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Frank Gruber

Getting Primary Priorities Right

By Frank Gruber

Vote Yes on R.

It occurred to me after I saw last week's column "in print" on the website that when I wrote the column I buried the lead. I was so interested in the cause of my bike accident that I went with that first, leaving the far more important issue of Measure R, the parcel tax for the schools, to the second part of the column.

Forgive my error in judgment. The most important matter facing Santa Monicans on Tuesday's ballot (on a pound for pound, vote for vote basis, considering that our votes will only have a tiny impact on the presidential primaries) is Measure R. Getting two-thirds approval is never easy. Every vote counts.

I'll say it again -- Yes on R.

* * *

I'm not going to insult the intelligence of my readers by asserting opinions on the statewide measures -- community college funding, term limits and Indian gaming. I mean, if I haven't made up my mind yet, which I haven't, how can I pretend to have any opinion except that these are all ridiculous issues to have to vote on?

Ballot box government has reached the level of absurdity.

* * *

I have previously written about the presidential races, and I can report that nothing in the intervening weeks has changed my mind.

I still believe that Hillary Clinton is a more than capable politician who would enter the White House with all the skills to make an excellent president, but nonetheless I am even more enthusiastic about Barack Obama now than I was a couple of months ago when I first wrote about him. (see column)

I've been watching Obama speak a lot, and in the interests of full disclosure, while my journalistic ethics prevent me from making political contributions in Santa Monica, or endorsing candidates in elections here, I don't apply them to national politics, and Thursday night I paid to attend an Obama fundraiser where I heard him give his stump speech live.

Yes he can.

What Obama is trying to do with all his inspiring talk about coming together to solve our problems is in fact something important. He wants to revive the progressive coalition that ran America from the '30s into the '70s, a coalition that did solve a lot of problems, but which fell apart in the aftermath of Vietnam and riots and sex and drugs and rock 'n' roll.

He wants to bring the Reagan Democrats back into the party that better represents their interests, and rescue the political culture from right-wingers who believe that American can lead the world while forgetting the values the rest of the world respects us for. It's a wholesale approach.

There's no argument with Hillary Clinton about doing this, but her mind-set seems to be more retail. She's more focused on eking out what she can from a political war of constant skirmishing within the no man's land that lies between immobile entrenchments.
Her supporters consider this realism, but as her husband showed, all the good programs in the world won't mean a thing if you lose Congress because you can't out-inspire Newt Gingrich. Then the only legislative achievements anyone remembers you for after eight years in the White House are welfare reform and NAFTA.

* * *

As much as I hope Obama wins the nomination, and as much as I believe he will deserve the victory, I won't be happy with how Hillary Clinton's campaign contributed to his success. Go back to her victory in New Hampshire. There she appeared alone on the stage, without Bill, without Madeleine Albright, et al., and thanked the voters of New Hampshire for helping her find her own voice. It was a great moment for her.

But what was the voice we heard for the next two and half weeks, until the South Carolina primary? It was Bill Clinton's, who as a surrogate not only drowned out the candidate, but nearly erased her image.

It's true that Hillary Clinton has her years as first lady to thank for being a candidate. But it's still a shame that she ends up being defined by her husband's ego.

* * *

As for the Republicans, I'm going to repeat myself from a few weeks ago and say something that other Democrats might disagree with. Even though John McCain is likely to be a more formidable opponent than any of the other Republicans, particularly Mitt Romney, Democrats should hope he wins the Republican nomination.

That's because it will show that even among Republicans, the American people know that torture and immigrant-bashing are not right, and that when you're sending troops to war, it's not time to give the rich a tax cut.

* * *

One thing I've been doing since my bike accident is taking the bus a lot. With my broken collarbone still on the mend it's still a couple of weeks before I'll be able to cycle again, and until a few days ago my left arm was in a sling, so I couldn't drive either.

Like most Santa Monicans, I live only a short walk from a bus stop. I timed it, in fact, and I live about a three or four minute walk from bus stops on both Fourth Street and Ocean Park Boulevard.

What better way is there to start a morning than with a few minutes' walk?

Even better, if I arrive at one of those stops and don't see a bus coming, in two minutes more I can walk to the corner of Fourth and Ocean Park, where I can catch either the 2 or the 8 bus to downtown Santa Monica (and my office on Fourth Street).

The advantage of that is that if I miss one bus, I don't have to wait fifteen minutes until the next bus on that line, but I can take the other bus. Fifteen minutes is otherwise too long of a wait between buses for an urban commuter bus line.

Recently Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made the suggestion that people who complain about traffic should try taking transit once in awhile, and there's an effort among employees of the City of L.A. to take transit at least once a week to work.

We should give the same suggestion to complainers about traffic in Santa Monica, simply because the local system is so darn pleasant to use. If they try it, they just may like it, and if more people took the bus, the City could schedule more frequent service, thereby attracting more riders. Talk about a virtuous circle. Of course, there can be screw-ups taking the bus, but then how often does your journey in your private vehicle turn out to be a nightmare?

People don't like waiting for the bus, and it's true that Santa Monica is behind other cities (including L.A. and West Hollywood) in providing decent bus shelters, but what's so great about driving around looking for parking, or finding your car in a gloomy parking structure or in a vast ugly lot?

If more people tried the bus, they might just realize that taking it is not a burden. In fact, aside from riding a bike, it's the best way to get around Santa Monica.

* * *

With the closing of Santa Monica Place [see story] a chapter ends in the history of downtown Santa Monica. Call it the suburbanization chapter.

>From its creation in 1875 as the future center of a great shipping center, where a railroad was to connect with a port, into the 1950s, downtown Santa Monica proudly grew as a city. Robust commercial buildings shared the streets with august public buildings. Workers from the city's thriving industries and their families thronged the sidewalks, which were lined with shops.

In the 1950s, cities became old fashioned. The dominant paradigms were horizontal suburbanism and a vertical modernism. Both shared the anti-urban ideologies of separating uses and separating pedestrians from streets, which were to be for motorists only. In fact, both suburbanizers and modernists viewed walking as an old-fashioned technology that in the automotive age should only occur in the context of a shopping mall.

The powers that be in Santa Monica were, if nothing else, forward thinking, and downtown suffered from both paradigms, as it became the location for towers without lively connections to the street, and once bustling Third Street was turned into a sterile "mall."
[Insert the post card of the mall -- credit the Santa Monica Public Library Image Archives, and the photo of 520 Broadway (credit me)]

Downtown suffered, temporarily it turned out, when it lost market-share to the new malls that went up in places like Culver City, and the result was the ultimate betrayal of downtown's urbanism -- the City used its redevelopment powers to assemble ten acres for Santa Monica Place, the quintessential inward directed, enclosed shopping mall.

Now Santa Monica Place is going to be destroyed to save it. It will reopen as an extension of the Third Street Promenade.

Sic transit gloria suburbiae.*

* Latin ending courtesy the Santa Monica High School Latin Club. (Yes on R.)

* * *

And also passes the glory of an able civil servant, with Craig Perkins' decision to leave his job as the City's Director of Environmental and Public Works. (See story. I didn't know Mr. Perkins well, and observed most of his work from afar, but he always impressed me as someone who succeeded because he followed one rule over all others.

Apply your rational mind to a problem, and see what happens.

Good luck, Mr. Perkins, at the Energy Coalition. They are lucky to have you.

* * *

Oh yes, vote tomorrow. Yes on R.

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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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