Meet the candidates running for Santa Monica City Council

Meet the candidates running for Santa Monica City Council

Santa Monica residents will pick three City Councilmembers on November 6.

How do they plan to make the pricey city more affordable, and how will they make it easier to navigate congested streets?

Scooters. Development. Traffic. Seven candidates are running for elected office in Santa Monica, and they have taken stands on hot topics like these. In interviews with Curbed (below), they’ve also laid out their priorities for the city.

It’s been a relatively quiet election season in Santa Monica. Still, if you’re a resident, your vote is important. Councilmembers make decisions on everything from mega real estate development projects to how to deal with e-scooters like Bird and Lime and how to regulate Airbnb.

There are three seats up for grabs on November 6. Those seats are held by Sue Himmelrich, Kevin McKeown, and Pam O’Connor, and they’re each seeking reelection. Scott Bellomo, Greg Morena, Geoffrey Neri, and Ashley Powell will try to unseat them.

Below are some key biographical details on each candidate and, based on finance disclosure forms filed with the city, information on how their campaigns are financed. There are also short Q&As. Each candidate was asked the same five questions; Himmelrich and Neri did not participate. The responses have been fact-checked and edited for length and clarity.


Scott Bellomo

What is the most pressing issue facing Santa Monica?

Crime is out of control. Crime specific to the transient population has reached crisis levels in Santa Monica. [Note: About 30 percent of daily police calls for service are homeless related.]

That is the reason I am running for City Council. My son and I were victims. As far as I am concerned, this should be the top priority of the City Council, city manager, and police.

The police take their orders from the police chief, who takes her orders from the city manager (who, in turn, is directed by the City Council). They set the tone of police engagement with criminals. Yet, instead of directing the police to get the violent criminal transients off our streets, the City Council and city manager hired a “senior advisor to the city manager on homelessness” whose priority seems to be to make Santa Monica more welcoming and comfortable for the homeless.

City Council approved $100 million to build an addition to City Hall while our residents are being assaulted.

What solutions do you support for making it easier to move around Santa Monica?

Stop the overdevelopment of our city. End road diets. Move bike lanes off major arteries to side streets.

Recently, e-scooters were launched in the Santa Monica. While on paper, it’s great to have another method of transportation, the City Council and city manager were, at minimum, derelict in allowing these companies to have an unfettered launch.

Most likely, the City Council and city manager just looked at dollar signs wrapped in the flag of “green transportation” and ignored the likely consequences. It was completely foreseeable that releasing a new form of shared transportation without any community education or regulations would lead to chaos, which is precisely what happened.

The ill-conceived launch of the e-scooter businesses in our city is squarely the fault and failing of our City Council and city manager. They are either incompetent, or worse, willing accomplices.

Santa Monica is an incredibly expensive place to live, with some of the highest rental and home prices in LA. What’s your plan to make Santa Monica more affordable?

Home prices are set by market forces. As long as people find Santa Monica attractive, single family homes and condos will be expensive.

The same could be said for rental units. However, due to rent control laws, the rental market is more complicated.

If the residents want less development and want to keep Santa Monica a low-rise city, then prices will remain high. In order to make a slight difference in the high cost of renting, the residents will have to agree to build up.

My impression from living here for over 30 years is that not many people want to see the city filled with tall apartment buildings. The alternative is also not very attractive, namely, city-owned properties.

I am willing to hear debate on how we should approach rent control so that landlords have an incentive to stay in the rental business while still providing protections to renters.

When it comes to development in Santa Monica, there are two main camps: “slow-growthers” and pro-housing advocates. Where do you stand?

I have stated openly that I will vote down every development project until such time that crime is addressed in Santa Monica and has shown significant improvement. I believe all other issues are irrelevant if the residents are not safe in their own city. The resources of the city should be focused on resident safety, not on another mixed-use project that pretends to be “affordable housing.”


By Walter Cicchetti / Shutterstock
The Expo Line in Santa Monica.
This summer, the city of Los Angeles adopted a plan to add density along sections of the Expo Line. Would you support a similar plan for Santa Monica? How would you add more housing along Santa Monica’s transportation corridors?

In theory, housing along major public transit corridors is logical.

However, anytime I hear the word “density,” I pause. That usually means the developer is going to give cover to the City Council by using the term “affordable housing,” get approved, and then never provide this elusive unicorn called “affordable housing.”

In general, I think Santa Monica has too many people already living here, and until crime is addressed, I will not support any further development.

How will you respond to the city’s growing population of homeless residents?

Arrest, prosecute, and jail all the criminals hiding within the homeless population.

Simultaneously increase police and fire recruits to fit the needs of the city and enforce all vagrancy laws that are already on the books.

