Nat Trives isn’t known as “Mr. Santa Monica” for nothing. He grew up here, attended Santa Monica College, served on the police force, was a member of the City Council and put in time as mayor. He’s seen the changes that have come over time to this City and has been an integral part of its history during the last 30 years.
In 1971, Trives was attending graduate school at UCLA, studying for an MBA in police administration. He had spent 11 years on the Santa Monica Police Force, and during that time had worked to forge a connection between the police and the community.
“Having been a police officer, having been involved in the 1968 sanitation workers strike as president of the Santa Monica Police Officers’ Association, I felt that a voice representing the people that we had worked hard for needed to be on the [City] Council,” says Trives.
“My statewide and local union experience and my work at UCLA in graduate school allowed us to plan a campaign that was really grassroots-based and actually broke some ice here in the City as to how campaigns were run.”
Trives recalls that he got up early during his campaign to open up his campaign office on Lincoln Boulevard near the 10 freeway, make coffee and put out donuts for the volunteers, and then go off to teach his classes at Cal State LA.
He was elected to the City Council in 1971 and would be reelected to a second term in 1975, during which time he served as mayor from 1975 to 1977.
Trives found himself dealing with some of the same issues during the 1970s that Santa Monica is still dealing with – growth and development.
“The concern was density. A lot of apartment buildings were being built. The so-called balance between apartments and what we call R-1 zoning – family houses – with industrial and commercial business [was a balancing act] and balancing acts are still going on.”
Trives tried to contribute to that balance by backing green developments.
“I like to say that I’m the father of Virginia Avenue Park. We acquired Santa Monica College’s property – the Trade Tech School – on Virginia Avenue for park purposes. So I’m very proud of that because it was something I was strongly involved in.”
Among other achievements during his administration, Trives lists the demolition of Douglas Aircraft, which was turned into Santa Monica Business Park and Clover Park, saving and enlarging the Santa Monica Pier and the development of Santa Monica Place Mall. While the mall may be a dated behemoth now in the eyes of many citizens, Trives explains that the original project, designed by Frank Gehry, was compromised by community opposition to the project’s proposed scale.
“Frank had done a wonderful job of designing a complex that was never built,” says Trives. “Between the Coastal Commission and litigation – it was the result of having to cut back. Gehry’s name is on it but it’s not Gehry’s work in my mind.
“I turned over the original plans and gave them to the Santa Monica Historical Society for their records. I felt they ought to keep it because it shows the concept.”
Since his City Council days, Nat Trives has kept busy with his work for other Santa Monica institutions. He served as Deputy Superintendent and Chief Government Relations Officer for Santa Monica College during the presidency of Dr. Richard Moore, retiring from those positions in 1997. “I was responsible for all the external relations, how the college got along with Sacramento and D.C., as well as fund-raising for the college.” The “crowning experience” during his time at SMC “was when I took SMC board members back to Washington D.C. – and a footnote to that is that I attended both of Bill Clinton’s inaugurations.” Trives also helped to get Clinton as a guest speaker at SMC.
He has served on boards of various organizations including the National Urban League, the National Conference of Community and Justice and the Personnel Commissions for both the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and Santa Monica Community College District. Trives also was President and Board Chair of Crossroads School.
Realtor and former City Councilmember Bob Gabriel served on the Council with Trives and says of him: “He’s committed to what is good in Santa Monica. On the City Council, he was a quick study, he knew the issues in the community during the time he was mayor. He’s a great Santa Monica citizen.”
Local SMRR activist and former City Council candidate Abby Arnold says of Trives: “It’s not easy to figure out what life after public office will be like, but Nat has set a remarkable example for our City. He supports nonprofit organizations and does a lot of the hard work involved in leading charitable causes, and he is committed to strengthening education… We don’t agree on issues like rent control, but that has just made it more fun and interesting to discuss policy with him.”
How does Nat Trives see Santa Monica today?
“We have some tough times. What I mean by tough times is that we have traffic that is a result of growth – not so much in Santa Monica – the population has been higher [in the past] than it is today – but the daytime business population creates the traffic.
“The value of the land is worth $17 billion for these four square miles, yet in the shadow of all this affluence, we have the problem of people in need of our help. It’s a county-wide problem rather than a local problem so you want Council support. So I think the strategy that the City Council has set forth may ultimately be successful.”