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Got Them Old Target Metaphor Blues Again

By Frank Gruber

Perhaps someday I will get over the opportunity the City lost when it rejected Target's proposal to build a department store at Fifth and Santa Monica. But sometimes events survive as metaphors, and there was news this week that reminded me of Target.

What jogged my memory was Kevin McKeown's well-intentioned proposal that the City develop a jobs program for youth in the Pico Neighborhood. ("Council Explores Tackling Youth Violence," Oct. 15, 2003)

What's the connection? When McKeown spoke about the need to create jobs for young Santa Monicans to keep them out of gangs, I couldn't help but recall Planning Commissioner Julie Lopez Dad's response when Target's supporters touted the 400 jobs that the store would create.

Dad's response was that she didn't think many in Santa Monica would want to work at Target, because Santa Monica had become, in her words, "more and more and more an affluent community."

McKeown and four other members of City Council voted against Target. As you'll recall, stupid, it was the traffic. The jobs didn't matter, even though if the council-members had read the City's own data, they would have known that 22 percent of the residents of the 90404 zip code lived beneath the (absurdly low) federal poverty line.

McKeown now acknowledges that there are unskilled and semi-skilled people in Santa Monica who need jobs, and he wants the City of Santa Monica to hire them. But hire them instead of whom? Instead of their fathers and mothers and aunts and uncles?

* * *

McKeown's jobs proposal wasn't the only recent event that brought the Target debacle to mind.

The Democratic Party lost, to its great embarrassment, the governorship of California when great numbers of low-wage workers and poor people as is typical either neglected to vote, or -- even worse -- voted against the Democratic governor. Even the numbers for union workers and their families weren't good.

How could this be?

Would it explain anything about the Democrats' problem to know that the President of the Santa Monica Democratic Club is the same Julie Lopez Dad who three years ago didn't know there were working class people in Santa Monica who might want to work at Target?

Would it explain anything about how organized labor has such trouble organizing workers to know that the local leadership of the United Food & Commercial Workers union, headquartered in downtown Santa Monica, testified against Target and its 400 jobs because they said the store would make traffic worse?

Nearly all Target stores are not unionized, and no doubt that annoyed the union, but what can you say about a union leadership that valued the ease of their own commutes higher than having, three blocks from their office, a store with 400 workers they might organize?

Surely the world has enough problems with right-wingers who sling around so much garbage about the left in America, but do we have to help them? Because somewhere between limousine liberals like Dad, "environmentalists" like McKeown who think that traffic is more important than jobs, and labor leaders who haven't organized a new shop in years, is the reason the left has failed to mobilize the working class.

* * *

As everyone knows there are two big strikes going on now.

One, by the very same United Food & Commercial Workers I chide above, is a good fight. The UFCW is striking to prevent an industry from turning real jobs people can stake their lives on into the junk jobs that characterize so much of America where unions are weak.

The issue is health care. Fortunately, the legislature recently passed legislation that Governor Davis signed a couple days before the recall election that aids the unions in this struggle by leveling the playing field, on a higher plane, between unionized businesses that provide medical insurance and big employers that don't. The legislation requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide health insurance for their workers.

As for why it took a Democratic governor and a Democratic-controlled legislature five years to enact this legislation, refer to the previous section of this column.

The striking UFCW workers deserve everyone's support, because it if weren't for unions that fought for health insurance, no other workers would have it.

The other strike, by a small union of 2,400 mechanics against the MTA, is ridiculous. I'll grant that Zev Yaroslavsky is not an impartial observer since he is the Chairman of the MTA board, but he was right to call the strike an embarrassment to organized labor.

Beyond the egoism of the union's leader, the dispute involves mostly a deficit at the union's health plan, which the MTA was willing to fund. The parties were not that far apart when the union struck, after the end of a court-mandated cooling off period.

Now the lives of 400,000 mostly poor and working-class commuters are upended, another 7,000 employees of the MTA are out of work, and the retrograde image of today's typical union as having no sense of the bigger picture has been reinforced.

* * *

But not everything is so bleak: Olympic Drive, Santa Monica's newest street, is open.

Or, rather, half of it: the leg just south of City Hall that connects Main Street to the Fourth Street on-ramp to the Santa Monica Freeway.

Olympic Drive is good planning in action. Back in the mid-20th Century when such things were done, the City obliterated a network of streets to create two "super blocks" on either side of Main Street between Pico and the freeway that was coming.

The freeway is a great magnet for and dispenser of traffic. The intersections on the perimeter of the super blocks are some of Santa Monica's most congested -- particularly Fourth Street's corners with Pico and Colorado that have to handle all the freeway traffic.

Ten years ago, as part of the Civic Center plan, planners drew a new street that would connect Main and Ocean with Fourth and the freeway. This would allow freeway-bound motorists coming north on Main or Neilson, or South on Second or Ocean, to avoid Fourth. Similarly, cars coming off the freeway that want to go directly to Ocean Avenue or the beach would not have to go left or right on Fourth.

The other half of Olympic Drive will be built after RAND moves into its new offices and the street can be continued through RAND's old site.

This is good traffic planning because it's an example of dealing with traffic as traffic, not fruitlessly trying to deal with traffic as a byproduct of development.

Olympic Drive will not restore the African-American commercial district that was destroyed to build the Civic Auditorium, or the neighborhood that was destroyed to build the freeway. But much like an artificially restored habitat does good even though it's not the same as the previously destroyed natural habitat, the new street does represent an attempt to restore a bit of lost urban ecology to one part of Santa Monica.
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