I spied Recreation & Parks Commission Chair Phil Brock’s invitation to “a little breakfast salon with me” for last Thursday morning at one of his favorite local haunts, the 86-year-old Callahan’s diner on Wilshire. A salon! How cool! How suave. I can pretend I’m a real writer, a cognoscenti, a pundit, in Paris or New York circa 1927.
The invitation was posted on the Santa Monica Government PP & P page on Facebook, so you would expect it would draw from those interested and at least somewhat active about the state and future of our little beach town. And it did, seven of us.
I think it was the first time Brock did this, but it won’t be the last. As a Santa Monica native he’s involved in more activities and organizations here than I can count, showing an active, hands-on, lifelong interest in improving the quality of life here and simply making things work, for the most people, with common sense. (Yeah, I’m prejudiced: He got in my corner in my fight to get some wrongs righted about a couple of public basketball courts, and tipped the scales.)
He said one of the things he feels is lacking in our city government is more attention to feedback from citizens, and from those who work here, pointing out that many of our firemen and police officers (and I would add teachers) do not live here because they can’t afford to. (I say can’t we do something about that disconnect, maybe under the aegis of affordable housing mandates?)
It’s been a refrain building to a crescendo here of late, the ignoring of the expressed public sentiment by our elected officials. I hear a lot of frustration, from every corner. It may not be as bad as most people think, but that’s the perception. After taking the City Hall-sponsored bus tour last Saturday of public works sites in progress, I’m feeling more respectful and kind towards our hard-working, high-accomplishing city officials, both elected and appointed. More on that later.
Golden eggs, hard boiled
Brock’s invitation added, “all are welcome!” but those who showed up were for the most part on the side of slowing the rate, scope and look of construction; making it more responsive to the public consensus; and structured to fit a longer-range plan that maintains the character of our unique beach community. Let’s not kill the golden goose for today’s big buck, when our future can be a never-ending basketful of golden eggs, if we play it right.
I offered that we, as a community and reflected by the actions of our officials, should be taking a more aggressive stance about our very valuable assets here, that instead of responding to current trends and fearing that developers will go elsewhere with their heavy bags of money, we should understand that we are not Culver City, not West L.A., not even Santa Barbara, and that land and “opportunities” for development in Santa Monica are golden — for what we have always been, are now, and will be in the future, unless we so change the look and soul of this place that it becomes just another high rise, high density hellhole (with a beach). And then, of course, it’s too late. Unless it already is. (I’m serious, people! Time’s runnin’ out!)
You want to come in and drop $20 million for that Downtown lot? Sorry, that’s a good price now but we know it will, before too many years, be worth $40 million, so if you don’t want it for that price, plus a long list of real perks for the citizens of Santa Monica, fine, move along, there will be someone who does. If not today, next year. What’s the rush? Do we think developers are going to lose interest in Santa Monica? Ever?
You want to pay $13.5 million for Norms? I’m sorry, that place is part of our history, been here almost half a century, and the company’s business practices are exactly what we want in our town. We take care of our own. There are restrictions on that particular property, and if you meet them we won’t stand in the way, but it will take more than just your $13.5 million. Lots more. Here’s the list.
I found out at the end of the ride that City Hall’s bus tour of public development sites that I mentioned earlier has been going on once a year for 10 years! This was the first I’d heard of it, and when I responded to an e-mail notice there were only four others signed up. Is this a loser? But by the day before the trip they had a full bus (and had to get a bigger bus) and a waiting list.
I thought I would learn a lot, and I did. You read about these projects and you sort of know where they are and maybe have glanced at them as you speed by, but we got to stop at each site and hear expert histories and context. The Metro path; the pier renewal and bridge replacement; the massive Village at the Civic Center on Ocean (yuck! — the deal with the devil); Buffer Park on Exposition (big Yea!); green streets; bike centers; parking structures; and more.
Did you know the California Incline, to be reconstructed starting next summer, is actually a series of five bridges? And that Santa Monica has some of the lowest rated bridges in the state, scoring 25 to 30 on a scale of 100? And that our expert, savvy, hard-working, good-negotiating government people, over many years, have arranged to get this vital work done mostly out of other, much deeper pockets than ours?
Good job, y’all. I didn’t know this, and many other things I heard that day gave me a better perspective on how many really big projects are initiated and carried through successfully right here in little old Santa Monica. We’re blessed in so many ways. And still, we need to try to make things better, for now and for the future.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 27 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org