The LookOut columns | What I Say

Frank Gruber

A Faraway Perspective

By Frank J. Gruber

For most of last week I was traveling on business -- my other business, not the writing about Santa Monica business. I went to Berlin to attend meetings with clients at the Berlin Film Festival. I kept up with Santa Monica news by reading The Lookout, but the fact was that I was "distant."

So as I write this on the plane home Monday, I haven't yet talked to anyone about the big news -- the arrest of eight suspects in the shootings and murders that have plagued Santa Monica for two years. Won't it be wonderful if getting eight criminals off the street solves the gang problem?

That's a straightforward question and a fervent wish. I am not being disingenuous or cynical. Social movements and social problems have to manifest themselves sooner or later in individuals and their actions, and gang warfare is crazy enough that perhaps arresting a set of sociopaths can bring an end to a cycle of violence. It's well established that only a few violent gangsters cause most gang violence.

But this particular cycle has been turning in Santa Monica for more than two decades and ending it will depend not only on the arrests of a few, but also on the actions of many. To put it plainly, now that the police have arrested the alleged shooters, will Santa Monica gang members give up private revenge?

Will these arrests be, as Capt. Carol J. Aborn-Khoury, the LAPD's West Los Angeles area commanding officer, expressed it hopefully, "the beginning of the end of these feuds"? Or will Santa Monica's own gangsters go out and do something that recycles the cycle?

The most encouraging development I noted was that Santa Monica's new Chief of Police, Tim Jackman, credited the arrests to increased cooperation from residents of the Pico Neighborhood after the December murder of Miguel Martin.

There could be various reasons why the police didn't have this level of cooperation after the previous shootings, or after the murder of Eddie Lopez. I don't know why it took so long, but I hope the reasons were positive -- because of good policing, in particular Chief Jackman's own example of walking the neighborhood, and because of a change of attitude among residents close to gang members who realize that they are not protecting anyone or any concept of neighborhood solidarity by closing ranks around criminals.

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I also read last week about how the School Board's agreement settling the contract of former Chief Financial Officer Winston Braham, which included a clause keeping him from commenting on the District's financial condition, has ignited some amount of outrage among City Council members who have agreed that the City should pay the District a substantial amount of money each year.

The question I had when I initially learned of the settlement agreement was how someone who resigned could get a settlement of his contract that paid him every penny remaining on it. Usually when you quit, that's it. So did he quit, or was Mr. Braham asked to resign? Was he, in effect, fired without legal cause, and that's why the District is willing to pay the full balance of the contract?

I have previously written that the contretemps with Mr. Braham does not necessarily mean that the District overreached with its most recent contract with the teachers' union, or that it has necessarily mismanaged its finances. I still believe that. I also don't believe that good policy making is served by focusing on individuals rather than the problems themselves.

But we need more transparency; that's obvious. The Board and new Superintendent Diane Talarico need to let the public know all the circumstances involving Mr. Braham's "resignation."

And if we're still paying Mr. Braham, it seems like we should be still entitled to his expertise.

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In the happy news department, it was wonderful to read that Ann and Ron Funk have donated $100,000 to the Santa Monica Historical Society's capital campaign to relocate the society's collections to the new Main Library.

The society is still a long way from achieving its goal of $5 million, but the Funks' large gift should stimulate others to donate.

We are lucky to live in a little city with an important history, and we are even luckier to have a society that does such a good job cataloging it.

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The weather in Berlin was not good for sightseeing or taking photographs -- it was cold, grey and drizzly when it wasn't snowing -- and I only had a little time on Sunday to get out and about. Which was too bad because this was my first visit to the city.

I took one long cold walk, however, from the Brandenburg Gate to the Jewish Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind. The walk was quite historical; my path followed, pretty much, the course of the Wall, the former dividing line between east and west, the "Communist Bloc" and the "Free World." The stops along the way were the Holocaust Memorial designed by Peter Eisenman and the site of Checkpoint Charlie.

As I said, it was a grey day, but a good one for contemplating history. Here are some photos.

The Brandenburg Gate (Photos by Frank Gruber)

Last year when the American Institute of Architects had its convention at the L.A. Convention Center I attended a debate about how to build cities between a preservation-minded architect and one who believed in starting over. The latter used the Brandenburg Gate as an example of a monument to various bad values, and wondered why it was so important to preserve it.

He was probably exaggerating, but I guess my reason would be that something like an imperial gate stuck in the middle of 21st Century consumerism is a good symbol that values change.

The Holocaust Memorial

I am not a good enough writer to express what it was like on a day with snow on the ground to walk through Peter Eisenman's maze of concrete blocks, each one set ever so slightly askew in ground that got deeper and deeper. But reflect on the two meanings of "lost" -- both not "knowing where you are" and "doomed."

The View from Checkpoint Charlie

In this photo you are looking up Freidrichstrasse at the corner of Zimmerstrasse; the Wall crossed right in front. Most of the buildings in the picture weren't there then, however.

As someone who grew up in the Cold War, it was remarkable to think that so much of what I grew up thinking about could be encapsulated in such a banal place.

The Jewish Museum

The full impact of Daniel Liebskind's design for the Berlin Jewish Museum is available only to those who go inside it. One enters the building underground. The initial exhibits, about the flight of those members of the German Jewish community who got out and then the destruction of those who didn't, are embedded in the walls of a patchwork of crisscrossing, obliquely angled corridors.

The museum is not only about the Holocaust; in fact, its purpose is to tell the story of 2,000 years of Jewish life in the lands that became Germany. But we know how that story ended; or, rather, how it seemed to end, because the Jewish community in Germany is again growing.

There are no regular rectangles within the museum. Architecturally it's the opposite of the 90-degree grid of the Holocaust Memorial. But I got lost there, too.

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