THE BELLY OF THE BEAST

I girded my loins and waded in last Thursday. The natives were suspiciously friendly and plied me with croissants, and coffee which I believe was laced with Kool-Aid. So I drank only a little.

It was the annual report breakfast meeting of Down Town Santa Monica Inc., hereafter referred to as DTSM Inc. I always thought it a little odd they insist on the Inc. part. Psychology? Hype? A bit compensatory? You don’t hear people say Sony Inc. or Google Inc. and they’re larger corporations, I do believe. Or the Los Angeles Dodgers Inc., and they ink players to contracts all the time. Okay, that was dumb but I liked it.

What’s really going on here? You may think I’m digressing but image and branding is important and these folks understand that. They’re so savvy they hired away our former Daily Press editor Kevin Herrera, as their Senior Communications Manager.

I do consider DTSM Inc. among the local groups like Forward/Next/Spoke, the Chamber of Commerce, and on some fronts only, Santa Monica College (don’t start with the emails, my daughter went there), whose goals are at odds with what many of us who live here want for our home town, moving into the 21st century.

BAD GUYS? NAH

But can’t we talk? Are they bad people, trying to pave paradise and Miami Beach us?  Not really. They believe they’re saving us from our ignorant selves. They’re good people who love Santa Monica but have a different vision. A flawed vision. A seriously, fatally flawed blinders blind-spot vision. So why not try to understand their perspective? Maybe there’s… something to it.

So as I entered the Miramar meeting room I kept an open mind. (Pause here for the snide comments I know you’re all thinking.) I tried to see this room full of many people who have a far different notion for Santa Monica than I, and nearly every resident I know, as people with whom I could empathize.

Lo and behold, it happened, just a little. Maybe it was the K-A coffee. But I could see how these folks who also love Santa Monica could become enamored of notions of a walkable, bikeable, busable, trainable, tall Santa Monica of the future, bereft of nasty old cars and the parking that breeds them. A better Santa Monica.

If our future is inevitably dense and traffic-snarled, what can we do? The next few days I tried to look at the streets around me with different eyes, as I drove and walked, and I realized that Santa Monica, bless its soul, has already done a lot, in a short time. I see so many more people biking, most on safer designated paths. I see the packed trains rolling in and out. I see hope! But the development side needs to see the despair on the go-slow side and address it, if we hope to solve our problems together.

COLE KICKS THE ELEPHANTS

The realist in the room was City Manager Rick Cole, whose speech was three quarters rah-rah we’re doing great, but one quarter kicking the two elephants in the room: traffic, and the homeless. He acknowledged that both were worse than they’ve ever been, and while we’ve made some progress we need to keep trying, innovative things that have no guarantee of working but are better than trying nothing new. Cole, an employee of our City Council, has I believe walked an admirable fine line since his arrival here, of doing the Council’s bidding but pushing into areas where he feels he has some expertise and different ideas, even though it may ruffle some feathers. There’s only so much he can do, and I believe he’s trying hard to do that.

Listening to the Inc. folks, one would think there were no problems, Downtown is rolling along marvelously and just needs to go even further to make Millennia’s happy, and to make room for many, many more people who want to live here. I have no problem with any age group nor their needs and desires. But I do place more value on the needs and desires of those of any age who plan to be here for a long, long time. Home, not this year’s stop on a career path.

MARVELOUS MAVIS

I was clearly having such a great time taking in her performance that I got several comments that night and the next day or two, along the lines of, “Well, how do you like the Pier concerts now, Mr. Naysayer?” or “You’re going to write an apology, right?”

Well… no. In fact, that show supported what I’ve been saying. Fire Chief Tom Clemo told me their estimate was around 23,000 for that concert, compared with 40-45,000 for the previous week and earlier shows this summer. He also opined that the previous week’s crowd seemed “much younger.”

In a nutshell, what I’ve been lamenting is that the quality of the acts booked has diminished, seemingly in an effort to please a younger crowd perhaps more intent on partying than real music appreciation. When such relatively low numbers turn out for an act of such unquestionable class as Mavis Staples, what does that tell you?

Staples told us that at 77, “I’m not tired at all! I’m gonna keep going!” She’s not only a magnificent singer and performer, she’s living history. She and her family marched from Selma with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The Staple Singers were the soundtrack to the civil rights struggle. When she sang their “Freedom Highway” and she turned her back to the crowd to urge her drummer on, repeating “Good God! … Almighty!, Good God! … Almighty,” it was a music and history lesson in 30 seconds you’ll never find again.

Yeah, I love the Pier concerts and I’ve been going since they started in ‘83. Because every so often you get to experience a Mavis Staples. Too many people crowding in to these concerts lately, a big problem? Maybe we just need more Mavis.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “March for freedom’s highway, march each and every day, made up my mind and I won’t turn around, made up my mind and I won’t turn around.” — Roebuck “Pops” Staples (from the Staple Singers “Freedom Highway”)

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com

 

 

 

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