It looks like nothing so much as paradise found. In the lead photograph, a young couple strolls along the beach at sunset. It’s low tide. The ocean laps gently at their feet. Mountains rise benignly in the middle distance.
Other photographs show what is probably the most storied stretch of the storied Southern California coast, the Santa Monica Pier’s graceful neon sign framed against a night sky, the pier at sunset with its tall Ferris wheel rising high above the deck, the pier in daylight, framed by the tall trees and colorful flowers of Palisades Park, a lifeguard tower at sunset, a mother wheeling a stroller into the flag-decked promenade, and a group of happy people.
Though it’s as prosaic as photographs are gorgeous, the accompanying text makes it sound like paradise found.
“Santa Monica is home to approximately 86,000 residents within its 8.3 square miles. It offers beautiful neighborhoods, world-class beaches with the Santa Monica Pier, fabulous restaurants, art galleries and museums, the Third Street Promenade, and excellent schools and parks. Just 16 miles due west from downtown Los Angeles and eight miles north of the Los Angeles International Airport, this City is known as a beach town with all the amenities of a sophisticated community….
“Residents and businesses are attracted to Santa Monica, an urban village by the sea, because of its desirable location. There are approximately 16,000 businesses in the City and 71,000 jobs. A good many of the jobs are related to the entertainment, high-tech, and software industries…
“Whether you live, work or visit in Santa Monica, you can expect vibrancy and excitement.”
It looks and sounds like nothing so much as a brochure promoting Santa Monica to travelers, or, possibly, potential real estate buyers.
But it isn’t.
It’s headlined “Santa Monica, California Inviting Applications for City Manager,” and it gets down to business quickly.
“Community organization: Santa Monica is a charter city with a council-manager form of government. The City Manager reports to a seven-member City Council which is elected at-large and designates its own Mayor. The City Manager has one Assistant City Manager and eight Department Directors. This is a full-service city which operates its own general aviation airport, a municipal bus line, refuse service, and a civic auditorium. The City has a $396.7 million budget with approximately 1900 FTEs [fulltime employees]. The City is fiscally sound and has enjoyed a Triple A bond rating for many years.
“Community priorities/issues: Part of Santa Monica’s attraction is its diversity of lifestyles and opportunities. The City of Santa Monica is proud of its reputation and accomplishments. The City Council values community involvement and providing a leadership role on issues related to the homeless, environment, quality of life, and fiscal responsibility. The new City Manager will be charged with moving the community forward on these important priorities.
“Responsible government embraces tolerance with a continuing eye on improving conditions. It’s the City’s desire to balance compassion, activism, and an improved social approach in a regional effort to address the needs of stakeholder groups. The City wishes to appoint a high level director to address the homeless issue locally and regionally.
“The City also wishes to maintain its leadership role for environmental and quality of life issues. Being sensitive to all environmental issues and achieving sustainability are part of Santa Monica’s continuing quest. Likewise, quality of life issues involving public safety, infrastructure, affordable housing, and transportation are high on the ‘to-do’ list for the City.
“Work is underway on the Land Use and Circulation Elements of the General Plan. This effort combined with adoption of a new Zoning Code will help define the course of the City’s future development. Along with providing a clear vision of the future, the City wishes to continue its strong fiscal discipline in running a first class City. A key priority for the new City Manager will be to provide results on the items discussed above while insuring the City is fiscally sound.”
To a potential city manager, all that may constitute a kind of bureaucratic paradise – even as it strikes residents as a less than candid account of things as they are.
The brochure’s emphasis on the City’s excellent fiscal health is both misleading and off-putting, however vital it may be in attracting applications from first-rate candidates.
It’s misleading because the City’s fine fiscal health is based at least as much on such draconian taxes as the 10 percent utility tax, as on its artful money management, and off-putting because City Hall has literally oversold the city in its push to fill its own coffers, and residents are paying the price – in both tangible and intangible ways.
In the same way, we’re bemused by City Hall’s boasting about its “leadership role” on “environmental and quality of life” issues, since, on its watch, Santa Monicans have suffered declines in both the environment and quality of life and now face other problems that derive directly from City Hall’s belief that growth is good and bigger is better and more profitable.
And while the City expects the next City Manager to have a “clear vision of the future,” City Hall’s vision of the present and the future, as expressed in its reports on the General Plan revisions, is bleak.
City Hall has spent two decades trying to turn this legendary beach town into a “regional commercial hub” and bigtime tourist mecca, and has periodically expressed disdain at the very notion of a beach town, yet, in this brochure, it boasts that Santa Monica “is known as a beach town with all the amenities of a sophisticated community.”
Is the City saying that Santa Monica was once a no-count beach town, but now that it has added “the amenities of a sophisticated community,” it’s first-rate, top drawer, perfecto?
What are “the amenities of a sophisticated community” anyway? First-rate schools? A symphony orchestra? Art galleries? Theater companies? Great restaurants? Respect for and preservation of its own history? Bright, cosmopolitan residents?
Well, actually, this old beach town had all of that and much more years before the current occupants of City Hall began their corrosive tinkering.
Or by “amenities” does the City mean the luxury hotels and condos, haut schlock shops, chain stores, pretentious architecture, really expensive restaurants and multi-million-dollar houses – all tarted up with such pseudo-quaint clichés as sidewalk cafes, banners, the transit mall, and the other “enhancements” that City Hall has added to “improve” this old beach town?
Or is “a beach town with all the amenities of a sophisticated community” simply code for bigtime tourist mill?
The brochure also describes Santa Monica as an “urban village,” which is an oxymoron. But, of course, the planning process itself is thoroughly oxymoronic. For nearly two decades, City Hall has cranked up commercial development and tarted up the townscape under the guise of “improving and enhancing” the environment and quality of life.
It claims to value “community involvement,” but, more often than not, when the community speaks, City Hall ignores it.
At last Tuesday’s City Council study session on the Planning staff’s latest report, “Opportunities and Challenges,” on the revision of the land use and circulation elements of the General Plan, several dozen residents spoke clearly and sometimes eloquently, of the need to restore the beach town they cherish. When they were done, the Council members spoke at great length, never eloquently, often incoherently. They were, by turns, sympathetic to residents’ concerns, critical of them, defensive and downright hostile, and demonstrated, again, that they would rather talk than listen, and were more interested in adhering to the current City Hall line than in addressing residents’ wishes.
We understand City Hall’s desire to put its best foot forward, along with offering major money (see related story, page 1) in order to woo and win a first-rate City Manager. Still, we find it both ironic and profoundly discouraging that City Hall would go to these extraordinary lengths to please a potential new boss, but can’t be bothered to even listen to, much less act on behalf of true bosses – the residents of Santa Monica.But, of course, City Hall’s primary interest in, and talent for, has always been the selling of Santa Monica.