Frank Gruber

Frank Gruber is running for City Council. The following answers were submitted in response to questions from the Daily Press.

Name: Frank Gruber

Age: 62

Occupation: Author and lawyer

Neighborhood: Home: Ocean Park: Office: Downtown SM

Own/Rent: Own

Marital status: Married

Kids: One, Henry, 24

Political affiliation: Democrat

Schooling: University of Chicago, BA 1974

Highest degree attained: J.D., Harvard Law School 1978

Hobbies: None, really, but I’m good at taking long walks and short naps.

Reading list: Mostly non-fiction. My son is studying ancient history and that’s got me reading old texts and books about them. I know this sounds too perfect for a candidate, but I’m currently reading the New Testament for the first time.

How do you get to work? By bike.

Favorite place to have a quick, 1 on 1 meeting in Santa Monica? The Pain Quotidien just off the Promenade.

Favorite dinner spot. Aside from home, Ninjin on Colorado. My dad lives half a block away on Sixth Street and it’s like our neighborhood trattoria.

Last sporting event you attended. Dodgers, August 21. I had tickets for the big game with the Giants on Sept. 22 but had to give them up because of the SM Next forum that night.

Why are you running for City Council, what makes you qualified to lead, and what role do you see yourself playing on the dais if elected?

I am running because I love this city and want to make it even better. For over 20 years, I have been at the forefront of the battles that have made our city great, helping drive policy as well as shape it. I walk the walk, not merely talk the talk: I joined SMRR nearly 30 years ago, and I’ve fought for renters’ rights, affordable housing and social justice; I am a founding member of Community for Excellent Public Schools, which fought for educational excellence and helped forge our schools’ partnership with the City. Working alongside UNITE HERE and as a member of SMRR, I fought for good paying jobs, human-scale neighborhoods, livable cities. That activism, along with serving as on the Housing and Planning Commissions, and as a columnist for the Lookout, where I covered and unveiled complex urban issues, has given me a wealth of knowledge of almost every local issue. This means I will be able to hit the ground running and tackle all the challenges that face the Council. My longtime involvement with the community has also given me a realistic understanding of how government works and how policy is made. I am thoughtful and open-minded. Because of my work as a transactional attorney I’ve learned to bring opposing parties together to make mutually beneficial solutions. That experience will allow me to facilitate more collaborative decision-making on the dais. Finally, my political values are in tune with those of most Santa Monicans. I will be a leader who is determined to keep Santa Monica a “people first” city with a forward-thinking agenda – not only for today, but for future generations.

What are Santa Monica’s three major strengths and weaknesses? What will you do to ensure the strengths remain and the weaknesses are contained?

Strengths (there are many more than these three):

– An active and engaged populace that loves its city and gets involved.

– A strong government that closely regulates massive development, but supports a vibrant business community.

– An excellent public school system.

Weaknesses:

– The City’s inability to control what happens in the surrounding megalopolis.

– The lack of a transportation system that can meaningfully address our traffic problems.

– A shortage of affordable housing, especially for people who work here – such as police, firefighters and teachers.

To preserve the strengths I’ll do everything I can to reach out to the public for input; I’ll continue to closely regulate development with the knowledge that the best way to encourage business is create a wonderful city; and I’ll continue the City’s policies of aiding the schools.

To combat the City’s weaknesses, I’ll push for more regional planning to solve issues like homelessness and implement REAL traffic solutions. I’ll push for the Big Blue Bus to develop alternatives to get commuters out of their cars: and I’ll fight for policies to protect affordable housing programs and to drastically reduce office development.

Homelessness used to be considered the City’s major problem but the topic has dropped from the public debate. Has the City solved the problem? Where does homelessness fall in the City’s list of priorities and why isn’t it a more common topic this year?

The City hasn’t solved the problem, but I believe the issue is less the focus of public debate because the problem is less visible and most of the public approves the City’s policies of the past decade or so. These policies include a “housing first” strategy and enforcement of conduct rules. I believe also that there is a greater awareness today than 20 years ago that homelessness is a regional problem and that compared to other cities in the county, Santa Monica’s policies have been both effective and human-spirited.

Measure H and its companion HH will increase taxes on the sale of property over $1M to support construction of affordable housing. Do you support these measures?

Yes.

Is Measure FS fair to all residents?

Not sure this is the relevant test for any proposed law. My understanding is that FS only affects landlords and tenants, not all residents. The purpose of passing laws is to solve real problems and to do so in a way that is on balance fair. Measure FS passes this test.

California is in the midst of a historic drought. Where does Santa Monica get its water from? Where can the City find more resources? Has the City done enough to conserve water? Has it done enough to educate consumers and incentive saving by residents?

Most of Santa Monica’s wells come from wells the City owns – a supply that the City was able to secure outside the City limits when Santa Monica was the only city on the Westside. What we can’t produce from our wells comes from the Metropolitan Water District – i.e., from the Colorado River. While we have reduced per capita consumption with the introduction of water-saving appliances and drought tolerant landscaping, we are going to have to more with reuse of gray water and capture of storm water overflow. The City needs to look into expanding storage.

