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Who Do We Think We Are
By Frank Gruber
"I wonder where those workers are going to come from in Santa Monica, which has become more and more and more an affluent community. So hiring locally may well not be as important an aspect of this as we would like to think." -- Commissioner Julie Lopez Dad, at the Planning Commission's October 30, 2000, hearing on the proposed Target store at Fifth Street and Santa Monica Boulevard, speaking on whether the 400 jobs Target would create should be considered a significant factor in the store's favor.
No matter who becomes our next President, the next big land use issue in Santa Monica will be the proposed Target department store at Fifth and Broadway.
Wolf Blitzer will not cover the story, but by the time the City Council debates the matter next year, much will have been written about it here in Santa Monica. In fact, I plan to write a lot about the Target store myself.
A Target store downtown would be an excellent thing for Santa Monica. Not only that, but it would be a model for how current mass-market retailing can be adapted for the post-sprawl era of American cities.
Back on October 30 the Planning Commission denied the approvals necessary to build the store. The vote was 5-2.
The reason the majority gave for disapproval was their concern about traffic congestion downtown. These concerns outweighed the benefits a Target store would provide by way of affordable shopping, resident-serving retail and more jobs.
The Commission conducted an extensive public hearing over two nights. Many people from the public spoke including, I might add, myself, in my last public utterance before joining the Fourth Estate. While the majority on the Commission made their views forcefully clear, the dissenters, Darrell Clarke and Anthony Loui, eloquently made the case for approving the project.
Everyone knew that whatever the result, the Commission's decision would be appealed. Nonetheless, the hearing provided an excellent "dress rehearsal" for the future and more conclusive proceedings at City Council. All the issues are now on the table.
While the store's impact on traffic congestion -- a technical issue that requires considerable technical analysis -- will no doubt be the primary substantive issue, for me the most dramatic impact of the hearing was rhetorical and ideological.
What I saw and heard confirmed that the line between "no-growth" development policies and right-wing indifference to other peoples' problems is very thin at best.
As quoted above, Commissioner Julie Lopez Dad stated that the 400 jobs Target would create were not important. She did not believe that in an affluent community like Santa Monica, people would care about those jobs.
Leaving aside the snobbery inherent in the attitude that jobs at Target would not interest the affluent, Ms.Dad's assessment of who lives in Santa Monica is wrong.
According to the City of Santa Monica's Community Profile, prepared for the City by RAND and published this past March (accessible at http://pen.ci.santa monica.ca.us/ccs/hsd/commprof.htm#ACommunityProfile), many Santa Monicans, particularly our youth, live in poverty. For instance:
* As of 1998, 12.7% of the people in Santa Monica live in poverty by the federal standard. In the 90404 zip code, 22% live in poverty, a percentage higher than the national rate.
* High numbers of our children and young adults live in poverty: 16.7% of those under five; 19.3% of those five to fourteen, 21.3% of those fifteen to nineteen, and 24.7% of those 20 to 24. In total, 19% of our children under age eighteen live in poverty -- virtually identical to the national childhood poverty rate of 18.9%.
* 26% of Santa Monica public school students are eligible for free or reduced price school lunches.
Of course, the federal poverty standard is notoriously low -- in 1998 the cutoff was $16,530 annual income for a family of four with two children under 18. More relevant, perhaps, to the question of whether Santa Monica is "affluent" -- or so affluent that no Santa Monican would want to work at Target -- is that 38% of our households have incomes of less than $35,000 per year and 53% have incomes of less than $50,000.
Nor do these figures take into account the income levels of Venice, West L.A., Palms and Mar Vista, communities that are tied to Santa Monica, whether some people like it or not.
Notwithstanding what the Planning Commission says, or what the City Council candidates yapped about this year, traffic congestion is not the number one problem in Santa Monica.
What is the number one problem? Frankly, I do not know. There are a number of problems, however, that even at first glance are more important than traffic congestion.
Consider one: the fact that out of an incomprehensible combination of despair and anger, some of our teenagers and young adults feel compelled, from time to time, to shoot each other. The most recent shooting occurred in the wee hours of November 11, when, as reported in The Lookout, two men were shot in an alley near the 2000 block of 20th Street. In July, another young man was shot in a driveway about three blocks away.
Is it surprising that in the 90404 zip code, where these shootings occurred, 37% of children and young adults aged 15 to 24 live in poverty?
Two years ago during a spate of shootings there was much wringing of hands and anguished pleas that we needed to do more to help our young people -- like help them find good jobs. During one evening vigil I, along with several members of City Council, as well as Council candidates, heard State Sen. Tom Hayden make an inspired speech saying exactly that.
But that was then and this is now.
Not every young person graduates from college and finds a high-tech, $50,000 job. Not every 25-year-old graduates from law school and finds a $100,000 job.
When the City Council holds its public hearing on the Target store there will be many speakers complaining about traffic. These people already have cars, houses, and good incomes.
The City Council will also hear from property owners and business interests in downtown that do not want competition from Target. These people already have cars, houses, and good businesses.
I doubt that many sixteen year-old kids who in a few years might get their first job at Target will appear before City Council.
But they live here, too.The City Council will have to take a moment, between the other speakers, to listen.
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