Three pro-rent-control candidates, including incumbent Mayor Ruth Yanatta Goldway, were defeated Tuesday in their bids to win election to the Santa Monica City Council.
Goldway and her running mates, Kerry Lobel and the Rev. Alvin D. Smith, were part of a slate backed by Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, a coalition that since 1979 has been organizing tenants to vote--and which gave Santa Monica one of the toughest rent-control laws in the country. They were defeated by a slate of candidates backed by the All Santa Monica Coalition, a newly formed organization.
The City Council offices are officially non-partisan, but two of the All Santa Monica Coalition candidates, Christine Reed and David Epstein, are Republicans, and Reed, who is as incumbent, is on record as having opposed rent control in the past. The third member of the All Santa Monica Coalition elected yesterday, William Jennings, is a Democrat and also an incumbent.
The defeat of Goldway shocked her supporters and came as a surprise even to the leaders of the new coalition, who had not expected to defeat her. Epstein said yesterday that the election results were "the first nail in Tom Hayden's coffin."
Hayden, the '60s student leader who is now a state assemblyman, built his political base in Santa Monica with a group called the Campaign for Economic Democracy (CED). The CED and Santa Monicans for Renters Rights have close political ties.
Hayden said, "Sure it's a defeat. But I believe leaders of Santa Monicans for Renters Rights will be upset for a day, then figure out what went wrong and work to set things straight."
There is some speculation that many residents were getting tired of electing candidates so liberal that the city earned the nickname "The People's Republic of Santa Monica." But there seems to be a consensus that renters, who make up nearly 80% of the city's residents, are not disenchanted with rent-control. What they seem to be is secure in their right to have rent-control.
The Santa Monica rent-control law is now part of the city charter, and only the voters could overturn it. Richard Lichtenstein, whose Marathon Communications company ran the All Santa Monica Coalition campaign, played down any anti-rent-control stance taken by any of his candidates, even after they had won the election.
Asked if Epstein, Jennings and Reed support rent-control, he says that they support the rent-control law in Santa Monica. He reluctantly agrees that that is not the same as the philosophical support of rent control, and that his candidates do not necessarily share that philosophy.
However, Lichtenstein says this election was "not a repudiation of rent control," and he points out that the law is seen by many as here to stay. Lichtenstein does, however, believe that the election was a repudation of Goldway and other SMRR leaders because "they tolerated a limited amount of dissent; they went too far in some of their ideological attempts to change the city" and they said and did "some very cynical things."
Parke Skelton, the campaign manager for the Santa Monicans for Renters Rights slate, said he thought his candidates lost simply because the opposing slate managed to turn out record numbers of homeowners, as much as 80 percent in some precincts, while many tenants did not turn out. "The homeowners have been organizing for two years now," Skelton said, "and they turned out in very, very large numbers. . . . And there was a degree of complacency in the tenants, a belief that rent-control is safe." SMRR had held a 5 to 2 majority on the City Council, and the new makeup of the council will still give them a slight, 4 to 3, edge. Parke said that his group believes they can make up for any losses in the next city election in 1985.
The All Santa Monica Coalition did suffer a defeat Tuesday when voters denied passage an initiative that foes claimed would have weakened rent-control by allowing the conversion of apartments to condominiums. Lichtenstein, however, argued that the proposed initiative would have protected renters who did not want to buy, by allowing conversion only when 60 per cent of a building's tenants agreed to the conversion. And that even then, those tenants who did not choose to purchase their units would have the right to remain in them, protected by rent-control, for as long as they chose.
But it's what would happen when those renters move that foes of the measure disliked: When a renter in a converted building did move, the landlord could then refuse to rent and insist on selling the unit as a condo, thereby lessening the number of rental units available in Santa Monica.
Santa Monica's rent-control law is notably tougher than most others in the west, though many of its features are similar to laws in the east.
There is no decontrol upon vacancy. That is, if a tenant moves out, the rent on an apartment cannot be abritrarily raised. In Los Angeles, once a previous tenant moves, the landlord may then charge whatever the market will bear.
Santa Monica also bases the allowed rental increases on actual inflation figures, rather than a set percentage. In Los Angeles, landlords may increase rents by a certain percentage each year, and under that formula rents in that city have risen by 53 percent since 1978. In Santa Monica, rents have risen only 26.8 percent in the same period, according to the city Rent Control Board.