Context and recommendations for everything on your ballot.
Welcome! This is a walk-through for the November 2020 Ballot in Santa Monica. Everything here is just about our neighborhood… but it doesn’t cover everything that you’ll see on your ballot. Here’s a handy guide to other things that’ll appear including county and statewide measures.
If you just want the picks — no context needed — check out the below graphic.
Santa Monica City Council
SM’s City Council has seven members, each of which serves in four year terms. There are five open seats in 2020.
When you open your ballot, you’ll be prompted to select up to four candidates out of the twenty-seven total candidates. We’re starting simple here: all incumbents are running for their seats again and they all have my vote:
Gleam Davis: long history of service including Mayor 2018–19, served on council since 2009.
Ana Maria Jara: appointed in 2019 after being Chair of Social Services Commission.
Terry O’Day: current Mayor Pro Tempore and member since 2010.
Ted Winterer: previously on Planning Commission before joining council in 2012.
Kristin McCowan: recent appointee.
To be honest, I don’t love casting a chunk of votes for incumbents. Fresh faces are always welcome… but there’s a smaller support structure for SM council members than other elected positions. While big ideas and passion are always commendable traits, the ability to navigate the job itself is also a necessary skill. I’m more inclined to cast a vote for bold challengers in elections that put them into larger bureaucratic systems. Our council members need to reflect our political vision but they’ll also handle more mundanities than other politicians. For that reason, I give more weight to experience here
There are a lot of impressive candidates and community leaders that deserve your attention. I want to highlight a few here that you may want to learn more about:
Oscar de la Torre is a School Board member with a platform that includes increasing affordable housing, bolstering local businesses, and plans to “challenge the culture of corruption at City Hall.” Tom Ciszek is an “information professional” with a solid following on social media whose priorities include safety, affordable housing, and economic relief. Marcus Owens is a young candidate and community leader whose focus is on shifting funds away from law enforcement and towards community solutions. I’m excited to have him working to make my neighborhood better and I hope we continue to see his name. Phil Brock was the chair of the SM Recreation & Parks Commission and he has one of those strange, monosyllabic names so he might get some votes. Unfortunately, he has bad plans.
One note: the ballot looks a little weird. You’ll be asked to select either Kristin McCowan or a write-in candidate separately from the other candidates. McCowan was specially appointed by the council to fill a vacancy this year after a council member stepped down for business reasons. As a result, her race is separate from the others and she has no official challenger. McCowan is impressive: she worked for FEMA, the Obama Administration, and is the first Black woman on the council. She deserves your vote… there just happens to be no competition.
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) Board of Education
You’ll be asked to vote for up to three candidates of the eight total. Two incumbents — Jon Kean (President) and Maria Leon-Vazquez — appear on the ballot. The final seat, though, has been left empty by incumbent Ralph Mechur.
Jon Kean appears to be an effective leader whose focus is on expanding early education programs, developing Ethnic Studies classes, and modernizing facilities. Leon-Vazequez is more complicated. She is the wife of longtime City Councilman and former Mayor Tony Vazquez. He now sits on the Board of Equalization. Leon-Vazquez landed in hot water in 2017 after she voted to approve School Board contracts without admitting that her husband had ties to the businesses. Her husband said that she “didn’t even know she was voting on these things.” Bad excuse. Here are some other candidates to consider:
Jennifer (Jen) Smith is a former PTA President whose years of community involvement speak to her dedication and understanding of the Board’s larger ecosystem.
Keith Coleman is an economist who has worked on the Intercultural Equity and Excellence Committee for the SMMUSD. He also founded an angel investment group.
Esther Hickman is a parent with detailed plans about fiscal responsibility and transparency.
Steve Johnson is a parent running to “bring transparency and accountability.” He has the endorsement of the SMM Classroom Teachers Association.
I’ll be voting for: Jon Kean, Jennifer Smith, and Keith Coleman.
Santa Monica Community College Board of Trustees
Again, you’ll be asked to vote for up to three candidates. There are only four total candidates… so you’re actually just picking one not to vote for. Brian O’Neil is a professor and the lone challenger of the batch. I’m glad that he’s running but I don’t see a compelling reason to vote for him over those with experience who appear to be doing a solid job.
The incumbents have my vote: Susan Aminoff, Margaret Quinones-Perez, and Rob Greenstein Rader.
Rent Control Board
You’re tasked with selecting two of the four candidates. Both incumbents are running and they have my vote: Caroline Torosis and Anastasia Foster.
Lots of incumbent votes, I know, but both have a strong track record and a focus on renters’ rights. Rent control is key to creating affordable opportunities for new and prospective ‘Monicans. I trust the vision of our current Board. It’s worth highlighting one of the candidates — Aishah Newson — who is a data scientist and personal trainer with lived experience moving to Santa Monica as a young person. She deserves votes and I hope that she’ll stay involved.
I’m voting for Richard Bloom… but if you’re interested in learning more about California and Los Angeles-based races, then check out my guide to those elections.
Measure AB: YES
This measure would change the city’s hiring practices and encourage a more diverse workforce. It’s not a particularly groundbreaking change. The City’s Charter has a strange rule that sets requirements for appointing candidates and promoting employees. Promotions are meant to be based “upon competitive examinations” and vacancies require a Personnel Director to submit “the three highest candidates on the promotional eligible list.” It’s an outdated and clunky hiring practice that, unfortunately, can’t change until the charter does. Removing those archaic requirements will open the door for more diverse, qualified candidates.
This measure has the unanimous support of the council and feels like a no-brainer.
Measure SM: YES
This measure would double that tax to .6% or $6 per $1,000 of sale price. For example, the sale of a $5M home would result in $30,000 of revenue for the city.
The increase is expected to create $3M in annual revenue for the city during a time when it is sorely needed as commerce slows during the coronavirus pandemic. The measure has the strong support of the council.