Santa Monica voters rejected a controversial proposal to soften that city's rent control law and a bespectacled public interest lawyer named Terry B. Friedman trounced his key opposition in the 43rd Assembly District primary in two of the major Westside political contests Tuesday.
On a day when voters trickled to the polls, incumbents also emerged victorious in about a dozen Westside primaries for state and federal office. Los Angeles County Supervisor Edmund D. Edelman, in a nonpartisan race, was easily reelected to his 3rd District post.
In another closely watched race, businesswoman Gloria J. Stout beat economist William Mundell in the GOP primary for the 44th Assembly District. Stout will face two-term Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) in November.
Voters Reject Rent Measure
In Santa Monica, apartment hunters will not face higher rents. Seventy percent of the voters rejected Proposition M, a plan that would have allowed landlords to raise rents on vacant apartments in return for sharing their profits with tenants. It was the second victory in a row for the rent control law. Last week, an appeals court rejected the primary legal challenge to rent control.
Landlords said they will redouble their efforts to weaken the rigid law. But the one-two punch delivered by the voters and the courts was seen as a major setback to their cause. Santa Monica City Councilman Dennis Zane, one of the major rent control supporters, said the housing law has been vindicated.
"Rent control has the confidence of the community and it deserves the confidence of the community," Zane said. "Opponents are a fringe group."
Geoffrey S. Strand, a spokesman for the city's major apartment owner group, blamed the defeat of Proposition M on an image problem. Exit polls revealed that most Santa Monica voters do not trust apartment owners, he said.
"Most voters in the city feel that landlords are undeserving, untrustworthy and evil," Strand said. "The comments were very caustic."
The Proposition M campaign was heated from the start. In January, when the effort began, apartment owners said they would rally support for the plan to abolish the portion of Santa Monica law that prohibits them from raising rents on vacant apartments by cutting tenants in on a portion of the profits.
Opponents, including the entire City Council and city Rent Control Board, said the offer amounted to bribery, and the plan sparked four lawsuits before it even appeared on the ballot. Later, apartment owners further irritated their rivals by offering a chance at a Hawaiian vacation, bicycles and other prizes to anyone who returned a mailer in support of the initiative.
By late Tuesday, however, as they huddled before a big-screen television in a small meeting room at the Miramar Sheraton hotel, about 30 Proposition M supporters seemed to sense that their efforts had failed. Strand called the exit polls extremely discouraging. Many others wore sullen expressions.
The mood was not sullen in Sherman Oaks, where a large crowd gathered to toast Friedman's resounding victory in the Democratic primary for the 43rd Assembly District. Friedman captured 56% of the vote in the three-way race. Rosemary D. Woodlock came in second with 25% and Bruce Margolin had 20%.
The 43rd District, which straddles the Westside and affluent parts of the San Fernando Valley, is a Democratic stronghold and Friedman is expected to easily win the general election in November. Standing amid supporters at his campaign headquarters, bedecked with red, white and blue streamers, Friedman gave a cautious victory speech as the early results become known.
"At the risk of being optimistic, which goes against my nature, it looks as if I'm going to win tonight," said Friedman, dressed in a gray suit.
Friedman was considered the front-runner for the seat being vacated by Assemblyman Gray Davis (D-Los Angeles) because of the support of the Berman-Waxman organization, an influential political group headed by Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City).
Friedman raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars, far more than his opponents, and vigorously campaigned for the seat that has become known as a political springboard. Woodlock, a Woodland Hills attorney, could not be reached for comment on the outcome of the race. Margolin, a West Hollywood attorney who finished third, pledged his support to Friedman.
Opponent Is a Student
Friedman's Republican opponent will be Marc P. Schuyler. Schuyler, a student, received 58% of the GOP vote in a two-way race. Lou Steeg, a retiree who was supported by arch-conservative Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr., won 42%. The Peace and Freedom Party's John Honigsfeld, an aerospace engineer, received 57 votes.
In the 44th Assembly District, which stretches from Malibu to Century City, Assemblyman Hayden easily defeated Democratic primary challenger J. Alex Cota, a businessman. Hayden received about 77% of the vote to Cota's 23%.