread the needle – when others couldn’t even find a needle in the haystack of municipal zoning codes. Ken knew where everything was.”

The Council Seat

Genser’s death, coming almost exactly one year after Councilmember Herb Katz died in office on January 7, 2009, creates another vacancy on the city council. The council must first officially declare the seat vacant, and then under section 603 of the City Charter, the council has 30 days to fill the vacancy or a special election shall be called. In either event, the seat would be on the November 2010 general election ballot for the balance of Genser’s term, which runs to November 2012.

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