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NEWS ANALYSIS -- Change Councilmembers Face Dilemma With Appointment
By Jorge Casuso
June 28, 2021 -- Appoint a Councilmember Tuesday night backed by Santa Monicanas for Renters' Rights (SMRR) or face the prospect of a developer-backed candidate winning a special election for an open City Council seat.
That's the choice faced by the three newest Counclmembers, whose votes will be needed to fill the seat vacated by Kevin McKeown's abrupt retirement this month and who did not have the backing of the city's two powerful political factions in their historic upset last November.
Councilmember Phil Brock, who led the Change slate comprised of Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra, said Monday that the three "will probably make a decision tonight."
Late last week, SMRR's steering committee voted to endorse Caroline Torosis, who was elected to the Rent Control Board in 2016 and serves as LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell’s Senior Deputy for Economic Opportunity.
SMRR Co Chair Denny Zane said Torosis "has a passion for making sure renters are well represented" and is a staunch backer of affordable housing.
"She has broad experience working with the County on social justice and has an understanding of how government works," said Zane, a former Santa Monica mayor and co-founder of SMRR.
Santa Monica Forward, on the other hand, decided to stay out of the fray after the three Change Council members and Mayor Sue Himmelrich said they would not pick anyone supported by the developer-backed group.
"This time we've got a pretty clear message," said Forward Co Chair Abby Arnold. "We decided not to weigh in.
"It's not a time for us to be trying to influence their decision."
Forward -- which can count on Councilmember Gleam Davis' backing -- prefers to see a deadlock Tuesday night, forcing a special election it can influence with its usually hefty campaign warchest.
While, no pro-development candidate applied for the open council seat, Torosis was one of five SMRR applicants vying for the tenant group's endorsement.
The others were Rent Board member Nicole S. Phillis, Planning Commissioners Mario Fonda-Bonardi and Ellis Raskin, and Lana Negrete, a member of the newly formed Public Safety and Reform Advisory Commission.
The three Counclmembers who ran on the Change slate are likely to initially back fellow-slate member Fonda-Bonardi, who finished a distant seventh in last November's race for four full-term seats.
But Fonda Bonardi lacks the necessary fourth vote. So does Residocracy founder Armen Melkonians, who placed a distant fifth in the 2016 race for four Council seats with the backing of neighborhood activists. Negrete and Raskin also likely don't have four votes.
Which leaves Torosis, who can likely count on the backing of Himmelrich and Mayor Pro-tem Kristin McCowan, as well as the Change Council members if they view her as a preferable option to an election that will cost the City $528,000 that Forward has a chance to win.
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