Santa Monica to Vote on Altering Council Elections

Times Staff Writer

Santa Monicans will get a chance to change the way they elect their City Council members.

The council accepted a proposal by member Alan Katz to put a charter amendment on the June 7 primary ballot that would number City Council seats and require candidates to run for specific seats.

Currently, all of the candidates run for all of the open seats. Under the new system, they would run for one of the numbered at-large seats.

Katz, who likened the current system to "running in a mob," said his proposal would make candidates more accountable to voters and make it more equitable for candidates who do not belong to one of the city's two dominant political factions.

The political factions--Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights and the All Santa Monica Coalition--usually run slates of candidates in council elections. Katz is the lone independent on the seven-member body and has already announced that he will not seek reelection.

Four seats are open in November's contest.

Katz said the numbering of seats would simplify campaigns and reduce candidates' costs.

"(Since) it will result in more clearly defined electoral contests, it could reduce the need to spend exorbitant sums on campaigns designed to lift a candidate out of the current mob scene," Katz told the council.

The council voted 6 to 0 to have City Atty. Robert Myers draw up a resolution to include the proposal on the ballot. David Finkel abstained, saying he was not sure the proposed system would achieve Katz's goal.

The council also agreed to place another Katz measure on the ballot that would raise council members' pay to the level set by the state Legislature for cities comparable in size to Santa Monica.

Council members are now paid $25 per council meeting for up to two meetings a month, plus an additional $25 for each meeting of Housing, Parking and Redevelopment agencies that they attend.

Katz said the new system would raise a council member's stipend to $600 a month, effective Jan. 1, 1989.

"Just because you are an elected official doesn't mean you should be expected to make a tremendous financial sacrifice," Katz said in an interview. "No one will get rich on this, but it does compensate you if you have to take time off from your job."

Also, the council voted to place on the ballot a proposal to pay Planning Commission members, who do not receive compensation, $25 a meeting, not to exceed $100 a month. The measure was proposed by Councilwoman Chris Reed, who said the commissioners deserve the pay because of their heavy workload and the long hours they put in.

Katz acknowledged that the council's vote to place the seat-numbering proposal on the ballot does not mean all members support it. But he said even those opposed to it seem willing to let voters decide.

Ken Genser, one of the co-chairmen of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, said the proposal raises numerous questions. He said his political group has no position but will examine the proposal.

"My personal opinion is (that) . . . it seems like a way for a lot of dealing to go on, particularly by incumbents," Genser said. "Perhaps the cure to the alleged problem will be worse than the disease."

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