A few weeks ago it was Bike It! Walk It! But Don’t Drive It! Day or Week or something like that in Santa Monica, and I expected to go out my front door and believe I was in Holland, besieged by blissful bikers. But what happened? I was paying attention, but I saw hardly any bikes or people walking. I think that was because of all the traffic. Car traffic.
I guess I’m getting to be one of those crotchety misanthropes about development in this town I love. But dang it, if there are any limits, we reached them at a lightening pace a few years ago, and reason would dictate we pull in the reins for a few years to let the dust settle.
Because what we have is, without question, a lot more traffic than just a few years ago. I would say it’s noticeably worse in the last year. I encounter traffic jams pulling onto Ocean Park Boulevard, before I can even get to the perpetual mess we call Lincoln Boulevard. Where are all these people coming from, in the middle of the day in the middle of the week? Where are they going? At that point on Ocean Park there are only six blocks left of Santa Monica before you drive into the ocean.
All this before the completion of the huge complexes now under construction on Main Street and elsewhere, before the driving out of the trailer park retirees, the destruction of two diners, a proposal to demolish our beloved bowling alley, before the proposed three quarters of a million square foot Papermate project monstrosity on Olympic, and before the worst crime of throwing up three 20-plus-story towers of Babel on a four-block stretch of what used to be our pride and joy, our view to Catalina and beyond — Ocean Avenue. Stack those three behemoths and you’d be within spitting distance of having the tallest building in L.A.
Do I think we’ve lost our balance? Do I think somebody’s passing envelopes of cash and favors? Will I vote again for any of the sitting City Council members? (Maybe one or two; more research on votes is needed.)
R.I.P. Norms, and their friendly, loyal staff
Speaking of our diners, I love Norms, for so many reasons, and was more resigned to losing it when I thought it had to do with the inevitability of the light rail coming in. But I found out it has nothing to do with that, it’s just another case of profit and greed stomping on the common good. A Texas developer threw a $13.5 million offer at Norms for that location, an offer that was hard to refuse. They can build three or four more Norms for that pile of cash.
I don’t blame Norms for accepting such an offer, I blame a city government that makes it possible. If the developers thought they couldn’t break the rules and get an exception, they’d never make the offers, and I could still get my perfect artery-clogging breakfast special for only $3.99.
But with all the baloney about “creating jobs” and revenue for the city coffers, what about the people who lose their jobs? Norms has been on that corner for nearly half a century, and has employees who count their service there in decades, not years. A number of them are longtime Santa Monica residents who went to local schools, or their kids do.
You have the cheerful young man who despaired after high school of ever landing a job, then got his very first one at Norms, and now wears a starched white shirt and hovers behind the cash register with a big smile. That’s Marco. Then there’s Natalia, the pretty young blonde who came here from Russia and landed at Norms, one of two jobs that are getting her through school. She smiles a lot too, and you don’t do that if you hate your job. Come to think of it, nearly everyone at that Norms smiles a lot. They all have stories, life stories that will change radically come July 17, and I’m going to tell you some of them in my next column.
I was told a team of managers descended on the Santa Monica location for two days to conduct individual 10-minute conferences with each employee to make sure they knew exactly what was going on and what their options were, and with offers to transfer to another Norms and not lose their jobs. But as several employees noted to me, they can’t find places for all of them at restaurants that are already fully staffed.
But I give a lot of credit to Norms corporate for apparently creating a good working environment and for making such an effort to take care of their employees. How many big corporations would just wave their hand and say sorry, see ya, good luck? And that’s the kind of longtime employer we’re forcing out?
Not another brick in the wall
It’s interesting that if you go to the web page for the California Heritage Museum you see thumbnail photos that guide you to different pages about exhibits, events and support. Interesting that the photo that leads you to support, where you are cajoled to volunteer, become a member at various levels, or to just plain donate, is a photo of the donors’ wall out front, with many bricks inscribed for people who paid for that privilege with a substantial donation and with the promise that those bricks would be there forever, or at least as long as the museum existed.
Our family’s inscription and brick, given in good will and support in 2004, is nowhere to be found. The reason, we’re told, is that they have to have enough brick donations at a time to make a whole batch (can’t do them one at a time, of course). But it’s been eight years! How many brick donations do they need? Or did it just become easier at some point to use that money and forget about the brick laying?
I’ve been warned I won’t get any answers beyond a curt, “We’ll give you your money back if you want it.” That’s not what I want. I want my brick. This smells too much like a scam. I will ask the questions and report to you.
If you’re in the same situation with a “lost” donation, please e-mail me.
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