Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights is moving ahead with plans to rebuild the loose-knit tenant coalition by opening it to general membership, but organizers say they won't be able to gauge the success of the recruiting drive until this fall, when they attempt to hold their first convention.
Longtime supporters celebrated the group's sixth anniversary last weekend at the Santa Monica Pier carrousel. Judy Abdo, the co-chairwoman of the organization, said the fund-raiser earned about $5,000 and attracted more than 250 people.
That's a long way from the 3,000 to 5,000 members that Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights hopes to sign up before the convention. Organizers said they expect to spend several months restructuring the coalition that is best known for creating one of the nation's toughest rent control laws.
"Plans for the fall haven't been solidified," Abdo said. "But there will be a membership drive over the summer, and we felt the party was very successful."
State of Flux
Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights is a coalition of three liberal political organizations--the Campaign for Economic Democracy, the Santa Monica Democratic Club and the Santa Monica Chaper of Americans for Democratic Action. Until now, interested individuals had to join one of those groups to become a member of the renter faction.
The organization has been in a state of flux since late last year when it lost control of City Hall in an election that shifted the balance of power to a more moderate political coalition. One of the organization's new goals as it looks toward the 1986 city elections is to publicize its commitment to issues other than rent control.
At last week's party, however, rent control still seemed to hold center stage. The inside walls of the historic carrousel building were cluttered with T-shirts, leaflets and signs from past rent control campaigns. Several of the guests wore rent control T-shirts. And taped to a window in bold letters was the comment made by City Atty. Robert Myers on the television show "60 Minutes": "Property has no rights. People have rights."
Also in attendance was one very human reminder of the rent control movement, former Mayor Ruth Yannatta Goldway. Goldway and her husband, planning commissioner Derek Shearer, played a major role in the formation of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, along with Assemblyman Tom Hayden's Campaign for Economic Democracy. After Goldway's bitter 1983 defeat, the two became less active, but Shearer said they had pledged their support to the group's new recruiting effort.
Despite the absence of new faces at the party, Shearer, who sits on the group's steering committee, said he expected the drive to be successful.
"I think it's going well," Shearer said. "There's a nice newsletter out and the event Friday night was pretty pleasant. . . . It was nice to see, from the things on the walls, how much work has been done. I'm always astounded at how many campaigns we've been involved in, how much work we've gotten done. . . . It doesn't mean we haven't made mistakes, but what's going on is a kind of renewal and reconsideration."
Among the group's goals, said Shearer, is to agree on an agenda that appeals to the city's 80% tenant population as well as to homeowners. Shearer said that the group also needs to persuade the 3,000 to 5,000 people who regularly contribute to Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights campaigns to become more involved with the organization.
"Given that most Americans are naturally more concerned with their family life, that's an extraordinary amount of people who have been directly involved with this organization," Shearer said.
"That's a real base. . . . But there's still a long way to go. My feeling is that we haven't begun to give people enough information about how the city works."
Another big goal for Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights is finding new people to assume leadership roles, especially with three council seats up for grabs in next year's election.
With Shearer and Goldway playing a more active role in city politics, some people have speculated that Goldway--who was known for her fiery and frequently abrasive style--might make another run for the council. But Shearer quickly ruled out that possibility.
"Ruth won't run again," he said. "She doesn't want to run for a job that pays $50 a month. We have to send our kids to college. She's not going to run for office and she's not going to be a fund-raiser. There was a lot of sacrifice for her being a full-time mayor. . . . She took a lot of abuse."
Mayor Christine E. Reed is a member of the All Santa Monica Coalition, the organization that opposes Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights. Reed said her organization was not considering a general membership structure because it is impractical.
Broad Base of Support