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The Slow Days of August

By Frank Gruber

The end of August, and time passes slowly. The City Council hasn't met and isn't meeting for weeks, it's too early to write about the candidates running for local office, and except for the passage of Fran Pavley's Prius-Owners Bill of Rights (see below), nothing particularly horrible or ridiculous has happened that I could comment trenchantly upon.

My summer-long quest to be like a tourist in Santa Monica did engender an ironic moment, however, which occurred when my wife and I walked over to the Loews Hotel one night to hear the jazz they have in the lobby.

It's a great deal, by the way; no cover charge, comfortable chairs, and excellent music. The night we were there we heard R&B and jazz stalwart Thelma Jones.

After the first set, we started talking to a nicely-dressed young couple sitting next to us, whom I assumed were guests at the hotel. They must have thought the same thing about us, since they asked if we were tourists.

How humiliating.

They, it turned out, were two lawyers who moved to Santa Monica two years ago from New York, when the husband got a general counsel job at an entertainment company. They bought a house here, and their older child is about to start kindergarten in public school.

The husband had already determined that Santa Monica was the world's greatest place to live, but the wife was still expressing nostalgia for New York. I told her that this was normal for the first two years of living here, but that soon, when she returned to New York, she would be reminding her husband, to paraphrase a Hamilton New Yorker cartoon, that he should be sure to tell their friends how much they miss the seasons.

I guess the point of all this from a serious public policy perspective is that there are locals who enjoy the entertainments that come with being a tourist town, and that the planners should keep our interests in mind, too, when they work on the City's general plan update the next couple years.

* * *

Speaking of the general plan update, the Planning Department has created a webpage to gather information from the public on local transportation issues, part of an outreach program the department has been conducting since last spring at events like the Santa Monica Festival.

From the webpage, you can download a survey that asks questions about how you get around in Santa Monica, and where you go, and that includes a "fishbowl vote" on how to allocate resources for transportation.

Here's the link.

* * *

Speaking of links, starting on Sept. 27, the City's Environmental Division will be promoting "10Fest," a week long celebration of the tenth anniversary of the City's adoption of its Sustainable City Program, and you can find more information about the event on the City's website.

More substantively, you download the 2003 version of the City's Sustainable City Plan by going to, and clicking on "Reports."

I recommend reading the 30-page report, not only because it is important in its own right, but also because the Planning Department intends to integrate the Sustainable City Plan into the general plan update.

The report and the City's entire effort to reduce its overall environmental impact are commendable in many respects, not least because those leading the sustainability charge have not neglected social and economic justice.

However, while it is wonderful that the city uses much less water and creates less landfill-bound trash than it did ten years ago, the report tends to be myopic in seldom viewing Santa Monica as a part of a larger urban whole.

The report tends to judge Santa Monica on its cumulative impacts, not on its per capita impacts, which are more relevant to determining how Santa Monica's policies affect the sustainability of the region, a bigger and more important question.

For instance, Santa Monica can reduce its own energy and water consumption by making it difficult to build housing and businesses here, but those savings will be overwhelmed if people who can't find apartments to buy or rent here buy single-family houses on the fringes of sprawl, where energy and water use will be less efficient.

* * *

Speaking of myopic environmentalism, our Assembly Member Fran Pavley's bill to allow solo drivers of certain hybrid cars to use car pool lanes passed the State Senate this week and awaits the Governor's signature.

Not only did the bill pass, but the New York Times wrote about it. ["Detroit Fights California Bid to Open Car Pool Lanes to Fuel-Conscious Import," (the article will be freely accessible only until Friday).]

As you can tell by the headline, the Times reported the story the U.S. auto industry objects to giving privileges to drivers of Japanese cars.

William C. Ford, Chairman of Ford, and the United Auto Workers' Ford Department have written to Gov. Schwarzenegger asking him to veto the legislation not because it's an unnecessary and meaningless feel-good measure designed to benefit eco-chic supporters of Ms. Pavley (although the Times does name many of them), as suggested in this column, but because the law limits the car pool lane privilege to cars that get at least 45 miles per gallon.

So far only Japanese companies make such vehicles; Ford is about to start selling a 32 mpg hybrid S.U.V.

This goes to show that no matter how absurd and self-congratulatory high-maintenance American environmentalists can get, high-maintenance American corporations will always top them in the whining department.

Mr. Ford wrote Schwarzenegger that Pavley's bill "puts our workers and stockholders at a competitive disadvantage precisely when Ford is entering the hybrid market with a family-oriented, no compromise S.U.V."

A "family-oriented, no compromise S.U.V." I love it. A family decides that anything less than two tons of top-heavy truck to haul the kids and their soccer balls would be a compromise, Ford sticks in a hybrid engine, and then they should get car pool privileges - for when they're driving solo!

But then this is the slope you start slipping on when you grant public benefits -- the use of car pool lanes that the government built with hundreds of millions of tax dollars -- to individuals in their private cars because of a particular environmental virtue test devised by and for the virtuous.

I spoke to Susan Little, Ms. Pavley's consultant for transportation issues, who worked on the bill. She told me that the bill has a sunset clause after three years, and that Ms. Pavley had no intention of granting the first 75,000 buyers of qualifying hybrids a permanent privilege.

But Ms. Little also told me that 75,000 cars happened to be the estimate of the number of hybrids that would be sold in California during the life of the bill.

In other words, the bill, the express purpose of which was to encourage more people to buy hybrids, will, based on the proponents' own numbers, have no effect except to confer a benefit on 75,000 people who were going to buy hybrids anyway.

State Treasurer Phil Angelides, who owns a Prius and who recommended the legislation to Ms. Pavley along with environmental activist Laurie David, another Prius-owner, is quoted in the Times as telling Mr. Ford that what he should do is spend "his time figuring out how to out-compete the Japanese."

I suggest that Mr. Angelides, who I used to think would make a good governor, and Ms. Pavley spend their time figuring out how we can get significant public benefits from the car pool lanes before giving those benefits away.
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