Courtesy of NPS / Jessica Weinberg McClosky


Holy cliche, Batman! How many times have lazy, lousy, lame writers used that crutch phrase? (1,000,000.) (+1, now.) But sometimes, it just fits the bill.

I hadn’t sat through a full School Board meeting for a while. Not that I don’t follow closely what they do, who votes for what and what they said, and what sources tell me they say outside the room. But let’s be honest, no one shows up and stays up, sometimes past midnight, unless they’re a reporter or their ox is about to be gored.

They were considering goring the much-loved and supported iconic, environmental 41-year-old Muir Woods mural painted on two sides of the Olympic HS building at the very busy intersection of Lincoln and Ocean Park. The original agenda item would have immediately destroyed it, no alternative, no discussion.

Note: many people don’t differentiate, but SMMUSD is our school district (teachers, administrators, staff), and the School Board is seven elected officials charged with making our schools the best they can be, with authority to make and enforce rules and procedures for SMMUSD.


The revised agenda item was better than that mean-spirited, furtive first one. But the end result would be the same: paint it over for a blank wall featuring the new Obama school banner, remaining art to be determined later. The revised agenda at least gave us a chance to be heard (if only for 1-3 minutes each, not much after 5-½ years of waiting).

The Board had a long back and forth on this one, finally acknowledging that the mural had become part of the community and a final decision had to include community input, thus far lacking. I was delighted at how fair, open and positive the discussion seemed. They finally voted unanimously to replace that execution order, with a stay.


I was reminded that the School Board deals with a lot of complex and technical information, for decisions important to our city. You have to be current on things like educational philosophies, building design and construction, political realities, legal ramifications, finance and budgets, social and urban trends and much more.

I salute them! It’s a challenge and responsibility most people would not take on. The time put in away from the bi-monthly Board meetings must be prodigious, not to mention service on committees and all the political and social obligations. It’s a full-time job (on top of their regular jobs), for which they get paid very little.


Everything coming from SMMUSD seems slanted toward putting something else on that wall, something “new,” “different,” something “more modern,” “for the students,” something “representing climate crisis, but… different.” Check my recent columns for rebuttals to all that.

It is only recently that the issue of lead paint was raised. Residents have asked for documentation but it was denied until after the meeting. For years we were told by school officials that the wall itself had deteriorated and had to be replaced. There was $62,000 line-itemed from Bond BB for that purpose, but… it disappeared.

OK, we said, we’ll rebuild the wall and then repaint the cherished, important mural just as it was. Then we were told very recently that lead paint was peeling from the mural and falling into the soil and merciful heavens going straight into our Pacific Ocean. A few weeks ago someone at SMMUSD ordered the peeling paint scraped off — so now a mural already deteriorating because of 41 years of neglect by SMMUSD looks even worse. “An eyesore,” it’s been called. Well, yeah, now.

Then they sealed it in a clear coating to “prevent further contamination.” So why wasn’t it just sealed, rather than scraped? I can tell you, I knew where all the peeling paint was and the areas scraped are much, much more extensive.

And — recently we were told by an SMMUSD official that the lead is not in the mural paint but in the coat of paint below it. When something doesn’t make sense to me, I figure somebody’s got an agenda and they are making up silly stuff in place of the facts they are hiding.


After our Save committee agreed some years ago to a two month mediation process with reps from Olympic HS, which resolved nothing because we were not willing to cut the baby in half, both sides agreed not to contact the original muralist Jane Golden, who now leads a massive mural program for the city of Philadelphia. She told us at that time that she loved that mural and would love to come out to help restore it and wrote a letter to that effect, but then she got conflicting communications from SMMUSD reps and, understandably, said I don’t want to be in the middle of some controversy, you folks settle it.

We have kept to that agreement but a Board member recently called her, on his own. That phone call was improper and we hope going forward that the public opinion process for repainting that wall will indeed be open and transparent, fair and unbiased.


Am I paranoid or prescient? Why do I suspect the wheels are turning to unfairly load the “public input” toward axing Muir Woods? I hope I will be proven wrong. I know all involved want to do the right thing.

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 33 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at

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