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By Frank Gruber

Wow. Tuesday my household was in the eye of the news. The police, searching for an armed robber in flight, blockaded our street. Then, that evening, I made dinner using key ingredients that came from Trader Joe's.

It's one of our favorite quick pasta dinners. Saute some garlic and some anchovies in olive oil, then add a can of chopped tomatoes. Put the water on for the pasta. Thaw and peel a bag of frozen shrimp. When you put the pasta in the pot, saute the shrimp in some more garlic and oil. Dump the shrimp into the tomatoes, drain the pasta, put everything in a bowl, salt and pepper to taste, and ... Ecco la pasta. As my father-in-law used to say, "Imagine how much this would cost in a fine New York restaurant."

Need I mention that we bought the tomatoes, the shrimp, the olive oil and the garlic at Trader Joe's?

I have the feeling that whether one shops at Trader Joe's will soon be a political issue, pitting "neighbor against neighbor," as they say.

I read Kelly Olsen's lawyerly memo to the Planning Department about whether the proposed new Trader Joe's at 12th and Wilshire has unanticipated zoning problems. I have no opinion whether he is correct, but there is nothing obvious about zoning.

I will wait to hear how planning staff deals with the Trader Joe's application for administrative approval before torturing myself by breaking open my own copy of the zoning ordinance. I suggest you all do the same.

But even if Olsen is incorrect, the new TJ's will become a political issue because it will need a conditional use permit to sell alcoholic beverages, and the store will come under Planning Commission review regardless of the zoning. If Olsen is right, TJ's will need considerably more approvals including, perhaps, an amendment to the zoning ordinance.

I wonder if buying shrimp at TJ's would constitute an "ex parte communication" that I would have to disclose if I were still on the Planning Commission. I wonder if Olsen will have to disclose conversations he had with himself.

In any case, Trader Joe's proposal may test the Planning Commission's avowed "resident friendliness." Few institutions are more popular than Trader Joe's.

It may also soon be controversial in Santa Monica to be a music-lover. Wednesday night I attended the public meeting Santa Monica College hosted to discuss plans for a 500-seat theater at the Madison School site at 11th and Santa Monica Boulevard. The closest concert facility to Santa Monica is Royce Hall at UCLA, so a new venue, even a small one, would be a welcome addition to the cultural landscape.

You would have thought the College wanted to build a car dealership.

The reaction was hysterical and I don't mean funny. One neighbor characterized the proposed theater as "Lincoln Center West" and said that she and her neighbors would "pay for the pleasures of others who don't want to drive downtown."

Another neighbor said that 11th Street would become clogged with rich people driving to concerts from the northern part of the city. Another worried that the traffic would force the City to put traffic humps on nearby streets.

I have to blame the hysteria, at least in part, on members of the City Council who have treated the idea of this small theater, which will not only well serve the college but also the many Santa Monicans who would appreciate a local venue for music and dance, as if it were a paper mill or, Heaven forbid, a department store.

The College has done a beautiful job restoring the Madison School, without a whole lot of fuss. I wish every parking lot looked as good as the one at Madison.

The City is great at public process, but how many years should it take to build a park? The City spends years trying to please everyone, yet is everyone ever pleased?

Of course the biggest concern of the neighbors was parking, even though the existing lot is beyond adequate and the area around Madison has been designated a preferential parking zone.

I have mixed emotions about preferential parking. On one hand, I hate to see public resources, like streets, privatized, especially when done wastefully. In my neighborhood there is preferential parking on 2nd Street, but at night typically about half the spaces on the street are empty.

On the other hand, the traffic-calmer in me likes preferential parking, because I know that the availability of parking affects how much people drive. Restrictions on parking make people drive less.

I have a suggestion that might work and at least takes care of my schizophrenia. Why not establish preferential parking on all residential streets in the city, but only on one side of the street? By having preferential parking everywhere, we would get over the neighborhood vs. neighborhood, block vs. block antagonisms we have now, and by leaving one side of each street open for anyone to park, we will get over the business and visitor vs. resident antagonism. We would also more efficiently allocate the resource.

Just an idea.

I know I'm bad for ridiculing people who oppose everything. After all, I got involved in local politics because I didn't like something that was built, too. I hated the super block developments the City approved in the 80s -- the Water Garden, etc. I didn't want the same for the Civic Center, so I got involved.

Like most Santa Monicans I live near something that can be annoying. In my case, it's Los Amigos Park. There are two schools at one end of the park, and basketball and tennis courts and a baseball diamond right across the street from my house. The kids make a lot of noise during the day, and when there is a baseball game it's hard to find a place to park.

But there is an upside as well from all those people being around: a livelier, more congenial neighborhood. Those people playing tennis and basketball make my neighborhood active. Just like the corner store at 4th and Hollister. What a pleasant thing it is to take an after dinner walk to buy milk, passing a couple playing tennis under the lights.

I hope the neighbors near Madison School conclude that a small concert hall is just what their neighborhood needs. Something they can be proud of, but also something that enlivens their streets, makes them more secure. People who like music also like to eat, and perhaps someone will turn that ugly tire store on the corner into a neighborhood friendly restaurant or coffee shop. Maybe some nights neighbors will walk there and see their friends.

That is, if the coffee shop can locate enough parking.

The next community meeting on the Madison Site Theater will be September 19, in the cafeteria at the site. The College is assembling an advisory panel to help plan the project, and is looking for applicants. The panel is not limited to neighbors. If you are interested in applying to join the panel call the College at (310) 434-3431 and leave your name and telephone number.

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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