• Name: Frank Gruber
• Age: 60
• Occupation: Local journalist (also entertainment lawyer)
• Neighborhood in which you live: Ocean Park
• Own or rent: Own
• Marital status/kids: Married, one son
• Obama or Romney: Obama
• Education: Where did you attend and what degrees do you have? University of Chicago, BA 1974; Harvard Law School, J.D. 1978
• Why are you running for City Council, what makes you qualified to lead, and what role do you see yourself playing on the dais if elected?
I’m running to make Santa Monica a better place, a “healthy city” where residents flourish, the environment is enriched and the city government is healthy, too — well-run and financially stable. I’ve lived here since 1983 and for 20 years I’ve been actively involved in the city. I’ve served on the Housing and Planning commissions (where you learn to analyze facts and make decisions), the board of a neighborhood association, a school bond oversight committee and for 11 years I wrote a weekly column about what goes on here. On the dais I will examine issues critically, listen to everyone and push for real decisions.
• What are Santa Monica’s three major strengths and weaknesses? What will you do to ensure the strengths remain and the weaknesses contained?
Strengths (there are many more than these three):
1) An active and engaged populace that loves its city and gets involved.
2) A strong government that closely regulates economic development, but also a vibrant business community.
3) An excellent public school system.
1) The city’s inability to control what happens in the surrounding megalopolis.
2) The lack of a transportation system that can meaningfully address our traffic problems.
3) A shortage of housing.
To preserve the strengths I’ll do everything I can to reach out to the public for input; I’ll continue to closely regulate development with the knowledge that the best way to encourage business is create a wonderful city; and I’ll continue the city’s policies of aiding the schools.
To contain the weaknesses, I’ll push for more regional planning to solve issues like traffic and homelessness. I’ll push for the Big Blue Bus to develop alternatives to get commuters out of their cars. And I’ll fight for policies to encourage more housing and less office development.
• Homelessness continues to be a significant concern of many residents and business owners. How would you rate City Hall’s response over the last four years, what will you advocate for and does that mean more or less funding?
With the adoption of housing first, the city’s response has vastly improved over the past four years, but I would expand outreach to the chronic homeless. This may require more spending on the short-term, but leads to less spending on the long-term.
• Where do you stand on the City Council’s decision to increase the campaign contribution limit from $250 to $325?
I supported it. As an independent candidate, I can say that it’s hard to raise sufficient funds to get your message to Santa Monica’s 50,000 voters.
• Will you sponsor a local law banning smoking within multi-family residential units, i.e. condos and apartments? If not, what would you support?
I support the law that was passed and then referred back for more work on second reading; i.e., I do not believe that current tenants who smoke should be evicted, but I support units becoming non-smoking upon vacancy.
• With Los Angeles cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries, it is going to be harder for Santa Monica patients to get their medication. If elected, would you allow medical marijuana dispensaries to set up shop in Santa Monica?
Santa Monica voters have shown that they do not consider marijuana use to be a problem. So, yes, I believe that Santa Monicans should be able to fill their prescriptions here. However, state law is so unclear about the legal status of dispensaries that passing an ordinance to allow and regulate them appropriately is not easy.
• What policies will you support that will enable Santa Monica to deal with the increased competition for resources and the need to be sustainable, particularly when it comes to water and power consumption/generation?
I would continue the policies the city has implemented to reduce water consumption and favor renewable energy. High-quality urban development will also reduce our ecological footprint by reducing driving.
None, except to enjoy life.
• What are you reading?
“In Motion: The Experience of Travel,” by Tony Hiss.
• The loss of redevelopment agency funds dealt a serious blow to the City Council’s ambitious plans for the Civic Center, Samohi, and the park in front of City Hall, among other projects. If elected, what projects would you prioritize and how would you finance them?
The city will have to revert back to traditional means for funding capital projects, including voter-approved bond issues, and the city will have to focus on projects that have broad public approval, since bond issues require a two-thirds vote. I foresee that the city may need to go to the voters for funding for new parks at the Fisher Lumber site and on the Civic Auditorium parking lot. Beyond that, it is hard to predict the city’s capital needs after the current round of projects is completed.
• City Hall already provides the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District with millions in exchange for access to campuses, mainly athletic fields. Do you believe this deal is good for the city, or should it be revisited and modified? If so, in what ways?
Because Santa Monica is “under parked” this is a good deal for the city. One reason (among many) that I support the new school bond is that it will enable the school district to create more recreational facilities on the Samohi campus, and the city could then make a win-win deal with the district to share those facilities.
• If you could ride the Ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier with three people in history, who would they be and what would you want to talk about?
Lincoln, Einstein, and Mozart, and I’d let them decide what to talk about.
• Where do you stand on the Santa Monica Airport?
The airport needs to be closed after 2014 when the 1984 agreement expires. While any attempt to close the airport will likely lead to litigation, this is a generational opportunity to get back 227 acres of land. The city must do everything it can to make this happen.
• Community benefits as part of development agreements: what is your definition of a benefit? When should the City Council demand benefits and to what degree? And should some be part of a checklist that developers can choose from, or should the council always have complete control in negotiations with developers?
To begin with, the best community benefit is a good project that in itself benefits the community. No amount of community benefits can make a bad project a good one. We need to enact good zoning standards setting forth what kind of development we want, then we should minimize discretionary review so that we can get that development. However, for large developments discretionary review is appropriate, and, as in any negotiation, the city should negotiate for whatever it can obtain.
• What is your definition of overdevelopment and what is your plan to prevent it?
Overdevelopment is a concept that operates in four dimensions, i.e., including time. Now Santa Monica suffers from overdevelopment of commercial office; twice the square footage of office contemplated under the 1984 land-use plan was built. At the time, planners believed that with the loss of manufacturing, Santa Monica needed jobs. Now we have too much office and a shortage of housing. Therefore, I support development of the latter and not the former.
• The sputtering economy and the rise in pension contribution costs have forced some cities to file for bankruptcy. Santa Monica is doing better than most, but if nothing is done to trim costs, deficits will become reality. What’s your plan for controlling public employee pension costs?
To negotiate with the unions who represent the city’s employees.
• How do you get across town during rush hour? Any tips or shortcuts?
Well, I like to bike around Santa Monica. I also like the fact that when I need to drive, such as to do big shopping, we have convenient stores in my neighborhood, so I don’t need to drive across town. But if I have to get across town during rush hour, I look at SigAlert, try to give myself plenty of time and plan on listening to good music.
• What should City Hall’s role be when it comes to the creation of affordable housing?
Santa Monica voters have approved the building of affordable housing and most residents support preservation of a mixed-income community. However, the entire funding structure for affordable housing is undergoing drastic change because of the demise of redevelopment; it’s not possible to answer this question without waiting to see how the issue is addressed in Sacramento.