Several months ago, Suzanne Frick, Director of the City’s Planning and Community Development Department, and one of the two most powerful people in City Hall, decamped for Long Beach.
Two weeks ago, McCarthy, the other most powerful person, announced that she would retire in November.
And last week Macerich announced it was putting its plans for what is arguably the biggest and most controversial project now on the table on hold.
The near-simultaneous departure of the two most powerful people in City Hall and the Macerich retreat have, in effect, forced a pause in the proceedings, opened all sorts of doors, and raised all sorts of questions.
As City Manager, McCarthy has exclusive rights, under the City Charter, to name Frick’s successor, but now that she herself is leaving, according to assistant City Manager Judy Rambeau, McCarthy will leave the call to her own successor.
The Council is charged with choosing McCarthy’s successor. Mayor Pam O’Connor and Council member Bob Holbrook, who will succeed O’Connor as mayor in November, are spearheading the Council’s search and they, in turn, have asked City staff to locate a likely head hunter, but the Council could conceivably elevate a current City Hall employee to the top slot.
One of the first tasks of the next City Manager will be to hire the next Planning Director, who could also be a current employee. The last two City Managers, as well as Frick, were plucked out of City Hall ranks. That precedent, the unconditional surrender of the majority of Council members to City staff and sheer ambition are probably the bases for the sudden rash of staff showboating at Council meetings.
But what Santa Monica desperately needs is a change in City Hall. If residents are ever to regain control of their own city, it will have to begin with a kind of revolution in City Hall, and include a diminution of City Hall power and the assembling of a staff that is willing and able to serve the city and its residents rather than deconstructing Santa Monica to serve its own ends.
Unfortunately, a majority of the City Council members are so thoroughly in thrall in City staff that it is hard to imagine their declaring their own independence, much less remaking City Hall along more workable, functional lines.
But perhaps the knowledge that people of all political persuasions are making up dream tickets to run for Council in the next municipal election will inspire them to finally speak for the town and its residents, rather than simply parroting City staff.Council members’ timidity notwithstanding, this is a profoundly propitious moment in Santa Monica history.