Liberals Back in Control of Santa Monica City Council

Times Staff Writer

In a land where the “L-word” is still a rallying cry, a liberal political faction has regained the majority at Santa Monica’s City Hall for the first time in four years.

But the biggest winner in a race for 4 seats on the City Council was incumbent Herb Katz, a politically moderate architect who waged an expensive campaign to come out ahead of a slate sponsored by the city’s dominant faction, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights.

Katz and fellow incumbent Dennis Zane, who headed the renters slate, were easy victors in Tuesday’s election.

Two of the slate’s remaining three candidates--Judy Abdo and Ken Genser--followed to take the other council seats. All seats are for four-year terms.


Katz’s showing--more than 2,000 votes ahead of Zane, his nearest opponent--surprised even some of his own campaign staff, who had anticipated a closer fight with the renters-rights slate.

Zane, who expects to be the next mayor of Santa Monica, had been expected to lead the race.

4-Vote Majority

The outcome nevertheless gave the liberal Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights a 4-vote majority on the 7-member council. For the last two years, the council was evenly divided between two rival factions, with the seventh seat held by outgoing independent Alan Katz; for two years before that, the moderate faction, the All Santa Monica Coalition, held the majority.


But because Herb Katz came in first and stopped a sweep by Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, voters’ sentiments appeared to be mixed, the electorate unwilling to give an overwhelming majority to either side.

“The voters are returning us to the majority but not resoundingly,” said Zane, a two-term councilman and leading tenants rights advocate. “That means they want change but not vitriol and contentiousness. . . . They were saying, let’s change the majority--but not go too far.”

Katz’s supporters, meanwhile, were basking in the glow of victory Wednesday. During a $150,000 campaign, Katz had contended that a vote for him was a vote to maintain a balance of political perspective and style on the council that would be healthier for the city.

Candidates Linked to Katz

Two other candidates linked to Katz but with much smaller campaign chests--Donna Alvarez and William Spiegel--finished sixth and seventh in a field of 13 candidates.

The well-organized Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights had spent more than $200,000 to present its four candidates as the true defenders of the city’s strict rent-control law and proponents of slow growth.

The renters-rights group strategists rued what they said was their failure to attack Katz more vigorously on his record on development. Katz has approved a couple of large office complexes and his opponents considered him vulnerable on the slow-growth issue.

Complete tallies on Wednesday showed Katz with 19,911 votes, followed by Zane with 17,726; Abdo, a veteran community activist and aide to West Hollywood Mayor Helen Albert, with 17,081 votes; and Genser, a chairman of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, with 14,599.


Many voters may have been reluctant to hand Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights a clean sweep, choosing instead to limit the faction’s power by including Katz.

“If you had to take one message from this, it is that this community wants to continue the kind of dialogue that has existed over the last two years and not veer either way, neither toward a zealous SMRR agenda or a zealous anti-SMRR agenda,” said outgoing Councilman Alan Katz (no relation to Herb Katz), long a foe of slate politics.

“They want council members to stand on their own feet.”

The other surprise in Tuesday’s election was that Genser edged out Paul Rosenstein, the fourth candidate on the tenants slate. Genser had been considered the least prominent member of the slate as well as the most hard-line slow-growth advocate.

Campaigners for SMRR may have overcompensated for Genser’s perceived weakness, giving him more attention in some of the organization’s mailers.

Herb Katz and his supporters awaited election results and celebrated at a Chinese restaurant until the early morning hours Wednesday. They watched cable television coverage of the returns and cheered readings of precinct reports.

Similarly, supporters of the tenants faction, dressed mostly in jeans and tennis shoes and snacking on cheese, beer and soft drinks, celebrated their partial victory a few blocks away at an ad hoc campaign headquarters on the Santa Monica Mall.

Walls were festooned with Dukakis-Bentsen posters and red, white and blue balloons skirted the ceiling. Some members of the crowd proudly sported ACLU buttons.


“In Santa Monica, people wear the L-word as a badge of pride,” Zane said as he carefully monitored returns for his race and others in the state. “We clearly march to our own drum here. That’s what makes the community special.”

The new council is expected to be seated once election results are confirmed by the county registrar’s office, possibly at a Nov. 22 meeting.

Among the issues that will test the new council’s mettle are a proposal for a sprawling office complex on land south of the Santa Monica Airport and a program to require developers to pay fees for housing they remove from the market.

Voters also picked two members of the Rent Control Board. As expected, incumbents Dolores M. Press and Julie Lopez Dad--both activists in Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights--easily defeated real estate agent Keith B. Lambert.