By Frank Gruber
September 14, 2009. The big news in the politics and policy department last week was the Santa Monica City Council's 6 to 1 vote to accept the conclusion of the Walker parking report that the City does not need to increase significantly the public parking supply downtown. ("Council Approves Parking Rate Hioke Downtown," September 9, 2009) (The report does support a small net increase of 160 spaces that would occur by replacing two of the three smaller structures on Second and Fourth Streets, which would otherwise need seismic retrofits, with new and larger structures; a third small structure would not be replaced.)
This vote marked a sea change for the council members (other than Council Member Kevin McKeown, who has consistently been skeptical about building more parking), who have previously, since adopting the downtown parking plan early in the decade, accepted predictions of growth downtown that hasn't happened, and taken steps -- including the acquisition of property on Fifth Street -- to build the plan's maximum number of new spaces (about 1,700).
The Walker report showed that even with growth, the spaces would not be needed if the City increased parking prices in the prime structures.
The properties on Fifth Street (at Arizona, across from the Post Office) that the City acquired may turn out to useful after all. As suggested by Mayor Ken Genser at the meeting last week, it may make sense for the City to build a new structure on Fifth Street rather than rebuild the smaller structures on Fourth and Second Streets. The City could then develop those properties for some other purpose.
This would remove traffic going in and out of parking structures from the two busy streets downtown. As Andy Agle, the City's Director of Housing and Economic Development, pointed out in response to Mayor Genser's suggestion, when the Expo line arrives at Fourth and Colorado, the City will be interested in anything that helps keep buses moving on Fourth Street.
In a parallel development, the site of one of the smaller structures on Fourth, the one just south of Arizona, will likely become the location for a new movie theater complex. ("Santa Monica Could get First New Theater," September 10, 2009) These theaters will be built without parking, something unusual for Southern California, where theaters are typically included in big retail complexes with their own parking. But in downtown Santa Monica, moviegoers who arrive by car park elsewhere and walk on city streets to the box office -- a small thing that helps make downtown Santa Monica the congenial urban environment it is.
My thoughts not turn fiscal. If the City will be transferring parking from old structures and old sites to a new structure at a new site, it should maximize the money it will realize from developing the old sites to apply to building the new parking. This will save redevelopment money that could be used for something better.
* * *
On Friday I attended the opening of Daniel's Village, Step Up on Second's new supportive housing facility for young adults with mental illnesses. The facility, in a rehabbed former motel on Santa Monica Boulevard, will house seven residents while they receive support through Step Up's Daniel's Place program. Most of the residents will continue their educations at local schools, and some of them will have jobs.
Step Up, Santa Monica's homegrown provider of services and housing (the group's motto is "Help, Hope and a Home") to the mentally ill who might otherwise be homeless, is on a roll. This year they've opened another permanent supportive housing development in Santa Monica, Step Up on Fifth, and they now have two projects underway in Hollywood.
Daniel's Village is a small project, but its opening was significant not only because it provides housing for seven young people. It is, as County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky pointed out at the event Friday, the first residential project financed with funds from Prop. 63, the 2004 initiative that taxes million-dollar earners to provide services to the mentally ill, to open in Los Angeles County.
According to financial consultant Paul Silvern, who consulted for the California Housing Finance Agency (CalHFA) on financing for Daniel's Village, and my old friend from the Santa Monica Planning Commission, Kathy Weremiuk, who heads the multifamily program in Southern California for CalHFA, the seven units in Daniel's Village are the first of 800 units in the pipeline for the county funded by Prop. 63 funds.
According to data furnished to me by Mr. Silvern, Los Angeles County has succeeded in about one year in allocating nearly $116 million of funding to housing projects for the mentally ill. This puts L.A. County ahead of any other county in the state.
These projects are financed through the County's Department of Mental Health and CalHFA, as well as local funds (such as the City of Santa Monica's contributions to Step Up for its projects) and charitable contributions. The services are provided not by large governmental agencies, however, but by local service providers. They show what government and service providers can accomplish -- if the money is there.
* * *
Saturday night was the first Saturday night after Labor Day, and it was a big night for openings at galleries all over Santa Monica. My wife and I started the evening by attending an event the Santa Monica Conservancy hosted at the home of Patricia Knop and Zalman King, a couple who have furnished their 1912 house a few blocks from the palisades with art and artifacts from around the world.
After that we headed over to Bergamot Station, where every gallery seemed to have a new show. It was a lot of fun -- a carnival of art.
We concluded the night at the Pico Youth and Family Center, which was hosting a traveling show, called "Expressions of Gang Violence," that I recommend highly. It's an exhibition of artwork by five gang intervention workers who have used art to depict the crisis that bedevils the young people who are enmeshed in gangs and gangsta culture.
At the opening I had a long conversation with painter and muralist Manny Velazquez, one of the artists in the show. Mr. Velazquez has worked for years with gang members, and now works to turn illegal graffiti taggers into artists working "on canvas."
His point was a very basic one: pouring law enforcement resources into fighting gangs is never going to be sufficient, because the fantasy of being an outlaw is part of what motivates young men to become gangsters. The same goes for taggers, who may not be gang members, but who have similar fantasies fueling what they do.
To break the cycle of gangs, it's necessary to reach gang members and their families and make them part of the larger community, so that they have reasons to apply their skills and abilities (which when it comes to graffiti artists, for instance, are manifest), to productive rather than destructive pursuits.
Sounds right to me.
("Expressions of Gang Violence" can be viewed at the Pico Youth and Family Center at 715 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica.)