What should City Hall’s role be when it comes to the creation of affordable housing?

The City’s Housing Department is the local agency for development of affordable housing and we need to continue to do so. For most of its history, Santa Monica was a blue-collar factory town. Unless we want to become an exclusive, upper class enclave void of the diversity that makes Santa Monica special, we will need to continue the city’s affordable housing programs. I believe we can create more affordable housing opportunities by making loans to non profit housing corporations which then purchase and repair dilapidated buildings. This not only improves the neighborhood, but prevents old buildings from being converted to or torn down to become luxury condos.

Do you think the City has the legal authority to close the Santa Monica Airport? Is it a wise use of municipal funds to continue with litigation over the airport given the City’s history of losing? If the airport closes, what should be done with the property? If the City can’t close the airport, what steps should the city take?

Yes the City has legal authority to close the airport, and the FAA thinks so, too — that’s why it’s doing everything it can to keep the litigation out of federal court. The cost of litigation is not significant when we consider the value of the City’s assets at the airport — including the buildings that next year can be leased out at market rents again. Those market-rate rents will more than cover the cost of the litigation. When the airport is closed, it should (and will) be turned into a great park, and I’m proud to have been one of the founders and leaders of Airport2Park. Until the City can close the airport, it should do everything it can to reduce its impacts.

Community benefits as part of development agreements: what is your definition of a benefit? When should the City Council demand benefits and to what degree? And should some be part of a checklist that developers can choose from, or should the council always have complete control in negotiations with developers?

My rule is simple – community benefits can never turn a bad project into a good project, but excessive demands for community benefits should never scuttle a good project. Depending on the size of the project, a “menu” of benefits can be appropriate. I don’t believe that we get better projects by making them more discretionary. I agreed with the late Ken Genser: it was his view that the City, with community input, should set standards for what it wants, and then let developers figure out how to deliver them.

What is your definition of overdevelopment and what is your plan to prevent it?

I don’t have a personal definition of overdevelopment, but “by definition” overdevelopment would consist of development that exceeds standards the city develops through regular planning processes. However, sometimes mistakes are made in planning. My plan to prevent overdevelopment is to amend the LUCE to prohibit massive office development, and to pay attention to the planning process to make sure that any development that occurs is consistent with good planning principles adopted by the City through an open community process.

Who is to blame for the Hines fiasco and what can be done to prevent a repeat of the issue? What should happen at the Hines site now?

The Hines fiasco arose out of the final standards adopted for the Bergamot area in the 2010 LUCE, which allowed too much office development. Hines followed those standards, and emerged with a plan that had too much office and not enough residential. Back in 2010 I was one of very few people in the City who were arguing that the LUCE entitled too much office development around Bergamot. As it happened, based on the votes that occurred, if Hines had switched about 150,000 square feet of office development to residential, the plan would have passed with at least 6-1 votes at both the Planning Commission and the City Council. Although it’s hard to blame Hines for following the LUCE standards in the first place, for not accepting the new, reduced-office proposal, Hines must shoulder a lot of the blame for what happened. The best thing that could happen now to the site now is for Hines to sell the property to an entity interested in residential development and specifically in producing affordable, live/work space housing. This would help reduce our traffic problem too, as it would reduce daily car trips in the city.

What are your guiding principles for evaluating development in Santa Monica?

On the whole, would it be good for the city? And what are there alternatives that would be better?

Where should the City look for future revenue sources to support the level of service that residents are accustomed too?

Santa Monica must remain a human-scale city and only consider development that does not exacerbate our traffic issues. Hotels are excellent sources of revenues for the City because of the bed tax and because compared to other commercial development, they don’t generate many negative impacts, such as much traffic.

What are the top skills, abilities and personality traits you will look for in a new city manager?

We need someone who is good on the technical and management side, someone who is good in understanding how to make decisions that have political impact without involving politics, and someone who has a vision for the city’s continued progress.

Do you trust the current city staff to provide council with information that is transparent, accurate and represents the people?

I’m known for having a fair amount of skepticism, but I believe our staff is highly professional and honest, and do their best. That doesn’t mean their data and conclusions shouldn’t be challenged, but it also doesn’t mean that one should begin with distrust or cynicism.

Santa Monicans for Renters Rights had different goals, priorities and membership from the City’s newest political party, Residocracy. Which of these groups has the best vision for the future of Santa Monica?

This question is not fair to Residocracy. SMRR has been around for more than 30 years and has a comprehensive platform that it developed over that time. (And one which I greatly admire.) Residocracy is new and has only focused a few, mostly hot button issues, and has not developed a comprehensive vision for the future of the city.

Business in Santa Monica have to navigate a complicated legislative environment that can include development agreements, multiple permit processes and stops at several commissions. Is the City a welcoming place for new businesses and does the city have the right attitude towards businesses?

There’s no question the City could streamline certain procedures, and it’s always good to have a friendly attitude (about anything), but the most important job for the City’s government is to make Santa Monica a good place to live and, incidentally, work. It has done so, and that’s why businesses want to locate in Santa Monica.

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