Reevaluate Santa Monica’s response to homelessness by hiring an independent third party to review OPCC and other organizations that operate within Santa Monica to ensure they are providing a valuable service, not only to the homeless, but to the city and the residents of Santa Monica. This should include an analysis of their financial statements and tax returns (when allowed by law).

Offer our city’s homelessness experts, including our new senior advisor for homelessness, to all surrounding cities, like Pacific Palisades and Malibu, in order to help them to set up OPCC-like centers in their communities so that they can meet their stated goal of contributing to the solution.


Sue Himmelrich

Himmelrich did not respond to questions.


Kevin McKeown

What is the most pressing issue facing Santa Monica?

Homelessness and public safety justifiably trouble many residents, but the recurrent issue in Santa Monica is always development and perceived impacts on traffic and quality of life.

Two years ago an over-reactive ballot measure that would have required citywide public votes on almost any building over 32 feet, crippling our housing efforts and having many other unacceptable consequences, was defeated—but only by a 56 percent to 44 percent margin.

Respecting the evident concern of a significant percentage of residents, I have placed on this November ballot Measure SM, to require a supermajority vote of the City Council for any project exceeding height or floor area ratio limits specified in our adopted zoning code. This, I hope, will assure residents that we will stick to our plan.

My Measure SM has broad support, and in fact, there has been no opposition argument filed for the ballot booklet

What solutions do you support for making it easier to move around Santa Monica?

Some of the solutions involve options that already exist: I am most aware of traffic congestion when I am behind the wheel of my Prius, rather than on Big Blue Bus, or an Expo train, or electric bicycle.

Santa Monica would suffer traffic congestion just by virtue of being surrounded on three sides by car-centric Los Angeles, but in addition we have blossomed as a regional job center without the regional mass transit infrastructure to match.

People cannot be ordered out of their cars; they must be given attractive options. I was an advocate for bringing Expo to town 25 years ago, before I first ran for council. I have ridden a bicycle and fought for increased bicycling amenities for 42 years in Santa Monica.

As we provide effective multi-mobility for residents and visitors, we can pull back on parking and the other costly requirements of car dependence.


Liz Kuball
The median home price in Santa Monica stands at $1.7 million; the median rent for a one-bedroom is $2,894, according to Zillow
Santa Monica is an incredibly expensive place to live, with some of the highest rental and home prices in LA. What’s your plan to make Santa Monica more affordable?

I championed our new Downtown zoning, requiring up to 35 percent deed-restricted affordable, over a range of unit sizes (accommodating families) and incomes (preserving Santa Monica’s economic diversity). We have similar inclusionary zoning requirements citywide. [Note: The inclusionary zoning requirement in downtown is for up to 30 percent of the units to be below market-rate]

To keep existing rent-challenged residents in place, I helped create a pilot program that provides lifeline financial aid to low-income, long-term residents.

Should Costa-Hawkins be repealed, I have proposed we set reasonable limits on post-vacancy rent increases, not all the way to market as Cost-Hawkins mandates, and impose a windfall rent tax on new vacancy-decontrolled rents, guaranteed not to be assessed to the renter, to help fund new 100 percent affordable housing production.

Even if we protected the affordability of every existing apartment, we have not produced enough new housing. We need to build more housing.

When it comes to development in Santa Monica, there are two main camps: “slow-growthers” and pro-housing advocates. Where do you stand?

That characterization of the development divide in Santa Monica is outdated. Many slow-growthers are pro-housing advocates, including me. The anti-housers are more properly no-growth.

Santa Monica’s development problems come from having a robust commercial sector without adequate transportation options or nearby affordable housing. Three years ago, as mayor, I hammered out the details of a citywide zoning code encouraging us to focus, with an emphasis on housing, on downtown, along transit corridors, and on reclaimed light industrial sections of our city, all, again, with a mandate for inclusionary affordable housing.

Santa Monica’s jobs and housing balance is such that any new office development, on land that could yield housing instead, must be greeted with serious skepticism. Even in mixed-use development projects, where the ground floor should be commercial or at least live/work to activate the sidewalks, retail and services are usually preferable to office space.

This summer, the city of Los Angeles adopted a plan to add density along sections of the Expo Line. Would you support a similar plan for Santa Monica? How would you add more housing along Santa Monica’s transportation corridors?

Los Angeles’s recognition of the appropriateness of increased housing along transit corridors followed Santa Monica’s implementation of that concept by almost three years.

In 2015, while I was mayor, we adopted a new citywide zoning code based on seven years of collaborative community work on a new Land Use and Circulation Element. We carefully protected existing residential neighborhoods, where new development, even new housing, was likely to replace existing more affordable housing and lead to gentrification.

