ALWAYS HAS BEEN
That’s not a news flash. As soon as Los Angeles became a known entity, people discovered there was a charming beach town directly west. Drive, gallop, walk or take a train and when you hit the Pacific Ocean, there’s Santa Monica.
We are possibly the best-known small city (under 100,000) in the world if you don’t count ones known for an historic event. Bethlehem, Babylon, Auschwitz, Carthage, Gettysburg, Woodstock, Roswell and Los Alamos, maybe Tombstone and Sedona.
When I traveled for a year around Europe and North Africa 11 years ago, in the beginning I answered the question, where are you from in the US?, with “LA,” figuring I would have to explain “Santa Monica.” I was surprised to soon discover that a lot of people knew of Santa Monica. Quite a few people said they had visited here, or someone in their family had. But of course, give a lot of credit to “Baywatch” reruns. But is that so bad an image? The beach, the blue Pacific, sunshine and palm trees, lots of beautiful people, lifeguards saving lives, stopping crime and having a good time. It fit perfectly with the pictures the Beach Boys painted in song.
The LA Marathon ended here until recently. The 2028 Olympics are coming back, to a temporary beach volleyball stadium to be built just north of the Pier. The world will be watching. I remember as a kid in New Mexico watching Santa Monica shotputter Parry O’Brien crush the competition. He seemed like the biggest, most muscular man I could ever imagine. Charles Atlas, move over. Tarzan, bulk up.
Kevin Love, SM and UCLA, is currently on TV helping the Miami Heat make mincemeat of the NY Knicks (sorry, Spike). Don’t forget tennis great Gussie Moran. And two good friends of mine used to compete with Wilt Chamberlain, Daily Press humor columnist Jack Neworth in tennis – he used to beat Wilt easily, but The Stilt wasn’t built for that game — and lifelong resident (“never east of 4th Street”) Joel Mark in beach volleyball – they were teammates and I wish I could have seen it, Joel at maybe 5’8, Wilt at over 7’.
MUSICIANS? ACTORS? WRITERS?
Too many to list, but Samohi’s Alumni Hall of Fame documents a lot. (Good thing it wasn’t housed in the HISTORY Building, which the school district unnecessarily demolished.) I just saw that alum Emilio Estevez is re-releasing his powerful film “The Way,” where he directed fellow alumni/dad Martin Sheen. (I don’t think there is a class to prepare you for that.) I know there were and still are a lot of top musicians living in Ocean Park, my ‘hood.
I keep seeing the assertion that 40% of Santa Monicans make their living in the arts, so I think it might be true. Isn’t that what we should be known for? We have also been the place that draws spiritual leaders and teachers. Not long after I moved to LA, Siddha yoga master Muktananda established two American beachheads, in NY, and on the Santa Monica beach, where he erected two huge tents and held forth for several weeks. I was fortunate enough to attend one of his weekend programs, and was very glad I had the opportunity.
Rev. Michael Beckwith held small spiritual gatherings in his living room in the early ‘80s and moved to the basement of the Miramar Hotel for more space. That’s when I went with a friend and loved what I heard. My daughter was christened there, by Beckwith and Terry Cole-Whittaker. The congregation kept outgrowing its space and is now in the beautiful Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. Rev. Beckwith, a tough baller despite being vertically challenged, has risen from that basement to worldwide prominence.
So very much in our rich history to be proud of, but –
WHAT ARE WE KNOWN FOR NOW?
You know the sad litany. Mentally ill homeless on the streets, a disproportionately large population, with nowhere good to go, committing crimes and making a walk down the street a gamble for residents. Business owner John Alle has been a vocal critic of city leaders, saying they need to do much more, and spearheaded hanging a huge banner on the Promenade that reads, “Santa Monica is Not Safe.” It’s hard to refute that, but the banner has been carried on news programs across the globe and become well-known and infamous. It does damage to our image, and will be hard to live down.
So many complex problems. Not enough police but no money, largely because of more than $200,000,000 in legal judgments over a city employee who sexually abused hundreds, over 10 years, then committed suicide. Will that be the legacy that Santa Monica is known for?
That is horrible, of course, but our City government has been known for spending our money foolishly for decades, from the bus “bench” fiasco to an office annex that was so “green” it cost $50M more than it needed to.
I hear it all the time, I get emails, I read social media. People here are fed up, angry and almost hopeless. They are moving out, from their beloved town, because they just can’t take it any more. This is/was a very special place, and its treasures have been systematically plundered for the greed of a few.
Yes, some small progress is being made, in the face of great odds and resistance. The last City Council election was two steps backwards. There is a lot of money on the table here, folks. And the folks in Sacramento are a big problem, but the bigger one is City Councils who have offered no resistance when they should be organizing and fighting the conjunction of money and politics.
I’m just a simple cowboy scribe from New Mexico but this is my home now, nearly 40 years, and I know when the sun is setting, and I’m being taken for a ride. I’m also an optimist, that it is never too late. But as Dylan wrote recently, “it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.”
When COVID hit and so much changed overnight, I knew, and I wrote, that we must re-emerge with radically different ways of doing things. It was a wakeup call, that politicians have ignored. Now we must do that job for them. We can create a brave new world or watch the darkness take over. I will be working until that last light disappears.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org