I DIDN’T THINK I COULD DO IT
For the last two weeks I have not watched a news broadcast, tuned into a news channel, read or even glanced at a newspaper (print or online), read an email about goings-on in Santa Monica, gone to any SM-oriented social media pages or websites. I don’t think I’ve received my emails regarding alarming things going on or about to hit Santa Monica, but I’m not sure because I’ve been pretty successful at ignoring most emails, only occasionally flipping through the massive accumulation to see if any subject lines were alarming enough to make me read the whole thing. Happy to report, no news there is good news too.
This was a radical move for me, even for only two weeks, as a lifelong news junkie and a passionate cheerleader for 37 years of my longtime adopted hometown. I wanted to get away from it all, “Builders’ ‘Remedy’,” Russian savaging of Ukraine, GOP savaging of the foundations of America, glaciers melting into a rising sea. I had invitations to visit friends in Hawai’i, so now was the time.
What have I missed? Any murders in Santa Monica in the last two weeks? Probably. Half of City Council aiding and abetting the continued overdevelopment destruction of a once-great city? I’m going to blindly bet yes on that one too. And yes, thousands who love this city working together on what they do agree on to make things better.
BUT MY CHOICE TO IGNORE THE OUTSIDE WORLD
Particularly my home city, became only the backdrop to what I have seen and learned here on the island of Hawai’i.
Besides the well-known tropical beauty of the island state, did you know it is the most far-flung, isolated place on earth? Nothing on the planet is farther from everything else than Hawai’i. You might expect that gives the population a different perspective and attitude than in the other 49.
I’ve visited Hawai’i (the state) before. Hawai’i (the island) 19 years ago, Kuau’i (twice) and Oahu. Each visit was memorable. But this one was different.
We had two couples to visit, who as it turned out, live just a few minutes down the road from each other, on the Kailua-Kona side of the big island. It had been 19 years since we last landed at Barry and Cindy’s shangri-la up the side of a volcano (there are three main ones on Hawai’i, and nearly every residence is up the side of a volcano). Their home is even more gorgeous and comfortable, with three new dogs. They are definitely a loving family of five.
OUR OTHER HOSTS
Were a high school classmate of mine, Trish, and her husband Russ. Our agenda for both visits was to just chill (with a view like that, and fruit right off the trees?). Barry and Cindy and I have stayed in touch over 40-some years but there was a lot to catch up on.
Trish and I had seen each other only briefly since the mid-’60s, at some class reunions and more recently on class Zooms, so we wanted to get to know each other (even though we grew up within five blocks of each other), and our spouses. We did that, but Russ is a 40-plus year resident of Hawai’i and knows a lot and we were fortunate to have him share that with us. We took a couple of long trips, one around the entire island, stopping overnight near the active Kilauea volcano and yes, we did see lava jumping up that night. Score!
But here’s what I took away, from what I saw, on all those trips over the years.
Oahu is home to big Honolulu, but still has a down home side as you get away from the city. Still, Honolulu rules. Kauai, the Garden Isle, is gorgeous but unfortunately overrun with tourists, traffic and huge resorts. With a population of 73,000 it is closest to Santa Monica, but hardly a role model for smart development. Still, I love so many parts of it and would go back any time.
Is the name of both the largest island – locals don’t like to call it the Big Island, so I don’t, but it can get confusing – it’s also the name of the entire state. The island has a population of 200,000, about double Santa Monica. But at just over 4,000 square miles it is, of course, not comparable in that way. There are two main small cities on the island: Hilo at around 46,000, and Kailua-Kona at about 20,000.
Obviously there are many differences, but we’re not talking Hong Kong here either. Hawai’i, as different from those other two islands I’ve visited, has a small town feel. Old wooden buildings, in the traditional style, colorfully painted, kept up and still in use. Revered neighborhood stops everyone flocks to – the decadent malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts), the lady who sells Kona coffee out of the trunk of her car at half the price of Costco, scattered roadside trucks that sell both, the gelato stand, the unforgettable chicken and burger emporiums, all with long, long lines, and many small businesses of all kinds, around for decades.
We drive by a waterfront excavation and Russ remarked, “Oh, it looks like the state won on that one.” He explained that locals fought such developments often on the grounds that the sites were sacred to the native people, but that sometimes the desires and means of the very wealthy and powerful to have their condo in that particular spot, prevailed. But the coastline is not covered with a string of those homes, blocking ocean views. When I first moved to Santa Monica in 1986 you could cruise south on Ocean Avenue from Wilshire and see ocean all the way.
Trish told me that they were just now moving ahead with a small development of 64 affordable homes, and that a percentage of them would be for the homeless. Did they have to grant the developer 650 market rate units to get those, I asked. “Oh no,” she replied, “they are being subsidized.”
We tend to think the way things are done here is the way it has to be. But if you get out and look around you will see that there are alternative ways that other communities are developing without sacrificing their community character. Santa Monica, like Hawai’i, is a special place unlike any other in the world. Hawai’i the island does not seem to want a Honolulu. People from all over LA, and the world, have always come to Santa Monica because it is different and special. We who live here now are caretakers, and we must take that historic responsibility seriously.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 37 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com