ELECTIONS / SANTA MONICA CITY COUNCIL : Competing Slates View Safety as Key Issue


For the past four years, Bob Holbrook and Tony Vazquez have stood out as the gentlemen of the Santa Monica City Council.

While others clawed and back-stabbed, Vazquez and Holbrook built a reputation as go-along, get-along guys. Civility was their method, and they could agree to disagree with no hard feelings.

There are similarities in private life too. Both are family men, and both hold degrees from USC, where Holbrook is a professor of pharmacy. Vazquez is a community planner for United Way.

But when it comes to the issues, especially how to go about ensuring public safety, the two part company dramatically. Holbrook favors strict enforcement of city ordinances; Vazquez stresses addressing the underlying social problems that could lead to crime.

This fall, the philosophical gulf is being scrutinized as Holbrook and Vazquez seek reelection to second four-year-terms on the City Council.

It's not only their own futures at stake. The two are heading up competing slates of candidates for the three available seats on the seven-member council.

Vazquez is at the top of a slate endorsed and financed by the city's powerful rent-control organization, Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR). His running mates are urban planner Pam O'Connor and artist Bruria Finkel.

Holbrook and his running mates, Los Angeles Deputy City Atty. Ruth Ebner and labor lawyer Matthew P. Kanny, are backed by a group called Coalition for a Safe Santa Monica.

Five other candidates are running independent campaigns.

In his first term on the council, Holbrook has heavily stressed enforcement measures, including closing parks overnight, prohibiting homeless encampments in public places, beefing up police patrols in the downtown area and enacting a teen curfew that would require teen-agers under 18 to be off the streets after 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays unless they are traveling to or from an event.

Holbrook, Ebner and Kanny have all stressed the need to make parks and streets safe for citizens, something they claim current council members backed by SMRR have not done.

"They've demonstrated time and time again, they do not believe in enforcing laws on the books," Ebner said at a recent debate. "I can't use the parks. My son can't."

Vazquez is the embodiment of the social service model of dealing with public safety and homeless issues. He voted against banning encampments in the park, saying such measures criminalize poverty. The teen curfew was in his view discriminatory, so he opposed it.

In July, Vazquez asked the council to let homeless people sleep overnight in the parks. A month earlier, he voted against beefing up the police presence downtown because he feared it would draw officers away from residential neighborhoods.

Vazquez has also been a strong voice for increasing citizen input in police matters. If elected again, Vazquez said, he will press for civilian review of the police force.

These positions have not endeared Vazquez to the Santa Monica Police Officers Assn., which is mounting a campaign against him. The union has endorsed Holbrook, Ebner and O'Connor. Historically, the police union has split its endorsements across slates.

As for Vazquez, police association President Stephen Brackett said, "he's voted against every public safety measure that has come before the council."

"What this campaign has been about is SMRR's policies, and Tony exemplifies them," Holbrook said. "They allow people to live on the street and hold them to no responsibility."

SMRR co-chair Nancy Greenstein said she was shocked at the police union's "gall" in criticizing Vazquez.

"I'm shocked police personnel would be so vindictive," Greenstein said. "How can I trust them to be neutral in situations in the community?"

Vazquez insists it is wrong to construe him as soft on crime. He said he favors early intervention programs to prevent crime and believes that homelessness should be dealt with by seeking federal funding to provide housing.

Vazquez also notes that he voted to add 20 police officers to the force in 1991, but Holbrook did not.

Holbrook said he voted against the entire budget that year because the council decided, without sufficient study, to pay for the officers by enacting a 1% tax on the sale of all property in the city.

Of his slate-mates, Finkel seems to be most closely attuned to Vazquez. A longtime champion of the homeless, Finkel opposes closing the parks at night and the teen curfew.

"Come with me to the parks," Finkel said recently. "I go to the city parks all the time with my grandson. I can tell you it's safe."

O'Connor says she supports most of the controversial public safety measures passed by the current council over the past few years.

If elected, that would put her in the public safety majority on the council, which should not be confused with the SMRR majority itself. Though SMRR-backed council members hold five of seven council seats, they are split on public safety matters.

SMRR-backed councilmen Paul Rosenstein, Ken Genser and Kelly Olsen routinely join Holbrook and Councilwoman Asha Greenberg in supporting these measures. Vazquez and Mayor Judy Abdo routinely oppose them. Olsen, who initiated many public safety measures, was dropped from the SMRR slate, leaving it without a strong public-safety voice.

SMRR itself is not conceding the public safety territory to the Holbrook crowd. In a campaign mailer to the city's Republicans, the SMRR-backed slate is portrayed as Santa Monica's "crime-fighting team."

The Holbrook slate has an advantage compared to the 1992 election because this year there is no competing conservative slate running to its political right. Indeed, candidate Bob Kronovet, as he repeatedly says, is the only registered Republican in the race.

But money is tight, and the Holbrook slate has precious little of it, about $45,000, to get the word out. SMRR, on the other hand, raised $150,000 this year and had $68,000 as of Sept. 30. All of its candidates have separate campaign accounts as well.

Slates and Independents

Santa Monicans for Renters Rights slate:

* Tony Vazquez (i), community planner

* Pam O'Connor, urban planner

* Bruria Finkel, artist, teacher

Coalition for a Safe Santa Monica slate:

* Bob Holbrook (i), pharmacist

* Ruth Ebner, Los Angeles deputy city attorney

* Matthew P. Kanny, labor/employment attorney

Five candidates for Santa Monica City Council are running independent campaigns:

* Bob Kronovet, film distributor, businessman

* Wallace Peoples, pharmacist

* Joe Sole, publisher

* Jon Stevens, teacher

* Ron Taylor, homeless-rights activist

(i) Incumbent

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