On Sunday, City Hall will formally dedicate the newly renovated plaza in front of City Hall as Ken Genser Square.
It has been just under four years since we lost Ken. For those of us who knew Ken as our friend, our City Council colleague, and our three-time mayor, our memory of him is crisp and our sense of loss vivid.
There may be some residents new to our town, though, who wonder: Who was Ken Genser? Why this honor?
Ken served on the City Council for almost one third of the 68 years Santa Monica has had a City Council.
If you sleep safe in a rent-controlled apartment, or your family enjoys the security of affordable housing, or you earn the dignity of a living wage, Ken touched your life directly.
He shared with us all a brilliant intellect, a bulldog’s tenacity, a compassionate spirit and the heart of a mensch. At just over 5 feet tall, Ken was a giant.
Ken dazzled us all with his reliable capacity to think through solutions that would make life better in Santa Monica. He had the vision to make great things happen, and the attention to detail to make them happen great.
Time and again, faced with the most complex land use decisions, Ken could thread the needle, when others couldn’t even find a needle in our haystack of municipal zoning codes. Ken knew where everything was.
But there was much more to Ken than the dazzle of his intellect. He pursued our city’s well-being with superhuman endurance even though, as I came to learn, he sometimes needed an arm to lean on navigating the steps leaving City Hall.
Ken lived with multiple infirmities, but endured discomfort, indignities, and pain with a cheerfully stoic, “let’s get it done” attitude. Few knew how hard life could be for Ken; the world will remember him for his boundless compassion and mischievous twinkle.
Ken was a dutiful, loyal son who took great pleasure in showing up for his mother even after Alzheimer’s stole her memory and she didn’t always know quite who he was. He maintained deep lifelong friendships that went back to his college days at Berkeley, and he earned our respect and love not just for his work, but for his humanity.
Recently our Santa Monica Police Department announced that its new badges will carry, inscribed on the back, the Latin phrase “Justitia Omnibus” (“Justice for All”) and the initials KG, for Ken Genser.
Ken might have been embarrassed, or at least ambivalent, about our naming the square in front of City Hall after him, but I’m pretty sure he’d be proud and deeply touched by the acknowledgment of him carried daily by our police officers.
In any case, it is our privilege to extend the deliberate and heartfelt honor of designating Ken Genser Square in front of City Hall, assuring that Ken will be remembered at the very place where he served our city with a generous heart and devoted spirit.
We miss you, Ken.
Santa Monica City Councilman