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NEWS ANALYSIS -- Development Remains Major Issue in Tuesday's Santa Monica Election


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November 7, 2018 -- Development may not have been a hot-button issue on Tuesday's Santa Monica ballot, but it was a determining factor in the race for three City Council seats and the resounding support for term limits.

Councilmember Sue Himmelrich, the staunchest slow-growth advocate on the Council, easily topped the ballot, while Pam O'Connor, a longtime champion of development, finished a distant fourth.

O'Connor, who has been the target of slow growth activists for years, was seeking an unprecedented seventh four-year term on the council.

She became only the third incumbent to lose a bid for re-election since 1994, joining former mayor Mike Feinstein and Council member Tony Vazquez.

Perhaps most telling was the fate of Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who has traditionally been seen as a champion of slow-growth but received, and welcomed, the support of Santa Monica Forward, a pro-growth group largely bankrolled by developers ("Santa Monica Forward Endorses Two Incumbents, Challenger," September 17, 2018).

McKeown, who had finished first in every race since 2006, dropped two notches to third, behind challenger Greg Morena.

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Santa Monica voters may have sent their strongest message Tuesday by approving Measure TL -- which would restrict Council members to three terms -- in a surprising landslide ("Ballot Arguments Underscore Key Differences Over Term Limits For Santa Monica Council," August 8, 2018).

Development, which many residents blame for an increase in crime and traffic, likely played a large role in the results, which can be seen as a referendum on the direction the City is taking.

A forewarning came two years ago when Measure LV, which would have capped most development at 30 feet, received nearly 45 percent of the vote.

While pro-growth forces viewed it as a major victory, it took a $1.2 million campaign bankrolled by developers and the support of an alarmed political establishment to defeat the poorly funded measure.

Supporters of LV said the vote sent a "strong message" that Santa Monica residents want to slow down development.

That big money -- and major endorsements -- still carry weight in Santa Monica was seen by Morena's strong showing.

The challenger was the only Council candidate supported by Santa Monica's most powerful (and best funded) political groups -- Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR), Santa Monica Forward and the Police and Firefighters unions.

In an unusual move, both the City's public safety unions and the Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) hedged their bets by also endorsing all three incumbents.

Their support likely boosted Morena's vote total over O'Connor, who did not seek SMRR's endorsement and whose campaign raised less than $17,000, compared to Morana's nearly $82,000 ("City Council Challengers Continue Reaping Contributions," October 26, 2018).

Challenger Ashley Powell, who raised more than $105,000, finished less than 1,000 votes behind O'Connor.

While there were no hot-button development issues on the ballot, Measure SM -- which requires a super-majority vote for developments that exceed zoning limits and for changes to development and zoning policies -- won with more than 70 percent of the vote.

The measure -- an effort by the Council to quell voter anger over development -- will have no impact on proposed projects currently in the planning pipeline ("Super-Majority' Ballot Measure Would Have No Impact on Proposed Developments," June 21, 2018).


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