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Swinging and Swaying

By Frank Gruber

What with the recall and all that, I decided to brush up on California history. I've been reading Carey McWilliams' California: The Great Exception. Here's a quote from the beginning of Chapter 11 that is either depressing or encouraging depending on your view of history:

"California is a state that lacks a political gyroscope, a state that swings and sways, spins and turns in accordance with its own peculiar dynamics."

McWilliams wrote that in 1949.

* * *

Congratulations to Community Corporation of Santa Monica for persevering long enough to see final City approval of its 44-unit apartment building at Main and Pacific. ("Low-income Project Clears Final Hurdle," Sept. 18)

Although I had another engagement last Wednesday night and didn't watch the Planning Commission do the right thing and truly put CCSM out of its misery, I did read the appeal that Jeffrey Weinstein filed against the project.

The strange thing was that Weinstein, for most of his brief, seemed to be making the case for CCSM's project, rather than against it, by reciting all the ordinances and policies and programs that are in place not merely to permit but to encourage projects like this one.

Weinstein characterized all these preferences as "politics," as in his statement that "'politics' has played the major role in determining the issue of compatibility." But where Weinstein sees "politics," what exists is "law."

True, laws are the result of politics. In a democracy.

* * *

It's almost too depressing to wade into the Santa Monica College budget process, but I will.

Too depressing because nearly 14 years ago when my son was born, six weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, who would have thought that when I'm starting to think about what he's going to do after high school, as a society we are still scratching out the dollars needed to pay for our children's educations?

What happened to the promise of prosperity implicit in ending the waste of the Cold War?

What happened is that we have good people like the trustees and administrators of SMC fighting it out with the good people who work there.

I just read that Liberia is the poorest country in the world because its rulers have stolen all its money. We're among the richest countries in the world and I'm wondering what our rulers did with ours.

Hoping not to sound annoyingly middle of the road reasonable in a situation where neither my budget nor my income is at stake, I'd like to make a recommendation to each side in the SMC dispute.

To the employees and their union: you have to acknowledge that the primary duty of the SMC administration and trustees is to educate, and preserving courses, not jobs, must be their first priority.

To the administration and trustees: if you expect the union to agree to pay cuts, you have to offer something in return. The union only requested a six-month pledge not to lay anyone off. If you can't budget that far in advance, and give even that limited a pledge, then your budget is meaningless.

But whatever I can say, all you good people probably know it already.

* * *

The City Council took action two weeks ago to adopt some of the recommendations of the Promenade Users Task Force. ("Council Hammers out Promenade Recommendations," Sept. 11)

So far, the only concrete action the council has taken is to proceed with an ordinance limiting the frontage of new and expanded businesses on the Promenade to 50 feet, unless the business can satisfy as yet unarticulated standards for a variance.

The idea is to prevent national chains from taking over the Promenade. I've never thought the chains themselves were such a problem. It's not like chain retailing is something new in America or in downtown Santa Monica -- J.C. Penney and Woolworths are gone and forgot, but Sears is still here.

But from a design standpoint, the Promenade works because of the "small grain" of its stores, and if the 50-foot limitation encourages multi-story operations like our multi-story Gap, which add shape and excitement to the "street," then that would be a good result.

Otherwise, the City Council has not yet made final choices among the recommendations of the Task Force. In the form of potential revisions to the Bayside District Plan and the Zoning Ordinance, these recommendations will now make their way through the Planning Commission and ultimately the council will consider them.

The process began with the idea of preserving dining on the Promenade, but as is often the case, the process attracted other purposes, such as using outdoor dining to force the punky undesirable element from the center of the Promenade.

I can't see how placing restaurant tables in the middle of the Promenade -- one idea of the Task Force -- could work. There are too many obstacles on the Promenade now. On a crowded night, it's almost impossible to walk.

In any case, the punky undesirables come with the territory, i.e., any prime tourist attraction. If you attract 40 or 50 thousand people at a pop, some of them are going to have spiky hair.

One hopes that as downtown develops as a whole, on all the streets from Ocean to Lincoln, the City will be able to afford to lose its obsession with the Promenade. Passersby are clearly starting to do their passing by on the widened sidewalks of Santa Monica Boulevard.

Paradoxically, as the City acts to ban big retailers from the Promenade, much hope for attracting foot traffic to Second and Fourth depends on big operators, such as the Circuit City going into the old Santa Monica Bank building at Fourth and Arizona and the possibility, which the City has left open, of having new movie theaters built on Second Street or elsewhere in downtown.

What all this reminds us of is that cities are not static. There are always interactions between public and private investment and public and private decisions, but the law of unintended consequences is in full force.
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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