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How Soon We Forget: Three Years in One Case, Eleven Months in Another
By Frank J. Gruber
Occasionally, something happens that people can feel good about. Usually it's because someone else works really hard.
Three years ago ugly public protests, led by a neighborhood association that was then even more unrepresentative of its neighborhood than most, almost scuttled OPCC's renovation of a derelict commercial building into housing for mentally ill homeless people coming in from the literal and figurative cold. (see story)
Last week OPCC had a grand opening for its beautiful facility on Cloverfield. Designed by local architect Wade Killefer, the facility will house each night 55 clients in two programs, Daybreak and Safe Haven, that deal with the most intransigent of our transients -- the mentally ill and addicted. Both programs work intensively with clients who are just off the streets to get them into treatment and permanent housing.
There are people in Santa Monica who both complain about the homeless and yet don't want to do anything to solve their (and our) problems. Every election some of them run for City Council but they don't get many votes. They receive the support neither from our left-wing political party, Santa Monicans for Renters Rights, nor from our business community.
As a whole, Santa Monicans are constructive. They have fears, but they also have better angels in their natures and are willing to follow them. One many issues -- such as with the homeless -- they are willing to lead, as was recognized, for instance, by County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky when he spoke last week at the dedication ceremonies for the new OPCC center.
So here, Santa Monica, is a photo to be proud of.
I wish I could ignore the general plan update process, but someone has to pay attention. After all, only eight members of the public showed up to address City Council last week when the Council was adopting the same "goals" that were so necessary last January that the Council derailed the whole process. (see story)
A process that the Council originally scheduled to conclude right about now.
Of course, if you recall, eleven months ago staff made the tactical mistake of asking the Council to make a decision -- to choose two general approaches from three alternatives -- and to avoid that the Council (except for Pam O'Connor and Richard Bloom, and Bobby Shriver who was absent) seized on the complaints of a few members of the public and refused to proceed unless there was consensus on how much growth the plan contemplated. (see story)
Last week the Council blessed the resumption of the process without goals that are any more detailed than before.
When the Council initiated the process, Council Member Pam O'Connor warned that delay in the process would play into the hands of those who want the City to do nothing about its future, and she sure was right about that.
It's funny. People will bash the homeless and the City's social services, and the Council Members will reserve their own (better) judgments -- tell the bashers that they know better. Other people -- another minority -- repeat their complaints about traffic or development, over and over, year after year, notwithstanding what the Council does, and most of the council members hold them in awe.
Self-appointed neighborhood representatives and obsessive (and myopic) traffic-counters have captured a process that started out with hundreds of participants attending community meetings and outreach to thousands. Their collective voices articulated a progressive and inclusive vision of the city's future. Now that vision is fighting for survival with no one to speak for it except the City's own staff -- because they took the notes and gathered the data.
So if, as happened last week, one speaker appears before the Council from the Ocean Park Association and says that no one in the neighborhood wanted new housing on Main Street and no one wants change, Council Member Bobby Shriver will treat him like the Oracle of Delphi, notwithstanding that the opponents of both the market-rate and affordable projects on Main Street that the speaker objects to and which are now nearing completion were always a small minority of the neighbors who spoke at public hearings and at Ocean Park Community Organization meetings before the projects were approved.
Just how narrow the process has been cast politically was evidenced at the meeting last week by the amount of water Council Members Kevin McKeown and Ken Genser were willing to carry for the contention of certain members of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City that no progress should be made on the new plan until the City changed its method of counting traffic.
Council Member Genser said that "a number of people have suggested" the City count cars differently. Mr. Genser never said what that number might be. He's really talking about one person -- activist Laurel Roennau, who has been flogging this issue for years. I'll put the number at say four -- but I'm not counting people who say they're for counting cars differently but in fact don't know what the dispute is all about.
Meanwhile the City's staff, which actually studies things like how to create the multi-modal, pedestrian-friendly transportation system people seem to want, says it's a non-issue. True, awhile back when the City Council heard from traffic experts on the general issue of what to do about mobility, one of the experts -- a professor from Orange County who develops car-counting software -- thought the City should count cars differently, but no one else agreed with him.
But then everyone knows staff is in cahoots with developers. Wasn't that why the Coalition for a Livable City sued the City? To get the documents to prove the corruption, right? So where are the documents? The City's taxpayers paid their legal fees, now where are the documents?
One thing is for sure: nothing is going to happen with the general plan update unless City Manager Lamont Ewell starts backing up his planning department.
Because you know that when the City Council is finally voting on a plan that will call for encouraging housing on land currently zoned for industrial and commercial purposes -- housing that will not only help the City deal with its jobs-housing imbalance and its affordable and workforce housing crisis, but also complement its plans for improved public transit -- the no-growthers will be out in force opposing the plan because the City didn't change its traffic counting methodology.
They will say they're not against housing, but that the City can't pass the plan because it needs more study. And until there is a plan, there won't be new housing.
The fireworks, such as they were, at last week's meeting occurred when Council Member McKeown wanted to know why the Coalition wasn't listed as a group the staff had spoken to about the plan.
Council Member O'Connor -- whom the Coalition had targeted with a hit piece during the recent campaign -- shot back, saying that she wasn't worried for the Coalition -- she was sure that such a "special interest" would make itself heard. She was more concerned that the Council hear from "normal" Santa Monicans who perhaps didn't have time to lobby the Council.
Obviously, anyone who reads this column knows whose side I'm on. The Coalition won't even say how many or who its members are.
But there are also the votes to look at. The Coalition distributed a heavy-duty hit piece on Ms. O'Connor, complete with grainy, unflattering photo, and got loads of free publicity for its charges against her. Yet Ms. O'Connor cruised to victory with nearly as many votes as the Coalition's hero, that other victim of negative campaigning, Mr. McKeown.
If you count up all the votes, the candidates identified with moderate growth -- Ms. O'Connor, Robert Holbrook, and Terry O'Day -- overwhelmed the Coalition-endorsed Mr. McKeown. Nor did the candidate who came in fifth, Gleam Davis, run on a rabid anti-growth, let's count cars differently platform. (I don't mean to imply that Mr. MeKeown himself is as opposed to growth as some of those who support him are -- he's not.)
No one but a few of the fringe candidates ran on a no-growth platform. If the Coalition and its allies in the self-appointed neighborhood associations believe so strongly that Santa Monicans don't want to build for the future, they should run candidates. The same goes for the opponents of Santa Monica College, and the opponents of building housing for the mentally ill and homeless.
Of course, they would lose.
I don't mean to say that anti-growth candidates haven't won before -- Kelly Olsen, Ken Genser, Mike Feinstein, Richard Bloom and Kevin McKeown all ran and won with no-growth support -- but they won because they had the SMRR endorsement. No no-growther has ever won without SMRR support, but candidates who ran as independents on moderate platforms -- notably Paul Rosenstein and Bobby Shriver -- have won.
And let's not forget that Santa Monicans have voted for bond issues, for the Civic Center plan, for ffordable housing.
Most Santa Monicans have a lot more on their minds than traffic.
If Council members believe that we should hold up the general plan update to explore Ms. Roennau's obsession with counting cars, if they believe Santa Monica doesn't need more housing for a diverse population, or if they believe Santa Monica doesn't need a vibrant economy, then that's fine. Just don't say that's what the residents believe.
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The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
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