With some members urging more militancy, one of the factions that dominates Santa Monica politics has launched early preparations for City Council elections in 1988.
Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, the 8-year-old organization that championed rent control in 1979 but lost its City Council majority in 1984, held its annual convention Sunday and elected a new steering committee.
The steering committee will plot fund-raising strategy, plan debates and begin paving the way for next year's convention to select council candidates for the 1988 election.
Four seats on the council--including two held by members of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights--are up for grabs next year.
Sunday's convention saw little debate, partly because 11 candidates were running for 11 steering committee seats.
However, several speakers addressed what has become a burning topic for the group, especially as elections approach: how to retake the cutting edge on city issues and how to reestablish a distinct political identity.
Co-chairman Ken Genser and several other members lamented the "unfortunate perception" that Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights has moved closer politically to the city's other political faction, the All Santa Monica Coalition.
He called on the group's leaders to fight that image and fight to regain control of the City Council.
'Taking Principled Stands'
"SMRR has to return to taking principled stands on issues and not be concerned that we disagree with positions that elected officials take," Genser said in an interview before the convention. "Without standing up for principles we believe, SMRR is no different from any other political organization run from smoke-filled rooms."
Dolores Press, a former council member, echoed Genser: "If the growing public perception is that we are all the same . . . it will be disastrous for the 1988 election."
Some members and observers recently have suggested the organization's identity has been diluted, and they attribute that, in part, to a movement toward compromise fostered largely by Mayor James Conn, a longtime member of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights.
City Councilman Dennis Zane rejected the suggestion that the group has become weaker or more moderate, saying instead the opposition has sought to co-opt pro-rent control positions.
"What is true is that our opponents are trying to snuggle up to us," Zane said. "They are talking the rhetoric without living the reality. We have to continue to press forward on issues, make it difficult for them to adopt our positions. We have to be out front on what have always been our issues: slow growth, traffic management. . . . "
But for those who blame Conn, Geraldine Moyle went to what they see as the heart of the matter.
In a rare public challenge, she rose to question Conn's voting record: "Jim, why are you doing what you are doing?"
She added that Conn had become a "strange bedfellow" to the political opposition.
Conn last month split with Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights and voted in favor of the Colorado Place development project. The project, which the group formally opposed, was approved by the City Council.
Conn answered Moyle with a reflection on past causes he had championed in Santa Monica. He said many decisions are difficult and have left him ambivalent.
Except for Moyle's comments and an occasional allusion to the divisive Colorado Place vote, the meeting did not become a forum for exposing fractures within the group, despite pre-convention grumblings from some members who label Conn pro-development, a stance they say is out of touch with his constituency.
A move by one high-ranking member to block Conn from making the opening address did not succeed, according to two people involved in pre-convention planning discussions.
"In a situation like this (the public convention), SMRR is very much like a family getting through Thanksgiving dinner without insulting the great aunt," Moyle said after the meeting when asked why more members did not speak out as she had.
"I believe it would be a healthier organization if we confronted each other in public. The brokering of good will can be as dangerous as the brokering of votes."
Others in the association, however, insist the differences among members are disagreements over form rather than substance.
"There are disagreements among us but (there is) consensus on most of things we interested in," Judy Abdo, one of the group's chairmen, said before Sunday's meeting.
She and others said the format of the meeting was designed to allow open discussion. A panel of the group's three City Council representatives--Conn, Zane and David Finkel--took the stage to receive questions and comments from the floor.
"It is important to us to have a democratic convention to show to the world we are able to discuss issues . . . openly and with great care," Abdo said.