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Print the Perception
By Frank Gruber
The ultimate test of what is news is still "if a man bites a dog," and by way of that standard, last week Santa Monica hit the jackpot news-wise. The New York Times, on Monday, and the L.A. Times, on Wednesday, both ran stories about how liberal, beneficent Santa Monica, had turned a bourgeois corner the week before, when the City Council passed two laws against the homeless.
The local Times went so far as to link the votes on the two ordinances to gentrification. Their lead was that Santa Monica, rather than being the "People's Republic," was now "more like Beverly Hills run by the Green Party."
I've lived in Santa Monica 20 years. The place doesn't seem that different to me. People complain now about the same things, including gentrification and traffic.
Ten years ago there was a political crisis over the homeless, and I remember more similarities to today than differences.
Then: a bad recession, the collapse of the housing market (remember "negative equity?"), and the aftermath of the riots.
Today: an economy in decline, a housing market we all know will burst, and the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Then and always in times of angst and economic difficulty: let's find people to blame. Let's blame the homeless, who, let's face it, can be more than aggravating.
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The articles in both Times' featured quotes from our Green Party mayor, Mike Feinstein. It's only natural, of course, to ask the mayor about what's going on in a town, but the mayoralty of Santa Monica is the great gift of Santa Monicans to the Green Party.
Neither article mentioned Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR). I doubt Feinstein brought SMRR up, since he's now committed to "out flanking" SMRR on the left with the candidacy of fellow Green Josefina Aranda.
Indeed, the import of Feinstein's rhetoric regarding the homeless votes has been that it's a crying shame that his liberal colleagues on City Council voted against the homeless.
How come Greens like Feinstein get quoted in the New York Times when they criticize liberals for not being "compassionate," yet get a free ride when they (in this case both Feinstein and fellow Green Kevin McKeown) vote against fluoridating water, or when they fail to support the bond issue for Santa Monica College?
I'm not sure why the teeth of poor children, or the educations of people trying to improve their lives, are less important to the Greens than allowing the stomachs of homeless adults to be filled wherever and whenever, regardless of the effect on the City's programs to help homeless people.
* * *
Feinstein was quoted in the L.A. Times that Santa Monica's challenge "is dealing with too much success," and that "if we let capitalism run amok, it will run right over us."
I wonder if poor people in Santa Monica (13 percent of our population, same as the national average), and the 26 percent of the students in our schools who participate in free or reduced price lunch programs, agree with Feinstein that we have "too much success."
Many liberals reserve their criticism of the Greens to the Greens' annoying habit of running spoilers against good Democrats, and ignore the substance of the Green program, assuming it's progressive. I've read Green literature, and I haven't found there any solutions that are both practical and novel to alleviating poverty, or dealing with sprawl, or improving education.
The Green platform is a mix of populism, Luddism, Marxism, ecological millenarianism, and isolationism -- a grab bag of every discredited reaction (not including the religious versions) to the modern world.
Green Party ideas about what they call "grassroots democracy" are frightening, what you imagine Lenin was thinking while waiting to board the sealed train. Consider this quote from the current draft of the Green Party Program, on elections:
"Elections are merely a mechanism by which the people choose the individual oligarchs. For millennia, elections have been the telltale mark of oligarchy, of government structured around the elitist concept of representation instead of the egalitarian concept of participation. Elections today lend an aura of legitimacy to oligarchy for democratic-minded people who have forgotten what real democracy is." [For more Green political philosophy, go to http://www.greenparty.org/program/grassdemoc.html]
(After initial publication of this quote and the link to http://www.greenparty.org/, Councilman Kevin McKeown informed me that I had quoted from a "splinter group of activists self-named the 'Green Party USA,'" not from the "Green Party of the United States," the national political party recognized by the Federal Election Commission. The website for the FEC-recognized Greens is http://www.greenpartyus.org. I regret not being aware of this distinction, and for any confusion caused by my misattribution. On reading the FEC-recognized party's platform, however, I stand by my overall points about Green ideas, even though the language is less alarming.)
* * *
Back to Santa Monica, where, notwithstanding the Green program, we have an election coming up. Remember Target? Our two Greens, Feinstein and McKeown, joined the two "conservatives" on City Council, Bob Holbrook and Herb Katz, to vote Target down, even though Target would have provided convenient low-price shopping and jobs.
The vote against Target may be old news, but it is looking like a bigger blunder every day. Recently, because City Council, prodded by Feinstein, was concerned that chain retailers were driving restaurants off the Promenade, the City spent $54,000 to hire consultants from New York to advise on the situation.
What do the consultants say? That we need to get people off of the Promenade and onto Second and Fourth and other downtown streets. Well, duh, this has been part of the City's downtown planning for ten years, but can you imagine any better draw to get people walking all over downtown than a department store at Fifth and Santa Monica?
Our economy, which has become dependent on tourism, is so on the skids that even Feinstein has been beating the drums on behalf of the car dealers, to protect the City's sales tax revenues.
Would someone tell me why Target, which would have provided retail stability (and sales taxes) because its customers are local, is capitalism run amok, but General Motors and Toyota aren't?
Would someone also tell me why the City Council increased the City's basic operating budget 23.4 percent in a mere two years of plenty?
A few years ago during the boom I had a conversation with Feinstein, trying to persuade him that it was important during flush times not to discourage private investment in cities. His response was that the economy in Santa Monica would always be good, and he defended whatever obstacle to development he and his fellow no-growthers were then contemplating.
That nonchalance about the business cycle sums up the Green Party, a party that can only exist among the affluent, because it's predicated on the idea that we have too much.Just because Feinstein was unable to look back a few years and recall the last recession, doesn't mean that we can't look back a few years and ask our representatives to be responsible for the decisions they've made.
views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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