The LookOut columns | What I Say

Frank Gruber

Who are the "powers-that-be?"

By Frank Gruber

Tomorrow will be the most significant election in a generation. In 28 years, to be exact. How do I know this? Very simple. The Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series last week.

I watched the game (both parts) at Sonny McLeans bar and restaurant on Wilshire just east of 26th Street, but only because I was part of the overflow from The Shack, which is on the southeast corner of the same intersection, and which is West Coast headquarters for refugee sports fans from my hometown of Philadelphia. (Sonny McLeans is normally the headquarters for sports fan refugees from Boston.)

Sonny's was crowded with Phils fans, but The Shack was bursting.

That night 26th and Wilshire was the epicenter for what I call refugee sports fan urbanism -- a phenomenon that can only happen in big cities where there are enough displaced fans from another city to fill a bar (or two) to watch a game.

But the bigger point is that the last time the Fightin' Phils won the World Series was 1980, the year Ronald Reagan won the presidency. That was the culmination of the rise of the conservative movement that replaced FDR's New Deal progressive coalition.

Now with the Phils again champions, it can only mean that it's time for another cyclical shift in American politics, and the election of Barack Obama will certainly be the culmination of that.

* * *

Locally, in the City of Santa Monica, all eyes are on Measure T, the "Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic" (RIFT). I have a few more observations about it.

The anti-RIFT campaign has raised a lot of money from developers and property owners to fight the measure. The campaign has used the money to send out quite a few mailers that often focus on collateral bad effects the measure may have, particularly the potential impact on the City's (and by extension the school district's) finances.

In response, the pro-RIFT campaign has largely become a campaign about who is bankrolling the opposition and the purported "lies" the opposition is telling about RIFT.

This counter-counter campaign may be successful. If RIFT wins, my guess it will be because the pro-RIFT forces manage to link the opponents to the "bad guys" (that and the fact that Santa Monicans for Renters Rights didn't take a stand against a measure that implicitly blames the council members SMRR has elected over the years for whatever traffic and development problems the city has).

While I don't believe the anti-RIFT campaign needed to raise and spend as much money as it did, and as I've written, I believe that there are sufficient arguments based on land use alone to persuade Santa Monica voters to oppose RIFT, it takes a lot of chutzpah for the RIFTers to criticize the campaign against the measure.

Lies? The whole premise of RIFT is based on a falsehood, namely that RIFT would "fight traffic." RIFT will have no discernable impact on traffic. At least the anti-RIFT campaign has real studies to show the impact the measure would or could have on future revenues.

Then during the campaign the RIFTers have, Sarah Palin-like, focused on any irrelevant issue they can use to distract the voters from the fact that the measure will not "fight traffic."

For instance, consider their claim that somehow the City dropped the ball on collecting $45 million in traffic mitigation fees -- when (i) the approvals for the nine million square feet of development on which these fees were supposed to be levied preceded the City Council's call for a mitigation fee, (ii) most of that development occurred pursuant to development agreements that assessed the developers for traffic mitigations, and (iii) the City's consultants couldn't find a legally required nexus to charge the fees.

But there is also the RIFTers' focus on the where the money comes from for the anti-RIFT campaign. Obviously if you put a measure on the ballot that is going to diminish the value of property, by adding another layer of unpredictability about whether and how that property might be developed, the owners of the property are going to spend money to defeat the measure.

That doesn't mean, however, that the merits of the measure are improved by who is opposing it. No matter who opposes RIFT, and for what reasons, RIFT is still a measure that does no good and interferes most of all with the orderly and rational planning of our city's future.

Finally there is the RIFTers' self-righteousness and habit of accusing the opposition of being corrupt. It's not sufficient for them to point out that developers have funded the anti-RIFT campaign; the RIFTers have to say that anyone who opposes the measure must be in the developers' pockets.

As Council Member Kevin McKeown put it in an op-ed posted on the Measure T website, "Many of the powers-that-be in this town have personal or organizational interest in unrestrained commercial development. I'm glad residents have the pluck to challenge power."

Mr. McKeown didn't have the courage to name any of those "powers-that-be," but I wonder if he meant to smear the SMRR leadership to whom he owes his political career, people like Judy Abdo, who co-chairs the anti-RIFT campaign.

Or did he mean to smear Santa Monicans like Terry O'Day, the current chair of the Planning Commission, who is the other co-chair of the campaign? Mr. O'Day has spent his whole career working on developing progressive environmental policies and putting those policies in practice. Policies that might actually do something about traffic, such as the expansion of the transit system that he's worked so hard to achieve with County Measure R.

Or did Mr. McKeown mean to smear the five council members who oppose Measure T? As someone who has observed the council for a long time, often considering the council too tough on development, I can report that it's ludicrous to say that any of Richard Bloom, Ken Genser, Robert Holbrook, Herb Katz or Pam O'Connor has a "personal or organizational" interest in "unrestrained commercial development" since they have spent the past decade or two restraining it.

Or did Mr. McKeown mean to smear the many community leaders who oppose RIFT? You've seen their names on the anti-RIFT mailers. Are they the "powers-that-be" Mr. McKeown believes have an interest in unrestrained commercial development?

Promoters of or believers in simplistic solutions to complex problems, such as Mr. McKeown and the leadership of the RIFT campaign, cannot comprehend that anyone of sound moral and political character could disagree with them on the merits of their proposals. I mean, their proposals make so much (common) sense!

Instead, the opposition must be corrupt.

And any unfortunate simple-minded voters who vote against RIFT will have been duped.

Tomorrow night we'll see how many of them there are.

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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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