Alan Katz delivered his declaration of independence on the day he was appointed to the Santa Monica City Council. Katz said he did not want to be tied to the All Santa Monica Coalition or Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights. On the other hand, he did not want to be opposed by them either.
The 33-year-old insurance executive got his wish. Both political factions are staying out of his campaign for a special two-year term on the council, and the independent Katz is heavily favored on Nov. 4. His opponent is Zora Margolis, a Mid-City neighborhood activist running a grass-roots campaign.
"I think people recognize that I am going to win," said Katz, who was appointed to the council last year after the death of Ken Edwards. "The greatest threat to my campaign is getting lost on the (crowded) ballot."
The Katz-Margolis race may not occupy a prominent place on the ballot, but it could have a major impact on city politics. If the All Santa Monica Coalition and Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights come out of the election with three seats apiece, Katz or Margolis would hold the deciding council vote.
The winner would have the power to determine the outcome of key issues dividing the council, such as neighborhood organization funding.
It is a role Katz has already played to some extent. In the last year he provided the fifth vote needed to fire Planning Commissioner Derek Shearer, siding with the All Santa Monica Coalition. And he withheld the fifth vote needed to fire City Atty. Robert M. Myers, lining up with Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights. Shearer was fired after criticizing the planning director; Myers came under attack for refusing to prosecute nonviolent homeless people.
Katz has also tried to be a behind-the-scenes peacemaker on the council, which is split 4 to 2 in favor of the All Santa Monica Coalition. "All it takes to be a good council member is common sense, a modicum of intelligence and the willingness to get involved in tough issues," Katz said. "I have a commitment to getting people to work together. I try to find the common ground."
On key issues affecting Santa Monica, Katz supports the city's rent-control law, saying it is clearly the will of the people. He voted for a plan to reconsider zoning on Main Street but said he opposes high-rise development. Katz voted against public funding for the Ocean Park Community Organization and Mid-City Neighbors. He said, however, he would support formation of a community review board composed of neighborhood group leaders.
Katz's own council work focuses largely on social programs. He created the Santa Monica Missing Children's Program, sponsored a community forum on AIDS and provided strong support for an alternative living project for the aged in Santa Monica. Katz is a member of the Westside Fair Housing Council, the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and a leader in the American Jewish Congress.
A renter who lives in a Montana Avenue apartment, Katz is well-connected to the liberal Westside-San Fernando Valley Democratic political establishment. He is an ally of the Berman-Waxman organization, the powerful political group headed by Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) and Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City), and counts state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles) and Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky among his supporters.
"I have a lot of statewide contacts," Katz said. "They know me and I have earned their respect. These contacts can be very helpful to Santa Monica."
Katz was born in Niagara Falls, N.Y., but spent most of his adult life in California. He holds a master's degree in urban planning from Occidental College and a law degree from the University of California, Davis, and worked as an investigating attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Katz is mum about his ambitions outside of Santa Monica. He is getting married in February and said he is committed to working with his family's Fox Hills insurance business. He has raised about $30,000 for his council bid and has spent most of the money on a mailer sent to residents last week.
Zora Margolis is best-known for her role in organizing neighborhood opposition when St. John's Hospital and Health Center tried to remove some homes in the Mid-City area to make way for an apartment building last year.
The 38-year-old therapist and her husband live in small home owned by the hospital. Margolis said the hospital's effort to evict her and some other residents awakened her to the threat that development poses to neighborhoods.
She said Katz does not share those concerns. "He represents everything I despise about politics," said Margolis, a West Los Angeles native who has lived in Santa Monica for eight years. "He's part of the old-boy network."
Margolis has criticized Katz for accepting campaign contributions from developers and also charged that he flip-flops on the issues. Margolis said one of her main goals is to stem the tide of "yuppie-ism" in Santa Monica.