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Neighborhood Organizations Fall Victim to Political Shift : Two Santa Monica Groups Lose Funding

June 02, 1985|KENNETH J. FANUCCHI | Times Staff Writer

Two Santa Monica community organizations that primarily serve tenants will lose their city funding on June 30.

Splitting along political lines, the the City Council voted 4 to 3 last week to withdraw nearly $200,000 in yearly funding from the Ocean Park Community Organization and Mid-City Neighbors.

Mayor Christine E. Reed, backed by the All Santa Monica Coalition, said that the vote was "inevitable" after the coalition seized control of the council from Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights last November.

Reed said most members of the coalition opposed funding of the two groups on the grounds that they are either too political or one-sided in their approach to city problems. Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights has strongly supported the community groups.

"I do not think we could have voted for funding and kept the support of the people who helped elect us," Reed said. "It has been an issue in the last two elections, and we are against funding community advocacy organizations."

The Rev. James Conn, one of three renter-backed members of the council and a founder of the Ocean Park Community Organization, accused the new council majority of "trying to roll back the clock" to a time when tenant areas were "disenfranchised."

Conn said that when he came to the city in 1973 as minister of the Church in Ocean Park, there was not a single city commissioner or City Council member from Ocean Park.

"We formed the organization," Conn said, "as a way for the community to fight crime by establishing Neighborhood Watch programs and to organize efforts to get street lights in highly transient, renter areas.

"Tenant areas were ignored by the City Council then, and, I fear, will be ignored again without an umbrella group to push for basic city services that homeowner areas have no trouble obtaining."

Conn said that the probability of the Ocean Park Community Organization or Mid-City Neighbors being able to raise the estimated $61,000 to set up a minimal staff and rent facilities is "highly problematic."

"For God's sake," he said, "all you have to do is look at the spending in the last election to know where the money is. It's not in the tenant areas of the city." The All Santa Monica Coalition historically outspends Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights.

While cutting off funding for the two organizations, the council voted to continue support for a third, the Pico Neighborhood Assn., located in the poorest area of the city.

Reed said the fact that the Pico organization serves an area in which 56% of the residents are low-income influenced the decision. The organization receives $102,000.

By contrast, she said, the percentage of low-income members was 48% in the Mid-City Neighbors' area and 46% in the Ocean Park Community Organization's area. The city average is 42%.

Conn said last week's vote--which came at 1 a.m. Thursday, after a marathon meeting--will be a key issue in the November, 1986, City Council election. Three seats--those held by Reed, David Epstein and William Jennings--will be contested.

"This action certainly is the clearest in terms of our differences since the new majority came into power last November," Conn said.

Reed, Epstein and Jennings tried to deny funding for the Ocean Park Community Organization after their election to the council in 1983 by disqualifying Conn from voting because his church rented out space to the organization.

Although they succeeded initially, the decision was overturned after City Atty. Robert M. Myers, acting on advice from State Political Fair Practices Commission, said that Conn had no conflict of interest on the matter and could vote on the funding.

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