The night that Mayor Ken Genser died, there was a retirement party underway for Santa Monica Police Captain Alex Padilla, celebrating his 30 years of service to the city he grew up in. This reporter learned of the mayor’s passing during that dinner party, and it brought to mind the truly remarkable gathering of leadership that Santa Monica has enjoyed during the last several years.
The City has lost Genser and Councilmember Herb Katz to death, it is losing City Manager Lamont Ewell and Fire Chief Jim Hone as well as Padilla retirement, and it will continue to enjoy the service of Police Chief Tim Jackman, School Superintendent Tim Cuneo, Samohi Principal Hugo Pedroza, and many others. Add to these the many civic leaders in the private sector and the nonprofits, and Santa Monica has had an awfully good run recently with leaders who emphasize warmth, engagement, and the ability to work with others.
To borrow a phrase from the title of M.F.K. Fisher’s book about Marseille, Santa Monica these days is certainly “a considerable town.”
At Cpt. Padilla’s retirement party, he collected proclamations and “hardware” not only from the SMPD and the City Council, but from statewide law enforcement groups, the Governor’s office, the state Assembly, and the U.S. Congress, as befits his service to a world-class city. Yet the party was held in a second-floor Masonic Hall meeting room that had a distinctly small-town feel to it. The combination was very Santa Monica.
It certainly felt like there were more people in the room than the posted occupancy limit(400 for conference seating, 187 for dining with tables and chairs), but that may have been because the very big sound provided by the 10 musicians of the Westside Crew more than filled the room. (Yet another Santa Monica/Lennon family music connection.) Besides, Fire Marshall Jim Glew was among all those people.
Also among all those people were everyone from Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Laurel Rosen to Pico Youth and Family Center Executive Director Oscar de la Torre. And combinations like that are also very Santa Monica.
Down the hall outside the dinner, SM Police Officers Association Chairman Jay Trisler was seen in conversation with de la Torre, who sits on the SMMUSD School Board, talking about gang activity and youth programs. And conversations like that are also very … very much what has made Santa Monica the considerable town that it is.
Lamont Ewell has had a lot to do with that. He attended his last City Council meeting as City Manager this week and collected “hardware” of his own, including a framed letter from President Obama. Councilmembers spoke of Ewell’s “integrity” and his “ability to get to the heart of matters.” They described him as “unremittingly gracious,” “straightforward,” and “a steady hand.” Councilmember Richard Bloom said, “I made a really, really good and lifelong friend.”
That “friend” quality, and his disarming combination of professionalism and warmth, has made Ewell’s time in Santa Monica a very good time to have lived here. There has been lively public debate and protest, from the RIFT initiative to the treatment of special education families to the ficus trees. There have been concerted efforts, from Ed Edelman’s campaign on homelessness to community gatherings in response to youth violence to the drive for a sustainable city. There have been some Very Big Events, from the Pier’s 100th anniversary to the internationally recognized GLOW to the coming Los Angeles Marathon finish line.
Through them all, Ewell, and a whole lot of other Santa Monicans – official and not – have fomented a culture of open doors and rounded corners that has allowed and encouraged people to talk together and get things done in this considerable town.
At the January 19 City Council meeting, Ewell said that his time as Santa Monica City Manager “has been the pinnacle of my career” – a career that spanned 30 years of public service before he came to our town. It’s been a high point for Santa Monica, too.
At the Mirror, we swore that we were not going to use the term “golden age” in this article (although that has been a working title for some of us while thinking about the story), but the last several years have really been a golden age of leadership in Santa Monica.
One trouble with talking about a golden age is that it suggests a perfection that is not real: everyone has not always talked to everyone else as often or as candidly as they might have; some civic issues have not received the attention that others have and that all deserve.
Recognizing that fact is at the heart of the response to the other trouble with talking about a golden age – namely, that it suggests that things will go downhill from here, that there is nowhere left to climb. And that is not true: Santa Monica could still “go platinum,” as they say in the music business.