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Frank Gruber

Post-Battered Commissioner Syndrome: There is Hope

By Frank Gruber

I have been spending most of my column researching and writing time the past ten days or so reading the City of Santa Monica's "Land Use and Circulation Element Strategy Framework" and trying to catch either live or by video as much of the Planning Commission's hearings on the document as I can. (The hearings will continue this week with meetings Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.)

Which means that I don't have much yet to say about the tome or the commission's take on it, except that I do want to say something about the commission itself.

Which is, what a difference four years and three former members make. Longtime readers of this column know that in its early years I could always get an outraged column out of watching a commission meeting. But that ended when the City Council in 2003 voted not to reappoint Commissioner Kelly Olsen to a second term, replacing him with Terry O'Day, and then Commissioner Geraldine Moyle resigned soon afterwards -- she was replaced by Gwynne Pugh. Later for good measure the council did not reappoint Commissioner Arlene Hopkins and replaced her with Hank Koning.

Ever since then (during which time there have been more personnel changes as commissioners reached the end of the customary two terms) the commission has been a columnist's nightmare: a body that goes about its job quietly and competently. The commission's current careful and constructive analysis of the LUCE framework is no exception.

What's a columnist looking for the outrage to do? It's not like the City is going to sue dry cleaners for not having exhaustive price lists every week.

After the City Council did not grant Mr. Olsen a second term I wrote that I had hopes that the remaining commissioners would recover from their "battered commissioner syndrome" and do a good job. ("WHAT I SAY: Since I've Been Gone," July 28, 2003)

I was right about that, I'm pleased to say, so right that the person in local politics I feel most sorry for right now is Commissioner Julie Lopez Dad. Ms. Dad was one of the commissioners I often criticized during the Olsen years, but since then -- while there are certainly times I don't agree with her -- she has been a model of conscientiousness.

The reason I feel sorry for her is that her second term ends June 30 and wisely the council rarely grants a third term to commissioners (and for that reason it takes five votes to do so). While the commission may conclude its work on the LUCE framework before June 30, review of the LUCE documents themselves will come in the months after the council approves the framework. Ms. Dad has worked so hard on the LUCE that I wonder if there is some means for her to get a three or six month extension.

* * *

I have one comment to make about the end of the Dianne Talarico years (all two of them) at the School District, which is that can the School Board not conduct its typical "nationwide search" for her replacement?

Maybe our problem is a Santa Monica/Malibu/Westside obsession with how special we are. Let's be honest -- we've got a small school district. Do we need to find the best, most forward-thinking, most fabulous educator in the world to run it? Why would such a person want to stick his or her future on our wagon?

Isn't there a competent educator available who already has a home within commuting distance?

* * *

Reading about the cyclist killed on Fourteenth Street last Wednesday made me recall my own serious bike accident last January. And reading the story about the pedestrian dying in hospital from the hit-and-run accident a month ago made me think about a friend of mine who was laid up in bed for three weeks after being hit a month ago by car when he was crossing Ocean Park Boulevard. ("Bicyclist Struck and Killed in Pico Neighborhood," May 30, 2008 and "Police Search for Hit-and-Run Driver," May 30,2008)

What it made me think about is how we take for granted so much carnage on our streets. Ten people died and scores were injured at the Farmers Market and it was international news. The City's settlement of the lawsuit made the front page of the L.A. Times.

Meanwhile it seems like every month or so someone is killed going from one place to another in Santa Monica.

As a cyclist there's one oddity I've noted, however, which is that in countries -- in Europe or China, for instance -- where many more people bike for routine transportation, many fewer cyclists wear helmets.

You see pictures or videos of swarms of cyclists in Dutch or Danish cities, and few of them have helmets. Perhaps they are in denial of reality -- my doctor told me than my helmet saved my life -- but the fact is that neither they nor the cars around them are going fast.

Streets in America are built for speed, and encourage speed, and are therefore intrinsically unsafe. As a cyclist I find myself trying to keep up with traffic. I don't remember the spill I took, which occurred at the corner of 11th and Ocean Park, but no doubt I was hurtling down the hill from 14th.

Pedestrians are routinely faced with the problem of crossing streets against traffic that is going too fast to stop in time from when the motorist is able to see the pedestrian step off the curb, even if the pedestrian is being cautious. An average driver going 40 miles per hour needs 164 feet to stop his car -- that's more than half the length of a typical Santa Monica east-west block.

Yet cars regularly go more than 40 on our boulevards. There is no way for these streets to be safe. If anything else in our society were this unsafe -- our spinach supply, for instance -- people would be in panic mode.

But we all worship velocity more than vegetables.

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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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