Grassroots organization Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights held its annual convention Saturday, where it endorsed candidates for key races in Santa Monica ahead of the 2024 Election. 

SMRR made 12 candidate endorsements at the convention: four for the City Council, two for the Rent Control Board, and three for both the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School (SMMUSD) District Board and the Santa Monica College (SMC) Board of Trustees.

The candidates SMRR are officially endorsing are as follows:

City Council

Ellis Raskin

Dan Hall

Barry Snell

Natalya Zernitskaya

Rent Control Board

Phillis Dudick

Kay Ambriz


Jennifer Smith

Jon Kean

Maria Leon-Vazquez

SMC Board

Anastasia Foster

Rob Rader

Margaret Quinones Perez

All eyes will be on the four seats up for grabs in the city council race as council matters continue to create a stir. The current non-progressive council majority recently voted to block an investigation into city council leaks, a point not forgotten by the city council candidates vying for SMRR’s support.

The importance of this election was also not lost on city council members whose seats were not up for grabs. Councilmember Caroline Torosis was among those in attendance at the convention, and she expressed her concerns about the current council given not only the leak scandal but also its moves to eradicate rent control and other questionable financial decisions that have been made under the current majority.

“We need people on our council who are serious, who are going to do the work, and who are going to restore good governance to our city,” Torosis told Westside Voice. “It’s important that we elect progressives to the city council so that we can maintain our position in the region as a leader, as an innovator committed to equity, justice, and climate resilience.” 

The impetus to swing the council majority back towards the progressive side was mentioned more than once, and Raskin — chair of the Santa Monica Planning Commission — made sure the SMRR membership felt that same urgency in his remarks at the convention..

“We need elected officials with integrity,” Raskin said. “I am very sad to see some folks in our city government today trying to silence speech and trying to silence those who are fighting for better wages and opportunities to live here.”

He also spoke of his work as an attorney in Santa Monica, fighting to keep 19 rent-controlled apartments on 21st Street and Virginia Avenue from being converted into luxury condos. He believes that this success shows both his progressive values and his effectiveness in instituting them.

For Santa Monica Pier Board Member Dan Hall — who was formerly vice president of the Santa Monica Democratic Club — fighting for a spot on the city council was about preserving the Santa Monica that Hall had fallen in love with, recalling to the audience the time he finally felt he was home.

“I spent my life moving every few years, and until here, I felt relatively unrooted,” Hall said. “[My partner and I] decided to make Santa Monica our home because of the values that this community has had for decades.”

But Hall said he felt a change in 2020 and has since watched city council meetings diligently. He also expressed concerns about the recent stifling of investigations into the leaks and hit the campaign trail with a feeling that he was in a different Santa Monica than the one he grew to love.

“The landlord, ‘Change Slate’ majority does not share our values,” Hall said, “And I think Santa Monica deserves better.”

Santa Monica College Board of Trustees Member Barry Snell spoke of his extensive experience working in Santa Monica. Snell has worked as an accountant in Santa Monica and has served as a board member with Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. — the non-profit that manages the Property-based Business Assessment District in Downtown Santa Monica — for 12 years. He has also served on the Santa Monica Community College Board, the SMMUSD Board, and the California Community College Board of Governors.

Snell also called on his time raising five children as a renter in Santa Monica, pledging that he would be supportive of renter protections, liveable wages, and the other values that SMRR and its members believe in, just as the other candidates have.

“I am prepared for this,” Snell said. “I care about the community and I look forward to this election.”

Natalya Zernitskaya — former President of the League of Women Voters of Santa Monica — spoke more about her journey to Santa Monica and how it influenced her perspective. Having fled with her family as a child from the former Soviet Union to avoid persecution for being Jewish, Zernitskaya spoke of how her family arrived in the U.S. with only a few hundred dollars but was able to find a comfortable life thanks to structural support.

“We were eventually able to move out of the cramped apartment that we shared with relatives because of government safety nets including rent control,” Zernitskaya said. “I came to understand the importance of these safety nets, and what it’s like to fear losing them.”

For the two seats that will be filled on the Rent Control Board (RCB) this November, SMRR heard from three candidates but noted in both this and the city council race that the SMRR Steering Committee believed in the values of all the candidates invited, and hoped the ones not endorsed would run next election cycle

Phillis Dudick is a member of the Santa Monica Conservancy Program Committee looking to secure one of the RCB seats. She along with fellow SMRR-endorsed candidate Kay Ambriz — who was chosen to fill a position on the board previously filled by Lonnie Guinn on June 13, and is looking to secure a full four-year term later this year — credits current Rent Control Board Member Anastasia Foster as an ally who has helped her understand what they needed to serve on the board.

“Phillis and I have spent many hours being trained by Foster on rent control law,” Ambriz said.

Foster, along with the other two candidates for seats on the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees invited to the convention, received SMRR’s endorsement. She explained that she was running for this new position because believed in the power of community college as a “Gateway for economic mobility.”

Margaret Quiñones-Perez has more than 20 years of experience as a member of the SMC Board but spent her remarks thanking the man who got her involved with public office in the first place — former mayor and current Board of Equalization Member Tony Vazquez.

“I complained about the school board,” Perez recalled, “And Tony said, ‘What the hell are you going to do about it?’”

The final College Board candidate — Rob Raider — is also an incumbent, having served as a trustee for 16 years. He said that he still feels pride in upholding SMRR values in his position even now.

“I still get excited to go to meetings, and I still have all of the same energy,” Rainer said.

SMRR also hosted three candidates — all of them incumbents — in the SMMUSD race, and all three were endorsed with three seats available. Jennifer Smith was the first of the three to speak, saying that she understood the connection between affordable housing and success in school.

Jon Kean is finishing his second term as a member of the SMMUSD Board and says that now is a time for continuity in the school system.

“It is not the time to shake up education,” Kean said.

Maria Leon-Vazquez is the longest-serving of the three, having been on the board since November 2000 according to her campaign website. She referred to the three SMRR-endorsed candidates as a team working to make the school system better.

“We are a great team and we are going to continue,” Leon-Vazquez said. “We believe in the diversity that we bring on this board.”

Photo of Barry Snell taken by the author.

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