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$200,000 SUV's, An Exceptional Appointment, and Quake Memories

By Frank Gruber

I don't know if I'll sign the ballot measure being proposed by Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) to dedicate City of Santa Monica funds to the school district, but the City Council almost handed CEPS a huge political talking point Tuesday night.

The council nearly approved spending $200,000 to buy a prototype hydrogen-powered SUV as part of a Toyota and Southern California Air Quality Management District demonstration project.

Spending $165,000 more than the cost of a conventional vehicle during a fiscal crisis so that Santa Monica can have environmental bragging rights is just the kind of profligacy that undercuts the City's protestations that it's tightening its belt.

Four council members were ready to approve the expenditure, but delayed their vote when proponents of electric cars -- opponents of hydrogen fuel -- persuaded the council to let the Environmental Task Force take a look at the project, which the ETF will do at its January 26 meeting.

Give credit to Council member Ken Genser who told the meeting that no matter what, he wouldn't vote for the car because of the cost.

There is nothing wrong with the City participating in Toyota's product development -- but why should we pay for it?

The council will get another chance to spend the money when the matter returns to the agenda in a month or two, unless City staff is able to negotiate a better deal with Toyota.

* * *

There's not much for me to add to The Lookout's story on the City Council's appointment of Gwynne Pugh to the Planning Commission and the accompanying interview, except to say that although I don't have a personal acquaintance with Mr. Pugh to inform my judgment, it appears the Council made an exceptional choice. ("Council Appoints Prominent Architect to Planning" and "Meet Planning Commissioner Pugh," both January 16)

It is also worth noting that while Mr. Pugh's credentials are outstanding, he was not the only well-qualified resident to seek appointment to the commission. The council had to choose him not only over neighborhood activist Robert Seldon, who received three votes in the initial ballot, but also over a field that included other architects, an urban planner and a transportation planner for the City of West Hollywood. (Planning Commission Applicants)

It's great to know that Santa Monica can attract busy and highly-qualified people to volunteer positions that take a lot of their time and open them up to a lot of criticism (from all sides).

While there is a role for neighborhood activists on all boards and commissions, the council is doing the right thing now and restoring the balance on the Planning Commission by appointing people with applicable expertise and broader knowledge, and who tend to be less involved in politics or specific issues.

In this case, give special credit to Council member Michael Feinstein, who cast the swing votes to appoint both Mr. Pugh and Planning Commissioner Terry O'Day, notwithstanding that much of his political base is in the neighborhood groups.

* * *

My memory of 4:31 a.m., January 17, 1994, is probably similar to that of other Santa Monicans -- i.e., suddenly my bed turned into Mr. Toad's wild ride. My wife and I leaped out of it, we ran to our four-year-old's room, and we grabbed him and stood under a doorway for five minutes.

I'd lived here fifteen years and experienced quakes before, but this one I knew was different. I was sure the fault was about ten feet underneath our floor.

As it happened, our house, in Ocean Park, sustained no damage. But when the sun came up, and communications got going, we started to comprehend what had, so to speak, "gone down." We walked over to some friends' house. Kevin and Dana were also okay, but when we heard that the freeway had collapsed, Kevin suggested that we go to the grocery store and buy some supplies before the food riots started.

We drove over to Lincoln Boulevard, and we started to see real destruction. The grocery store was closed because all the stock was on the floor. At that point Kevin, who's an architect, started getting nervous about an addition he had recently designed for a house north of Montana that had a big picture window.

So we drove over there to check it out. We drove up Fourth Street -- we were stunned to see all the bricks piled on the sidewalks. Then we turned on Montana. Nearly all the shop windows were shattered. Up ahead we saw a long line. What could it be? An emergency aid station? A store with batteries? Looters?

No -- the line was outside a corner coffee bar. People were lined up for cappuccino.

I knew Santa Monica would pull through.
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