CITY HALL — After about 500 meetings and thousands of hours in the Council Chambers, Bob Holbrook will take to the dais one last time tonight.
Holbrook, elected in 1990, is the longest serving member of City Council in Santa Monica’s history.
The elder statesmen has survived six elections and without the help of Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, the city’s largest political party or, as Holbrook likes to call it, “the political machine.”
Holbrook, who announced earlier this year he’d retire at the end of this term, is often short with his words during meetings, at least in recent years, but he’s full of opinions and is known for speaking with residents, regardless of where they stand politically.
“Some of my colleagues talk, talk, talk, and I think they’re trying to convince themselves they’re right,” he said. “If they keep hearing themselves say it over and over, they begin to believe themselves.”
A favorite council moment for Holbrook was when he and others got a group of outdated city vehicles sent to Bayou La Batre, Ala. immediately following Hurricane Katrina. More recently, and closer to home, was a memorial that he pushed to have built in Woodlawn Cemetery, to honor Santa Monicans who’ve died in combat.
Holbrook is also proud of the city’s strong budget, the parks that have been built or improved under his watch, and times, particularly back in the 1990s, when he and others brokered compromises.
He lamented the fact that Santa Monica politics have grown, as he sees it, reactionary. He remembers being able to converse with and reach agreements with former Mayor Ken Genser, who was often on the other side of issues. Holbrook remembers lots of 4 to 3 votes, with former Mayor Paul Rosenstein often serving as the swing vote.
“He wanted everyone to participate,” Holbrook said. “He became more of an independent. Those were good years. We got a lot done.”
Holbrook is considered by many to be pro-business — a stance that has made him the target of anger in recent years alongside a swelling anti-development contingent.
“The vitriol is unbelievable,” he said.
Most of it died down, he said, after he announced his retirement.
A recent low-point, he said, was when council agreed, 6 to 1, to use taxpayer dollars to repair “Chain Reaction,” a sculpture gifted to City Hall in the 1990s.
“I was assured there were five or six council members who didn’t want to fund it,” Holbrook said. “They’d rather use that money for new art projects and things like that. And they all voted for it.”
What’s next for Holbrook?
“No more staff reports,” he said. “I have little grandchildren that I’m enjoying.
There are some trips I’d like to take. There are some things I need to do. We’ve had some family health issues and it turns out it wasn’t our health; It was our children’s health. It was serious. It just, the time I have left in this world I’d rather devote to something that I find gives me more pleasure.”
The long meetings, he said, get to him.
“Sometimes I’m sitting there at 12 at night thinking, how can we have spent three hours on this item which was a slam dunk?” he said. “Oftentimes we are 7 to 0 but we just can’t get to the vote. Someone’s got to give a speech. We can’t even adjust a parking permit without the neighborhood showing up.”
Holbrook, a pharmacist, vehemently opposes allowing medical marijuana dispensaries within the city’s borders.
“It’s something that’s clearly, clearly not in the best interest of the public but they just want to be progressive,” he said. “I just thought I’m a voice that’s not heard anymore and I don’t care to beat myself up here until midnight or 1 a.m. and not make any difference.”
He may show up to speak from the audience when the dispensary issue comes up, likely next year.
“There will be probably a few times where I’ve got to get something off my chest,” he said. “I doubt if I’ll be around City Hall ever — maybe an issue here or there — because I don’t expect them to listen.”
Holbrook laughed, noting that he’d recently suggested to former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver that the two should run for council together in 2016.
“Let’s have some fun,” Holbrook told Shriver.
When asked if he was serious, Holbrook was silent, grinning.
“Bobby thought it was a good idea,” he said eventually.
Holbrook told an anecdote about a man who, spotting Holbrook’s council member license plates, asked him to wind down his car window.
“He said, ‘I want to thank you. You guys have done a wonderful job. This is a great place to live. It’s a wonderful city.’ He’s not part of the 30 people who keep shouting and shouting that they hate Santa Monica,” Holbrook said. “It made me feel good.”
“The thing I try to tell young council members is that you’ll here from people,” he continued, “but there’s about 98,000 that you won’t hear from. What’s best for them?”