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If I've Told You Once, I've Told You 500 Times  

By Frank Gruber

June 21, 2010 -- A side benefit of the City Council's beginning its final review of the updates to the land use and circulation elements (LUCE) of Santa Monica's general plan has been that Paul Rosenstein has reemerged after a long absence from local politics to participate in the process.

Former Mayor Rosenstein, a council member from 1992-2000, has made public comments at both hearings the council has had so far on the draft plan. His main point has been that the council should reduce the amount of commercial development in the historically industrial lands surrounding and to the east of Bergamot Station and authorize more housing instead. Mr. Rosenstein lives in the adjacent "college streets" neighborhood, and he seems to fear not only the impact more nearby office development will have on his neighborhood, but also the potential political impact.

Mr. Rosenstein has tried to give the council (and staff) historical perspective. As I recounted in last week's column about the council's first hearing on the LUCE, at that meeting Mr. Rosenstein reminded everyone that back in the '80s when the City Council permitted, in large part for fiscal reasons, large office developments on formerly industrial lands (the Arboretum and the Water Garden), the anti-development backlash to those projects, including a ban on new hotels near the beach, caused the City more fiscal problems.

At last week's meeting on the LUCE planning staff had consultant Paul Silvern make a presentation on the relative impacts of different kinds of development on the City's fiscal health. The gist of Mr. Silvern's comments was that the City needed commercial development to pay for the services that new residents would require.

In response, Mr. Rosenstein reminded the council that for 40 years, beginning with the defeat of plans in the early '70s to build an island in Santa Monica Bay, the City had often rejected the "fiscal argument" and had instead down-zoned and restricted development. Yet during that time the economy of the city continually improved, and the City earned its coveted AAA bond rating.

When he was active in Santa Monica politics, Mr. Rosenstein had nuanced views about development. He did not agree with many of the anti-development measures that were proposed, but he thought that you had to be "smart" about development. In my view, Mr. Rosenstein always showed a lot of common sense, and therefore last week I was quite pleased to take an illuminating walk with him around his neighborhood and through some of the'80s office developments that are nearby.

As soon as we stepped into the interior landscapes of both the Water Garden and Yahoo Center (originally Colorado Place), I realized that I had never been inside either development. Which says something -- I've lived in Santa Monica since before these developments existed, yet during those 20 years nothing had drawn me into their interiors. And when I was walking around the projects, looking in at the various cafes and shops that are located in many of the office buildings, I didn't see any people who looked like they were there for any reason other than their work. To borrow from Dorothy Gale, it was as if I wasn't in Santa Monica any more.

(The interior landscape of the Water Garden, Photographs by Frank Gruber)

( Former Mayor Paul Rosenstein and sculpture inside what is now called Yahoo Center)

* * *

When the City Council approved these projects, the rationale was that they would provide tax revenues for the City and various benefits for the public as well. There is for instance a well-maintained public (but little used) park at the corner of 26th and Colorado that was part of the package for Colorado Place.

(The lawn in the public park that was built as part of Colorado Place (now Yahoo Center))

Under the LUCE, the City Council is being asked to plan for considerable commercial development for fiscal reasons, and with the justification that the City will require developers to provide public benefits.

I don't mean to be cynical about the LUCE -- not in the slightest. More than anything, these photographs of the '80s developments are a reminder of how much planners have learned about cities since then. These projects would never be approved today, and everything in the LUCE makes them impossible. Big developments under the LUCE on the old industrial lands would be oriented toward the rest of the city, with new streets and pathways to make connections, and they would include new housing (although not as much as Mr. Rosenstein or I would like).

So there's no reason for cynicism. Cynicism, no. But caution, yes.

* * *

The LUCE is not the whole of local news these days. Perhaps the most important news is that quite a number of parents and other supporters of Santa Monica Malibu public schools have organized a campaign, "Save our Schools", to raise funds to offset as much as possible cuts the School District will have to make because Measure A, the emergency parcel tax, failed to garner the required two-thirds vote last month.

The school supporters hope to raise $475 per student, and are seeking tax-deductible donations through the Santa Monica Malibu Education Foundation. This is a good cause. For more information, and to make a donation, go to this website:

* * *

I'm going to use the last part of this column to make two advertisements for myself. The first is to direct readers to an article I have written for the California Journal of Politics and Policy, an online academic journal published out of Berkeley. The article, in the form of a commentary, is called "Santa Monica Politics: The Left in Charge", and it is about what happened when the Left took control of the Santa Monica city government 30 years ago. My thesis is that once the Left obtained power, progressive politics were turned on their head, and attitudes and policies normally associated with the Right became identified as leftist. It's an expanded version of a talk I gave last fall at the Santa Monica Public Library.

The article can be accessed and downloaded for free from this website: I have been told that the "guest" downloading procedures are tricky; apparently the website will ask you for an academic, non-profit, or corporate affiliation. According to the publishers, however, if you don't have an affiliation, you should nonetheless click the "academic or non-profit" button and then you don't in fact have to input information about an organization.

Naturally I would appreciate feedback from Santa Monicans about the article.

The other advertisement is to note that this is my 500th column for The Lookout News. It's now been almost ten years that I've been writing "What I Say" and I want to give a heartfelt thank-you to my publishers and editor, to my family for putting up with my obsessions with this place, and most of all to readers of the column and all those Santa Monicans I have the privilege of writing about.


Meeting Notice: The next City Council meeting on the LUCE will be this Thursday evening, June 24. The topics will be the final EIR, districts, activity centers, mix of uses, and building heights.

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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
The Lookout.

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