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On the One Hand, and on the Other

By Frank J. Gruber

I was not able to attend the community meeting the City convened last Monday at Virginia Avenue Park to discuss the recent outbreak of shootings in the Pico Neighborhood, some of which have occurred in and around the newly-expanded and redesigned park.

From the account in The Lookout, the meeting appears to have been much like the many others I have attended that the City has called after gang-related shootings or that the School District has called after racially-tinged incidents at the high school.

Meaning that there was a lot of frustration and well-meaning people talking past one another.

On one hand, young Latinos and African-Americans (and their parents) don't want the police or school administrators to pick on them. They don't want to feel as if their neighborhood is under siege or occupation, and they don't want their kids to be negatively stereotyped at school.

On the other hand, Latinos and blacks want to be protected, and the chief danger comes from Latino and black gangsters. Parents want their children to be safe. They want the bad guys to be arrested, especially those from other neighborhoods who come to Santa Monica either to hang with their old pals or -- often -- to kill any Latino or black kid they can find. Parents want discipline in school and a safe environment. After all, it's their children who are in danger -- regardless whether their children tell them that everything's cool.

Then on another hand, the police and city and school officials want the public to know they are doing everything possible to stop gang violence, both at the root cause level and on the streets. It's hard for them to say what they and nearly everyone else knows -- that in the short term the chaos and violence that a handful of gangsters (among thousands of young people) create is not susceptible to any policy that is consistent with civil liberties.

Then on yet another hand, the police being police can't eliminate the inherent suspicion and hostility that goes with nearly any contact between an officer however well-trained and a young person who is just hanging out, let alone the harshness of any contact when there is any suspicion of danger or crime.

This is a Santa Monica problem that's into at least its third decade. No one seems capable of resolving these contradictions, and so I am sure I'll get another chance to attend a meeting like last Monday's.

* * *

Santa Monica is about to welcome two new important officials. One is Dianne Talarico, the new Superintendent of Schools. I haven't yet met her, and so what I know about her is only what I've read, but reading between the lines I am hopeful that she will be good for the district. (see story)

For one thing, I have to think that when School Board Member Jose Escarce said that he "fully anticipate[s] that Dianne will be here for a long time," he has reason to believe that Ms. Talarico will give our schools more than the five years we got from John Deasy.

And when Ms. Talarico says that she's "not coming with the flavor of the month or the latest package deal" she betrays some awareness that Superintendent Deasy, notwithstanding his successes in improving achievement, left Santa Monica and Malibu in at least a bit of innovation shock.

Finally, the thrust of Ms. Talarico's achievements in Canton, Ohio -- significantly increasing graduation and college matriculation rates -- and her emphasis on intervening early, even at the preschool level, to identify and give special attention to children who are likely to have learning and behavior problems, makes one believe that she has an understanding of the school district's major challenge.

Now, if she only has John Deasy's bedside manner we may have a winner.

* * *

The other new official is Eileen Fogarty, whom City Manager Lamont Ewell picked two weeks ago to be Santa Monica's new planning director. (see story)

Ms. Fogarty fills a position that went vacant for a critical year during which both the City's process for rewriting the land use and transportation elements of its general plan and a major, City Council-supported redevelopment -- that of Santa Monica Place -- both foundered.

(Speaking of the general plan update, tomorrow night the City Council will discuss the current status of the goals of the update. The council members could show smarts as well as respect for their new planning director by postponing any further discussion of the plan until Ms. Fogarty comes aboard.)

Our new planning director seems well qualified to pick up the pieces. I spoke to Ms. Fogarty last week. I was interested to know why she took a job in Santa Monica, a smaller city that Alexandria, Virginia, where she has been planning director for six years.

Ms. Fogarty told me that the Santa Monica job attracted her because in Alexandria her portfolio included only planning and zoning, while in Santa Monica she would also oversee transportation and building and safety. She said it was especially important to link transportation with planning.

Aside from the bigger job, she told me that she was impressed that City Manager Ewell himself traveled to Alexandria to meet with local officials and community leaders to find out what they thought of her before hiring her. Presumably he heard good things.

I told Ms. Fogarty that one of the challenges of being planning director in Santa Monica was that certain members of the community were suspicious of city staff. She said that it was important in any community to communicate with the public and that she thought this was one of her strengths. She alluded to problems her predecessor as planning director had had with community groups in Alexandria and said that community relations had improved since then.

She gave me some names of people involved in community organizations in Alexandria, and I called Jack Sullivan, the President of the Seminary Hill Association, which is one of 78 civic associations that comprise Alexandria's Federation of Civic Associations. (If 78 seems like a huge number of civic associations for a city of 138,000, the number includes condominium associations, as well as traditional neighborhood associations.)

Mr. Sullivan told me that when Ms. Fogarty's predecessor retired the Federation had before it a pending resolution of no confidence in the Alexandria's planning department, and that his organization (Seminary Hill) had sued the city twice.

Mr. Sullivan said, however, that Ms. Fogarty proved to be "a breath of fresh air." Although not everyone agreed with all of her decisions, Mr. Sullivan told me that "by and large" residents believed she had been good for the city, had hired good people, and had been "very responsive to the public" during a "huge real estate boom."

I asked Mr. Sullivan if Ms. Fogarty had a particular planning philosophy. He said he didn't know if she could be characterized by any particular theory, except that "Eileen likes quality."

Wow. A planning director who is very responsive to the public and likes quality.

How long will it take until the first Santa Monican calls her corrupt?

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