March 1, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

New Blood for Santa Monica Governance:

Michael Rosenthal


They come, they go…

There was funny skit played, long ago, at the Tiffany Theatre in Santa Monica. The actors were at a party with maybe a dozen people. Everyone was chatting until the first couple prepared to leave, at which point they were sent home with, “Oh it was so lovely to see you, you are such a lovely couple, I love your broach, etc.” Then the moment the door closed behind them the crowd cut them up. “Did you see that awful handbag she had?” “He was such a boor.” It went on until the last person refused to leave knowing they would be criticized. It was really quite hilarious.

* * * *

Santa Monica has recently had some turnover at the very top of our governing chain. Three of our most important public officials have said adieu: Santa Monica College President Piedad Robertson, SMMUSD (soon to be former) Superintendent John Deasy and Santa Monica City Manager Susan McCarthy.

Ms. Robertson was one of our most powerful and charismatic leaders. She brought focus and attention to the college. She also was accused of land-grabbing and lack of cooperation with the City. During her tenure (or rule, as some would say) she raised more open space money then the City. It was sold as being a cooperative effort, but her legacy will not reveal it. It was hard to fault her as she got buildings built, bonds raised and land acquired while the City politicked itself into inaction (ten years to build Virginia Avenue Park). Who could blame her for not wanting to submit Madison Theatre to the vagaries of the Santa Monica planning department? Of course, the immediate community might have appreciated it.

When Susan Aminoff was elected to the board that pretty much forced Ms. Robertson out, though she resigned to show she was still in control. Her replacement, Dr. Chui L. Tsang appears to be less dynamic, forceful and aggressive. Gentle, quiet and thoughtful, he brings a certain calm to the campus. The question is can he be effective in bringing enrollment back up, returning vocational training, lowering tuition fees, bringing labor peace with faculty and staff, reducing administrative costs and finally, cooperating with the City on the open space issues. The College is a separate power structure all unto its own so it must act as a responsible partner with the entire community.

SMMUSD Superintendent John Deasy came into his position at a time when the District was in financial disarray and clearly being mismanaged in a number of areas, not the least of which was parent-district relations. Deasy quickly cleaned up the mess, worked hard and diligently at bringing finances in order, worked the phones on election night to bring more money into the district and organized a very tight administration. He also oversaw a continuing deterioration in administration-student relations, the questionable split of SAMOHI into six schools and implemented a controversial PTA tax. Deasy was intense and focused and his stay too short to complete the job he set out to do. A search is now being conducted for his replacement. With finances fairly well in order (despite a $1.2 million facilities design), perhaps the next superintendent can focus on student education.

Former Santa Monica City Manager Susan McCarthy ran the City in the aftermath of 9/11 as tourism plummeted and during a period when the City became the largest developer in town. She was always pleasant and professional in demeanor, but under her tenure “City Staff” became a whole new power center. Her “City” did not always get rave reviews for customer service (I recall one contractor telling me, “I will NEVER do business in Santa Monica again!”). The City’s finances were, and are, strong, but there is the curious question on why the attorneys that won a major settlement in the MTBE suit have yet to be paid. Their dispute, and the Weller-Farmers’ Market liability suits, threaten the City’s fortunes. With our new City Manager P. Lamont Ewell a former firefighter, a profession that values service above all else, there is the real possibility that positive change can occur.

Already things seem quieter, calmer and even friendlier. As former Santa Monica Mayor Nat Trives told me, “This is a golden opportunity for the City to come together and rid it self of divisiveness.” It may not sell papers (we are free anyway) but the camaraderie and civil discourse now being found in the City may just make for more effective governance.

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