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2 New Faces on Council; 1 Seat in Air : Santa Monica: Up to 4,500 uncounted absentee ballots leave the fate of veteran councilwoman undecided.


Santa Monica voters, angry about development, sharply divided over rent control and concerned about the homeless, sent two newcomers to the City Council, including the city's first Latino councilman.

Complete returns on Tuesday's vote from the beach city's 95 precincts showed community activist Tony Vazquez was the top vote-getter on Election Day in the hotly contested council contest. Moderate Robert T. Holbrook, a school board member who made fighting homelessness the major focus of his campaign, ran second.

But the final outcome of the race for the third council seat remained in doubt because up 4,500 absentee ballots were still to be counted. Election officials said problems in verifying and counting the absentee votes could delay final results until next week. The tallying task was complicated by the fact that the long ballot made it necessary to conduct city and state elections on separate ballots.

"I doubt if I have anything until the first part of the week," City Clerk Clarice E. Johnsen said.

Until those ballots are counted, the fate of councilwoman Christine E. Reed, the only incumbent seeking reelection, remained uncertain. Reed, a five-term veteran with a pro-development record, was running fourth, trailing slow-growth activist Kelly Olsen by 827 votes.

Those results included all of the votes cast on Election Day, plus just under 2,000 absentee ballots that were counted Tuesday night, Johnsen said. Signatures on the remaining absentee ballot envelopes must be verified before they can be counted, she added.

The delay added a final element of suspense to a high-stakes election that pushed campaign spending well over the $1-million mark in a city with 54,427 registered voters.

Reed, who has been on the council for 15 years and is active in regional governmental agencies, including the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission and South Coast Air Quality Management District, said she is still hopeful of victory, but acknowledged that it would be "miraculous" if she won after the absentee ballots are counted.

Reed blamed her tight race on the fact that she was targeted for defeat by several of the nine council candidates and by Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, the politically potent tenants organization, because of her pro-development voting record.

"They made me out to be the development witch of Santa Monica," she said. "Or maybe it was just that some people thought that 15 years was plenty of time."

But the veteran councilwoman was on the wrong side of all three major issues on Tuesday's long Santa Monica ballot. She supported developer Michael McCarty's plan to build a beachfront hotel and community center, but voters gave strong support to a ballot measure that killed the project. She backed a rent control measure put forth by landlords that died at the polls. And she supported an elected city attorney, which voters also rejected decisively.

Both Vazquez, 34, and Olsen, 36, are candidates of the tenants group, Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights. If both are elected, it would put five SMRR members on the seven-member council, presumably putting the council even more firmly behind the tenant group's agenda, which includes a strong rent control law and social programs.

Even so, it is not certain that all major development would be slowed. Both Mayor Dennis Zane and Councilwoman Judy Abdo, leaders in the tenants group, have voted for large projects in the past. Although Olsen campaigned as an opponent of development, Vazquez did not make his position clear. He declined to state how he was voting on McCarty's hotel or on two related ballot measures.

Zane said the outcome of the election "makes clear the citizens are very upset about the development permitted by the city."

The mayor said the voters' solid rejection of the beach hotel through Proposition Z and passage of an initiative prohibiting further hotel and restaurant development along the coastline, Proposition S, makes clear that "the community simply does not like the idea of a luxury hotel on the beach."

However, the anti-development sentiment was not potent enough to help the two most vocal opponents of development, Sharon L. Gilpin and Kathleen Schwallie. Neither candidate had the financial resources to mount as extensive a campaign as Holbrook, Vazquez, Olsen and Reed. The other heated issue in this and previous city elections--rent control--had little apparent effect on the City Council race.

Voters strongly said no to a ballot measure backed by landlords, Proposition U, that would have removed rent controls from voluntarily vacated apartments. The outcome was unclear on a competing measure supported by SMRR that would have allowed smaller rent increases. The latter measure, Proposition W, was ahead by about 100 votes after all precincts were counted, but the absentee ballots could change that.

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