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What I Say About Frank Gruber

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Catching Up with the News

By Frank J. Gruber

Any of the candidates running for the Assembly in last week's Democratic primary could have represented the 41st district well, but I am reassured that Julia Brownley won the nomination.

As a local politics obsessive I like the fact that Ms. Brownley had paid the most local dues, and that she had the endorsements of her two predecessors, Sheila Kuehl and Fran Pavley.

What's disturbing is how few people voted and how much money was raised and spent by the candidates -- according to an email candidate Kelly Hayes-Raitt sent out after the vote, $61 per vote cast, a figure that will probably increase when all the financial reports are in.

It's ridiculous that local politicians should have to raise hundreds (and hundreds) of thousands of dollars to run for office, but that's one of the results of having such big and disparate districts.

Another problem is that June is too early to have a primary. Who wants to think about politics five months before the real election? We vote too often throughout the year. Elections would seem more meaningful if they all took place in a political season.

For instance, primaries should be in September. Then the general election campaign would be short (if not sweet). Aren't you thrilled that we have to deal with Schwarzenegger vs. Angelides for five months? I'm sure everyone will be enthusiastic about voting after five months of nasty drivel.

And all initiatives, bond issues, etc. should be saved up for November ballots in federal election years so that they will be voted on by the largest pool of voters.

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With all this election stuff, I have been lax on covering various local stories. I'll try to catch up.

Time will tell if the Macerich's Company's colossal miscalculation on what Santa Monicans would accept as their skyline will have a good effect or a bad one on the future development of Santa Monica Place. I am both encouraged and nervous that the planning process has restarted. (see story)

I am encouraged because it's good that, as it appears, the site will be developed in pieces. It was a mistake for the City, decades ago, to assemble these ten acres into one parcel using its redevelopment powers. The grandiosity of the original redevelopment proposal was in part a function of the large size of the site. Now, given that Macy's is selling the Robinsons-May building to Macerich, it looks like the site will be broken into more manageable pieces.

My apprehensions have to do with what will happen to the development program. What was good about the original program was the plan to build 400 units of housing. Building housing downtown is a good idea

While the residents who opposed the re-do of Santa Monica Place received the most attention, in part by going to court over the review process, most residents who attended the public meetings on the project supported adding housing.

What I'm worried about now is that a more modest plan will sacrifice the housing, and Macerich will build merely a better -- and merely a more upscale -- mall.

* * *

For a school whose students constantly win prizes and renown individually and collectively, where the achievement gap receives assiduous attention, with at least some good results, and where 98.3% of seniors passed the California Exit Exam, Santa Monica High School and its administrators sure receive a pounding.

The same could be said for Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District as a whole.

Now just when the district is looking for a new superintendent it is also looking for a new principal for Samohi. (see Straus Graduates and Matthews out of Running)

I am a parent at SAMO and like many a parent whose child is having an excellent experience there -- good teachers, music, sports, a cohort of intellectually stimulating classmates, friends he grew up with -- it's hard for me relate to parents, mainly Latino and black, and their children, who are suspicious of and hostile to the school administration.

Recently, one parent, in a letter to the Malibu Times, went so far as to say that a cause, "in part," of the murder of Eddie Lopez, who was killed far off campus at around nine in the evening, was the failure of the school board to hire a principal for SAMO with a "multi-cultural skill set" that would have enabled her to make "the campus safe for all students regardless of ethnicity, color, or place of origin."

Rhetoric like this is indefensible, but it is not uncommon at School Board and other meetings. Equally vehement are the defenses of the administration thrown up by parents who are happier with the SAMO experience, which only goes to show that what you see depends on where you stand.

I am not even going to try, in these few words, to understand let alone explain what's going on in the minds of the unhappy parents, except to say that if my son had spent eleven years in our progressive local schools and had a less than 2.0 GPA (as is the case for between 40 and 50 percent or so of Latino and African-American students at SAMO), and if I had to worry that he'd get into a fight over some ethnic or racial issue, or might be shot at on the way home from school because of atavistic gang behaviors he had nothing to do with, I'd be angry and frustrated, too, and I wouldn't be any happier if someone insinuated that my bad parenting skills or cultural values were to blame.

Whatever were her motives for resigning, outgoing principal Ilene Straus took the brunt of the anger and she has now taken the fall. This is unfair in at least one huge respect: Dr. Straus threw her heart, soul and considerable energy into trying to make SAMO a better place for all. The purpose of the very "redesign" that she worked so hard on was to address the alienation and low achievement of the black and brown students at the school. (see story)

But I am not surprised, either. I remember attending a meeting last year at SAMO after the day of fighting between African-American and Latino students. Former Superintendent John Deasy and Dr. Straus shared the stage. Although they had the same message, and were behind the same program, and backed each other up, the reactions to them were different.

When Dr. Deasy spoke, the audience listened respectfully. They believed him, and in him. He was expansive, Clintonian in his empathy. But when Dr. Straus gave the same message, you could feel the crowd's anxiety level rise. She was defensive, and the anger was palpable.

I am probably betraying too much cynicism to say this, but when the District is evaluating candidates to be the new SAMO principal job, I recommend they keep two words in mind: bedside manner.

* * *


Farewell, Chief Butts. James Butts is an immensely capable person and he was due to take on a bigger job. His popularity in Santa Monica was deserved, even if the aura of perfection he tried to associate with his department occasionally turned out to be, shall we say, permeable. I will miss him particularly because he was a police chief who could give a speech with content and reasoning beyond the norm for public officials.

Thus I was not surprised with the quality of the letter he wrote to his colleagues in the City government announcing his resignation. The letter should be mandatory reading for anyone who thinks that government is simple, or than anyone -- no matter how big the muscles -- can do it alone.

Hedges, the Sequel. The City Council's vague and subjective new hedge law has come around to bite them. Appeals may overwhelm the Planning Department. Neighbors are outraged.

What did the council members expect?

And now Bobby Shriver wants a paid staff? (see story)

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