The LookOut columns | What I Say

Frank Gruber

96,000 and counting (down)

By Frank Gruber

Readers may have wondered why I didn't write anything last week about the race for the Democratic nomination for president, since I've been so enraptured by it for weeks. The reason is simple. After the Ohio and Texas primaries, it seemed useless to speculate about what will happen.

Of course I couldn't help but speculate, I just didn't write about it. During that week after Hillary Clinton's primary victories, I was among many who thought that if Barack Obama didn't win Pennsylvania April 22, Ms. Clinton would so have the momentum that the party insiders -- the superdelegates -- who will have the final say at the convention would put a lot of pressure on Mr. Obama to run with Ms. Clinton as the vice presidential candidate.

But now I'm not so sure that can happen, even if Ms. Clinton wins Pennsylvania (as is expected). This is because of all the ill will that's been generated the past week or so. Most of that ill will has emanated from the side of the Clinton campaign, and it's been self-defeating.

There's a pattern. Ms. Clinton has had two big nights during this campaign -- the night she won the New Hampshire primary and the night she won in Ohio and Texas. Yet in both cases, inept and discordant messages from undisciplined elements in her campaign have undermined her attractiveness to much of the Democratic Party.

After New Hampshire, where Ms. Clinton stood on a stage alone and said she had found her voice, the next two weeks were dominated by Bill Clinton's bluster. After Ohio and Texas, the bluster came from Mark Penn and Geraldine Ferraro.

Democrats don't want to hear that one of their two possible candidates is unqualified to be president or "lucky" because he's black.

Meanwhile, the Nation magazine published an article with reporting that I can now cite to back up the arguments I made in my column ("Meshuggah Means Crazy in Any Language," March 3, 2008) two weeks ago about how right-wing Jewish Americans use smears to try to alienate Jewish voters from Democrats. The Nation article is by Ari Berman, and you can find it online on the Alternet website.

Mr. Berman has identified the font of much of the recent smearing as one Ed Lasky, a blogger from Northbrook, Illinois, who wrote a blog post in 2004 titled "Why American Jews Must Vote for Bush."

More "meanwhiles," Mr. Obama had his own problems last week with religious people, namely the pastor of his church in Chicago, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The media found out that Rev. Wright had made his own Jeremiads about America that Mr. Obama had to denounce and reject.

What's this thing about Protestant preachers? What have they got against America? If it's not Rev. Wright, from the left, it's the likes of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, or John Hagee prophesying (or explaining and justifying) doom to America because of our sins.

But then when President Bush spoke to the National Association of Religious Broadcasters last week, he didn't admonish them to tone down the fire and brimstone. (A friend of mine, a former right-wing, evangelical firebrand turned novelist and now Obama-supporter, Frank Schaeffer, just wrote an article in the Huffington Post in which he gives a lot more detail and history about this double standard.)

Actually, the whole week might have worked to Mr. Obama's advantage, because he's been able to go on TV and ask the rhetorical question about how could he ever turn his back on Rev. Wright since the preacher was the man who brought the young and agnostic Mr. Obama to Jesus. Expect Mr. Obama's approval rate to go up in the Bible Belt.

* * *

Last week I wrote about how unlikely it was that Santa Monica's population had reached 96,000, the figure that the New York Times had used in an article about our town, and I wondered where the Grey Lady had found the number.

In response I received an email from a reader who told me to look in the draft housing element of the City's general plan, which is now circulating for public comment, where he thought he had seen it.

It so happened that just last week I had downloaded the draft housing element, all 336 pages of it, and I took a look. It turns out that my reader was only half right.

The figure that City staff used in the document for the population of Santa Monica, which they attributed to the California Department of Finance, was 91,124, not 96,000. But that's a number that still represents an increase of 7,040, or 8.4 percent, since the last census in 2000.

I want to commend staff for including a footnote to this figure that reads "It should be noted that the Department of Finance provides estimates only, [and] the actual City of Santa Monica population may be greater or less than 91,124 persons."

I would be able to commend staff more if the footnote had read, "It should be noted that this number is patently ridiculous, because the average occupancy per housing unit in Santa Monica, including all the single-family homes, is less than two, a number that has been in decine, that only apartments and condos are being built in Santa Monica today, that few of them have three or more bedrooms, that therefore an increase of 7,040 in population would imply a net increase of 4,000 or more housing units in seven years, and that in fact (as noted in Table 3-23 of this document) the number of housing units in Santa Monica constructed between 2001 and 2007 is only 1,546, a "gross" figure that does not take into account the number units they replaced, and furthermore that there is no evidence that the Department of Finance knows anything about how many high school students leave Santa Monica each year and never come back."

These statistics are important to get right. Currently, as has been the case for years, the City and specifically the Planning and Community Development Department (which provides the staff that writes the housing element) are under siege from no-growthers and NIMBYs who believe, wrongly, that growth in Santa Monica has been and is out of control.

They shudder at the idea that more people will live here, when in fact there has been no growth in Santa Monica's population in nearly two generations, and very little growth in housing stock, and as a result our school district is running out of students and local employees cannot find places to live, meaning they have to commute. Sloppy use of statistics that show more population growth than there has been plays into the no-growthers' hands.

One can download the City's draft housing element from this page on the City's website:, which also contains directions on how to address comments to it. The City Council is tentatively scheduled to review the document at its April 8 meeting.

Correction (I am happy to make): last week I noted that the record of the undefeated Santa Monica High School boys soccer team was 21-0-1, but I have learned that that was merely their record in league and CIF playoffs. Including their record in tournaments, their overall record was 29-0-1. Even more impressive!

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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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