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Westside Narcissism and Left-Wing Rhetoric: In Synch and Opposed

By Frank Gruber

July 20, 2009 -- I watched in disbelief the City Council meeting last Tuesday evening about what to do with the maintenance yard that the Expo line extension will need to be built somewhere on the Westside.  Did everyone who spoke against locating it in Santa Monica believe what they were saying?

Did those members of the Pico Neighborhood Association and the young people from Oscar de la Torre's Pico Youth and Family Center believe that putting the yard at the Verizon site on Exposition Boulevard would create a "toxic triangle," or would equal "environmental racism"?

Did they -- and did Council member Bobby Shriver -- believe that the City's staff was lying when, after several months of review, and with the aid of advice from a real estate firm, they had concluded that Expo staff were correct that there were no workable alternatives to the Verizon site?

Does Mr. Shriver believe, as he said, that Santa Monica was no longer a place for "industrial activities," and that because of this, the city was not the place for a yard for storing, cleaning and doing a little maintenance on non-polluting electric rail cars that will connect (i) workers in Santa Monica with jobs to the east and (ii) workers from places like Crenshaw with jobs in Santa Monica?

Does Mr. Shriver know that by making that statement, which is objectively false given the demographics of Santa Monica, he validated the clichéd image of a Santa Monican?

And do the City's staff and Mayor Ken Genser believe that a Rube Goldberg-like design for the yard that would spread it over two sites straddling Stewart Street, and which would require the hostile acquisition of a ground lease (one the City chose not to acquire when it had the opportunity to do so a few years ago) and the taking over of Santa Monica College's parking lot, is a better alternative than building the project on the Verizon site in a manner that deals with the minor environmental impacts (some noise) the yard would create?

Except for the fact that four council members -- Mayor Genser, Pam O'Connor, Richard Bloom, and Gleam Davis -- ultimately owned up to their responsibilities and the realities of the situation and approved more study of how to make a yard at the Verizon site work, the meeting was an example of Westside narcissism and left-wing rhetoric working like a tag team of professional wrestlers.

True, I believe that kernels of truth lie at the heart of left-wing rhetoric, and by writing this column I probably exemplify "Westside narcissist," but let's face it: the scene would have been perfect if only the representatives from Expo -- CEO Rick Thorpe and consultant Steve Polechronis -- had arrived in black masks and capes, pounding their chests, and making obscene gestures to the audience.

That they didn't do, but the meeting was also an example of how governmental agencies can shoot themselves in the foot.  Messrs. Thorpe and Polechronis kept telling everyone that if they only saw how the maintenance yard for the Green Line in Redondo Beach worked, they wouldn't be so worried. 

Apparently it is so unoffending that condos have been built next to it, and Messrs. Thorpe and Polechronis said they were eager to organize a field trip to take council members and residents to see it.

But why, then, didn't they, or City staff, organize the field trip before they called this meeting to discuss their proposal to straddle Stewart Street?  In fact, why did they make their proposal before they'd conducted neighborhood workshops, with actual designers showing models, to show residents how the yard would work and how any impacts would be mitigated?

And while they would have been at it, why couldn't they have met with Mr. De la Torre and his group to tell them what kind of jobs program they plan for the youth of Pico, Mar Vista and Venice?  Apparently the yard is going to create 135 jobs -- that's 135 good, productive, union jobs.  (But then perhaps the people at Metro have been listening to Mr. Shriver, and don't think those "industrial" jobs would be attractive to anyone in Santa Monica.  I suggest they and Mr. Shriver spend a day at Santa Monica High School.)

But that raises the question: has Mr. De la Torre himself brought this up with Metro or does he believe that at-risk youth in Pico will make their livings as rappers?

I've written before ("WHAT I SAY -- Transit and Good Urban Design Unite," February 17, 2009) that the best result would be for Metro to find a site in an industrial area, but failing that, it should be possible to design the yard so that it would be an asset for the community, with a buffer along the southern edge that would provide much-needed retail businesses and small offices for an otherwise isolated neighborhood.  (To be fair, the Rube Goldberg plan being studied does provide for such a buffer.)

The City's staff and the Expo staff have wasted four months when workshops in the community and work with a good urban designer (L.A. and Santa Monica have many to choose from) could have shown what is possible.  I predict that the Metro board, which will make the ultimate decision, will reject the Rube Goldberg alternative and elect to build the whole yard on the Verizon site.

Let's hope by then the City and Expo have a plan in place to make that palatable.

* * *

If left-wing rhetoric and Westside narcissism were in synch on the Expo maintenance yard, they collided last week when the ACLU sued the City over allegations that Santa Monica police harass and intimidate homeless people. ("ACLU Sues Santa Monica Over Homeless Policies," July 14, 2009) The case was met with utrage from Santa Monica officials, who pointed out how much more assistance and care to homeless people the City provides than other cities in the region do.

The alleged conduct is reprehensible, and if the allegations are true the police will need to change their conduct.

But one cannot read about the case without appreciating the sad ironies.  Civil libertarian absolutists have given addicts, alcoholics, and the mentally ill the right to choose to die in the streets, because they have made it next to impossible for service providers to use civil commitments to try to bring homeless people in from the cold -- to the beds, for instance, that the ACLU says Santa Monica doesn't provide enough of.  And their rhetoric has glorified these so-called choices.

In this context, criminal process can at times be the only way to connect homeless people to services and housing. 

Let's not blame the police for that.

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