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Blog | Masquerade: Are SMURFs Human Beings?

SMURF impersonates candidates and residents in a dialogue of deception–a clever campaign to win the City for themselves.

Identity Theft

John C. Smith, candidate for City Council, emailed me yesterday that SMURF, Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future had sent out a mailer that said “Mid-City neighbors support” their candidates. The Transparency Group had already caught this developer PAC blue-handed when financial disclosure statements first went public. As an Independent Expenditure Committee, SMURF has the right to speak for candidates without letting candidates speak for themselves. Now, it seems, they are speaking for the residents, as well.

Even Blue Meanies have a Name 

These Blue Meanies United for a Responsible Future hope to make the City Council responsible to them in when voting on their development projects in the future. These investors–MNS Properties, Inc., currently the biggest housing developer in our town; Robert's Business Park, whose project in the Creative Mixed-Use District in the Mid-City area near the Expo; Chicago-based Century West Partners, LLC, building two apartment complexes in the downtown area; Hines 26th Street, LLC, proposing to build a colossal “village” next to the expo station; BCP – 525 Colorado, LLC; Los Angeles-based Ideal Properties, LLC; and Ocean Avenue, LLC, proposing the new Miramar we have heard so much about–have raised $400,000 to pour in to their campaign to shape Santa Monica's future. This is $100,000 more than any other group has raised. And, while it is nowhere near the $2 billion raised for the national races, it is emblematic of the kind of money floating around this country, which some would claim is on the verge of an economic collapse. All of this suggests that the moneyed interests in this country have been holding off investing in America's, and Santa Monica's, future until the right government is in place that will allow them to maximize their profits at the expense of those they are pretending to benefit. 

Deep History is Deep

Gleam Davis, in particular, has complained about such deceptive practices even though, it would seem, she has benefited from them. In the last election, she paid to have her name included on a fancy “Democratic Voters' Guide” put out by a group calling themselves “Santa Monicans for Quality Government.” It turned out that she had become involved in a scam designed to defeat resident-friendly candidate Ted Winterer, who now serves on the Planning Commission and is considered the top-runner for a City Council seat in the present election. It turned out that the “Democratic Voters' Guide” had nothing to do with the Democratic Party and everything to do with getting people to vote for Bob Holbrook, who SMQG funders believed to be more development-friendly than Ted Winterer, who 2 years before had led the fight for Proposition T to limit the size of new developments. Terry O'Day, who headed the fund-raising effort to defeat Proposition T, was another candidate supported by SMQG, though he never paid, as Gleam had done, to be listed on their slate. Also not asking to be listed was Kevin McKeown, well-respected by many in neighborhood associations for fighting development. His inclusion was essential. That plus its being a “Democratic Voters' Guide,” excluding Ted Winterer and putting Bob Holbrook in his place fooled enough voters so that Bob Holbrook beat out Ted Winterer by less than 40 votes. Gleam and Terry, in the meantime, have faced accusations that their votes on City Council have been bought by developers. 

History repeats Itself

This year, the deceptive advertising is coming from Santa Monicans United for a Responsible Future, and Ted Winterer is included in their selection, just as Kevin McKeown was included in the SMQG brochure. Many believe Ted has been included to make Gleam Davis, Terry O'Day, and Shari Davis look like slow-growth advocates. Meanwhile, Kevin McKeown has written to neighborhood leaders that he fears this might backfire and make Ted look like someone who has sold himself to developers. 

Damned if you Do! Damned if you Don't!

Shari Davis addressed the dilemma candidates face, when she was asked in a resident forum whether she had accepted funds from developers: “Of course, I have accepted funds from developers. How else could I afford to send mailers to the 75,000 voters in Santa Monica? Each mailing costs $20,000. No one here has that money, but that's what it takes to win an election.” Though she, Gleam, Terry, and Ted have told audiences that they cannot refuse these funds or SMURF's endorsement, they know that voters are likely to assume that developers expect them to vote their way. Ever since the Supreme Court ruled that money equals free speech and that corporations are regarded as persons, the political process has become more compromised. 

