Tuesday, October 26, 2004


I arrived late and did the potty dance all the way up the stairs. The meet and greet with Bobby Shriver was in full swing and the downstairs bathroom at Elizabeth’s house was too close to the party for my shy bladder. So I went upstairs. And by the time I came out Bobby had been introduced and was in the midst of what he had come to say to the citizens and he was standing right by the landing. I froze at the top of the stairs. Elizabeth has no railing on the open staircase and I usually need to wave my arms for balance as I descend like a 2 year old just learning to walk. It’s not graceful and it’s not an entrance that would go unnoticed.

What to do?

Tom came running up the stairs looking for a way to turn off the music that was booming out of the speakers on the deck and in the bedroom. Unable to find a volume knob he settled for closing the doors and then headed back downstairs. I was going to follow him, but he tripped on the way down and almost took a header out over the dining room table – having no hand rail is very stylish, but is it worth the liability risk? Oh geez. I decided to just sit down at the top of the stairs and listen from there rather than make like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard in the middle of the guy’s speech.

Bobby Shriver is a good speaker. Very natural, well organized, stays on point and he makes eye contact which is how good speakers connect with their audience. So I had to wonder what the people downstairs were thinking, those who couldn’t see me copping a squat at the top of the stairs, when they saw his eyes stray up toward the ceiling as he spoke in order to speak directly to me. I know I would’ve been wondering, “Who is he talking to? What’s he looking at?” I would’ve been distracted by that. So my attempt at stealth probably only served to make me more of a distraction. Way to go!

As I listened to him speak I was really impressed when he stated that he isn’t good at multi tasking seven or eight projects at one time so he was going to focus on, what he saw as the three top areas affecting the quality of life in Santa Monica. The reasoning being it’s better to actually get something done about three issues than to just talk and talk and talk about all the things that need to be done. Now that's a level of self awareness that you usually don't find in a politician, or in most people, when you think about it. It makes sense, but it’s not something that an aspiring politician will usually cop to. Most people who want your vote will tell you whatever you want to hear, kind of like a guy who wants to get laid – they have the ability to make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world and that what you think and feel matters and it will be addressed.

And then after the election, or the seduction – well, you often find that you’ve just been fucked.

So what I liked about this guy is that he identified and acknowledged numerous problems and challenges that are confronting the city of Santa Monica and the people who live there, but he is actively looking to find solutions for a select few: the homeless situation, the traffic issues, environmental challenges and funding for schools. Those are some big issues and if he can make any dent in any one of them that would be doing more for the community than the current city council has done.

I am one of those geeks who listen to the Santa Monica city council meeting on KCRW on Tuesday nights. They are incredibly monotonous meetings, but being an eavesdropper who is fascinated by all that is mundane I find myself sucked into the drama of mediocrity. I don’t know if it’s because the meetings are featured on NPR, but everyone seems to speak in that sleep inducing public radio drone. Except for the, shall we say, more excitable residents who’ve worked up a head of steam waiting three hours for their two minutes of speaking time. And the city council members usually shoot down whatever that person is saying in the most pompous manner evoking images of the city council in a production of The Music Man.

Pick a little, talk a little.

In other words the terms “contemporary” and “action” do not come to mind when listening to the activities of the Santa Monica city council on Tuesday nights. I imagine that this is probably true of all city councils to some extent, but the Santa Monica city council consists of six members, currently all white men, who are basically volunteers. They do not get paid to do the job. And they are somewhat hindered in doing the job because the city rules, or charter, is in my view, antiquated. For instance no member of the city council is allowed to talk to the head of any department like say, housing, or urban planning, because it could lead to graft and corruption. There are no districts in Santa Monica, although anyone who has been there can tell you that there are certainly areas that are delineated by economics, at the very least. The city council has no office and no phone, just an e-mail which leads me to the question – what service can the city council actually provide in its current incarnation?

One factor is that the citizens of Santa Monica are predominantly renters, because it costs a lot of money to buy a home there and you don’t get much real estate bang for your buck. Renters have different wants, needs and desires than homeowners do. And Santa Monica is famous for “rent control” that allows people who were living there years ago to continue to rent apartments that are hundreds of dollars below market value. These people are easily manipulated by fear, which the powers that be capitalize on whenever there is an election. Thing is that real estate values have gotten so high that a lot of landlords are selling their buildings and a lot of developers are buying with the intention of tearing down that charming building from 1920 and building condos. So you have tenants not only losing their homes, but a quality of life, urban blight issue at the same time for people who own homes on the street where these charming buildings stand. Who wants to own a home next to a huge cement condominium?

Yeah, if I had plunked down $800,000 for a charming 3 + 1, 1200 square foot craftsman cottage I’d be pretty bummed about having homeless people bathing in my hot tub, and getting $30 parking tickets every time I parked my car anywhere in town, and getting pink eye from swimming in the ocean where 24 storm drains dump garbage from L.A. proper. Or a staph infection. That was what put me off of swimming off the beaches in Santa Monica.

Santa Monica is a beautiful city, but I don’t want to live there. The quality of life, the ride, isn’t what it should be for the price you pay. I hope that when people vote a week from today, they take the time to pay attention to the municipal race in Santa Monica and that they vote for Bobby Shriver because he’s about more than just identifying and talking about the problems. He’s about finding solutions and that’s the kind of person you want sitting on your city council.
And maybe, if he's elected, Santa Monica might, one day become a city that I would be willing to spend lots of money to live in.

A week from today we will all have the opportunity to make some changes when we do our civic duty and vote.

Or as our president said this morning on the radio - our doody.

God, I'll be so glad when it's a week from tomorrow.

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