VA Cops Conduct Covert Ops sAgainst Vets

Veterans Today is reporting that  “Covert surveillance units (have been)  deployed against vets protesting ‘land grab’ (and that) vet organization officials (are) watched as ‘terrorists.’)”

According to staff writer Gordon Duff, “… veterans, including regional commanders of The Military Order of the Purple Heart, the American Legion and disabled veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam are being filmed and followed in California by “secret police” in covert vans and…  agents dressed up as grounds keepers.

“Reports came in to Veterans Today News Network that the quiet and peaceful protests of VA and ‘politico’ attempts to seize Veteran land were met with a heavy handed police confrontation and followed with ‘semi-covert’ surveillance, including audio, video and, in all probability, FISA terrorist warrants to wiretap aging disabled heroes.

“Taking surveillance teams and equipment from Homeland Security and the NSA and using them illegally to spy on peaceful veteran protestors is a fraudulent misuse of government funds. Simply put, the VA police do not have authority to conduct covert operations against veterans.

“To: General Shensiki and Attorney General Holder:  ‘Please stop these abuses by Bush holdovers who are clearly ‘out of control.’
“We are waiting for reports from news sources at the scene that contacted us today about this problem.  The veterans groups were extremely upset as were the veterans who stumbled on the ‘Barney Fife’ spy teams deployed against the California veterans.

“Misallocation of counter-terrorism resources, meant to protect the people of the United States and using them against veterans is an abomination.  The now famous, LA ‘Veterans Land Grab’ intended to turn veteran land into playgrounds for billionaires is uniting veterans from every political spectrum around the country.

“This illegal escalation against the California veterans is only the most recent outrage in a long series.  We stand united with our heroic brothers and ask that our elected representatives prevent the further misuse of our intelligence services against our most dedicated and patriotic citizens.”

Wilmont Says NO, we Say BRAVO!

Team LUCE hit the road recently to plump for its proposed “activity center” at  Wilshire and 14th Street at the annual meeting of the Wilshire-Montana neighborhood organization (Wilmont.)

According to a story in the Santa Monica Mirror, the proposed  “activity center (is) a pedestrian-friendly area with new buildings featuring ground floor retail and housing above…

“City Planning Director Eileen Fogerty gave a presentation about the concept of activity centers as they fit into the City’s update of   the Land Use and Circulation Elements of the General Plan
(LUCE). The Wilshire activity center will have shared underground parking, wider sidewalks, green medians, and a focus on residential building, transitioning away from what Fogerty termed ‘a hostile environment’ for pedestrians. As with other projects in the LUCE plan, taller buildings would be allowed if public benefits (such as family-oriented shopping like grocery stores) were included in the structures.”

Members of team LUCE, on this occasion, were City Councilman Kevin McKeown, Planning Commission member Ted Winterer, former Planning Commissioner and Surf Santa Monica columnist  and Fogerty.

74 percent of Wilmont residents opposed the activity center plan. ce an Ad Call:

Bravo, Wilmont! Once again, residents saw through the busy work larded with braggadocio that LUCE is.

Indeed, anyone who knows anything about Santa Monica is bound to find  LUCE wanting in  every respect.

First, “activity center” is one of  those vague, meaningless phrases  that could be attached to anything from the Y to a pretentious gas station to a room in a library. In this instance, it is a stand-in for a hyper-commercial development.

Second, the intersection at Wilshire and 14th is already fully developed. There’s a tall one-story bank on one corner, a tall one story Rite Aid on another corner, a tall one-story Von’s just west of Rite-Aid and conventional one-story stores on the other two corners.

The City wants to replace the  Rite Aid and Von’s tall one-story buildings with six-story mixed-use use buildings  – with stores on the first floors and housing on the upper stories, and underground parking.

Can the planners say “adaptive reuse?”

Does the City have any idea how costly, long, noisy, dirty and pointless such wholesale redevelopment  would be, and how much turmoil residents living nearby would have to endure?

Third,  the Wilshire activity center would have “shared parking, wider sidewalks,  green medians, a focus on residential housing, transitioning away from…a hostile  environment for pedestrians.” I assume the planners are referring here to the Wilshire facades of Rite Aid and Von’s. No question, they aren’t entertaining, but I have yet to find anyone who expects, much less wants more entertaining buildings. After all, we already have more than our share of bad jokes of buildings. And if the City installs wider sidewalks and green medians, the primary feature of the new activity center  will be snarled traffic.

