OUR NEW CITY MANAGER RICK COLE AND I ARE BEST BUDS, because we agree on everything.

I’d like to think so, but the truth is I only met him last week, for about a minute, when I introduced myself after Downtown Santa Monica (DTSM), Inc.’s annual state-of-Downtown love fest breakfast meeting, and I was probably the 10th or 50th person to do so that morning. Two days later he responded (long after hours) to an email I sent that afternoon, and we exchanged one more.

But, you know… BFF, I am sure.

I kept missing him at various gatherings we mutually attended, so despite the line to get to him post-breakfast I was determined to shake his hand and let him put a face to the byline he may become very annoyed with as his tenure lengthens. It’s only fair. He may want to cross the street when he sees me coming.

But it could turn out differently. The only City Manager I have had since I started writing this column in 2011 was recently-resigned Rod Gould, and I didn’t write about him often. It was a lost cause, I figured. Gould may have gotten us through economically tough times after the George W. recession, but he seemed to me inclined to favor, rely on and enable a never-ending stream of development small, large, and ridiculously large.

I hear you leaning forward, asking next: but Charles, you dummy, don’t you know that the City Manager just administers, what the City Council passes and directs? He has no real power.

On paper, in theory – have I got a bridge for you – yes. But just last week we the taxpayers of Santa Monica went on the hook for nearly a million dollars because our previous mayor, Pam O’Connor, admitted she “might have commented” to Gould her discomfort with his hire of Elizabeth Riel for a top City post last year, because Riel made campaign contributions to O’Connor’s opponent years ago.

“I can’t tell the city manager what to do,” O’Connor protested. But when

Gould rescinded the job offer to Riel she sued, and they settled.

But this is now. I imagine every combination of mayors, Council members and managers is unique, with a dynamic dictated by the personalities involved and the times. We will have to see how our new combo swings. A sweet ensemble, or a bunch of strong-willed soloists?

With recent statements by our Mayor McKeown, Council members including Mayor Pro Tem Tony Vasquez that morning, and Cole, I’m encouraged that all are seeing an opportunity to create a new era. But then, I’m kind of a Pollyanna, and easily fooled.

Rick Cole initially impresses me as someone who got “works well with others” on his report cards when he was a kid. I’ve heard of him being out and about, at all hours, talking to regular folks, not just conferring with movers and shakers.

The address he gave to the large, full room at the DTSM meeting was pretty remarkable, I felt, but didn’t get much attention in the local media. Was I reading into it, projecting maybe?

It began pretty boilerplate. A model of successful and sustainable public/private partnership. You’ve built an international brand for Downtown. Third Street Promenade and Ocean Avenue have become iconic streets. The makeover of Santa Monica Place has proven to be a smart bet. The Expo is a game changer.

So what does the next chapter look like? he asked.

“One option could be described as more of the same.” (I expected that.) “But despite the strong economic market for that scenario, there’s a clear risk in pursuing that course.” (What?) He said that for residents of this city, that sounds like more and more – visitors, traffic – and that’s not what they’re clamoring for.

“Of course, it might be objected that there’s always been naysayers.” (OK, here it comes.) “Downtown Santa Monica today owes its existence to the courageous and bold leadership of civic and elected leaders and for the ongoing and incredibly important economic investment of developers of investors of merchants and property owners.” (Uh huh.) “We can’t stop all new development and expect that downtown will continue to be enhanced and to prosper and to sustain.”

He said there is an alternative to freezing the status quo, or simply pursuing more of the same. Pause. “Strengthening Downtown as the civic and cultural heart of Santa Monica. We might call it fostering a hometown downtown.”

He said we should think of why Santa Monicans still love their Downtown. The Central Library, Farmers Markets, Palisades Park, the winter ice rink, and many long-surviving local businesses, along with new local ones.

“What if we focus on expanding the range and attractiveness of these local serving institutions and places,” he said. What if we increased events and services, to continue to draw people Downtown who live within walking or biking distance? What if we significantly increased the frequency and scope of cultural offerings designed for locals?” (Got my full attention now, sir.)

“Now some might object that this would be a retreat from prosperity, wouldn’t this undermine the vibrant economic health of our downtown economic engine? It’s a fair question. But I think not,” he said.

(Here comes the best part…)

“I think you and discerning visitors from all over this country and all over this world, actually prefer places that retain a sense of place, that boast a unique identity, that retain their local flavor, that nurture their authenticity, that emphasize their cultural and artistic richness,” he said.

He used a white dress shirt as an example. You can get it anywhere – London, New York, Mexico City – why build 20 more places here where you can get a white shirt? He asked if long-run resilience based upon continually rethinking, updating and responding – or continuing to pursue more of the same?

“Lets not count on the residents of this city to have the same enthusiasm that they’ve had over the last 30 years for more of the same,” he said.

He said we should work together, quit stalling and instead of resorting to the roulette wheel of DAs, spell out specifically what we expect from developers.

“Lets carefully balance our formula for success and ensure that success is sustained for decades to come,” he said.

When speaking of the importance of the soul of our City, he punctuated adlib with the famous verse from Matthew: “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world, but lose your soul?” He also threw in a music reference to “Walking in LA.” Oh yeah.

I just might be able to work with this guy. Welcome to Santa Monica, Rick Cole. I think we’re a fortunate people to have you in our fortunate city.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” – Joni Mitchell (“Big Yellow Taxi”)

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for almost 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com

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