SANTA MONICA: TALKING HYPE, NOT TRUTH

L.A. Observed reports that “the San Diego book store Mysterious Galaxy is opening a second store on Artesia Boulevard in Redondo Beach” later this month. And …”Diesel, a book store, Malibu’s beloved indie bookstore, is coming back….their new location to be up and running by mid-October…”

Santa Monica once had nearly a dozen independent book stores on and near Third Street. Only Arcana: Books on the Arts, an exemplary bookstore specializing in the arts, has survived the big City Hall broom that has swept the Promenade clean of virtually everything that’s truly valuable, original or unique.

The artful stewardship of owner Lee Kaplan has kept Arcana lively and vital.

But, after nearly 25 years on the Promenade he’s preparing to move early next year. He sought space in Culver City, but may still settle for Santa Monica.

Now, even as Diesel, the bookstore, returns to Malibu, if City Council members Bob Holbrook and Terry O’Day, have their way, Tesla, the $109,000 electric roadster, will pull up on the Promenade…possibly in the space currently occupied by Arcana.

In addition to its other assets, it is one of the few buildings on Third Street that has parking on the alley. It’s hard to decide whether a test run down a Santa Monica alley or whipping a hundred-thousand-dollar electric roadster through the throngs of pedestrians on the Promenade would be more amusing.

The notion of a car dealership on the Promenade is thoroughly daft, as is the notion of a West L.A. auto dealer leap-frogging all the Santa Monica car dealers at the invitation of two Council members — especially since it has been reported that Tesla “intends to sell the current version of the Roadster until early 2012, when its supply of Lotus Elise gliders is expected to run out, as its contract with Lotus Cars for 2,400 gliders expires at the end of 2011. The next generation is not expected to be introduced until at least 2013.”

But, as James Baldwin, one of this country’s wisest writers, has noted, “Americans, unhappily, have the most remarkable ability to alchemize all bitter truths into an innocuous but piquant confection and to transform their moral contradictions, or public discussion of such contradictions, into a proud decoration, such as are given for heroism on the battle field.”

More and more, we talk hype in Santa Monica, not truth. The Council is currently gaga over the “world class” parks now under construction in the Civic Center, the upcoming “world class” movie multiplex that apparently requires no parking, the “world class” shrinking urban forest, and now, possibly, a “world class” car dealership on a pedestrian mall. The Council is less effusive about our “world class” traffic and congestion, the principal product of its extended “world-class” commercial development boom, which has picked up speed again after a brief lull during which it approved two parking plans that are guaranteed to increase traffic in the mid-cities area.

Generally speaking, hype is constantly devolving, but once the Council gloms onto a word, a phrase or , God help us, a concept, i.e., “world class,” it never lets go. Virtually everything in Santa Monica now is “vibrant,” or “robust,” or both – but never both at once. And, now, “village” is overtaking both “vibrant” and “robust.”

Texas developer Hines, is currently promoting a 770,000 square foot (recently reduced from 960.000 square feet) commercial development that it and the planners call “Bergamot Transit Station Center Village,” and any day now work will begin on “The Village,” a mega-housing project in the Civic Center that will combine 130 affordable housing rental units, 134 luxury condos and the ubiquitous ‘retail,” Some of “the Village” buildings will be nearly 100 feet tall.

The Council, along with the City Hall hypesters, also seems pleased as punch that four new hotels are in the works — though one is guaranteed to fatally sully one of Santa Monica’s most cherished landmarks, and two will be located on Colorado Avenue in downtown Santa Monica, which is already on its way from congestion to gridlock.

Council members have never expressed concern, much less regret for the loss or displacement of virtually all of the Third Street booksellers, though it was their decision to court Barnes and Noble and Borders — the mega-stores that ultimately unhinged the book business all over West L.A. Indeed, if quizzed, they would probably take credit for saving Santa Monica from the chaos that afflicts the book business now — with Kindle eliminating the need for actual books, and Amazon et al simultaneously eliminating the need for actual bookshops, and publishers in a tizzy over e-books, and writers publishing their own books on-line — by killing the bookstores 20 years ago.

That’s the kind of twisted logic that seems to dominate Council decisions now. Another example is Pam O’Connor’s take on campaign contributions. Sure, she takes money from developers, but she also receives emails from residents and encounters people in public places who oppose developments and she listens to all of them. Perhaps. But she invariably votes for the developments and against the residents whom she was elected to represent.

The City announced a new website this week: “BE EXCITED, BE PREPARED!” it says. “ The future that Santa Monicans have envisioned for the city through the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) community visioning is beginning to break ground. www.SMConstructs..org will help you stay informed about the exciting projects coming soon to Santa Monica!”

Unfortunately, since the adoption of LUCE last summer, residents have seen little that they envisioned during the extended LUCE process, and a lot of what they thought they were done with — over two million square feet of new commercial developments in the area between 26th Street and the L.A. border, the fracture of existing residential neighborhoods, the further coagulation of traffic, more development in downtown Santa Monica, including “bicycle centers” that will be located in parking structures and include changing rooms and showers. Given the traffic jam-ups on the Olympic “corridor,” it may be necessary any day now to install showers and changing rooms for motorists at regular intervals on the Olympic median.

The new website is very well-made and artfully organized. As it carols all the projects in the works, it urges us to BE PREPARED! BE EXCITED!

But, looking at it, exploring it, one inevitably feels like a passenger on a train that is about to go off the rails, and when we try to contact the people in charge, we get the BUSY signal. We ARE excited, but not in a good way.

Residents have spent much of the last year dutifully attending workshops and meetings and talking truth to the planners, the developers, the Council. The projects are too big. There are too many. There are no discernible “public benefits.” The architecture is undistinguished. The planners have failed to prepare the vital documents – an area plan, an environmental impact report, and so on – that would permit them to accurately assess the projects — as a whole and individually. And traffic! It’s a nightmare! It’s already choking the streets. But the Council isn’t listening.. It’s working from a different script. The Bigger Better More script.

The Hypesters script. Vibrant…Robust…World Class.

In 1993, City Hall began calling itself the City, and everything else, meaning residents, the city. It was ominous, but clear. At least we knew where we stood — at the back of the line.

I not only read books. I write them. So I’m biased, but I believe that if the City hadn’t scuttled the book stores years ago, we might all be talking the same language by now.

Comments
One Response to “SANTA MONICA: TALKING HYPE, NOT TRUTH”
  1. John Evans says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for mentioning the upcoming re-opening of our Malibu Diesel bookstore.  I wanted to let you know that our bookstore on 26th Street at the Brentwood Country Mart is still up and running.  Though we have a Santa Monica postal address, we are technically across the street in Brentwood.  In any case, a great independent bookstore is still in the neighborhood for Santa Monica readers, just a few blocks away.
    Thanks,
    John

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