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Everyone into the Pool

By Frank Gruber

Twenty-one million dollars. That's a lot of money the Annenberg Foundation is giving Santa Monica to restore the Marion Davies estate and open it to the public.

Consider that the 2,983 acres of Ahmanson Ranch cost $150 million; on a per square foot basis, the five acres of 415 PCH will constitute one of the more expensive parks ever developed.

Yet per unit of recreation, the Annenberg money will go far. On the average Sunday, I'll bet a tube of sunblock and a wide-brimmed hat that more people will be enjoying the beach, the restored Davies landmarks, and the new facilities on the beach than will be hiking Ahmanson Ranch. (Not that hiking isn't wonderful and that the Ahmanson Ranch money wasn't worth spending if only for the anti-sprawl purposes.)

415 Pacific Coast Highway (Photos by Frank Gruber)

What I like most about the Annenberg gift is how it reflects the true history of Santa Monica, not the mythologies of "sleepy beach town" or suburb. Going back to the founders' Ur-donation of Palisades Park, Santa Monica has stood for the most accessible beaches in California, and in part because Santa Monica has always been not only a resort, but also a little city with industry and a real, commercial downtown serving a considerable hinterland of its own.

Open beaches, tourism, amusements for every demographic -- those are our true legacies, and to the extent a city can have a moral basis, they represent Santa Monica's claim to goodness.

The Annenberg Foundation has chosen to be generous to us -- it's up to us to remain generous to others.

I.e., let's make sure the City's euphoria over the Annenberg gift lasts beyond the moment when some resident with a crabbed sense of life's possibilities complains about the traffic.

Until then, I want to remind readers that 415 PCH is an example of how the City's public process can work, if slowly. We wouldn't have the Annenberg gift to be giggling over with excitement, if it weren't for the efforts of the 1997-98 Working Group that developed an excellent "hybrid" plan for the year-round use of the site.

The co-chairs of the Working Group were Council Member Ken Genser and former Council Member Mike Feinstein; in Santa Monica fashion the group also had representatives from the Architectural Review Board and the Planning, Landmarks, and Recreation & Parks Commissions, and conducted many public meetings and workshops.

The lead consultants were the celebrated new urbanist firm of Moule & Polyzoides, who worked with financial and traffic consultants, as well as staff from the City' Community & Cultural Services Department.

"Marion Davies' swimming pool today."

Congratulations to everyone who worked on the plan, and to staff for earning the Annenberg Foundation's trust.

* * *

What interested me most about the City Council's election of mayor and mayor pro tem was not that newcomer Bobby Shriver called the shot by formulating a winning motion that gave some share of an office to each of a majority of four council-members -- Pam O'Connor, Robert Holbrook, Herb Katz and Shriver himself.

That was a smart move on Shriver's part, but what fascinated me was why Richard Bloom, who made the first motion, didn't include Pam O'Connor in his slate. It must have been obvious that hers was the fourth vote Bloom, Ken Genser, and Kevin McKeown, the other three SMRR-backed council-members, would need to keep those symbolically important offices in SMRR's hands.

Instead Bloom nominated Genser for mayor and McKeown for mayor pro tem. O'Connor had made it plain to many people that she would never vote for McKeown for mayor; no doubt Bloom thought she would go along with a motion that gave the primary position to Genser, who had been O'Connor's mentor in her early days in Santa Monica politics and on the Council.

Apparently O'Connor felt more comfortable sharing the offices with the non-SMRR council-members than giving both offices for another two years to the historically anti-growth wing of SMRR.

Who knows how O'Connor would have voted if her name had been included in competing motions, but in any case the vote indicates the biggest change in the council since the election; namely, that when Mike Feinstein was on the dais, four council members from the anti-growth wing of SMRR formed a majority. Now they don't, and the votes in the council will now be much less predictable.

* * *

I never knew Neil Schmidt well on a personal basis, but I got to know him a little on a working basis when I was on the Prop. X Oversight Committee. He impressed me as one of those people who gave you his full attention when you had something to say.

I had no experience with the local schools until my son entered them in the mid-90s, so I can't speak about the district pre-Schmidt, but I was always impressed with how human, non-bureaucratic, and accessible the schools were, all the way up the hierarchy, and perhaps that was a result of Superintendent Schmidt's talents as a listener.

Neil died suddenly and too young, in the midst of a productive retirement, and his many friends in Santa Monica will miss him.

* * *

To all Christmas-celebrators, have a merry one. To all who enjoy the season, regardless what they celebrate, have a merry season, too.

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