Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Council Appoints Ana Maria Jara to Fill Vacancy on Santa Monica City Council

Council Members seemed to know just what they wanted to do with the vacancy

To the surprise of no one, the Santa Monica City Council appointed longtime resident and community activist Ana M. Jara to fill the city council seat vacated by Tony Vazquez. Vazquez resigned in January to take on his newly-elected duties at the State Board of Equalization. The remaining council members were then obliged to appoint a replacement.

76 applicants threw their hat into the ring, but many observers predicted the council would pick an Hispanic for the seat. Earlier this month, a superior court judge ruled the city is in violation of election law by holding at-large elections for city council. Judge Palazuelos ruled that council members should be voted on by district and ordered a special election in which such voting would occur. Although the city plans to appeal Palazuelos's ruling (or, rather, SMRR has decided they will), the current council understands they need to demonstrate that all demographics are represented on the dais.

Ana Jara, who has worked for more than 25 years at Santa Monica College and served on numerous local boards, is more importantly a 30-year renter in Santa Monica. The local political power broker, Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, gave their nod of approval.

It probably didn't hurt that Jara testified on behalf or the City during the district-election trial. She was the only Hispanic to do so, according to Kevin Shenkman, the chief attorney for the plaintiffs.

Some find Jara's willingness to take the City's side against neighborhood voting as proof that her loyalty lies with the existing power structure rather than with the people she is to represent.

Maria Loya, one of the plaintiffs in the districting lawsuit, wrote this in an article in the SMDP: "Her selection by this desperate Council is part of a strategy to undermine our neighborhood's effort from having an independent and authentic resident voice that will stand up to the power structure." In other words, simply having a token Hispanic on the city council is not the same as having a representative actually elected by the people living in the Pico neighborhood.

There is no doubt Jara is qualified and has earned a place in city governance. She has served on the Commission for the Status of Women, the city's Cradle to Career initiative, is a member of the Human Relations Council, Familias Latinas Unidas, and will be resigning from her vice-chairmanship of the Social Services Commission in order to sit on the city council.

Jara needed four votes, but only received three in the initial round of voting for the appointment to the open seat. Her initial support came from council members Greg Morena, Ted Winterer, and Terry O'Day. Council members Sue Himmelrich and Kevin McKeown voted for former Planning Commissioner Jennifer Kennedy. Council member Gleam Davis voted for SMC Board member Barry Snell. In the second round, Jara gained the votes of McKeown and Davis.

Not in consideration was Maria Leon-Vazquez, wife of outgoing Council member Tony Vazquez. Leon-Vazquez applied for the seat but withdrew her application at the last minute. A year ago, Leon-Vazquez, a member of the Santa Monica School Board, came under scrutiny for voting to give contracts to companies for whom her husband, Tony Vazquez, performed consulting services. That investigation simply concluded with an admonition to board members and staff to do a better job of spotting potential conflicts of interest.

Jara, upon gaining the necessary votes to be sworn in, rose to the dais in tears and amid standing applause. "It's taken years for us to be able to do this," she said as she took her seat, "and today we become part of history."


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