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Inspire Yourself  
By Frank Gruber

January 18, 2010 -- In the aftermath of Mayor Ken Genser’s death, the Santa Monica City Council did the natural and the rational thing and canceled Tuesday night’s meeting. I don’t want to make this all about me, but I had expected to write this week’s column about the council’s action on the agreement in principle with the Broad foundations, and I was left without a topic.

Trolling for one, I was talking to someone who works for the City about something or other, and I asked her if she had any ideas. This was a few days after Ken Genser had died, and a day after the disaster in Haiti.

I’m not comparing the two events in scale of calamity, but they are a good example about how connection amplifies feelings. The enormity of the death and destruction in Haiti overwhelms one’s comprehension. But inevitably I’m going to spend more time wondering what Santa Monica will be like without one Mayor Genser than grieving over tens of thousands of people I don’t know.

In any case, in the aftermath of her own sadness about Mayor Genser, and thinking about the tragedy in Haiti, and in general wondering what was going on in this world, the woman i n City Hall I was talking to said I should be inspirational.

I thought about that. Writing in detail about local life and politics isn’t the kind of thing that gives one many opportunities to be inspiring, and I’m not fishing for compliments when I say that inspiration has never been this column’s long suit.

But I’ll make this claim: in the aggregate, if not the details, local life and politics are inspiring by themselves. Hey, not all that happens in City Hall makes sense all the time, but I’d say to the person who works there, if you do a good job at making government work, that’s inspiring enough itself.

The same goes for everyone else involved in the local community. You want to be inspired? Inspire yourself -- do something you’ll be proud of. Volunteer. Get involved in politics. Not just because you have an issue, something you want from local government, but because you see something you can do to make local government and your city better for everyone.

If it helps, remember Ken Genser. I’m not going to sugarcoat Ken. He was a politician who liked to win, and could use sharp elbows (or words) to do so. And -- not but -- he spent 30 years in local politics during which he accomplished things that meant a lot to many people, and made this place, his home, better.

Inspires me.


Or, if it helps, think of Haiti. Send money, or even participate in a fund raising drive, but also reflect on what it would mean to live in a place that has never had effective government, “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Then be grateful for living in a place has it.

* * *

As a Democrat, what’s been inspiring me has been the Obama administration and all that it’s accomplished in one short year, and what it’s on the verge of accomplishing. Just last week Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a major change in transportation policy, reversing a Bush administration rule that divorced urban transportation planning fro m broader questions of urban livability. This should make it easier to get federal funding to augment Measure R sales tax money, and build L.A.’s transit network faster.

It’s policy changes like that that are becoming routine, even though the media and the blogs are obsessed with a few issues, like healthcare.

Now it kills me that because the usually faithful Democratic voters of Massachusetts periodically have a fling with good-looking Republican men who call themselves moderate (the Mitt Romney syndrome), the momentum of the Obama presidency hangs on whether Martha Coakley can win the election tomorrow against telegenic Scott Brown for Ted Kennedy’s old senate seat.

Not inspiring.

* * *

I wish I could be inspiring about the state of public education in California, but with the continuing budget crisis, a tough situation is getting worse. The School Board voted last week to proceed with a new, five-year parcel tax that would help but not solve the local school budget situation. I’ll be writing more about this as the election in May approaches. For now I’ll say that it will be hard to obtain the two-thirds vote necessary to pass the tax in the current economic climate, but the District has no choice but to try.

* * *

My wish was that City Manager Lamont Ewell had stayed
longer than four years in Santa Monica, but that won’t stop me from wishing all the best to his replacement, Rod Gould, who starts work this Friday. It’s not a city manager’s job to be inspiring -- that's what we have politicians for -- but if Mr. Gould does a good job, as I said before, that will be inspiring enough.

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