PICKY, PICKY, PICKY
Silly. Ignorant, and naive. I have been made to feel that way often, over the years, when I have broached my crazy ideas to City Council members or high-level City staff. I remember some years ago I ran into now-Mayor Ted Winterer at some gathering in a Main Street restaurant, and when I put forth the notion that the City Council seemed to continually approve more development at least partly to pay for the high salaries and pensions of our large staff — he laughed. And tried to make me understand that I just didn’t understand.
In my favor, I have to point out that no one is laughing about salaries and pensions as an issue now. I’m not trying to pick on Ted. Most of our public servants have taken a similar attitude. Granted, some laugh, and some merely snort. I like Ted. He’s responsive and pretty open about his reasoning on issues. I actually think there’s hope for Ted.
But definitely, if you think things are stacked against you as an active citizen, if it feels like decisions have been made long before the public discussions are begun, if you think that duck you’re walking behind is actually a duck because, well, he looks, walks and quacks like one … you are paranoid, uninformed, and just too picky.
Last week I wrote about the proposed new green green City Services Building
(CSB) that Council discussed. The plans were being appealed as untenable under state code (per the City’s plumbing inspector, a 30-year veteran). Council had directed that plans meet the very strict specifications of the Living Building Challenge (LBC). But there is a cost. In this case, with financing, it could reach $150,000,000.
Those who opposed it felt we could build a very green building for a fraction of that cost, and that pursuing the LBC instead was nothing more than a political vanity.
So what did we learn from Council that night about their plans? Surprise! We’re
not going for full LBC status, they casually declared. We’re not committed to that. Oh no. We can take it down a couple notches and still have a great building. Uh, yeah — that’s what the people there that night, and David Garden’s appeal, were saying, but you didn’t climb on that train til you saw a crowd blocking the track.
This past Monday night I went to the public scoping meeting for the still-wrong proposal to put a 12-story hotel (and more!) on our city-owned land at 4th-5th and Arizona. The Plaza at Santa Monica, it’s called. There has been strong opposition to this for a long time, so quite a few people were there, to learn and perhaps to discuss.
You’ll have many other opportunities in this process to submit your comments to the City, we were told more than once. But after a lengthy presentation, someone in the audience asked, what if our comment is that we don’t want this at all, we want a park? Many in the crowd mumbled agreement. After some hesitation and searching for words by the presenters, that person was told — of course. But there was no further discussion of that option.
There were visual aids on easels and tables all around the large room. It reminded me of the Santa Monica Civic Working Group meetings I attended, where the consultants had tons of projections and photos and stats… all about the master plan they came up with, which very few in the room were buying. What if we don’t want retail or to choose between a large or small hotel, what if we don’t want any hotel at all? Mumble, grumble — of course. But, end of discussion.
At the end of this presentation, when we were told we should now circulate the room to the various stations, someone in the audience suggested — couldn’t we just ask our questions now, from here, still in this large group? Otherwise we’re all just getting pieces of the picture. Couldn’t you just bring the easels up front? A dozen or more people indicated that’s what they wanted to do. The Planning Division presenters, Jing Yeo and Rachel Kwok, seemed nonplussed by this suggestion. Not the way they planned it.
THE PONYTAIL STRIKES
Then someone spoke up, that they should just do it the way they planned, and the presenters seemed relieved and quickly approved that idea. That gentleman and a group of people with him all got up and started to move about and that was the end of that. Most around me seemed pretty surprised that such a simple suggestion, clearly desired by so many in the room, couldn’t at least be put to a vote. But that moment was past.
That gentleman who took the steam right out of the crowd was Francis Engler, Unite Here Local 11 union organizer. (Who lives in LA.) Local 11 certainly wants that 12-story hotel built. I presume the small group he came with were all from the union. Engler withdrew to a hallway to meet with his group. He did not go around the room for that other part of the presentation, that he was so quick to suggest for the rest of us.
Jing Yeo responded the next day, that the format was set up and explained at the beginning. (I know, but is the City that inflexible? I think I’ve seen the City bend a few rules before. Much bigger rules.) But many in that large group, that night, having taken the trouble to get there at dinnertime (6 p.m. start!), wanted a discussion everyone could take part in, and you wouldn’t consider it. But you jumped right on the union rep’s suggestion that we break it up. (Both presenters surely know who he is.)
Picky? Paranoid? Isn’t that such a small point? Maybe, but it’s consistent with a pattern that makes many Santa Monicans feel like Bernie, that the deck has been stacked against them in small and large ways.
Our City Council meets in a Saturday morning closed session and decides they’re going to keep the airport until 2028 (at least), get very little in exchange from the feds, don’t publish the legal report until 48 hours later, leaving everyone less than a day to absorb the 60-page agreement before going to court to ratify.
Picky, picky, paranoid me.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 31 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com.