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Santa Monica Race Goes Down to Doorbell : Edge on Council at Stake for 3 Incumbents

October 23, 1986|ALAN CITRON | Times Staff Writer

When Santa Monica voters respond to a knock at their doors during the next two weeks, they are likely to find a city official standing on the other side.

Incumbents do not always commit to intensive canvassing. But Mayor Christine E. Reed and Councilmen David G. Epstein and William H. Jennings of the All Santa Monica Coalition slate are not taking anything for granted this year.

The three council members and their supporters hope to reach 70% of the city's households by election day, when they will face a stiff challenge from three candidates affiliated with Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights.

Multicolored push pins on a city map inside the coalition's headquarters chart the group's weekly progress. Campaign manager Colleen Harmon said the field operation is a crucial element of the coalition's campaign strategy.

"There is definitely an emphasis on voter contact," Harmon said. "Campaigns should be people-oriented. And we have been very aggressive."

A sweep in the Nov. 4 election is crucial to the coalition's future. The current council is made up of four representatives from the All Santa Monica Coalition, two from Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights and one independent. A loss by one of the coalition members would leave the council evenly split between the two factions. A loss by two coalition members would cost the group its majority.

So the coalition, founded by homeowners, businessmen and landlords in 1982, is doing everything possible to broaden its base of appeal. Reed, Epstein and Jennings have targeted much of their campaign effort at tenants, who account for about 80% of the city's population, by voicing strong support for rent control. They have also stressed a commitment to strict development controls.

Mostly, however, the All Santa Monica Coalition has promoted itself as the moderate alternative to the stridently liberal Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights faction that controlled City Hall from 1981 to 1984. One flyer proclaims that the coalition has re-opened the door to city government.

The coalition will spend about $250,000 on the Reed, Epstein and Jennings campaign, about twice as much as the opposition expects to spend. The incumbents have been billed as a rock-solid team with more than 20 years of experience. At the same time, however, they are three very different people.

Reed is the dean of the council. The 42-year-old Republican won her seat in 1975, running in opposition to a proposal to dismantle the Santa Monica Pier. She was reelected in 1979, despite the fact that she was against the rent control initiative that passed that year. And she won a third term in 1983, in the first race pitting the coalition against Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights.

Realized Her Dream

When coalition members assumed control of the council in 1984, Reed realized her dream of becoming mayor. She is seen as the strongest of the three coalition candidates in this year's race, largely because of the exposure she received during her council tenure and two years at the helm of city government.

Rent control is cited as the No. 1 voter concern in most polls taken by the candidates, but Reed has tried to downplay it as a campaign issue. She credits her opposition with creating the law, one of the nation's toughest, but is quick to add that coalition members stand squarely behind it.

"The rent control law has been in place for seven years," Reed said. "And it has been rendered quite secure by the courts. There's nothing more that Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights can bring to the table except rhetoric. All they can say is that they give better rent control speeches than we do."

From among the other problems facing the city, Reed singled out the homeless, toxic dumping and traffic congestion. She favors tougher prosecution of panhandlers, but opposed a lawsuit that the city filed against Los Angeles County alleging that it provides inadequate services for the homeless. She said she would press the county and the state to do more to prevent toxic waste dumping in Santa Monica Bay, and work to divert traffic from residential areas.

Reed added that she supports the city's land-use plan, which strictly regulates growth. But she said the council should reconsider some specific zoning regulations, such as the regulation that prohibits hotel construction along the southern edge of Main Street. She stressed her role in promoting a toxics round-up program in which the city disposed of residents' leftover paints and other substances, her support of a $187,000 financial aid package for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and her record as mayor.

"I'm proudest of the way I chair the meetings and the way I represent the city in a generic way, not a political way," said Reed, who once cut short an argument between lawyers by telling the "Perry Masons" to pipe down. "I try to keep in mind that I do this for all seven of us, not just Chris Reed."

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