Santa Monica Factions Urged to Work Together

Times Staff Writer

After summoning 150 people with widely divergent views to an invitation-only meeting in Santa Monica, Assemblyman Tom Hayden warned them that the city would become a "middle-class Beirut" if they did not begin talking with one another.

But no one could say whether last week's forum in the General Telephone Co. auditorium would help resolve the disagreements over housing and development that have plagued Santa Monica for more than five years.

Hayden, however, called the forum a "major success" based on feedback and questions.

"The cross-section of people there from the Santa Monica Bank to the Campaign for Economic Democracy was a sign that there's a hunger to explore new ways to handle our conflicts and reconcile those that can be reconciled," Hayden said. "It's at least some food for thought about how one better manages city controversy."

James Baker, a spokesman for the city's apartment owners, said he too was pleased to see such a "broad spectrum of civic leaders" at the meeting. But he questioned whether Hayden, a leader of Santa Monica's rent control movement, was fully committed to bringing the various groups together.

"If Assemblyman Tom Hayden's motives are sincere then I think this type of meeting could be highly beneficial," Baker said. "But Tom's past track record doesn't speak too well for sincerity."

The audience at Wednesday night's meeting included elected officials, businessmen and representatives from various political organizations that have clashed in the past, including the arch-rival Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights and the All Santa Monica Coalition.

The speakers included Dr. William Ouchi, author and vice chairman of UCLA's Graduate School of Management; John Alschuler Jr., former Santa Monica city manager; Connie Jenkins, Santa Monia/Malibu Unified School District board member, and Paul DeSantis, secretary of the Santa Monica Tenants' Alliance.

Hayden (D-Santa Monica) opened the meeting by saying that "it's difficult to represent a community that's divided and equally difficult to represent a community that doesn't know what it wants," and then said that it would be easier to secure state funds for schools, crime prevention and disaster relief if the city was more united.

"Santa Monica has been through several years of conflict and polarization," Hayden said. "But in the last year we've seen new steps toward creative forms of partnership. . . . It might be reasonable to build on those forward steps of conciliation."

Ouchi, a Santa Monica resident who has studied ways that government and special-interest groups worked together in other parts of the country, said the city's problems can only be solved through teamwork.

After presenting a slide show detailing how disparate interest groups formed partnerships in places as far flung as as Minneapolis and cities in Japan, Ouchi said that the examples probably seemed "exotic" for Santa Monica. But Minneapolis, Ouchi said, has successfully brought together people who are "least like-minded," but committed to solving problems.

Similarity Questioned

Alschuler, who followed Ouchi, questioned whether Santa Monica's problems are similar to those in other cities. Because of its location and desirability, Santa Monica does not have to work as hard as many other communities to attract business or residents, Alschuler said.

"The loss of McDonnell Douglas (in 1969)would have crippled other cities," said Alschuler, Santa Monica's city manager from 1981 to 1984. "In Santa Monica it created a space for new and different economic expansion."

Alschuler said he "holds the business community responsible" for not doing more to bring the city together. To reach a consensus on the city's direction, the major corporations must talk to each other and share their views with the city's civic leaders, the former city manager said.

Alschuler said that the recent adoption of a land-use plan, the city's first in 25 years, is a good sign. But he reminded the audience that Santa Monica still lacks a "strategic plan" outlining the kinds of services and jobs it wants.

Alschuler then laid out a three-point proposal to set the plan in motion, saying that the community needs to set forth goals;that corporate leaders have to participate in the decision-making, and that the City Council has to make sure that the goals are accomplished.

"It's an awesomely ambitious agenda," Alschuler said. "But this is an awesomely ambitious community."

The school board's Jenkins said that outside forces can be brought together over a shared need. But in a small community like Santa Monica, Jenkins said, individuals generally do more to bring about change than institutions.

Jenkins also said that the "need for consensus" usually goes away after a specific problem is solved. "What kind of incentives can be provided in the community to propel us past the partisanship and on to other problems?" Jenkins asked. "Those questions should be considered."

The final speaker, attorney DeSantis, is credited with bringing landlords and tenants together last year to help pass the city's innovative apartment purchase plan. DeSantis called the effort a "tremendous task," but agreed that "conclusive" decisions can only be reached when all of the city's decision-makers come together.

"When they finally met," said DeSantis, "we knew that whatever they agreed to would stick."

After the meeting, Hayden said that he hoped to schedule another forum.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
59°