A WORK IN PROGRESS
We all are, hopefully. But progress is something we’re desperately in need of, and right now. We’re spinning in circles. And when that happens, you’re just digging a hole. That you might not get out of.
We have so many problems to deal with nationally, and here in Santa Monica, and they seem to be increasing exponentially. I listed a paragraph’s worth of local issues in last week’s column, and that wasn’t the half of it. We fight them one by one and I don’t think that’s the right way to go about it. One battle is won or lost, then whack-a-mole, something else jumps up that demands our full attention again. Discouragement, fatigue, even despair can set in. The same holds true for the way Washington has devolved.
I keep trying to figure out how we can do things differently, both here and for our now-disgraced nation, something so different it will make a difference. Some new (or old) way of thinking. Because I have a feeling we’re rapidly running out of time.
So much that is being done can’t be undone. If we spend nine figures on an office annex, that money is gone. That’s a ton of tax dollars, a helluva lot of money for a city of less than 100,000. And it won’t be some awe-inspiring architectural masterpiece that people will go out of their way to see; in fact, you won’t even be able to see it that well at all, behind City Hall. It’s offices. But ground has been broken. Now it’s too late to build it for $40-50M, just as functional and very sustainable. What philosophy guided that decision? Don’t you think we might have been able to find a really good use for those tens of millions of dollars?
If you sell off our precious parklands, to energy and logging companies, by the time there may be an opportunity to reverse that, wells have been drilled and the pipeline laid (which will surely, eventually, leak and spill and despoil), trees stripped away from mountainsides and gigantic holes carved to extract minerals. They are now fracking near the ancient ruins in Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. It will take generations for the land to heal itself. You and I won’t see it.
Whatever we build in Santa Monica, however tall and wide, our great-great-grandchildren will still be living with it. Shouldn’t we really think twice, and maybe more than that, before rushing into the kind of massive construction we’re inflicting on our small city, no matter how good the reasons may seem? Who counts, in these decisions? How about panicking a bit more, now, today, about our looming pension explosion, that could lead this well-off city to financial ruin, that could change everything for Santa Monica, drastically. How many more six-figure staffers should we hire? We could go from rich to broke before you know what’s happened.
WHAT TO DO?
I think we need radical rethinking. Overview and perspective. Unprecedented action. Or inaction, when appropriate. But we can’t go on the way we have been. We can dig in our heels, say those are the bad guys, out to enrich themselves by destroying our beautiful, historic, low-rise seaside city, and we must fight them tooth and nail (or, those are the NIMBYs, lost in the past, unwilling to plan for an inevitable future in the best way) — or we can look beyond that. Most on “the other side,” want what they feel is the best for Santa Monica, but we often disagree profoundly on the path there.
We need a guide we can always point to. I think what we need is a Master Plan. And no, I don’t have one. Yet.
We need a master plan for the future and the development of this city, that our decision-makers will abide by. One that assesses the present, and recognizes the past. No, not the General Plan we now have, done in 1957, or its LUCE (apropos acronym?), updated in 2015 but to some controversy. I think it should be done by architects and city planners and maybe social scientists, but it should spring from the establishment of a philosophical master plan. Something that can be applied to every issue that comes up, even ones we haven’t thought of. Something that in its spirit can guide every decision. Of course, that’s a tough one to get agreement on. But let’s have that battle once, instead of this 30 Years’ War.
If, for example, we can agree that the most important thing to consider in any decision are the people who live in Santa Monica — not the ones some want to bring here, not the ones who will fill tens of thousands of units if we build them, not the developers, the ideologues, the land speculators, the non-resident kibitzers, the urban planners, the car or bike advocates — well, does that seem crazy? A city whose representatives act in the best interests of the people who live there?
If we can agree that the beach is what defines Santa Monica, geographically and historically and, well, obviously, as well as open skies and sea breezes, let’s agree this is a beach town, THE beach town of LA, and apply that to the skyscraperizing of our Downtown and the canyonization of Lincoln Boulevard. If a walkable city is what people like and what we’ve always had, let’s figure out what to do with all those nasty cars.
As a nation, I think America is in danger of losing its heart, and soul. That breaks my heart. In Santa Monica we still cling to both, I feel. (Look at all our efforts on behalf of the homeless. Not effective, but we’re trying.) But unless we stop this bulldozing path we’re on and come up with a real plan for the hearts of our residents and the soul of this city, my optimism may also ship out to Detroit.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Are drivers in Santa Monica getting worse, much worse?
QUOTES OF THE WEEK: “A great city is not to be confounded with a populous one.” — Aristotle
“A great city is that which has the greatest men and women.” — Walt Whitman
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 32 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org