Santa Monica, Calif. — On April 12, 1983, a municipal election in Santa Monica, California, is attracting uncommon interest from powerful real estate and other corporate interests both near and far from that oceanside community of over 100,000 people. Fundamentally, what is at issue is whether the city is going to be run by its residents or by its property holders. Much of this propertied wealth is absentee owned. One man has hundreds of apartment units that he wants to convert into high priced condominiums; he lives far from Santa Monica while pouring much money into its election campaigns.
The spotlight is on the Mayor Ruth Yannatta Goldway and the grass roots group, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR), which elected her in 1981 along with a reform slate for City Council. From the start, corporate extremists have been smearing her government, calling it radical, left-wing, socialist-leaning administration.
As James Farley used to say in the Thirties; “Let’s examine the record.” First and exemplary, Mayor Goldway is working full-time — overtime in her elected position for no salary. Local law prohibits any salary for elected officials. This has resulted in honorary Mayors spending most of their time tending to their occupations as lawyers, bankers and real estate developers. Being Mayor did not harm their business prospects. Goldway, who is not independently wealthy, has no business interests.
Her Administration has worked hard to respond to the preservation of a city under accelerated erosion by real estate speculators who were making housing less and less affordable to native Santa Monicans. Displacement of these people was proceeding in favor of more affluent newcomers. The tenants fought back and elected people pledged to protect them from forces beyond their control. Rent control brought these forces under some measure of control but helped lead to the present battle with the condo moguls.
Mayor Goldway and her elected associates brought other changes. A successful Farmers Market was established. City Hall fought against very high telephone company rate hike requests before the Public Utilities Commission. Santa Monica became the first city in California, to adopt a toxic chemical disclosure law.
Police morale is up, with the Police Chief saying: “I voted for Ronald Reagan, but these people are terrific…” Street crime is down modestly and so probably is (business) suite crime. Goldway was a consumer advocate before entering politics. The city government believes the law should be applied to people with means, not just those down and out. Street lighting has been improved; attention has been given to pedestrian safety; popular bike Lanes have been expanded, traffic rules have been revised to protect neighborhoods from hazardous traffic flows.
But it is City Hall’s development policy that generates the biggest sparks. Construction permits are conditioned on developers agreeing to local neighborhood needs. This means agreements on building heights, open space, adding affordable open housing and other community improvements. Before 1981; the city was becoming a speculator’s paradise, with dense commercial development adding to the strain on public services, traffic problems and other dislocations to residential areas.
The condo moguls are backing a referendum called Preposition A to facilitate conversion of apartments into condominiums. The wording of the ballot measure gives irresistible temptations for these large landlords to find ways to ease out or evict tenants who cannot pay anywhere near as much for the condo as a new influx of richer applicants. In one building with over 500 apartments, the difference in profits could be many millions of dollars if the landlord chooses the latter option.
Opening a legal office in Santa Monica is the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) which is funded by oil, real estate and other commercial interests. Its declared purpose is to sue City Hall. Which is a highly visible way to demonstrate inadvertently how lawful and democratic the many policies of City Hall have been since the people for once have been more in charge than the downtown business, banking and real estate interests. And if City Hall steps over the line, PLF’s business-indentured lawyers will be able to go to court and draw the line.