ROB SCHWENKER AND I ARE BRAVE MEN.

I know this about myself, from the smiling greeting I got from one of the tough, smart leaders of the Northeast Neighbors (NEN) group. Sincere? Or a trap?

“Charles! – you’re here… you’re a brave man.”

The last time I showed up for their monthly meeting, new City Manager Rick Cole was their guest speaker, and he was clearly unprepared for the reception he got: raucous and rude. The Neighbors were loaded for bear. He handled himself with dignity as all the ills of our city and the evils of our City Council were piled upon his fresh shoulders. Even though he had been on the job less than four months, and had spent much of that time reaching out to groups and individuals.

The NENs were angry, feeling that our city was being sold off wholesale to developers and the residents were not being listened to. I understood; I sympathized; I agreed. But I thought it went too far and I wrote about the spectacle I witnessed, and I got feedback. Let’s just say no one was recommending me for a Pulitzer. Nor eagerly inviting me back.

Schwenker, if you don’t know, is the publisher of this newspaper. A 13-year veteran of the Santa Monica Daily Press, rising from intern to the top, he has been publisher for just over half a year. Keeping a daily newspaper in a small city afloat is a near-impossible task in the 21st Century, but he’s doing it. He’s made a lot of good changes, and continues to innovate and find better ways. This was his first stop as publisher on his “tour” of all the neighborhood groups.

I didn’t think he’d get the kind of “welcome” Cole did, but I was concerned. There are those who have a love-hate relationship with the paper, and in the hour before he arrived several expressed their perception that the Daily Press is sometimes biased in its coverage.

Even though there was no specific talk of lynching or tar and feathers, I was prepared to do whatever was necessary to protect my publisher if it got ugly. I wore my snakeskin running shoes. I fingered the mace in my pocket. I mentally ran through my best Krav Maga moves. I eyed the exits. I planned my heroic, sacrificial moves if he needed to bail and head quickly for the door.

BUT IT WASN’T NECESSARY. The group did clearly voice their concerns and grilled him, but it was reasonable and respectful. They made suggestions. Schwenker listened, responded, explained. It seemed win-win, good communication between community and media.

NEN’s Tricia Crane suggested to me that evening that members of the neighborhood groups could be useful adjuncts to the position of ombudsman that I proposed in my column last Wednesday. While she’s skeptical that an ombudsman (an independent citizen advocate within city government) can be effective here, we agreed that such a position might be better instituted after this year’s elections. I wrote that volunteer assistants (information gatherers with legal authority) to the ombudsman would be necessary, and there are so many in the neighborhood groups already doing such work that it would make sense to find them there.

I DON’T ALWAYS AGREE with the narrow concerns all the neighborhood associations espouse, but they are a legitimate expression of our citizenry and should get more attention. Unless and until we go to district voting here for City Council, we should find a way to better hear those voices.

The first half of the meeting discussed getting the long-promised (since 2005) and now orphaned athletic field back into the plan for the revitalized Civic Center. Two Samohi PTSA members, Jaleh Mirhashemi and Ann Hoover, have been working on this for nearly two years, and presented their case to the group. Having myself gone to nearly all the meetings of the Civic Working Group, whose recommendations (which do not insist the field be included) go to City Council at their Feb. 9 meeting, I felt sorry for them. From the very beginning, the bias of the consultants and the push of almost all members of the Working Group was no field, but we do need hotels, office and retail to pay for it all. No, we don’t, there are other ways.

Their mention that Samohi is having to pay the city to use outside fields because of their lack on campus elicited shock from the group. Also drawing angry comment was the huge Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC) building, standing out like a huge red sore thumb on the map they distributed of the proposed site. They said the ECEC increased in size again over the summer and is now so large there may not even be room for a soccer field green space.

The ECEC issue always makes me angry. A pre-school in the civic center, almost downtown? Serving primarily Rand and City Hall employees? Run by a for-profit company? Paying $1 a year in rent? Seriously? And anyone who questions it is shut down and told it’s a done deal, don’t even bring it up.

JAN. 1 MARKED 30 YEARS IN SANTA MONICA for me, in the same little cozy condo close to the beach. I’m fortunate, blessed, and thankful.

EL NINO QUOTE OF THE WEEK: A hard rain’s a-gonna fall.” – Bob Dylan

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