Thinking inside the Cage

This has caused those opposing runaway development to be cagey in choosing which candidates to support. That is why, though 4 seats are open, the Santa Monican Coalition for a Livable City and Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth, both opted to endorse only two candidates, Ted Winterer and Richard McKinnon, hoping that Richard might be identified with his slow-growth Planning Commissioner colleague and ride in on Ted's coattails. But, they might have been more successful had they selected four slow-growth candidates who clearly offered an alternative to rapid growth. This might have given neighborhood associations a solid front to stand behind. But, as it is, with Ted Winterer being supported by both sides, Richard is in danger of getting lost in the shuffle. 

Power of the Press

Meanwhile, slow-growth candidates, who were ignored by SNCLC and SMRG, have been getting attention from the press. Peggy Clifford of the Santa Monica Dispatch wrote a long article on the subject of development in our city and concluded her piece by endorsing four candidates: Bob Seldon, who helped found Northeast Neighbors, worked for Proposition T, and is regarded by many in neighborhood associations to be at one with them; John C. Smith, an award-winning Los Angeles television news producer teaching at Santa Monica College, who has decided to take an active role in creating good news about our city rather than producing shows about the bad news that comes with out of control development; the other two were Ted Winterer and Richard McKinnon. 

What's most likely to Persuade Voters?

Bill Bauer, writing a weekly column in the Santa Monica Daily Press, has also endorsed Bob Seldon and John C. Smith along with Ted Winterer as candidates who have proved themselves worthy of the office they are running for. But the question with both of these endorsements from Bill Bauer and Peggy Clifford is “How many people read their columns and might be influenced by their endorsements?” Are voters more likely to be persuaded by the deceptive mailers they have been receiving? Or are they more persuaded by all the traffic on their streets and what they perceive as being a diminishing quality of life for themselves, the elderly, and others who have been increasingly marginalized by development? 

Profits without Value

I don't know, but those mailers sure look impressive! Going back to the national election, don't we associate business with change? Developers change a city. But does change and investment create economic growth? Creating low-paying jobs for non-union workers who lack benefits might create greater burdens for society while creating greater profits for business. Funding charter schools with fewer regulations and less accountability may be profitable for investors, but what benefit is derived if the children learn less than those in public schools that have lost funds because of lower enrollment? 

What's Wrong with this Picture?

But, let's bring this back to developers. I looked at the brochure that claimed “Mid-City neighobors support” the SMURF-supported candidates because we share the same priorities. I read that they were “Creating parks for families and dogs.” But we don't have these parks in my area, even though Santa Monica Mid City Neighbors has tried to get the City to create them. I read that their candidates are “Increasing parking options and reducing traffic.” But I know that the parking option two of their candidates voted for was to allow Saint John's Health Center to back out of their agreement to build an on-site parking lot so they might, instead, have valets driving these cars to surface parking lots around the city, increasing traffic in one of the most gridlocked areas of Santa Monica. Then, I read that they are “Making the right choices to manage development,” with a picture above that caption showing one of the most unattractive developments in our city. If I were Terry O'Day, Gleam Davis, Shari Davis, or Ted Winterer, I would be nervous having my name and picture on such a document. But they have no choice. And, for them, it may work out to their advantage. 

Neighborhood Interests vs Developer Interests

But I see little advantage for the leaders from the various Santa Monica Neighborhood Associations, who have worked for years to integrate developments into a workable design, allowing for open space, sufficient parking, less traffic, and more vibrant cultural and commercial options for people to enjoy. Ocean Park Association, the Pico Neighborhood Association, Wilmont, Northeast Neighbors, the Friends of Sunset Park, and the North of Montana Association have worked hard to get City Planners to become more resident-oriented in their thinking. But, instead, we have seen projects precede design, with buildings plopped into our community that serve their own clients to the exclusion of residents living nearby. These projects fail to maximize the value of the land they occupy. And, when we favor developers by not requiring them to provide adequate parking, we allow them to increase traffic that impedes culture and commerce. 

Below the Bottom Line

Let's be honest. Developers are interested in building projects, turning it over to managers, and moving on to their next development. They are not job-creators. They are not innovators. And they have no lasting stake in the communities that approve their projects. They are not interested in maximizing the value of the land they develop. They are interested in maximizing profits. This is understandable. What isn't acceptable is their greed and the deceit that goes with it.

