Major changes in Santa Monica city government began when, in 1979, Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) succeeded with a rent control initiative; that election also brought in two city council members. In 1981, SMRR in coalition with the city's Democratic Club and other groups won majority control and implemented steps to control development and open city administration to popular participation.
The experience of progressive government in Santa Monica is referenced in a number of books. See Stella Capek and John Gilderbloom, Community versus Commodity: Tenants and the American City (1992) and Mark Kann, Middle Class Radicalism in Santa Monica (1986).
Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) (1981-01)
This is a campaign statement and program adopted by Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR), the coalition formed from the Santa Monica Democratic Club, the local chapter of the Campaign for Economic Democracy and the Santa Monica Fair Housing Alliance in 1978. They succeeded with rent control in 1979, and were joined for the 1981 election by the Ocean Park Electoral Network in a (successful) attempt to win control of the Santa Monica city council. Their purpose was to broaden the constituency from the initial focus on rent control, to a broader program encompassing housing in general, and a comprehensive set of city issues. They had set up issue papers on such topics as crime, economic development, government structure, social services, the elderly, women, energy conservation reflecting the ideas percolating through their constituent organizations. The "Principles of Unity" served not only to announce a set of goals for electoral campaigning purposes, but also to bring together the main factions "progressive" who opposed the landlord and developer-friendly policies of the previous majority on the council. Under the initial leadership of Ruth Goldway, SMRR was to hold the dominant position in city government for several decades despite the gutting of rent control -- its initial main identifier -- by the state legislature and courts over the next few years. In a city with a large majority of renters, SMRR continued to hold their loyalty despite the declining scope and force of the rent control ordinance itself.
Rent control's passage in 1979 was the electoral breakthrough that established Santa Monicans for Renters Rights; SMRR's "Principles of Unity" laid out a comprehensive set of wider platform. The attainment of a solid electoral majority on the city council in 1981 set the city on a course to implement these goals. Here Derek Shearer, who had been involved in each of these previous efforts, describes the electoral campaign itself and its ten year background of demographic change and small battles that led to a solid electoral base. Shearer's argument is that the deep pockets commercial interests, organized as a "growth machine" broadcasting the general appeal of land development, could be defeated by a combination of canny and energetic grassroots organizing and the underlying weakness of commercial interests in the time of retrenchment as the 1970s ended. The article lays out the details as played out in the electoral process.
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