Fourth, team LUCE would allow taller buildings if they contained    “such public benefits” as “family-oriented shopping, like grocery  stores.”

THE THING IS…the thing is, right now, the existing buildings offer  nothing but “family-oriented shopping,” including a very large grocery store. HERE. NOW. IN PLACE. DONE.

Why would  the City allow developers to build much taller, more massive buildings to bring us services we already have?

Finally, there’s plenty of activity on  Wilshire Boulevard now – small cafes,  prestigious restaurants, all the usual and some unusual goods and services,  grocery stores, car dealers, and so on. In fact, LUCE’s proposed  “activity centers” are really uber-growth centers that will
Further fracture our townscape.

The Mirror quoted Fogerty as saying, “The option is not doing nothing. Do we keep the existing general plan? Or do we do something different…and make sure it provides what we need?”

Actually, in this instance,  the option IS doing nothing – especially when everything team LUCE proposes already exists and the   “problems” it cites – such as the  “hostile” pedestrian environment – are products of wishful thinking, not thoughtful analysis.

Do we want to keep the existing  general plan? Hell, no. It was never very good and it’s been obsolete since the mid-1990s.

Do we want something different? Absolutely not. We want a general plan  that reflects and preserves the character and integrity  of this idiosyncratic beach town, its unique sense of  place and its scale.

Can we trust City Hall to “provide us with what we need?” No. There is not an iota of evidence in all the planning documents to indicate that City Hall knows what we need or  any interest in providing it. The unfortunate truth is that City Hall has its own agenda, and it’s at odds with our needs.

Thus far, the City has spent five years and nobody knows how much money on a revision of the General Plan that tosses a few crumbs to residents but would work on this legendary beach town like a cyclone – unless we all follow Wilmont’s example and just say NO.

Ban the Bags, Free the Fireworks

By now, it has the weight of a bad habit.  Summer arrives, the City Council approves the new budget, and the City doesn’t stage its legendary and utterly gorgeous Fourth of July fireworks display at the Santa Monica Pier.

In fact, this is the 20th anniversary of no fireworks at the Pier — a decision that continues to live in infamy.

The City bosses didn’t care that the  fireworks were dazzling, mesmerizing, essential. In City Hall’s view, they were  just too much trouble — too many people, too much traffic,  and there were “incidents.” City Hall hates  “incidents.”

In an  effort to shrink the crowds and eliminate incidents, the City moved the fireworks from the night of the Fourth of July to early morning – “Dawn’s Early Light.” But there were more people, and there were “incidents.”

Soon after that, the City canceled the fireworks altogether.

City Hall now spends about $3 million annually to attract crowds and there are still “incidents.”

Since then, the City and Santa Monica College have collaborated on an annual fireworks show. But it is never on the Fourth, and is as wan as the Pier show was slam-bang. They’re set
to go off Monday, June 29, this year.

But, if the Pier Restoration Corporation has its way, fireworks will return —  briefly –  to the Pier on  September 9, the 100th anniversary of the Pier’s opening.

City Councilman Kevin McKeown immediately challenged the notion of a fireworks display, and more or less  ordered the staff to prepare a chemical analysis of fireworks in order to ensure that they were “environmentally friendly.”

Please! The beach at the pier has been the dirtiest beach on the coast for years. And the Council banned smoking on the beach, and dogs, but
litterers come and go freely, trailing clouds of garbage, and are not challenged, much less chastised, or,  better yet, jailed. But McKeown is worried about a fireworks display.

We are at the dawn of a new age, in which we must attempt to undo the damage we have done to this planet out of ignorance, sloth and greed. There are any number of things we must stop doing, but simple pleasures – and hardly any pleasures are simpler than fireworks – are not among them.

In contrast, the ban on plastic bags is vital. According to one study, there is now more plastic than coral in the ocean. But the City continues to dance around the ban rather than simply imposing it.

So, Mr. McKeown, ban the bags, jail the letterers, but leave the fireworks alone.

Smart Student, Dumb School

Aurora Ponce graduates today from the Wallis Annenberg High School. She’s president of her class and class  valedictorian, has a near-perfect A average and will attend the  University of California in the fall. It should be one of the happiest days of her life. But, at best, it will be bittersweet — thanks to school officials.

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, Ponce has been   “barred from making her valedictory speech, because she took part “in a student sit-in protesting increased class sizes and teacher layoffs.”
During the silent sit-in on May 15, Ponce was escorted off campus and suspended for three days.

