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Westside Story

By Frank Gruber

By the time the memorial for Deanna Maran ended Monday afternoon, it was dark enough.

Dark enough so that the snapshots projected on the back wall of the Greek Theater at Santa Monica High School were clear, and it was plain that all the talk about Deanna's smile had not been just talk.

Dark enough so that candles kindled when it was still light, now lit the faces of the rememberers.

Dark enough to shadow the tears, but not so dark as to obscure the gleam of a smile recollecting a happier day.

People use words like "senseless" and "tragic" to describe the deaths of children -- also known as "teenagers" -- that we read about in the back pages of the "California" section of the L.A. Times: the killings and car-crashes that result from adolescent bravado, behind a weapon or behind the wheel, sometimes fueled by drink or drugs or inexplicable desperation, or unfathomable anger. Sometimes, as with Columbine or Santee, these deaths make the front page.

But these words do not tell us much -- how could the violent death of a fifteen-year-old ever make sense, or be anything but tragic?

Deanna Maran was fifteen. I did not know her, although she lived down the street from the house I moved into last year. I have watched the accumulation of candles and flowers and photographs in front of her house grow steadily.

Deanna made straight A's at school. She played three sports and sang in the chorus. She came from a loving family -- her parents had already raised three accomplished sisters, and she had a younger brother.

She was adored.

At the moment, despite various reports in the press, much is unclear or at least unconfirmed about what happened at the party in Westwood where Deanna was fatally attacked. The death of her alleged assailant is still a mystery along with any information about her, or about how the party came to be, and how an argument escalated into murderous violence.

Without more authoritative information, it would be wrong to speculate about responsibility.

But we know, using what words we have, that Deanna Maran's death will never make sense and will forever be a tragedy.

* * *

Much as Ken Genser was not sure of the legality of the ordinance City Council passed Tuesday night to give laid-off workers rights to be rehired, I cannot say whether this specific ordinance is wise. Certainly any issue dealing with the rights of workers that would split Pam O'Connor from her colleagues from Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights must be complicated.

But this latest clash between Santa Monica's business community and those who seek to protect the economically vulnerable is further proof of the wisdom of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

The NLRA accepts the premise, so fervently argued by businesses Tuesday night, that government should not intervene in day to day business decisions. But, recognizing that bargaining power between businesses and individual workers is not equal, the NLRA established a system to allow workers to organize.

Until local businesses, especially the big hotels, stop interfering with workers' rights to organize, and so long as workers have no ability to bargain, workers and their supporters in the community will petition their elected representatives to do something to make employers treat workers better.

* * *

Before La Brea Bakery and their crusty wonders, before Il Forniao brought us the ciabatta, there was the Pioneer Boulangerie on Main Street. My wife lives for good bread, and she lived on the transcendent sourdough Pioneer baked only in the brick oven on Main Street.

Then some fool replaced the real brick oven with a fake one, the bread became insipid, and the Boulangerie, which had been the most popular destination in Ocean Park, closed. (Maybe it wasn't only the bread, but the moral is clear.)

For seven years the site has been a huge litter-strewn eyesore. For a time there was talk of locating a Trader Joe's there, but that didn't work out. For three years developer Howard Jacobs has been preparing a proposal to build a mixed-use complex of apartments and retail on the Boulangerie site and the parking lot across the street.

Next week the Planning Commission will review the project.

I have no idea if the plan will be controversial. Jacobs presented the project to two annual congresses of the Ocean Park Community Organization (OPCO) that I attended and at both meetings he received constructive suggestions rather than impassioned opposition. But OPCO is hosting a workshop on the project tomorrow, and perhaps its board of directors will take a different view.

In the meantime I have reviewed the 411-page Environmental Impact Report the city prepared, at Jacobs' (considerable) expense.

If you read the EIR, you will learn, among other things, the following:

  • If the Stone Canyon Reservoir fails, within 24 minutes several inches of water will flood portions of Santa Monica near the I-10 freeway, but the Boulangerie site will not be affected.
  • The 250 people this project would add to Santa Monica's population of 84,000 will not have a significant environmental impact nor require changes to the public transit system.
  • On the winter solstice a 35-foot tall building will cast a shadow on the sidewalk that will last more than two hours and thus adversely impact the pedestrian experience.

In other words, preparing a 411-page EIR for an urban, mixed-use, in-fill project, on a busy street, is a complete waste of time and a perversion of every purpose the California Environmental Quality Act was enacted to serve.

But EIRs in Santa Monica exist for one purpose -- to provide pseudo-scientific and pseudo environmental grounds to attack projects based on their supposed impact on traffic.

Sure enough, based on the unique Santa Monica standard that adding any traffic to a dysfunctional intersection (levels of service D, E or F) is a significant environmental impact, the EIR finds that this project will have a significant impact on four intersections, one of which is an intersection with stop signs that the City installed for the purpose of slowing traffic.

In fact, what the EIR says is that although the three intersections that are busy enough to warrant stoplights are not so dysfunctional today that the impact of this project would be significant under the Santa Monica standards, in 2009 they will be at D, E, or F levels because of other predicted increases in traffic, and the insignificant increase attributed to this project would then be deemed significant.

But the EIR also says that even without the North Main project those intersections would be at dysfunctional levels by 2009. So where is the impact?

What this EIR fails to do that might have been logical or even helpful is to compare the impact of this project consisting of needed housing and neighborhood-serving retail with the traffic generated by the old Boulangerie, which was a regional draw and whose parking lot was constantly full.

In fairness, whoever is responsible for this EIR does make the important point that trying to mitigate these alleged impacts on traffic -- by creating turn lanes and narrowing sidewalks -- would make things worse because of the adverse impact on the pedestrian environment.

I understand, however, that Jacobs, the developer, in his eagerness to secure approval, has offered to pay for these "mitigations." Let's hope the Planning Commission resists this offer. But let's also hope that they approve what is an excellent re-use of the old Boulangerie site, notwithstanding the imaginary impacts on traffic.


OPCO Public Meeting on Boulangerie Site Projects
Saturday, December 1, 1:30 p.m., Ocean Park Library

Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights 17th Annual Membership Convention
1:00 p.m., Sunday, December 2
Olympic High School (Corner of Lincoln Blvd., and Ocean Park Blvd.; enter from Pine Street)
(Only paid-up SMRR members may vote at the convention. For membership and other information, contact SMRR at

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District -- Strategic Planning Design Team
Public Workshop to Review Results of Assessment Interviews
Sunday, December 2, 2001
District Administrative Offices
1651 16th Street
Santa Monica, California 90404
2:00 - 6:00 p.m.

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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