If It’s Not Okay…

Fight or flight. Those of you who are acquainted with me know which choice I have always made. However, It seems that many longtime residents are choosing flight. They have decided that the scourges of crime, overdevelopment, traffic, and a deteriorating lifestyle make it no longer worth the hassle of living in Santa Monica. One of my longterm friends arrived here when she was eight. She attended McKinley, and then we went to Lincoln and Samohi together. She raised her family in this town, sits on at least one non-profit board, and has many friends in our community. Her daughter is a beloved, SMMUSD middle school teacher. She’s fed-up and moving. Says she doesn’t even shop here anymore. Why stay in a beach town that no longer cares about being a beach town. She’s moving to the South Bay. A bigger house in a quieter, safer community. Are our palm trees and Pier sign worth the pain? Even I am having doubts. Is our city too far gone to save?

~ The events of May 31st were a tipping point. Looting, destruction, fires, and vandalism permeated our town. The leadership of the SMPD was MIA. Our police chief Cynthia Renaud (incoming President of the International Association of Police Chiefs), landed at SMO 1/2 hour before that day’s peaceful demonstration began. She didn’t call up enough officers, didn’t recognize the threat, seemingly didn’t have a plan, and couldn’t deal with the challenges the day presented. As a result, peaceful protestors faced tear-gas and rubber projectiles on Ocean Avenue while looters had a field day throughout downtown and on our boulevards. Yes, there will be a report, eventually. Resident Craig Miller is picketing our public safety headquarters each Wednesday evening. He wants to know why peaceful protestors were assaulted before curfew by the SMPD and assisting agencies. He believes there is systemic racism in our police department and is demanding a change in leadership. And, let’s not put the entire blame on the chief. The acting city manager and all seven city council members share the responsibility for this permanent stain. Now that the Pier has reopened, please take a minute to stand under its iconic sign and imagine the smell of tear gas in the air. Gaze southeast at City Hall and wonder why the nine people who failed us on May 31st are still at their desks. 

~ The Stanton MacDonald-Wright mural in the Santa Monica City Hall lobby sparked controversy several years ago. The official description includes: “A Spanish conquistador stands with a padre in a Franciscan robe holding a walking stick. They face two Native Americans, kneeling and sitting at a stream, drinking with their hands”. In 2018, as an Arts Commissioner, I participated in meetings with representatives of the indigenous tribes and descendants of early Californians. I discussed this piece (https://smmirror.com/2019/02/the-myth-of-public-art-in-santa-monica/) in early 2019. The mural could have been a portion of a diverse art history walk through city hall and the new annex, tracing the distinct reality of Santa Monica history. Instead, the city wasted over $500,000 on a private designer stairwell and a few art purchases that did nothing to memorialize our city’s history. As we now thoughtfully examine public art throughout our nation, we can see injustices personified. I previously fought for the continued public display of the mural in our city hall. I was wrong. Let’s cover it up temporarily and have a robust open discussion about this mural. We must recognize and celebrate the diversity of our city’s people. Artwork displayed in Santa Monica should not portray anyone kneeling at the foot of another.

~ As we seek to end racial injustice in our society, education is the foremost solution to combat the inequality in our land. The dramatic cuts to Santa Monica’s award-winning library system are a social justice issue, and the worst message we could send our residents.

~ You can learn a lot about our town from reading the letters emailed to the Santa Monica City Council before every council meeting. They are a treasure trove of information about our residents and the companies that want to invest in our city. Item 8A was controversial at this week’s council meeting. It would restart negotiations for the unfortunately named “Plaza at Santa Monica.” The building would tower at eleven stories and contain over 300,000 square feet of hotel, office, retail, and residential uses crammed into two-plus acres at 4th and Arizona. Yes, it would preserve our holiday ice skating rink and would feature minuscule greenery at strategic spots on the upper floors. But imagine a building as large as Santa Monica Place, turned on its head. The impact of over 5000 new car trips on 4th Street would be catastrophic. The city clerk’s office received hundreds of letters about this project. Included were communications from the boards of directors of most resident groups, letters from the unions whose members would receive work from this gigantic project, both supporters and detractors.

~ One letter stands out. The Santa Monica Educational Foundation (SMEF), a beacon of hope for our public school fundraising efforts, sent an email lauding the Plaza’s developer as significant corporate donors ($75,000) to the SMEF and stated that the developer wants to be a longterm beneficial part of the community. While this donation to the SMEF is legal, a cynical conclusion arises. The developer donates a significant amount to the charity and, in return, the non-profit pens a letter to the city council, commending the developer for his charitable largesse. That’s the way it goes down—tit for tat. Wealthy corporate developers have money to throw around. Their “Plaza” would mean millions to them, and peanuts for the city’s people. That’s the way of the world, and it’s high time we stop that behavior here. Should SMEF’s Board of Directors have written to the city council cheerleading for a developer to control the people’s land in the heart of downtown? You know my answer. 

~ Cozy relationships form between council members and those that want a vote to go their way. Influential developers spray money throughout a town as they bully their way into favor. They are the modern robber barons, and it takes a strong will to say no. Los Angeles City Council Member Jose Huizar is the latest example of a public official who forgot that he was elected to serve the public and not to make his wallet fat. The FBI just busted him.

~ The proposed “Plaza at Santa Monica” is both unwanted and detrimental to the wellness of our most treasured community asset, the residents of Santa Monica. The California Surplus Lands Act applies to this city-owned parcel. The legal counsel for the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, Beverly Grossman Palmer, points out that the city cannot reenter into an agreement with the current developer. According to California law, the parcel at 1301 4th Street et al. must prioritize its use for public land and affordable housing before it can be sold or developed. For almost a decade, members of SMart have demanded this land become a public plaza and green space.  It is time to listen to the residents of this community. This item was postponed and will rear its ugly head at the council meeting on July 14th. Negotiations must not be allowed to resume on this unwanted development.

~ Marvelous to see the landscaping take shape at the new Civic playing field. Bel Mar was the name of the vibrant, diverse community that existed there decades ago. If there is justice, it will be the name of the field.

~ The COVID-19 pandemic has shown no signs of abating, yet we all see more and more people ignoring the simplest of measures one can take to protect our families, friends, and ourselves. Santa Monica’s grim statistics, including those in rest homes, continue to grow. Six hundred thirty-four cases of COVID-19 in Santa Monica and 64 deaths from this disease. COVID-19 can spread up to 26 feet through a sneeze. Six feet if you cough. 4.5 feet if you exhale. Please. WEAR YOUR MASK. SAVE A LIFE!

“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” John Lennon

By Phil Brock for SMart (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)

Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Architect, Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner, Phil Brock, Santa Monica Arts Commission.

For previous articles see http://www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing