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A Truly New Year:

Whatever else 2006 may be, it will be a very new year in Santa Monica – with a new mayor, new City Manager, a new leader in the City’s effort to end homelessness, and a new president of Santa Monica College.  We can also look forward to the appointment of a new Director of the City’s Planning and Community Development Department.

The new mayor, Bob Holbrook, who took over the gavel at last Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, is not new to Santa Monica. He was born here, has lived here all his life, has been on the Council for 15 years and was mayor once before, in 1997, but he brings a new and welcome civility to the proceedings, as he is as polite and patient as his immediate predecessor was combative. 

Since incoming City Manager Lamont Ewell,  homelessness chief Ed Edelman and SMC president Chui Tsang are all new to Santa Monica, at the very least, they will bring fresh points of view to both their momentous tasks and the city itself.  

Presumably, they will be given crash courses in the problems they will face in their new  jobs. We hope they will also become quickly acquainted with the extraordinary assets at their disposal – including Santa Monica’s unusually active, savvy and committed residents. In recent years, both the City and the college have more often than not treated outspoken residents as adversaries rather than allies. We hope Ewell, Edelman and Tsang will eschew that foolish tack and listen closely to residents, rather than ignoring or doing battle with them.

All three new leaders have impressive credentials.

Ewell advanced from fire fighter to fire chief, and from fire chief to City Manager – of two cities much larger than Santa Monica. Few, if any, city managers have fought real as well as political fires or spent as much time on the line as they have spent at their desks. Given that, Ewell is apt to prefer the actual to the theoretical, and, in concert with the new planning director, to reshape the revision of the land use and circulation elements of General Plan to reflect the needs and wishes of residents rather than the dangerously grandiose ambitions of City Hall’s theorists.

Indeed, we expect Ewell to make a wholesale change in the City Hall climate. 

Shortly after he took office, City Councilman Bobby Shriver (now Mayor Pro Tem) proposed  the appointment of someone to devise and spearhead a  multi-faceted regional campaign to end homelessness. Last week, Edelman was given the job.

It’s hard to imagine a more qualified person for the Herculean task. A graduate of UCLA and UCLA law school, he was an L.A. City Councilman for eight years, and a County Supervisor for 20 years. Among his more impressive accomplishments are the county’s Departments of Consumer Affairs and Children’s Services and affirmative action programs. He also improved the status of women, the handicapped and Native Americans.

Clearly, Edelman knows how both the City of L.A. and the county work, how to get things done, and he knows all the players – elected and appointed – and the territory. Just as vital, he clearly has what novelist Willa Cather called “the gift of sympathy.”

As advocated by Shriver, the City is shifting paradigms – from its “continuum of care” to “housing first,” which has proved successful in other cities, because its premise – that it’s easier for people to straighten their lives out when they are not living on the streets – is so sensible.

With that significant policy shift, Shriver’s passionate determination to develop workable, humane solutions, and the seasoned and creative Edelman at the helm, it is finally possible to believe that real progress will be made in 2006.

A first-generation Californian who went from a  community college to Stanford, where he took a doctorate in linguistics, Tsang comes to SMC from San Jose City College.

According to SMC Trustee Carole Currey, she and her fellow trustees “were particularly impressed with Dr. Tsang’s perspicacity and sense of humor.”

The new SMC president will need plenty of both as he attempts to eliminate the residual tension on campus and reduce the smoldering friction between the college and the City.

During his eight-plus years at San Jose, Tsang led the college’s  $200 million-plus construction boom, which included a new parking structure, library, tech center, student center and science complex, so he may be content to simply oversee the wind-down of SMC’s own building boom rather than setting off a new boom, and focus instead on repairing the fractures in the college community that occurred on his predecessor’s watch.

We’re guilty of theorizing to an extent here, and theorizing rather rosily. As we have seen Holbrook and Edelman in action, we know what we can expect from them, but we don’t really know how either Ewell or Tsang will behave in this Byzantine arena. Still hope in any form is always appropriate on the eve of a new year and the opening of a new chapter in the ever-mesmerizing Santa Monica saga.

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