When Money Talks, Do People have to Listen?

The Supreme Court in allowing Corporations to be regarded as Persons and giving allowing Money to be regarded as Free Speech, they have allowed corporations to impersonate people and to empower these impersonations with enough money to shout down everyone else's free speech. What the Supreme Court did not have the power to do was to make them into human beings. That is the real contest being fought in this election. Will human beings be able to win fighting against corporate giants? 

Humiliation makes Equals of us All

I hope that readers of this piece will think that my purpose is to support certain candidates and to question the sincerity of others. I have been observing all of the candidates for City Council since the race began. I like them all for different reasons. I see their strengths and their weaknesses. They are human beings just like the rest of us. What I am attacking are those developers who would steal their identities and those of neighborhood leaders, who have worked hard to improve our city. These developers have leveled the playing field by making victims of us all. 

May the Odds be Ever in Your Favor!

This contest for public office looks ever more like the Hunger Games, where all contestants are under the control of forces beyond their own control. In my next piece, I will be writing about each of the candidates as they might appear in The Hunger Games. In the meantime, may the odds be ever in your favor.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Gregg Heacock November 02, 2012 at 06:56 AM
Frank Gruber, who received an early copy of this piece, was kind and observant enough to point out an error. He said, "It seems from the context that you may have wanted to write, 'I hope that readers of this piece will not think that my purpose is to support certain candidates and to question the sincerity of others.'" He is right. My purpose was to support all candidates by opposing SMURF and its practices. But it was not to single out any particular candidates for support. In the role of President of Santa Monica Mid City Neighbors, I and that organization cannot endorse candidates, nor would we want to do so. We represent those who live in our area. Our job is to encourage them to vote for the candidates who they believe would best serve our interests. That's why the members of our Board of Directors are upset that SMURF has made it appear that we have acted improperly. We clearly believe that SMURF has acted improperly and want you to know that.
Carol Landsberg November 02, 2012 at 02:21 PM
The charter of all Santa Monica neighborhood groups like Mid-City forbids endorcing candidates. Apparently the SMURFs didn't know that. Thus, one of their deceptive ways has been exposed!! Voters of Santa Monica, please take note of this- and discard any further information from this group as being suspect and devious. Then, perhaps, we can have a more honest election.
Zina Josephs November 02, 2012 at 03:05 PM
It's frustrating to watch well-heeled developers pull these last-minute stunts, election after election.
Bob Seldon November 02, 2012 at 03:52 PM
I know there is alot of latitude when it comes to political speech, but there has GOT to be a lawsuit in here somewhere when third parties use association names and logos to create confusion as to the source of the material, and where candidates names and images are used to infer false positions. This would seem, for example, to violate proprietary rights in the use of trademarks, trade names and rights of publicity and, in some cases, appears to border on counterfeiting...a criminal offense. This has simply got to stop, and I am hoping that Common Cause or some civic-minded law firm looks into this with an eye towards pursuing those individuals and entities that are committing these offenses. We ought to be able to have the same standards applied to the advertising of candidates that get applied to a bottle of ketchup!
Roberto Gomez November 02, 2012 at 07:22 PM
I am right with you Bob. I too have thought about the legality of having these PACS outright lying and cheating!
Steve Duron November 02, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Steve Duron $400,000 has been raised by the developers called SMURF and it is being used on the candidates that they would like to see in office. Three things are true: 1) SMURF can raise money to suit its interests; 2) SMURF can spend the money they raise to support the candidates they choose. It can buy mailers, staff, newspaper ads and even little green bags. 3) For those of us candidates without this kind of financial backing, our message and our efforts will be buried by it all. That’s politics, or is it? First, let me say to SMURF: Shame on you for attempting to deceive real Santa Monicans. Hopefully, enough of US are aware of the game you are playing with our future with our quality of life. The developers may try to influence this election but they cannot influence the choices WE make. No matter how many glossy mailers or green bags they drop at your door, ONLY YOU walk into the voting box. Let this last action taken by SMURF be a catalyst for action among the silent majority. I call on real Santa Monicans to inform your neighbors that the developers called “SMURF” can buy all the glossy mailers they want and buy all the green bags they wish, but they cannot buy OUR vote. WE, the real Santa Monicans, will choose the future we want for Santa Monica. Our Founding Fathers and Mothers built a nation with this ideal. Nothing can buy it from us. Vote on November 6, 2012 – and choose who YOU want to lead Santa Monica.
