Santa Monica is a legendary beach town.
It was founded in 1875 as a simple real estate development, and five generations of bright, talented, dev-
oted, diverse residents have made it a gorgeous, complex, idiosyncratic, grandly volatile and deeply satisf-
ying place to live and work — perfectly located on the ocean, small in scale, low key, prosperous – and in
the midst of the myriad pleasures and excitements of Los Angeles.
It’s unique, unconventional, an original, not a copy.
The primary fact of Santa Monica, its shaping element, is the ocean, and, aside from its sublime location, its greatest asset has always been its residents. They are smart, savvy and independent, and they are fiercely dev-
-oted to Santa Monica.
But some time ago, without the advice or consent of residents, City Hall decided that its top priorities were increasing its own revenues, and, in the noxious vernacular, “growing” the town, and, to that end, it reversed
the order of things, making itself the star of the show, while consigning residents to non-speaking roles.
As the star, City Hall gave itself license to ignore residents’ wishes when they ran counter to its own plans, made unilateral decisions at the expense of residents, and exploited both the residents and their town.
City Hall enjoyed portraying Santa Monica as a “model city” and “national leader” on “sustainability,” and
fulsomely of its progressive social and environmental policies, though they were in direct conflict with its retrograde economic and land use policies, according to its own 2006 “Sustainable City Report Card.”
It’s as if we gave City Hall a Steinway and it played nothing but “Chopsticks” on it. Badly.
City Hall either didn’t understand or had chosen to ignore the laws of cause and effect, and, as a result, residents suffered a surfeit of unintended consequences,
*For nearly two decades, City Hall spent its principal energy on diminishing Santa Monica’s quality of life
while claiming to improve it. It spearheaded an unprecedented building boom. It attempted to change both the focus and character of the town.
Great beach towns are rare and extraordinary, and Santa Monica is one of the best, but City Hall oversaw its dumbing down and tarting up, approved a row of “luxury hotels” on the beach and a luxe office district, and cranked up the Santa Monica Pier, the Third Street Promenade and Main Street on its way to turning this extraordinary beach town into what it calls “a regional commercial hub” as well as a tourist mecca.
*These changes generated more money for City Hall. They also tripled the daily population of the City to 250,000, which led to chronic traffic congestion, and triggered a variety of other problems.
*In 1982, City Hall founded and funded the Convention & Visitors’ Bureau without the knowledge or approval of residents, and, several years ago, again without the knowledge or approval of residents, the Bureau, which now costs taxpayers $6 million a year, unveiled a new “brand” marketing campaign in order, in its words, to “create
a new identity” for this legendary beach town and sell it as a product.
The “Brand Promise”chosen by the group was ‘Santa Monica, the best way to discover L.A, an unforgettable beach city experience, filled with eye-catching people cutting edge culture and bold innovations. It is the essence of the California lifestyle.” It made residents wince or scream, but, despite its plethora of clichés, it never caught on.
*The City then decided to make both the Third Street Promenade and the Santa Monica Pier not better or more fun
or more interesting or more of a piece with our beach town, but, in the City’s word, more “competitive.”
*Aligning themselves with City staff and developers, a majority of four of our seven representatives regularly betrayed residents, took campaign contributions from developers and approved dubious projects, while turning a deaf ear to residents’ needs and ignoring their interests as well as their interests. .
* Though it made a great show of wanting “community input,” the City dramatically reduced the role of residents in the project review process, in spite of their continuing protests One memorable step down and back took place when the Council voted 5 to 2 (with Bob Holbrook and Bobby Shriver dissenting) to end public review of affordable housing projects of 50 units or less.
*In sum, this eight-square-mile beach town of 92,000 residents was run for some years by a handful of elected and appointed officials whose agenda was not only at profound odds with residents’ wishes, but eroded our way of life.
*City Hall presumed that it knew better than residents did, and, in the process, did serious damage to the town. When public servants fail to serve the people, the people must act decisively to restore their rights, protect their interests and ensure the community’s future well-being.
And, whatever ever else we residents are, we’re smart, we love this gloriously idiosyncratic beach town, and
it’s our town. Our revolution began in the neighborhood organizations, and spread out into the neighborhoods. There were major issues — the airport, over-development, endless, often embarrassing promotion, City Hall
and the majority of four continued to court developers over residents’ objections.
Santa Monica was at a crucial verge. If City Hall was not got under control, our town would become one more
blip on the marketeers’ map, the unique beach town character would be obliterated.
Activist residents’ ranks grew, as did their demands. Dozens of them turned up regularly at Council meetings.
City Hall’s long-running twin obsessions with money and growth were the bases for virtually all the problems residents suffered — traffic congestion and spreading gridlock, the loss of open space, the sullying of once-serene residential neighborhoods, the transformation of downtown Santa Monica into a frenzied playpen
for visitors and shoppers, the extraordinary inflation of commercial rents and the consequent loss of valued
and vital local independent businesses and services coupled with the proliferation of high end big box chain stores, and the grotesque effort to reduce Santa Monica to a product in order to “sell” it to the travel industry.
Last year, residents finally prevailed. Armed with Armen Melkonians’ Residocracy, a form of direct democracy
that restores voters’ veto power, residents shut down a mediocre major development. And the November election resulted in the end of the majority of four, which had done so much harm, and replaced them with a new majority
They are pluperfect residents. Like many residents, they believe in slow growth, diversity, preservation of the beach town character, and more affordable housing. None them takes campaign contributions from developers.
Happily, Rick Cole, the new City Manager, whom all seven Council members voted for, seems to have a lot in common with the majority of four, and he knows the myth of Sisyphus.