Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights candidates David Finkel, Delores Press and Julie Lopez Dad are telling voters, 80% of whom are tenants, that they represent renters' interests while their incumbent opponents do not.
"We really are rent control people and they (the incumbent coalition) say they are rent control people," Finkel said. "In my personal opinion, this is a central issue in the campaign. They try to wrap themselves in the flag of rent control and portray themselves as the rent control party."
Dad, Press and Santa Monica Rent Control Board member Finkel are spending about $125,000 to challenge All Santa Monica Coalition members Mayor Christine E. Reed and City Council members David G. Epstein and William H. Jennings in the at-large council election Nov. 4.
The current council has four representatives from the All Santa Monica Coalition, two from Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights and one independent. A loss by two coalition members would cost the group its majority.
A loss of only one seat by the coalition would give each side three votes and would give the winner of the race between independents Alan Katz and Zora Margolis for a special two-year term the tie-breaking vote on the council.
Press Campaign Fails
The renters group lost control of the council when council member Delores Press lost a write-in campaign she launched after failing to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Finkel pledges to keep an open mind, and insists that he and his fellow Renters' Rights candidates are the true supporters of rent control.
He claims that his opponents have made only a token effort to defend rent control while his group has vigorously opposed ballot initiatives and moves in Sacramento to pass state laws that would weaken the city's law.
Finkel, a 54-year-old labor lawyer, said that if he is elected he plans to "try and find some peace and balance" between the two council factions. He also plans to propose monthly town forums in the Civic Auditorium.
"We have an opportunity to become a showcase for democracy," he said. "I would like to get a bunch of people who were experts on a certain topic, invite them to come and deliver position papers, and then throw it open for discussion. The job of the City Council would be to be there and listen," he said.
Need for Balance Cited
Finkel said a balance must be achieved between the rights of property owners and the needs of the community. "A developer will have to justify to me why his project would be healthy and good for this community," he said.
Finkel said he would move to restore funding to two tenant groups, the Ocean Park Community Organization and Mid-City Neighbors.
Both neighborhood groups received grants from the city while the tenant faction was in power. But the All Santa Monica Coalition, saying that city funds had gone into political activities supporting their opponents, voted to eliminate funding for the groups.
Finkel also said he favors continuing financial aid to the troubled Santa Monica-Malibu School District. But he is against earmarking the city money for any particular purpose. "I do not want the City Council to be a policy-maker in education," he said.
A homeowner and Santa Monica resident for 29 years, Finkel is married and has four children.
Delores Press served a term on the council from 1981 to 1984. Although she lost her write-in bid for reelection in 1984, she said she came out of that race with a strong show of support.
"Having had almost 14,000 people write in my name was much more of a commitment from the voters than just making an X on a ballot or punching a hole in a card," she said.
Press said that during her term on the council she helped to strengthen the city's affirmative action hiring program, worked to create the Police Department's domestic violence unit and the Santa Monica Commission on the Status of Women.
If elected, she said she would bring a "feminist perspective" to the council. "That means that I would work to see that city hiring and the use of city money was exercised in a non-discriminatory fashion," she said. "I would work to get women and minorities into more decision-making roles in the city."
Press, 52, is a clerical worker for Local 1442 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. She is a renter who has lived in Santa Monica since 1976. She is a widow and has four grown children.
Press said a tenant-faction majority is important to the future of rent control in Santa Monica. "A (Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights) majority would absolutely be more vigorous in defending rent control," she said.
Press said she would support city funding for community tenant organizations and would consider financial aid for ailing public schools.
Press also said she would move to increase the relocation benefits that landlords are required to pay when they evict tenants.