Ponce told the Times that “she was also deprived of a tutoring job she was counting on to help with coming college expenses…

“Officials aren’t talking.”

Wallis Annenberg High School is one of a collection of South Los Angeles charter schools, Accelerated School.

In effect, the school officials punished Ponce for doing what they should be doing, which is demanding that the state’s Clown College restore the fiscal gealth of  the state’s  schools.
Ponce’s protest was all the more admirable because she had nothing to gain, and, as it turned out, a lot to lose.

There was nothing admirable about the school officials’ assault on one of the school’s outstanding students. It was dumb, mean, cowardly, shameful and  ultimately pointless. Everything suggests that Ponce has a brilliant  future. The same cannot be said for the Accelerated School.

Eclipsing an Icon

Towns, like almost everything else,  have an optimum size. When they exceed it, they become something else, something less,   clumsy, even grotesque, parodies of themselves.

Santa Monica has hovered on the line that separates enough from too much
for some time. Many residents know   that beyond the line lies that strident    mediocrity that has claimed so many other singular towns.

Since 1980, more than 9 million square feet of new commercial development have risen in our essentially complete townscape, the daily transient population is now 300,000, and traffic is a nightmare.

But City Hall, as a matter of policy,  doesn’t recognize, much less accept limits – even when the limits are visible and tangible.

Last fall, City Hall, City employees’ unions, a majority of City Council members, and Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) the ruling political party, collaborated with developers to defeat a residents’ ballot measure that would have capped new commercial development at 75,000 square feet annually.

The state requires every town to revise the land use and circulation elements of its General Plan (LUCE) every 20 years, so that residents can maintain control of their town’s destiny. But
our 1984 plan is out of date and the 2004 revision remains incomplete  and unfinished.

Given that, residents asked City Hall to declare a moratorium on new construction, which the state permits in such circumstances. The City refused that and a subsequent request that it eschew development agreements on new projects as they preclude public review.

In this odd vacuum, when the old rules no longer apply and there are no new rules, City Hall seems bent on pushing a strange lot of questionable projects Forward,

One such project is 710 Wilshire, which is fully described in the Friends of Sunset Park letter to the Planning Commission (see below).

710 Wilshire is the site of the Santa Monica Professional Building, a perfect 1920s Southern California Spanish Colonial Revival office building – the kind that Raymond Chandler’s characters spend so much time in.

In an increasingly ersatz world, it’s the real thing, an authentic 1920s icon that has not been “enhanced” or “improved” or otherwise humiliated by some misguided developer. Though it is taller than most buildings in Santa Monica  — six floors and a penthouse,  it is so gracefully wrought, so light on its footings that it seems of a piece with the smaller buildings around it. It is also the handsomest and most distinctive building on the Santa Monica portion of Wilshire and one of our town’s architectural treasures.

Why, then, is it now being deliberately  pushed into an eclipse.

Inexplicably, the Landmarks Commission waited nearly 30 years to designate it a landmark. On discovering the oversight, the current generation of commissioners made its designation a top priority, the City staff  report was downright rhapsodic
and in August, 2005, this most worthy  building finally became a landmark.

But about the same time, the owner   announced his plans to convert the exemplary office building into a hotel, and to install a second building to its south that would dwarf the original  building.

It’s a terrible idea. It would not only reduce an icon to an after-thought, it’s a wretched location for a hotel, and would move the perpetually clogged intersection into the gridlock column.

As bad, virtually every rule in the book is being bent, if not broken, to make it happen. As we said a few days  ago, in another context, the Landmarks Commission is exceptionally scrupulous, but, in this instance, it seems to be saying that it’s okay to destroy an icon in order to save it. The City has dubbed the project an  “adaptive re-use,” but  turning a small, well-located iconic office building  into a large, undistinguished, badly located  hotel is less re-use than blatant mis-use.

At Wednesday’s Planning Commission review of the project, the Commissioners voted 5 to 1 to send the project on to the City Council. Ted Winterer, the newest Commissioner, cast the lone NO vote.

Apparently, it hasn’t occurred to anyone in City Hall or the developer that if the building’s interior were carefully and artfully rehabbed and cleverly marketed, offices in the icon  would be nearly as coveted as Oscars.

In the meantime, purveyors of solid gold watches for a dollar should hotfoot it to City Hall, because they’re  buying everything there these days.