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By Frank Gruber

One evening last week I gave a little talk on the recent election in Santa Monica. As I was comparing the votes on Measure T, the Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic, and County Measure R, the sales tax for transit, I had an odd thought.

One rhetorical tactic of no-growthers and NIMBYs in Santa Monica is to fret that a proposed structure over two stories will lead to the "Manhattanization" of Santa Monica. On the face of it, this is pure bombast: the population density per square mile of Manhattan is about 60,000 and that of Santa Monica is about 10,000. But the rhetoric is based on a truth, namely that no one would want Santa Monica to become a west coast version of Manhattan.

But as I said there was this odd thought that struck me. In voting in favor of Measure R, a measure most identified with L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa's proposed "Subway to the Sea," Santa Monicans were endorsing the building of the "Purple Line" subway all the way through their city.

What's more Manhattan than a subway?

Will there be a song, "Take the purple train (if you want to get to Santa Monica)?"

* * *

I spent last Wednesday evening in Barnum Hall, where I took in the talk by L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez about his book, The Soloist, the story of how his meeting Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, the mentally ill and then homeless former Juilliard student, changed both of their lives.

I have attended many meetings, lectures and other events in Santa Monica over the years, but I am recklessly going to say that last week's event was the best ever. I am sorry to make those readers who were not part of the crowd in Barnum feel bad for having missed it, but I'll say it -- the evening was perfect.

It combined edification -- wise words from Mr. Lopez and from representatives of OPCC, our primary local provider of services to the homeless -- with music provided by the Samohi Chamber Orchestra augmented by top-flight musicians from the L.A. Phil and elsewhere, under the baton of Joni Swenson, director of orchestras at the high school.

There were also clips from the movie based on The Soloist that's coming out in March.

The organizers -- largely from the Samohi Orchestra Parents Association, but consisting of enough individuals and organizations to fill the back cover of the program -- deserve immense credit.

Joy Horowitz from the association gave an incisive talk herself that introduced Mr. Lopez. Ms. Horowitz, herself an accomplished journalist, talked about Mr. Lopez's writing and what it must have meant for him as a journalist to make the connection he did to Mr. Ayers, and she set the stage for the discussion of the issues surrounding homelessness and mental illness by René Buchanan and John Maceri from OPCC and then by Mr. Lopez.

Ms. Buchanan, a former bank executive, told her story: she suffered throughout her life from depression and spent time on the streets, but found herself at OPCC. She now works at OPCC's Daybreak Center. Mr. Maceri described what services OPCC provides, and its philosophies and strategies for connecting with clients with mental illnesses and other debilitating conditions.

Mr. Lopez told the story of his encounters with Mr. Ayers. He described how skid row, where Mr. Ayers was living, and other places where the homeless congregate (such as, he pointed out, Palisades Park in Santa Monica) didn't happen by accident, but came into existence because after the mental institutions were shut down, the state (i.e., you and me) never funded adequately the community mental health centers that were supposed to take up the slack.

The most evocative moment occurred when Mr. Lopez read a passage from his book about how Mr. Ayers recalled practicing, when he was at Juilliard, Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings; the reading segued into the playing of the piece by the Chamber Orchestra (joined by the professional musicians).

You had to be there.

Naturally, as a local columnist I was particularly interested to hear Mr. Lopez speak because he's the local columnist for all of "L.A.", that place and mental space that transcends the boundaries of any one municipality. Mr. Lopez has been an inspiration to me. He talked about how terrifying that "blank piece of paper" he faces when he has a deadline could be, but he also said that L.A. was such a fascinating place to write about that it was like a "shooting gallery."

Santa Monica is a small corner of L.A., but I look at it the same way -- there's always something to write about, and too much that I should write about that I don't get to.

It "helps" that just about every current urban issue pops up here -- development, of course, and traffic, the ubiquitous issues of those-that-got, but also every issue relating to public education, and the tragic issue of gang violence. We even had a little financial crisis in the early years of this decade and perhaps along with everyone else we'll have another one soon.

And famously Santa Monica has homelessness. In Harry Shearer's words, we are the "Home of the Homeless." Santa Monica also has a history of trying to something about homelessness (not that everything always works, nor that homelessness is a problem that can be solved by one small city). But the political consensus among the majority of Santa Monicans begins with "there but for the grace of God go I," and moves on from there.

The philosophy of our local agencies now is not merely to succor those without homes, but to get them housed and with services and treatment to keep them housed.

There is a paradox about non-profit providers of services to the needy, including to the homeless and the mentally ill, which is that the providers tend to need more money just at those times when the economy is bad and everyone is broke or feels broke.

Obviously, those times are now.

Many people make their charitable donations at the end of the year. My holiday message is that if you have any money to spare, give generously to those agencies that need to do good even when the rest of us aren't doing well.

Here's a list of a few of the local providers of services to the homeless with links to their websites; they all could use your help:


Step Up on Second

St. Joseph Center

Venice Family Clinic

CLARE Foundation


New Directions

Upward Bound House

Common Ground

* * *

Music is also important. Give yourself a treat and got to Barnum Hall to hear the Samohi Orchestra at its Winter Concert -- tomorrow night, 7:00 p.m. For more information go to the orchestra's website

If readers want to write the editor about this column, send your emails to The Lookout at . If readers want to write Frank Gruber, email
The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of
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