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City Council Candidates: The Chamber Challengers

By Frank Gruber

In the first column of this series, I evaluated the four incumbents running for the City Council. In the next two columns, I will look at the challengers. I will start with those endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce.

Bobby Shriver is the blank slate of this election, or, rather, a magical mirror into which people gaze and see what they want to see.

The Chamber of Commerce sees someone who will be anti-regulation, who will "do something" about the homeless, and, perhaps most of all, they see an electable candidate Santa Monicans for Renters Rights has not endorsed.

People on the left, including SMRR stalwarts like Bob Myers, Abby Arnold, and Annette Shamey, see a "to the bone" liberal who has done the opposite of turning his back on his pedigree.

The cynical thing to say would be that all this "projecting" shows some fault with Shriver; i.e., that he panders to whom he's talking to. But that wouldn't be fair. Shriver has made it clear who he is. The political mail Shriver has sent to voters is far superior and more descriptive of who he is and what he believes, than the typical slogan and platitude and fear filled fliers other candidates (and organizations) send around.

Shriver has gone to some pains to clarify that he has not endorsed anyone else in the race, notwithstanding various efforts to link him with other candidates. (Chutzpah award: on Sunday my wife received a call from a canvasser asking her to vote for Kathryn Morea and Shriver, promoting the two of them as if they were a team.)

True, Shriver has benefited because he doesn't have a record, and if you read the Lookout's questionnaire, including Shriver's answers to the questions on the "Matrix," you will see that he avoids answering numerous questions on the grounds he doesn't know enough. Maybe he's taking a free ride, but the gist of his campaign is that he's a reasonable person who will approach issues as they arise with an open mind, not that he's been on committees and commissions the past 20 years.

Personally, I'm concerned about various answers Shriver has given to various questions, particularly about development, and I'm concerned that this whole hedge thing has got out of hand and that the City is going to find itself steamrollered into allowing some egregious front yard walls, fences and/or hedges.

But there are reasons beyond his political heritage that Shriver's campaign appears so far to be successful. Shriver comes across as a smart guy, who listens and will talk to everyone, who wants to achieve something, and who has seen the world but who loves and cares about Santa Monica and enjoys life and living here.

I will be quite surprised if we all don't have the opportunity after Nov. 2 to get to know him better.

* * *

What I immediately liked about Matt Dinolfo when I met him two years ago, aside from the fact that we met for lunch at a funky bar near his office, is that he had a different take on Santa Monica than any I had heard before.

What Dinolfo saw was not that Santa Monica was about rent control, or about downtown development, or about traffic, or about the homeless, or about preferential parking, etc., but that Santa Monica was about to become, with the rebuilding and expansion of our two excellent hospitals, one of the region's primary centers for healthcare and medical research.

While politicians on one side in Santa Monica run based on how best they can scare tenants that they are going to lose their apartments, and politicians on the other side run on how best they can infuriate people about the homeless, Dinolfo has a bigger, more reality-based view.

Of all the candidates running, Dinolfo is the one who most clearly sees Santa Monica for what it is, and who best understands its place in the megalopolis. Maybe it's his medical background, but he's more about science than nostalgia or fear.

Imagine if instead of a City Council that told the Planning Department to make code enforcement its priority, we had a City Council that reminded the Planning Department that we have major investments in healthcare coming on line, and that we needed to plan, proactively, for more housing nearby for new employees, more services nearby for patients and visitors, and more transit for everyone, so that we could have the benefits of these investments and at the same time reduce the number of car trips, and build a more livable city?

That's the kind of government we might have if our politicians weren't dedicated to winning by fear, in particular by fanning the fear of change.

Do I believe that is the kind of government we would get if Dinolfo were on the Council? That I can't say, but I do note that his answer to the "vision" question at the end of the Lookout's questionnaire is one that takes into account the certainty that Santa Monica will change, because it has always changed.

My downside on Dinolfo? As with all the candidates, Dinolfo has positions I disagree with. For instance, Dinolfo is one of those candidates who tend to blame the City and its social service providers for the homeless problem. I don't see it that way; moreover, I'm not convinced, that there is a bright line between homeless people who are "desperate" and those who are vagrants.

My main complaint, though, about Dinolfo is that I didn't see much of him in the two years since the 2002 election. It's not realistic to look at politics in Santa Monica -- at least if your family isn't famous -- as something that only happens at election time. I am sure that if he wins election, Dinolfo will be an active member of City Council; if he doesn't, it may be because he wasn't more visible since 2002.

* * *

What I like most about Kathryn Morea from a policy perspective is that she has perhaps the most sophisticated take on parking I have heard from not only any candidate running this year, but probably from anyone who has ever been on the Council. (To summarize, she doesn't think we're ever going to have enough parking if we give it away.)

As these are the views of a candidate who got her start in public life agitating for a preferential parking district, they indicate the ability to take an issue deep, even an issue (parking!) that for most people around here is fraught with emotion.

But there is a fundamental divide between Morea and me that explains the numerous positions she takes that I believe are wrong. When I told Morea that I thought most people in Santa Monica were happy, she looked at me in disbelief. "Not the people, I know," she said.

When you talk to Morea -- or if you read her answers to the Lookout questionnaire -- you realize that she enjoys life in Santa Monica, too. But for all that she likes about the Promenade, the Pier, Main Street, etc., she's angry.

Mostly, Morea is angry with the homeless, and the social services "industry" she believes feeds off them. I don't like the idea of out of town do-gooders coming here to serve food in our parks when they don't help the destitute in their own communities either, but the City's social service providers do good work with those of the homeless who are capable of breaking the cycle of despair. The City funds those providers not to "solve" homelessness, which is far beyond their capabilities, but to help those individuals who can be helped.

It is true that the City, the County and the State need to devise new strategies to house and treat all those who can't or won't avail themselves of help, because the current situation is not humane, but meanwhile, there is no reason to castigate social service providers who are doing their best, or human beings who -- except for the "grace of God" -- are us.

It's a strange fact in Santa Monica that the only retail zone that is in anyway on a downswing is the one retail zone -- the inside of Santa Monica Place -- that is "homeless-free." What Morea doesn't take into account is that if the choices were either no homeless people, but no compassion either, or living with homeless people, but feeling compassionate, most Santa Monicans will choose the latter -- compassion.

Maybe that's why they are happy.

Tomorrow: more challengers.

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