Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights To Hold Annual Membership Convention

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of columns featuring Santa Monica political thinkers.

Saturday, 21 Sep 2013, 9:12:00 AM

Susan Cloke

Susan Cloke, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Susan Cloke, Columnist

Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) began 34 years ago. They will hold their Annual Membership Convention this Sunday at 2 pm at the Church in Ocean Park.

SMRR has enjoyed 34 years of political dominance in Santa Monica electoral politics. In anticipation of the upcoming SMRR Convention, today’s column features an interview with Patricia Hoffman, co-chair of SMRR. Future columns will feature political leaders in Santa Monica with other points of view.

What was the impetus for forming/organizing SMRR?

A group of local senior citizen retirees, calling themselves the Santa Monica Committee for Fair Rents, was alarmed at the rapidly rising rents and condominium conversions that had begun to plague the Santa Monica renter community.

They were chaired by Santa Monica Housing Commissioner Syd Rose, and initiated the first rent control measure in 1978.

When the 1978 measure failed the organizers redoubled their efforts and supported the April 1979 Proposition A.

It was our first victory. Rent Control passed. SMRR candidate Ruth Yannatta Goldway became the first SMRR candidate to win a seat on the Santa Monica City Council. Cheryl Rhoden won a seat in the following November.

Rent Control came about because of a few things. The speculative market for property in Santa Monica, the ease and frequency of evictions of long time tenants and the belief that everyone should be secure in his or her home.

Did winning mean that SMRR held a majority of the Council seats?

In April of 1981, Ken Edwards, Dolores Press, Dennis Zane, and James Conn were elected for the first SMRR majority on City Council and Ruth Goldway became the first SMRR Mayor.

However, Goldway lost her seat and SMRR failed to win two other seats in the 1983 election.

In June of 1984, Santa Monica voters approved a measure to change the local elections from April of odd years to November of even years.

That November, Edwards, Zane and Conn were reelected but Press, who was a write-in candidate and got more than 13,000 votes, was replaced with Herb Katz. The SMRR majority was restored in 1988. And have mostly, but not always had a majority since then.

Why did SMRR decide to focus on issues other than rent control?

Rent Control has always been the number one issue in SMRR. The Rent Control Board was established as part of the implementation of the Rent Control Law and is crucial to making sure rent control is implemented as intended by the people.

However, SMRR has always been a big-tent non-partisan organization. This has been both an asset and a challenge. The organization has one of the best platforms of any organization. It is a progressive document that looks at real needs of real people.

The only means of holding people accountable to the platform is the electoral process. This includes the democratic endorsement conventions to select SMRR candidates and the general citywide elections.

Do SMRR elected officials vote as a bloc?

SMRR-endorsed candidates often disagree on how to implement the platform. This has led to some fractionalization within the organization from time to time.

What is most important to you about Rent Control?

Since Rent Control, there are many more tenant protections from harassment and evictions. Rent Control was an important step in making Santa Monica child friendly. Before Fair Housing laws and Rent Control, tenants could be evicted for having children.

Why does SMRR run candidates for School and College Board elections?

The answer is simple. We care about education.

Renters knew that they were likely to be able to raise their families in place. That meant that they could participate fully in the schools. It also helped stabilize the existing decline in enrollment in our public schools. Rent control was, and is, good for the schools.

Santa Monica renters vote heavily in favor of school measures, both parcel taxes and General Obligation Bonds. Renters pay a significant share of these taxes.

Just as it is with City Council candidates, the School and College Board candidates are selected at the SMRR Convention. Their questionnaires and interviews are focused on education issues.

Do you, does SMRR, have regrets about things done in SMRR’s name?

It is hard to have too many regrets about a democratic process. There certainly have been candidates whom I did not support who won the SMRR nomination. There have been elected officials who have left something to be desired.

But we have also selected and elected some of the best officials Santa Monica has had.

I especially miss the leadership and guidance of Ken Genser. He didn’t start out as one of our best council members but he grew on the job. His death has made it much more difficult for the City to move forward with a coherent plan.

What will happen at the 2013 Convention?

The main business of this convention/annual meeting will be electing the SMRR Steering Committee. The focus of this meeting will be Rent Control and Housing.

How are other issues discussed and decided?

The Steering Committee conducts SMRR business between general meetings and addresses local issues of concern and statewide issues of importance to SMRR.

Quality of life issues have always been important to SMRR, as they have been to most of the people of Santa Monica.

There is significant disagreement on how to best protect and enhance the quality of life, though. It would help if we could have a common vision of what Santa Monica should look like in 5, 10 and 20 years. Unfortunately, the LUCE is too broad and doesn’t provide enough guidance.

What are the major challenges facing the City today?

There are a number of challenges facing Santa Monica today. Many of the worst have regional components but we also have local issues. We are suffering traffic congestion problems that are both local and regional. We have not completed re-writing the zoning codes necessary to implement our most recently adopted Land Use and Circulation Elements. We have too many Development Agreements in process and we are currently fighting a lot of battles about height and density of new development.

You have lived in Santa Monica since 1979, you are married to the physician Gene Oppenheim, and you have three children; Jonas, Lucas, and Jed. Why did you get involved in local politics? Why SMRR?

Growing up in Van Nuys made living in Santa Monica seem almost perfect. I was excited about having the seats of government almost in my back yard. Participation was natural. It was exciting to be able to participate in a progressive movement. There were different groups meeting each week to discuss issues such as Rent Control, Social Services, the Arts, and Education. It was a wonderful time.

For more information about Sunday’s convention, visit www.smrr.org/news/2013Convention.html.

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