Armen Melkonians November 02, 2012 at 09:28 PM
The SMURF shiny mailer add was not only deceptive, but a careful examination of the add shows how tricky, crafty, and calculating these little blue developers really are. The add claims that the "Mid-City neighbors support: . . . ." If you pay careful attention the letter "n" in neighbors is not capitalized. This can not be a mistake. I would bet that SMURF, and the high price "government relations & strategic communications" consultants that they hire, are fully aware that the Santa Monica Charter does not allow neighborhood groups in Santa Monica to endorse candidates. Make no mistake, SMURF is heavily funded and has access to top dollar attorneys and consultants. That is why they did not capitalize the "n" in neighbors. A capital "N" would read "Mid-City Neighbors" and that would legally look to much like the official "proper name" for the neighborhood group as opposed to one or two neighbors who live in the Mid-City area. Instead of telling us what they really stand for, SMURF has apparently chosen to attempt to deceive the Santa Monica Electorate with their adveritsement. The unfortunate part of all of this however was summed up by Winston Churchill when he said that "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." I know that Santa Monica is smarter though - I am an optimist.
Gregg Heacock November 02, 2012 at 10:45 PM
This comment area is starting to look like a candidate forum! I'm pleased. You know, Armen, that one mailer said "Wilmont neighbors support." So I am not certain the the lower-case "n" is the issue. The issue is that people knew the names of groups and used key words to trigger a sympathetic response from people in those areas. Yes, they were clever. But there is a cynical negative aspect to their cleverness. It is slick and lacks that human touch that has made candidate forums such wonderful occasions for appreciating the personalities of all of you who have responded and those who have yet to respond.
Curtis Raynor November 03, 2012 at 12:15 AM
Thank you, Gregg, for your insightful comments. Over the last few weeks, I have been puzzled by the groupings of candidates appearing on these glossy, expensive flyers. This confusion led me to question what I thought I knew of the track record of several of these candidates. Your piece has clarified for me my choices in this race. Curtis Raynor
JohnCySmith.com November 03, 2012 at 02:11 AM
John C. Smith, Santa Monica City Council Candidate, Let me get my two bits in as well, Gregg. If SMURF were a business, they would have been ordered to stop their false advertising. And here's another shame... The "Santa Monica Mirror" Election Edition has an ad from Terry O'Day and Gleam Davis, has a FULL page ad that says "We must say NO to pop-up community groups like "Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth." Of course they don't say anything about the PAC financed by developers that is trying to buy them into office, again. Despicable. Oh how I hope voters are not fooled....
JohnCySmith.com November 03, 2012 at 08:48 AM
John C. Smith, Santa Monica City Council Candidate, If the SMURF mailers were put out by a business, the Federal Trade Commission would order them to stop because of false advertising. But SMURF and the developers bankrolling it don't care about fairness. They only care about money and putting the people they bankroll on the City Council. The two incumbents should be ashamed, but they have no shame. The only way to stop such deception is for every media outlet in town to expose it. The candidates commenting on this chain are all honorable candidates who don't accept money from developers. The ads for the incumbents are as false as Mitt Romney.
Gregg Heacock November 03, 2012 at 04:50 PM
