Hard-fought City Council campaigns in Santa Monica and West Hollywood, a controversial effort to protect fireworks sales in Culver City and the second round of a grudge match between Democratic Rep. Mel Levine and Republican Rob Scribner have enlivened an otherwise dull political season on the Westside.
Democratic incumbents, including Levine, are heavily favored in all of the legislative and congressional races on Tuesday. In the only open race, attorney Terry Friedman is expected to capture the 43rd Assembly District seat easily.
Local elections should provide more drama.
Control of City Hall is at stake in the Santa Monica City Council race, which pits three incumbents from the moderate All Santa Monica Coalition against three challengers from the liberal Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights. Mayor Christine E. Reed and Councilmen David G. Epstein and William H. Jennings are the coalition candidates. The renters' rights group is represented by Julie Lopez Dad, an Ocean Park activist; David Finkel, a member of the city's Rent Control Board, and Dolores Press, a former City Council member.
The council is split 4 to 2. Members of the All Santa Monica Coalition hold four seats. Two seats belong to people aligned with Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights. The seventh seat is occupied by Alan Katz, an independent. A victory by one renters' rights candidate would even up the scales. Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights will gain control of the council if two of its candidates win.
"We're feeling pretty good," said Charlotte Houghton, a campaign organizer for the renters' rights slate. "But we think it is going to be a close election. We are up against incumbents who are outspending us 2 to 1."
Houghton's group expects to spend about $100,000 on the race. The coalition is spending about $250,000. Although the two organizations are arch rivals, they hold similar position on two key issues in the campaign. Both groups support the city's rigid rent control law and both oppose runaway development.
Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights contends that the coalition is only feigning support for rent control in order to trick the voters, most of whom are tenants. But Colleen Harmon, the coalition's campaign manager, said the incumbents have clearly demonstrated their allegiance to the housing law.
"Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights has made an effort to make rent control the only issue in this city," Harmon said. "But it is a manipulation of voters. Tenants feel that rent control protections are well taken care of."
Both groups have done extensive canvassing and mailing. In its final campaign volley, the coalition mailed voters a cassette tape in which Mayor Reed expressed her and her colleagues' commitment to "accessible and responsible" government. Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights countered with mailings that focused on the group's longstanding commitment to rent control and low growth.
In a separate campaign for a two-year council term, Councilman Alan Katz is heavily favored to defeat Zora Margolis, a Mid-City neighborhood activist.
West Hollywood Council
The West Hollywood City Council race pits millionaire discotheque owner Gene La Pietra against tenant activist Abbe Land and furniture dealer Stephen Michael. The winner will fill the seat vacated by Valerie Terrigno, who resigned this year after her conviction on federal embezzlement charges.
The race has been lively. Land, who is supported by the liberal Coalition for Economic Survival, has charged that La Pietra is unfit for public office because of convictions on state and federal obscenity charges and his poor relations with people living near his club, the Circus Discotheque. La Pietra countered by criticizing Land's acceptance of a $200 check for her work on an AIDS benefit.
La Pietra and Land are seen as the front-runners. La Pietra has raised about $280,000 for the campaign. Land, by comparison, has raised about $20,000. Michael has raised only $3,400.
La Pietra said he favors new parking structures and has billed himself as the candidate most knowledgeable about business. Land has run on a strong rent control platform. Michael favors a softer rent control law and said the city should consider opening poker and bingo clubs as a revitalization move.
Culver City Fireworks
There is only one local issue facing Culver City voters on Tuesday, but it is an explosive one. Proposition K would remove the City Council's authority to ban the sale of fireworks. Two council members, 10 veterans groups and a large fireworks company support the measure. Several public officials oppose it.
Culver City is the only Westside community that permits fireworks sales. Supporters contend that "safe and sane" fireworks are a unique tradition in Culver City, and benefit the community groups that sell them. Opponents maintain that the fireworks are dangerous. If Proposition K is defeated, the council has pledged to pass a law prohibiting their sale and use.