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Loui Loui, He Gotta Go

By Frank Gruber

Memo to Anthony Loui: Just because City Council purged you from the Planning Commission, don't get any ideas about writing a column about Santa Monica politics. Forget about it. This job is taken, and I don't need competition.

I am willing, however, to talk to Kathy Weremiuk about setting up some encounter sessions. Perhaps we can help you get over the pain and anguish you are probably feeling, after your de appointment from the Commission. We've been there.

In fact, there is no comparison between the Council's action last week denying Loui a full term on the Commission, and Council's votes in 1999 to dump me and Weremiuk.

What they did to Loui was worse.

Weremiuk and I had each served at least a full four-year term. We had each had the chance not only to have an impact on the city's future, but also to serve and experience our own growth as citizens. Unless you have participated in government, as a volunteer or otherwise, you may not understand what I mean by this, but the personal growth and satisfaction that comes from public service is an important side-benefit to all the power, authority, respect and accolades that naturally fall on the shoulders and crown the brows of planning commissioners and the like.

Loui, when the axe fell, had only served eleven months -- the City Council put him on the Commission to complete Ken Breisch's term when Breisch resigned. If nothing else, it is plain rude to ask a member of the public to serve on a commission, and then kick him out so quickly. The fact that members of the council did it without informing Loui in advance that they had qualms about his service compounds the rudeness.

The council complains that the Oaks Initiative will discourage people from serving on boards and commissions -- what about the Council's own bad manners?

Another reason Loui has more to complain about than Weremiuk and I is that the two of us had campaigned against several of the council members in the 1998 election and then in the special election that followed in 1999. We knew what we were doing.

When they won, those Council members Weremiuk and I opposed, and their allies, had every right to turn us out to pasture. I can handle "to the victor go the spoils." I live by "if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen."

But Anthony Loui? What did he do?

The reasons Council members gave to Lookout reporter Teresa Rochester for dumping Loui, were, if nothing else, diverse. According to Herb Katz, Loui was "abstract" and didn't make quick or "real" decisions. Michael Feinstein was frustrated by Loui's being unable to "work with his colleagues." He said Loui didn't fit the chemistry of the group. Loui's dissenting voice, according to Feinstein, was not one that "challenges," but one that was "in the wilderness" and "not even heard."

Did Feinstein mean "not even heard" or "not ever listened to?" The essence of a deliberative group like the Planning Commission is the give and take among commissioners who do not agree with each other.

"Indecisive?" One can hardly blame Loui that Planning Commission meetings now regularly go on for hours and hours.

Feinstein said that he sympathized with Loui because he, like Loui, started out in politics as a "dissenting voice." I suppose he is referring to those days when as an activist he battled the Council on issues like the Civic Center plan or Project New Hope. I sat with Feinstein on the OPCO board in those days, and I remember the contempt Feinstein and his colleagues had for the council. If the council had dumped Feinstein from a commission because of his views, he and his soul-mates would have screamed bloody murder.

What about the charge that Loui couldn't get along with his colleagues? Does this mean that Kelly Olsen should worry that he won't be re-appointed? After all, have any other commissioners appealed Commission decisions that they opposed? What can be more insulting to your colleagues than to spend hours trying to persuade them to your way of thinking, then, when they don't agree, to go "nyah, nyah" and kick the matter upstairs to Council? Can a commissioner be more contentious than that?

Loui voted in favor of the Target store at Fifth and Santa Monica. Is it coincidental that the four Council members who voted against him on the first ballot all voted against Target?

A couple of weeks ago the Planning Commission heard an appeal of the Architectural Review Board's approval of a developer's project to build four houses on Michael Feinstein's block of Hollister Street. Feinstein opposed this project, and went so far as to attend the hearing and coach his neighbor who had filed the appeal. Loui expressed his approval of the overall design, although he opposed the configuration of garages and, along with the other commissioners, voted to continue the matter for further design work.

Loui had a regional view of planning that may seem abstract or unrealistic given the navel-gazing and us-ism that characterizes the Santa Monica world-view. In the real world, however, the regional perspective is simultaneously both realistic and visionary.

I don't know if Feinstein voted against Loui because Loui approved the Hollister design, and I don't know if Feinstein and the rest voted against Loui because of Target. More likely the decision in the short-term reflected horse-trading among the strange combination of Katz, Feinstein, McKeown and Holbrook. But I do believe that Loui's votes on issues like Target, his willingness to oppose Feinstein on an issue that affects Feinstein's own block, and his "bigger picture" attitude toward planning, made it plain to Katz, Feinstein, McKeown and Holbrook that Loui was not one with the program.

The Council members who voted Loui down have made it plain that they do not want -- or respect -- diversity of opinion on the Commission, but the decision to drop Loui betrays, more than anything else, the insecurity of the Council members in their own ideas.

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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