All living things are wired to accept the world as it exists. So, when candidates say, "Development happens," we see that they have been conditioned to believe this is inevitable. Rod Gould, our City Manager, has said that development is as essential to healthy growth as breathing is to keeping an organism alive. But cancer, too, is growth, and research is showing that small mutations in our own genetic make-up combined with environmental factors have led many to accept that "Cancer happens." But the difference between cancerous growth and normal growth, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES, is that cancer is analogous to driving a car where the accelerator gets stuck and the brakes no longer works: "Accidents happen." Uncontrolled development results from procedures we have in place that are designed to accelerate the process with no real opportunity for residents to put their collective foot on the brakes. The candidates for City Council who have responded above to this piece have said, "Development happens only if we allow it to happen." The discussion of how to control growth is at the heart of this campaign–from smart, slow, to no growth. I encourage readers to go to http://www.midcityneighbors.org/ for links to candidate websites so you can read what they have to say about this and other matters. Accepting your reality can lead to saying, "Yes, but I don't like this. So what can be done to change it?" Drive safely.
Gregg Heacock November 03, 2012 at 06:21 PM
John, This is the most attention Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth has had since they announced. It would be refreshing to get a flier with names on it other than those appearing fliers from SMURF. In that vein, I saw an ad in the Mirror from the City Employees. The design was almost the very same as the SMURF mailers. All the candidates pictures were the same, except that Shari Davis had been replaced by Frank Gruber. I was so conditioned by the number of SMURF and S,M, Police Officers's Association & S.M. Firefighters' Local 1109 ads picturing Gleam, Terry, Ted, and Shart that I was shocked to see Frank's picture instead of Shari's. It seemed like it didn't belong. That's what I mean about advertising creating a virtual reality. Once we accept it as real, we are less likely to abandon what we have for something new. Such ads are insidious because they have an unconscious effect on our thinking.
Ted Winterer November 04, 2012 at 04:48 AM
Curtis, I did not ask to be on the SMURF mail nor did SMURF ask me if I would like their support. And I am dismayed by their tactics. I politely suggest you judge candidates only by the mail financed by their own campaigns and by their web sites and other materials. SMURF's goal is to confuse and deceive, so pay them no heed. I stand by my voting record as a Planning Commissioner who opposes irresponsible growth. Please look at my web site www.tedforcouncil.com -- that's who I am. Ted Winterer
Gregg Heacock November 04, 2012 at 07:44 PM
I am pleased that Ted Winterer has replied. Certainly, other candidates could add their voices if they would choose to. But, Ted was the victim of the Santa Monicans for Quality Government two years ago, and, now, he finds himself being used in a scam. designed to get votes for others, that could lower the votes he receives because he is being grouped with incumbents that many hold responsible for the problems that have come with irresponsible growth. Do check him out. And check out the other candidates, as well, at http://www.midcityneighbors.org/.
Zina Josephs November 05, 2012 at 07:12 PM
November 1, 2012 To: Mayor Richard Bloom and City Council members We feel that the decision to schedule the hearing for the Village Trailer Park development agreement on November 13th demonstrates questionable judgment and should be re-evaluated. The Bergamot Area Plan for this location is set to be released in December. The area plan should be considered before consideration of a project such as the developer's Village Trailer Park project because that project threatens to undermine the area plan process, as well as preemptively set precedence for the rest of the parcels located within the boundaries of the Bergamot Area Plan. Promises were made that the area specific plan would set the standards and guide the project. For the Council to hear this project when the comment period for the re-circulated EIR for Village Trailer Park just closed on October 15th, and the Bergamot Area Plan will not be out until December, is simply not acceptable to us. The Village Trailer Park project should be heard after the area plan, not before. This request is made by the boards representing the following neighborhood organizations in Santa Monica: Friends of Sunset Park Northeast Neighbors North of Montana Association Ocean Park Association Pico Neighborhood Association Santa Monica Mid-City Neighbors Wilshire/Montana Neighborhood Coalition
JohnCySmith.com November 05, 2012 at 09:33 PM
John C. Smith, Santa Monica City Council Candidate, When the leaders of so many Santa Monica neighborhood groups appeal to the City Council, asking that The Village Trailer Park project hearing be delayed until AFTER the Bergamot Area Plan is released, the City Council should listen and act accordingly. If the Council does NOT agree to this, then clearly they will be acting against the best interests of the very people they are supposed to represent. Once again, It's time to elect City Council candidates who will truly put YOU, and not developers, first. Vote carefully, Santa Monica. The future of our city is riding on this election. Thank you. .

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