Instead, we focused housing incentives on our downtown, existing transit corridors, and on an outdated light industrial area. Special planning attention will be given to maximizing efficient use of the land surrounding our three Expo stops in downtown, at 17th Street, and Bergamot Station.

I anticipate further refinement of the Bergamot Area Plan to increase housing and reduce commercial development. I will also push for greater housing incentives on all our transit corridors.

How will you respond to the city’s growing population of homeless residents?

Santa Monica has for many years demonstrated remarkable compassion, and in the process has developed many best practices that can be emulated by other communities. We concentrated on providing city services and resources to the most vulnerable homeless populations, while encouraging all homeless individuals to engage in services, to become more stable, to move into appropriate housing, and to remain housed.

Until two years ago, our efforts, which included early adoption of a “housing first” strategy, had brought the number of people living on Santa Monica streets down by 20 percent. The recent county-wide surge in homelessness, though, overwhelmed us.

We can’t handle by ourselves the regional tragedy of individuals and families for whom the social safety net has frayed and failed. The problem is bigger than Santa Monica, and we need regional partners, a resource I’ve encouraged as Santa Monica’s representative on the Westside Cities Council of Governments.


Greg Morena

What is the most pressing issue facing Santa Monica?

The most pressing issue facing Santa Monica is the affordable housing crisis. Lifelong residents and their families are being priced out of the city. Young adults who graduate from college can not afford to remain here. We must encourage more housing development—through infill, mixed use, the city’s affordable housing trust, and nonprofit housing models. And we must be more creative in finding funding so that residents can age in place with dignity.

What solutions do you support for making it easier to move around Santa Monica?

We need to take steps to get people out of their cars, and onto other, environmentally sustainable methods of transportation. I support mixed-use and live-work, transit-oriented housing. We must make our city safer for cyclists and pedestrians and explore the implementation of multimodal transportation to help facilitate movement and reduce our carbon footprint.

Santa Monica is an incredibly expensive place to live, with some of the highest rental and home prices in LA. What’s your plan to make Santa Monica more affordable?

I pretty much addressed this in question No. 1. But I think the city should examine its ambitious 30 percent threshold for affordable units. Housing development has halted since its implementation. I think we need to work with developers to create a plan better incentivizes housing development. Additionally, I support the passage of Proposition 10 so that Santa Monica can take back its rent control policies and restore security to its residents.

When it comes to development in Santa Monica, there are two main camps: “slow-growthers” and pro-housing advocates. Where do you stand?

I am proudly a pro-housing advocate. Decent, affordable housing is a basic human right and should not be equated with the negatively that accompanies “development,” especially when it doesn’t encroach on residential neighborhoods. How is it that “mansonization” is okay and slips by, but creating housing so our children can afford to live here stirs up the NIMBYs?

This summer, the city of Los Angeles adopted a plan to add density along sections of the Expo Line. Would you support a similar plan for Santa Monica? How would you add more housing along Santa Monica’s transportation corridors?

Yes, I wholeheartedly support transit-oriented housing, especially that which makes it affordable for workers to live in the city, further reducing car trips into the city.

How will you respond to the city’s growing population of homeless residents?

We need to amp up the city’s response to homelessness on all fronts. Hiring and training officers and case workers increases our capacity to accomplish this. The largest component of homelessness in Santa Monica and Los Angeles is the lack of affordable housing and decent paying jobs.

We need to create affordable options if we are going to have a serious impact on the growing homeless population. We also must expand programs such as Chrysalis, which works to provide homeless individuals with steady income, with the goal of placing them in affordable housing.

Finally, we must work within our school to identify and treat mental illnesses that often leads to homelessness. Shifting our perspective from reactive to proactive is the best use of our resources to get people off the street, and into housing.


Geoffrey Neri

Neri did not respond to questions.


Pam O’Connor

What is the most pressing issue facing Santa Monica?

Housing/housing affordability. There is a housing crisis in the region and state. Cities haven’t produced enough housing in recent decades. Housing is needed at all price points but especially housing affordable to low income households and to middle-class households.

Santa Monica has produced more affordable housing than most in the past, but in recent years housing production has been stalled by policies focused on building only housing affordable to low- and low-low-income levels. As a result, little middle class/work force housing has been built—and few 100 percent affordable projects have come forward.

Santa Monica has an inclusionary requirement, but if no one can build housing with market rate units, then none of the affordable inclusionary units get built and the older building stock remains unaffordable. The barriers to producing affordable and work force housing need to be removed.


