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Council Opens Application Process to Fill Morena's Seat

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By Jorge Casuso

June 23, 2020 -- The City Council on Tuesday paved the way to replace Greg Morana by appointing a new member to serve for approximately three and a half months before facing reelection.

The Council -- which will begin accepting applications at noon tomorrow -- is expected to vote to fill the vacancy on July 14 and, if an appointment is not made, try again on July 21.

The new member would need to win the November 3 general election in order to finish serving the final two years of Morena's term.

A motion by Councilmember Sue Himmelrich to "respect the democratic process" and leave the seat open until November failed to win a second and may have been legally questionable.

"I believe the democratic process should be honored as a matter of principle," Himmelrich said.

The Council instead, voted to accept applications through July 7 for the at-large council seat.

A California Appeals Court panel has said it would rule on whether Santa Monica must replace its at-large election system with districts by July 10 ("Oral Arguments Set for June 30 in Santa Monica Voting Rights Case," June 15, 2020).

City Clerk Denise Anderson Warren told the Council she expected to receive more applications than the 76 submitted to replace Tony Vazquez in January after he was elected to the State Board of Equalization.

The lobbying efforts to fill the seat began during public testimony, with Santa Monica Forward urging the Council to appoint a black Santa Monican or a person of color.

"Now is the time for a full Council," said Carl Hansen co-chair of Forward, a political group largely bankrolled by developers.

Hansen noted that the Council faced key decisions in the coming months.

According to the City Charter, any Council vacancy "shall be filled by appointment by the City Council, with the appointee holding office until the first Tuesday following the next general municipal election."

Should the Council “fail to fill a vacancy by appointment within thirty days after such office shall have been declared vacant,” the Council “shall forthwith cause an election to be held to fill the vacancy.”

The Council launched the appointment process after accepting the letter Morena submitted June 17 stating his resignation would be effective Wednesday.

Morena resigned after learning his position prohibits him from renegotiating his restaurant lease with the City ("Morena to Resign from City Council," June 17, 2020).

Albright restaurant -- the business his family has owned on the Santa Monica Pier for 40 years -- has been shut down since a coronavirus emergency was declared more than three months ago.

The applicant chosen to replace Morena would become the fourth Councilmember who was initially appointed, rather than elected to the City Council.

Councilmembers Gleam Davis and Terry O'Day were appointed to replace longtime Council members who died in office, while Ana Jara was appointed to fill Vazquez's seat.

The Council bid Morena a heartfelt farewell during the remote meeting, saying they would miss his wit, high spirits and deep love for the City where he was born and raised.

"You have deep experience in the community, and a deep passion for this community," said Council member Terry O'Day. "You continue to be a role model, prioritizing family and business, and that's what's really key."

Himmelrich jokingly likened the youngest council member to her family's golden retriever, "always enthusiastic, always happy. He chases everything you send him after," she said, "although he doesn't always bring it back."

Jara, who grew close to Morena as one of the two newest Council members, teared up. "You helped me see things differently," she said. "It's been lovely working with you. There is room for growth, and you taught me that."

Morena -- who was also known for his financial flow charts and the presence of his father taking notes at every Council meeting -- was clearly moved.

"My heart hurts," he said, before reading from his letter of resignation. "It's been an honor to serve the city."

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