Time was running out for the All Santa Monica Coalition, the moderate political organization that commands City Hall, when a dozen of its most prominent members met at the home of Councilman Herb Katz.
Within one day the coalition's four council members would be appointing a successor to Councilman Ken Edwards, the popular leader who had died in August, and the lobbying on behalf of a handful of council hopefuls was intense.
Coalition organizers had promised to present a united front at the council's meeting the next day. But there was a serious problem. The more liberal wing of the coalition supported Alan Katz, a young attorney and businessman; and the conservatives favored Irene Zivi, an older, well-known community leader.
When it became obvious Monday that Katz had the support of the coalition's four council members--Mayor Christine E. Reed and Councilmen William Jennings, David Epstein and Herb Katz (no relation to Alan Katz)--Zivi's backers reportedly became furious and accused the Alan Katz camp of cutting a "back-room deal."
Alan Katz won the appointment, but coalition members said the disagreement has left the organization seriously splintered.
One organizer who asked to remain anonymous said the coalition has been "rocked to its core." Others agreed, but predicted that the wounds would heal before the next election. They said it's business as usual for the coalition's disparate interest groups that united in opposition to Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, the city's powerful tenant activist organization.
"We're a diverse group and we need time for healing," said Herb Katz. "But it won't be easy. A lot of people are going to be (upset)."
"No decision comes easily for us, and this one was especially difficult because there were true friends competing for the position," Reed said. "We're going to have to work very hard to resolve these difficulties."
Wesley Wellman, a landlord spokesman who supported Zivi, said, "They don't know how we feel because they don't ask us. Decisions are being made by three or four people, with no attempt to reach a broad consensus."
"I feel like it's a family squabble," said Stan Robbins, a local business leader and coalition supporter who vehemently opposed Katz's appointment.
"I was upset that they went ahead with the appointment without consulting those of us who were active in the coalition."
The coalition, which is composed of several political factions, never meets as a group. Its leadership includes about a dozen people, who make decisions and speak on behalf of the organization.
Ironically, the disagreement comes at a time when the coalition looks stronger than ever. With the appointment of Alan Katz, the organization holds five of the seven council seats (renter activists occupy the other two) and thus possesses the power to hire and fire and make changes in the city budget.
The group also has a full year to solidify its position before Reed, Jennings, Epstein and Alan Katz face reelection. Although Santa Monica politics are much less contentious than they were at the peak of the rent control struggle, coalition members said they expect a tough challenge from tenant activists in 1986.
The renter organization will hold its first convention today. Councilman Dennis Zane, who is a member of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights along with Councilman James Conn, said tenant activists are already discussing candidates for next year's race. Zane accused the coalition of appointing Alan Katz to the council to "create the illusion" that it is liberal.
"They have to present as liberal a front as they can," Zane said. "And there aren't many liberals who'll align themselves with them. Katz will have an interesting dilemma. If indeed he's a liberal Democrat, he doesn't belong with them. He belongs with Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights."
Coalition members disagreed, saying their organization has always been composed of people representing a wide range of views.
The organization was founded in 1982, when businessmen, homeowners, landlords and others from the Republican and Democratic parties came together to oppose tenant activist control of City Hall. The new group stunned the renter faction by defeating its leader, Mayor Ruth Yannatta Goldway, in 1983. A year later it captured the council majority when Councilwoman Delores Press, a tenant activist, failed to gather enough signatures to make the ballot.
Since its formation, the coalition seems to have drifted to the left, observers said. In the past, coalition members criticized the city's Rent Control Board. Now, the group officially supports rent control, even though some members say they would like to see the law modified to provide better incentives for landlords. The coalition has also supported more stringent development guidelines imposed by tenant activists, but its members say they hope to encourage more business activity in Santa Monica.