AFP/Getty Images
Young women ride shared electric scooters in Santa Monica in July.
What solutions do you support for making it easier to move around Santa Monica?

The question should be how to make it easier to move around Santa Monica and the region. Over 70 percent of Santa Monicans who work, travel to jobs outside of Santa Monica. Local and regional transportation options are needed.

I was instrumental in getting Expo light rail built, and I support Metro’s growing rail system. On demand and micro-transit services provided by traditional bus systems such as Big Blue Bus MODE service for seniors and other providers should be explored.

I support innovative first and last mile connections, such as e-scooters and bike-share. More bike lanes are needed, especially protected lanes, to create a network that accommodates bikes and scooters. The future of ride-share, especially when autonomous, needs to be shared and electric.

A universal payment system is needed to make it easier to use different modes. And Vision Zero—safe streets are for all, including pedestrians.

Santa Monica is an incredibly expensive place to live, with some of the highest rental and home prices in LA. What’s your plan to make Santa Monica more affordable?

As stated in question No. 1, we need to get more housing built—at all price points. While supporting deed-restricted housing affordable to low- and low-low income households we need to also support production of housing for middle income and work force households.

And we need to allow for market rate housing to be built. If no new market rate units are available, those who could afford them will look to units that they otherwise would have rejected—and rehabilitate or remodel those units (which would have become more moderately priced units otherwise).

When it comes to development in Santa Monica, there are two main camps: “slow-growthers” and pro-housing advocates. Where do you stand?

I support creation of more housing units at all price points as explained above. I also support retention of businesses and encouraging businesses to come to Santa Monica. In addition to having a place to live, people need jobs and access to services.

This summer, the city of Los Angeles adopted a plan to add density along sections of the Expo Line. Would you support a similar plan for Santa Monica? How would you add more housing along Santa Monica’s transportation corridors?

The Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) of the city’s General Plan envisioned development of more housing and some mixed use at strategic locations in the city. The LUCE was fashioned to protect and conserve 94 percent of the city—its residential neighborhoods.

The LUCE focused the new housing near Expo rail stations and along high-quality transit corridors such as Wilshire Boulevard. The current council majority downzoned the transit corridors (I did not support that) and as a result, little new housing has been produced near transit.

The council did ask that staff report back on housing production and the council will have an opportunity to revisit that decision—and we’ll see if their words about supporting housing will actually get turned into action.

How will you respond to the city’s growing population of homeless residents?

Santa Monica has long been a leader in providing resources, supportive services and housing to the most vulnerable community members. The City Council established addressing homelessness as one of the city’s five strategic goals.

Efforts to address homelessness include prevention, outreach, providing shelter, developing transitional and permanent housing and providing supportive services. Last November, the council authorized $1.4 million to take further action in addition to the annual $2.8 million given to homeless service providers.

Especially critical is helping people who are about to lose their housing. Other city initiatives are aimed at connecting the most vulnerable to services, housing, rehabilitation, healthcare, and job training. But this is a problem that goes beyond the border of Santa Monica and other cities need to work along with the county to provide services, prevent homelessness, and finance construction of affordable permanent-supportive housing.


Ashley Powell

What is the most pressing issue facing Santa Monica?

The homeless crisis.

What solutions do you support for making it easier to move around Santa Monica?

Enabling the gig economy while strongly protecting the rights of local businesses, individual workers, unions, and residents. Bird and Lime might be controversial but I believe with regulation they should be able to stay.

Santa Monica is an incredibly expensive place to live, with some of the highest rental and home prices in LA. What’s your plan to make Santa Monica more affordable?

I want to continue to offer incentives to build more affordable housing. I myself cannot afford to rent or own in Santa Monica at this time, so I am saving by living with my parents.

When it comes to development in Santa Monica, there are two main camps: “slow-growthers” and pro-housing advocates. Where do you stand?

I am for building more affordable housing while preserving historic architecture. Smart growth not just developing for the sake of developing.

This summer, the city of Los Angeles adopted a plan to add density along sections of the Expo Line. Would you support a similar plan for Santa Monica? How would you add more housing along Santa Monica’s transportation corridors?

I am for smart growth. If we can build homes that will sell for less than a million dollars then I support it but I doubt that is realistic in Santa Monica. A more practical solution is to house the homeless in these areas, which I explain more in the next question regarding the homelessness epidemic.

How will you respond to the city’s growing population of homeless residents?

Santa Monica’s 21st century problems require more social service solutions. I am a results-oriented, data-driven policy researcher, and I believe that we need transitional housing especially in the summer months. Street outreach, mental health services, and employment services in addition to 90 day housing options are just some of my ideas for expansion. We are already doing these programs, but we need more of them.

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