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Just Vote No

By Frank Gruber

For a different election, I might consider myself duty bound as a serious columnist to scrutinize meticulously the merits of the eight propositions on tomorrow's ballot, but this year I will save a lot of bother and say, "just vote no."

It's not only because of the politics -- Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's politics, that is -- or the substance -- particularly the reduction in education spending -- but also because all the measures either further tie the hands of our elected representatives or represent "ballot box" fixes for issues that a properly empowered legislature and a constructive, results-oriented governor would, could and should deal with.

This election is important; important because it is the best opportunity California voters have to make a statement -- by voting no across the board -- that they want Sacramento to work.


* * *

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I have been researching a topic that has taken me back into Santa Monica's history. My topic is one thing, but as I peruse Evening Outlooks on microfilm, or leaf through city council minutes, my eyes wander.

Last week I wrote about how traffic was so bad in the 1950s that the police chief wanted to convert most of the north-south streets downtown into one-way streets. It turns out that the Santa Monica that is the object of nostalgia today not only was not a traffic Eden, but also was not a political paradise.

At its October 10, 1950 meeting, the Santa Monica City Council took up a new ordinance, one amending the Municipal Code by adding three new chapters relating "to the registration of Communists and members of certain other organizations."

About 20 residents spoke on the issue, but before reviewing their remarks, it's worth noting that there were, or had been Communists in Santa Monica. We know this because at the City Council's Aug. 12, 1947 meeting, when the issue was the extension of rent control (which had been in effect under federal price controls during and after the War), one David Grant, of 2230 Main Street, spoke before the council and apparently without blinking identified himself as "Chairman, Santa Monica Club of the Communist Party."

Three years is a long time, however, and Mr. Grant did not appear at the Oct. 10, 1950 meeting to say whether he would register with Santa Monica authorities if the council passed the new ordinance.

However, the Rev. Howard G. Mattson, Clergyman, of 1721 Arizona Avenue, did appear. He opposed the ordinance because, "in his opinion, it threatened the rights of others than those specifically mentioned in [it]."

Mr. Irvin Costin, 2517 Ocean Front (an address that the City would obliterate a few years later in the Ocean Park urban renewal), opposed the ordinance, contending, "that the small property owners could not stand the additional cost of enforcing the proposed ordinance."

Mrs. Lona Wells, 1810 Main Street (an address that the City obliterated when it developed what is now the site of the Viceroy Hotel), opposed the ordinance, "on the basis that it would impair the basic civil rights of others."

Most speakers, however, supported the ordinance. Mr. C. T. McColluch, 804 Lincoln, "stated emphatically that he was not a member of the Communist Party, that anyone opposing the passage of the ordinance was a traitor to his Country and strongly urged its adoption."

Capt. E. D. Gillette, USNR, 2159 La Mesa Drive, "pointed out the fact that the proposed ordinance is designed for the safety of our citizens, that we must be on guard against the enemy from within, and urged that the ordinance be passed."

Mr. Martin Goodfriend, 1028 26th Street, "speaking as a member of a minority group, reminded the Council that our men are being killed in Korea in a war against Communism, fighting for life and freedom, and the least we can do is to support them by passing the ordinance."

Mr. C. C. Walker, 841 Sixth Street, also favored the ordinance, stating that "he was a Republican and a large property owner in Santa Monica, [and] urged that Communists be required to register."

Mr. Sox Kuhlmeyer, 1214 Pacific Street, reminded the protesters "that they are at present witnessing democracy in action, that there is no other country in the world where such an opportunity is to be had to speak freely and that every person in this room enjoys the benefits of democracy. He stated that the two Veteran units which he represented had gone on record as urging the adoption of the ordinance."

Those opposing the ordinance did not give up the fight. Mr. Wilbur Jerger, 20830 Malibu Road, "claiming membership in the Democratic Party, stated that a certain form of hysteria is sweeping the country and appears especially in towns like our community. He alleged that the hysteria is manifested by the adoption of legislation similar to the proposed ordinance which, in his opinion, is unnecessary inasmuch as there are already sufficient laws enacted to protect us from subversives, traitors, etc. In closing, he stated that he was not a subversive person and never intends to be one."

Immediately after Mr. Jerger spoke, however, Mrs. Nathan Lawrence, 2714 14th Street, told the council that "she had observed Mr. Jerger in the Sears Picket Line where she saw him associating in a friendly manner with Communists and that her son is preparing to leave his family for duty in the armed forces and she urged adoption of this ordinance."

Several more residents spoke, and several of the prior speakers took the opportunity to speak again, before the council closed the public hearing and voted on the ordinance.

The council approved the ordinance unanimously as an emergency measure, waiving further reading of it.

* * *

It's amusing, maybe, to read about how Santa Monica confronted the "enemy from within" half a century ago. It's easy to laugh at the fears of the time; it's also hard not to empathsize with families whose boys were going off to fight in Korea. It's also easy to draw parallels to the situation today, when politicians wear patriotism on their sleeves and don't hesitate to equate dissent with treason.

But it is just as easy to draw the wrong conclusions. I thought about this a few weeks ago when I saw "Good Night and Good Luck," George Clooney's riveting movie about Edward R. Murrow's challenge to Joseph McCarthy. Mr. Clooney and his co-screenwriter, Grant Heslov, beat the warning drums by framing the narrative with Murrow's famous 1958 speech to the television industry challenging it to be more courageous.

Murrow's admonitions are still relevant, of course, but his fears turned out to be groundless. The fear of a Communist takeover of the U.S. was ridiculous, but the fear that Americans, because of the Red Scare and McCarthyism, would lose their liberties, also turned out to be -- as history played out -- more "fear itself," to borrow from FDR.

Instead of losing our liberties, just the opposite occurred. Rosa Parks kept her seat and something called the sixties happened. To borrow from another great president, America experienced a "new birth of freedom."

Go figure.

And tomorrow, go vote.

Meeting notice: Tomorrow evening at its regular meeting the City Council considers the parking and access issues relating to Santa Monica College's Bundy Campus. City Hall, 6:45 p.m. See staff report

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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