The LookOut columns | What I Say

Frank Gruber

Of Clubs and Parties

By Frank Gruber

If it's any comfort to Bobby Shriver for not receiving the endorsement of the Santa Monica Democratic Club (SMDC) for reelection to City Council, let me offer this: when you say, "Santa Monica Democratic Club," the emphasis should be on the last word, "Club." ("Dem Club Endorses Genser, Bloom," September 3, 2008)

Last week I was talking to a new acquaintance in Santa Monica, and much of the conversation was about politics; it was on a day in between the Democratic and Republican conventions. At a certain point we turned to local politics, and my friend brought up the SMDC's non-endorsement of City Council Member Shriver.

He said that he was once asked -- sometime after the crucial 2004 election -- to join the SMDC and he said that his reply was on the order of, "Why would I join a Democratic Party organization that had just endorsed Dennis Kucinich for president -- a choice that would have doomed the party in the election?"

The Club is a club, and only a club, the members of which consider themselves more "progressive" than most Democrats. It's also virtually an appendage of Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights (SMRR). I can't recall an election when the club endorsed candidates not endorsed by SMRR.

This year, when the club almost did so -- the steering committee had recommended endorsements for non-SMRR endorsees Shriver and Ted Winterer, and had recommended not endorsing Richard Bloom -- the SMRR connection was particularly obvious when at the membership meeting the club only endorsed SMRR candidates Ken Genser and Richard Bloom.

The whole thing wouldn't make much difference, but Santa Monica voters, most of whom are Democrats, don't necessarily know that the Club is just a club, and a subsidiary of SMRR at that, and so when they see "Santa Monica Democratic Club endorses," they may be inclined to think that the party of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton has endorsed candidates in Santa Monica.

But then Bobby Shriver is probably the candidate running in Santa Monica with the best collection of photographs of him standing next to national Democratic figures.

* * *

In another story "ripped from the headlines," I read with dismay that Jerry Rubin got himself arrested protesting the removal of ficus trees downtown ("Local Activist Arrested in Tree Protest," September 4, 2008). If you like Santa Monica politics, you have to love Jerry Rubin. He is a sweet guy who not only cares, but who also pays attention, and thinks about the issues with more independence than anyone else.

But there was no reason for him to chain himself to a tree. He took this too far -- as I've written before, Jerry (sorry, but Jerry Rubin is one person I cannot call "Mr. Rubin") and his Treesavers won the battle of the downtown ficus trees by saving two-thirds of them and causing the City to adopt a better plan for 2nd and 4th Streets that provides for the long term needs of the downtown "urban forest" by inter-planting new trees with old.

I'm hesitant to write about this for fear that more publicity will only encourage Jerry to do this kind of thing again, but I am going to express the hope that Jerry's friends, particularly in Treesavers, persuade Jerry to declare victory on the ficus trees and move on to advocating for his proposed Tree Commission.

* * *

In the good news department, it's hard to believe, looking back at all the controversy ("WHAT I SAY -- Frre Recipe with this Column," August 10, 2001) there was about it years ago, but Santa Monica College's new theater at the old Madison school site is about to have its gala opening on September 20, followed by an inaugural concert featuring famed mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade on October 11.

Now called the "Broad Stage" at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, in honor of a $10 million gift ("LA Philanthropist gives $10 Million to New SMC Theater," July 3, 2008) from Eli and Edythe Broad to establish an endowment to support operations, the hall has already been the scene of three "shake-down" events designed to test all the stage machinery and such. I attended all three events, and can attest that the facility succeeds practically and aesthetically in all respects.

The Broad Stage, as well as a smaller space called the Edye Second Space, are only part of what now becomes the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, at 11th and Santa Monica Boulevard, which itself is more than a performing arts center, because it also contains an art gallery -- the Pete & Susan Barrett Art Gallery.

In conjunction with the opening of the theater, the gallery is housing an impressive show of works by Santa Monicans that former chair of the Santa Monica Arts Commission Bruria Finkel curated. Ms. Finkel must have had a hard time making her choices, because there are few localities that can boast the artists to produce the quality and range of the works in this show.

This coming Saturday evening, September 13, is the grand opening of the show; for more information go to this webpage [].

For more information about the gala opening events for the Broad Stage, and for programming for the season, go this webpage

* * *

In the blast from the past department, tonight the Landmarks Commission will try to resolve an oldie but goodie; the case of a once-and-no-longer garage in the Third Street Historic District.

I wrote about this garage back in 2004 ("WHAT I SAY -- A Landmark Tale of Two garages," September 20, 2004) accidentally -- I attended a meeting of the commission to report on another landmark designation involving a garage, but ended up writing about both of them.

Bea Nemlaha, one of the organizers and biggest supporters of the historic district, owned the detached garage in the back of her property, which had been constructed in 1915 and was not in good shape. Ms. Nemlaha wanted to replace it with a new, contemporary two-car garage with a roof deck. The commission couldn't agree on what to tell Ms. Nemlaha about the design, and she and her architect (Ralph Mechur) had to go back to the drawing board.

Ultimately the commission approved plans for the replacement garage, but when Ms. Nemlaha demolished the old garage, instead of building the new one, she decided to turn the space into a garden.

Well, it turns out that since Ms. Nemlaha did not follow the terms of the "certificate of appropriateness" for the removal of the garage -- because she didn't replace it -- she now needs to return to the commission to obtain an amendment to the certificate.

While it's unlikely that the commission is going to require Ms. Nemlaha to build a garage she doesn't want, the project has raised the hackles of some of her neighbors, who wonder if a double standard was applied to the original application.

That's because the commission decided that the 1915 garage was expendable in part because it was 95 feet from the street and partially obscured by an overhanging hedge. Readers may recall that recently Third Street has been riven by controversy over a contemporary addition a homeowner wants to build behind trees in the rear of his property; Ms. Nemlaha has opposed that project.

Beyond that, the project raises questions about the very meaning of an historic district. Is it the buildings themselves -- a garage from 1915, for instance -- or what is visible from the street? And then, is it okay to build new buildings that look historic, to make passersby feel that they are in an historic place?

Never a dull moment in Santa Monica.

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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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