Crisis and Opportunity

By Beige Luciano-Adams

Keynote Speaker Henry Cisneros: “There’s no such thing as cities planning to stay the same.”

The Curse of Living in Interesting Times

With Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole and former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros at the podium, the Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City event on Monday took on a philosophical tone.

Cole offered an ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times,” noting that the Chinese word for “crisis” includes characters for both “danger” and “opportunity.”

The opportunity Cole and Cisneros see is Santa Monica emerging as a national model of a city driven by progressive values — a place that can evolve beyond internecine strife that characterizes the politics of 2017 to harness resources for a society that’s not only productive but also inclusive and diverse.

Cole noted Santa Monica has made “real progress” toward key strategic goals (education, transportation, housing, etc.), “but still has a long way to go.” Concurrently, the city released its FY15-16 annual report, offering metrics and digestible milestones, 12-Days-of-Christmas-style: 1,200 street lights repaired, 6% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions over the previous year, 17 new miles of bikeways … (for the full report, see: annualreport.smgov.net).

The city’s deal with the FAA to close Santa Monica Airport in 2029 was a triumphant note after the last several weeks of public feuding, and drew several rounds of applause. The “20th-century economic powerhouse,” said Cole, will be transformed into “a 21st-century environmental treasure” of public parkland — according to Cisneros, who once took flight lessons at SMO, “a very courageous decision.”

Cole summed up a lot when he said “the rent is too damn high,” but both he and Cisneros described a need to balance “quality of life with inclusiveness.” Cisneros said that unlike places such as Carmel or Coronado (“these are not real places for real people”) Santa Monica has the right mix of resources and grit.

“Not an artificial community, not an elite playground, not dollhouse sterile — but a place where real people can live together and improve their lives,” Cisneros said. “Great cities have to
have a mix of housing types, or it becomes an impossible problem.”

The former San Antonio Mayor and Univision executive recalled driving through the Palisades one night and seeing working people unable to live near the places they work — “people that look like me,” he said, “mostly Hispanic workers, who had finished serving someone’s meal at a restaurant or finished working someone’s party at their home, getting ready take the buses that would take them somewhere to the San Gabriel Valley or beyond — at 11 p.m. on a Saturday night.”

That status quo “is just not right. It’s not fair,” Cisneros said. “We can do better than that.”

Build, Baby, Build

Responding to a discussion prompt by KCRW’s Frances Anderton that “we’re starting to trend old,” Cisneros elaborated on how Santa Monica can face its housing crisis.

“There’s land that can be assembled for these purposes … new design methodologies that focus on a little bit more density. There are strategies that allow for new forms of living, congregant style,” he said, suggesting the city repurpose older light industrial buildings and churches.

“There’s no such thing as cities planning to stay the same,” Cisneros said, rebuking the idea that Santa Monica should halt growth and development in order to preserve things how they are.

For Cole, the key to keeping young people interested in calling such an expensive city home has to do with appealing to millennials’ sense of idealism and creating a sense of common purpose.

“How can we create a community that reaches out to vulnerable people and protects our environment? That’s what I hear from my children’s generation,” Cole said. “We can offer them not an easy life, where they enjoy everything that’s been given to them, but a challenging life, where they get to make the world a better place.”

Here Comes a Challenge …

For such soaring ambition, look no further than recently approved plans to construct a new City Services Building that might rank as the most ecologically sustainable structure in California history. The 50,000-square-foot addition behind City Hall puts LEED Platinum to shame — it would meet the Living Building Challenge, which requires a net restorative impact on the environment. City officials estimate that ambition will cost $75 million, but skeptics and critics call it a vanity project that could run up to $140 million — money otherwise needed for affordable housing.

Norovirus Outbreak

A norovirus outbreak prompted officials to shut down John Adams Middle School last Friday after nearly 200 seventh-graders were exposed to the hyper-contagious stomach bug during a trip to Yosemite at the end of January. The virus evidently jumped to several students who had not been on that trip, as well as some unlucky siblings. Officials issued an advisory — wash hands with soap and water before and after eating, disinfect surfaces, stay home at least 72 hours after symptoms resolve — and schools were back to business as usual on Monday.

Who is Ms. Santa Monica?

Everyone knows and loves Mr. Santa Monica (aka Nat Trives), whose civil service record extends back more than 40 celebrated years, but Mayor Ted Winterer begged another question during State of the City: Who is Ms. Santa Monica? “It’s time we had one,” he said. Send your suggestions to InsideSM@argonautnews.com.

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