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Backing of Renters Group Criticized in Board Races


What do renters rights have to do with education?

Plenty, if you're a candidate for a seat on the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified school board or Santa Monica Community College Board of Trustees.

The powerful Santa Monicans for Renters Rights group (SMRR) has endorsed three candidates for the school board and three college trustee hopefuls. Some who did not receive SMRR's backing are criticizing the intervention by the renters group, which has been endorsing local candidates for more than a decade.

"SMRR is endorsing people based on their political views, not on their capabilities," said Neil Carrey, a 51-year-old tax attorney running for the school board.

Not true, said SMRR co-chair Nancy Greenstein. SMRR "is more than a rent-control organization," said Greenstein, who added that education is an important concern of the group.

"We're trying to support people who would be good for the school board," she said. "We aren't interested in taking over."

SMRR's endorsements are by no means the only issue being discussed by Santa Monica's school board and community college candidates.

Perhaps the highest-profile question in the race is how to maintain the district's financial health in a climate of scarce resources. In the community college contest, meanwhile, attention is focused on the search for a new college president and the progress--and cost--of earthquake repairs at the college, which officials say sustained about $75 million in damage in the Jan. 17 Northridge quake.

In the Santa Monica/Malibu school board contest, seven candidates are competing for four seats. Two are incumbents--Brenda Gottfried and Pam Brady. (The other two board members whose terms are expiring, board President Patricia Hoffman and Michael Hill, decided not to seek reelection.)

In addition to Carrey, general contractor Harlan Dorin, management consultant Julia Brownley, retiree Lacy D. Goode and reading specialist Terri L. Cohen are running for the school board.

All the candidates except one--Goode--support extending and increasing the parcel tax, an issue that will come before voters on Nov. 8. (See box.) Goode says that Santa Monica residents have paid enough in parcel taxes and that the board should learn to live with the revenues it receives.

The other candidates say that the $10 increase in the parcel tax is crucial; if it fails, the district will not have enough money to hire teachers, buy computers and maintain facilities.

The candidates all generally agree that the district could do more to tap alternative funding sources, such as business partnerships and government grants and programs. They also have expressed concern that some of the construction is behind schedule in upgrading the district's schools. That project is being financed with a $75-million bond issue that was approved in 1990.

The only issue to spark major disagreement in the race has been the SMRR endorsements. The group is backing Gottfried, Brownley and Dorin.

"They're trying to run things," said Goode, who until last August was a member of the Santa Monica Rent Control Board.

Brownley, however, said SMRR merely "endorsed those who they believed to be the best candidates." She said the renters group never demanded that candidates accept its agenda in return for support.

In the race for the community college board, nine candidates are running for four open seats. Two are incumbents. Carole Currey, a board member since 1979, is making a try for her fifth four-year term, and Ralph Villani is running for a second term. (Board of trustees chairman Alfred Quinn and vice-chairman Colin Petrie are not seeking reelection.)

Rounding out the field are retired teachers Nancy Cattell and Dorothy Ehrhart-Morrison; William E. (Bill) Whalen, a retired warehouse supervisor for the college; Herb Roney, a former administrator at the college; community development administrator Clyde Smith; businessman Patrick Ortega, and business manager Erik Kowalewsky.

The candidates say the college's most immediate challenges are finding a replacement for college President Richard Moore and carrying out the major repair and reconstruction work needed in the wake of the Jan. 17 quake. Moore announced in August that he would be leaving to become president of the Community College of Southern Nevada.

Showing little disagreement, the candidates say that, in both efforts, the college must work closely with residents.

As in the school board contest, the SMRR endorsements have been the sole source of friction in the race. SMRR backs Cattell, Ehrhart-Morrison and Whalen.

Said Villani: "I can understand SMRR endorsing City Council candidates, or those running for the state positions . . . but school boards?"

Ehrhart-Morrison disagreed, saying that SMRR, like other groups that have endorsed her, "have an interest in quality education in Santa Monica." SMRR, she added, "does not have an agenda."

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