In one of the few gatherings of each of the candidates for Santa Monica City Council, those seeking a seat next month touched on a wide range of topics familiar to city voters including the future of Santa Monica Airport, the impact of development and funding for parks and cultural programs.
At the City Council candidates forum Oct. 10 at the Santa Monica Main Library’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Auditorium, the 15 candidates were asked questions on various issues in groups of five. Four council seats are open in the Nov. 6 election.
The candidates include incumbent Council members Terry O’Day and Gleam Davis, as well as John Cyrus Smith, Steve Duron, Ted Winterer, Frank Gruber, Robert Seldon, Shari Davis, Jerry Rubin, Roberto Gomez, Tony Vazquez, Richard McKinnon, Armen Melkonians, Terence Later and Jonathan Mann. Mayor Richard Bloom, who is running for the state Assembly 50th District seat, and Councilman Bobby Shriver decided not to seek reelection.
The Santa Monica Airport has been a key issue for this election, as residents have for years been concerned with runway safety issues, noise and jet pollution, and they will be choosing council members who will be making decisions impacting the airport’s future. City officials say a lease agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration is set to expire in 2015, opening up new possibilities for the land, although the FAA contends the agreement continues until 2023.
The candidates agreed this election affords the opportunity for important actions regarding the airport’s future.
“The next City Council is going to be making these decisions, gonna be passing zoning regulations pursuant to (Land Use and Circulation Element)… and we need a majority of residents supporting people on the council that are going to give you what you want to see at that airport site once it’s free,” said Seldon, an attorney who said the airport should be closed if possible.
Most of the candidates asked to speak on the issue believe the airport should be closed when the lease expires, and many want to get adequate public input on potential future uses. Shari Davis, who says she is a longtime advocate for education, supports efforts to reduce pollution and noise impacts. She doesn’t believe challenging the FAA on a closure is a good use of fiscal resources, which could cost millions in legal fees, but wants to get community input on land uses.
Duron, who supports closure, feels that a park is one option for the property. Vazquez, who served on the council in the 1990s, wants to make SMO a “true recreational airport,” cutting back the 2,000-foot extension that’s on city property, or if possible, closing the facility.
“It’s extremely important that we try tao close the airport,” said Gruber, a journalist. “It’s a generational opportunity. This is the moment that we have to try to take a stand.”
Some candidates said they hope to take a stand against overdevelopment in the city and encourage alternate modes of transportation, such as the Metro Expo Line slated to arrive in a few years, to help cut back on traffic congestion. O’Day, who has served on the council for two years, said he has stood for smart planning in regards to development and made conservation a primary objective.
McKinnon, a corporate adviser and planning commissioner, said officials need to consider what is an appropriate level of development. “What is clear is that we’re being overwhelmed at the moment by people who want to make the fast buck out of our city,” he said. “We need to draw a line and defend the city and people who live in the city from out of scale buildings.”
Smith said the scale and pace of development has been crunching the city and is a main reason for the traffic and parking problems. He believes too many people who work in Santa Monica cannot afford to live there and supports proposals like the “Subway to the Sea.”
Winterer, a planning commissioner, noted the city has relatively low scale built environment compared to neighboring cities and believes housing should help address traffic and affordability concerns. “I don’t think we need any more commercial development that generates four times more traffic than housing,” he said.
In regards to funding for the beach, parks and cultural programs, candidates who were questioned said the programs are a vital part of the city. Rubin, a community activist, noted how he has strongly advocated for the preservation of the late political cartoonist Paul Conrad’s Chain Reaction sculpture, and feels the city should fund more open space and public art.
Winterer said the city should add more active recreational space for adult and youth sports, proposing plans like an artificial turf field at Lincoln Middle School.
Gleam Davis, the current mayor pro-tem who has served since 2009, expressed her support for art and cultural programs and noted that she has advocated for projects including an off-leash dog park on the beach.
“I’m very interested in establishing more public art, like they have in cities like in Chicago… so that we could have a downtown Art Walk,” she said. “We also need to preserve Bergamot Station and all of its wonderful funkiness and make sure that it’s financially viable in the future.” She added, “I think we can use public land to create more park space.”