By Frank Gruber
One evening last week I gave a little talk on the recent election
in Santa Monica. As I was comparing the votes on Measure T, the
Residents Initiative to Fight Traffic, and County Measure R, the
sales tax for transit, I had an odd thought.
One rhetorical tactic of no-growthers and NIMBYs in Santa Monica
is to fret that a proposed structure over two stories will lead
to the "Manhattanization" of Santa Monica. On the face
of it, this is pure bombast: the population density per square mile
of Manhattan is about 60,000 and that of Santa Monica is about 10,000.
But the rhetoric is based on a truth, namely that no one would want
Santa Monica to become a west coast version of Manhattan.
But as I said there was this odd thought that struck me. In voting
in favor of Measure R, a measure most identified with L.A. Mayor
Villaraigosa's proposed "Subway to the Sea," Santa Monicans
were endorsing the building of the "Purple Line" subway
all the way through their city.
What's more Manhattan than a subway?
Will there be a song, "Take the purple train (if you want
to get to Santa Monica)?"
* * *
I spent last Wednesday evening in Barnum Hall, where I took in
the talk by L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez about his book, The
Soloist, the story of how his meeting Nathaniel Anthony Ayers, the
mentally ill and then homeless former Juilliard student, changed
both of their lives.
I have attended many meetings, lectures and other events in Santa
Monica over the years, but I am recklessly going to say that last
week's event was the best ever. I am sorry to make those readers
who were not part of the crowd in Barnum feel bad for having missed
it, but I'll say it -- the evening was perfect.
It combined edification -- wise words from Mr. Lopez and from representatives
of OPCC, our primary local provider of services to the homeless
-- with music provided by the Samohi Chamber Orchestra augmented
by top-flight musicians from the L.A. Phil and elsewhere, under
the baton of Joni Swenson, director of orchestras at the high school.
There were also clips from the movie based on The Soloist that's
coming out in March.
The organizers -- largely from the Samohi Orchestra Parents Association,
but consisting of enough individuals and organizations to fill the
back cover of the program -- deserve immense credit.
Joy Horowitz from the association gave an incisive talk herself
that introduced Mr. Lopez. Ms. Horowitz, herself an accomplished
journalist, talked about Mr. Lopez's writing and what it must have
meant for him as a journalist to make the connection he did to Mr.
Ayers, and she set the stage for the discussion of the issues surrounding
homelessness and mental illness by René Buchanan and John
Maceri from OPCC and then by Mr. Lopez.
Ms. Buchanan, a former bank executive, told her story: she suffered
throughout her life from depression and spent time on the streets,
but found herself at OPCC. She now works at OPCC's Daybreak Center.
Mr. Maceri described what services OPCC provides, and its philosophies
and strategies for connecting with clients with mental illnesses
and other debilitating conditions.
Mr. Lopez told the story of his encounters with Mr. Ayers. He described
how skid row, where Mr. Ayers was living, and other places where the
homeless congregate (such as, he pointed out, Palisades Park in Santa
Monica) didn't happen by accident, but came into existence because
after the mental institutions were shut down, the state (i.e., you
and me) never funded adequately the community mental health centers
that were supposed to take up the slack.
The most evocative moment occurred
when Mr. Lopez read a passage from his book about how Mr. Ayers
recalled practicing, when he was at Juilliard, Tchaikovsky's Serenade
for Strings; the reading segued into the playing of the piece by
the Chamber Orchestra (joined by the professional musicians).
You had to be there.
Naturally, as a local columnist I was particularly interested to
hear Mr. Lopez speak because he's the local columnist for all of
"L.A.", that place and mental space that transcends the
boundaries of any one municipality. Mr. Lopez has been an inspiration
to me. He talked about how terrifying that "blank piece of
paper" he faces when he has a deadline could be, but he also
said that L.A. was such a fascinating place to write about that
it was like a "shooting gallery."
Santa Monica is a small corner of L.A., but I look at it the same
way -- there's always something to write about, and too much that
I should write about that I don't get to.
It "helps" that just about every current urban issue
pops up here -- development, of course, and traffic, the ubiquitous
issues of those-that-got, but also every issue relating to public
education, and the tragic issue of gang violence. We even had a
little financial crisis in the early years of this decade and perhaps
along with everyone else we'll have another one soon.
And famously Santa Monica has homelessness. In Harry Shearer's
words, we are the "Home of the Homeless." Santa Monica
also has a history of trying to something about homelessness (not
that everything always works, nor that homelessness is a problem
that can be solved by one small city). But the political consensus
among the majority of Santa Monicans begins with "there but
for the grace of God go I," and moves on from there.
The philosophy of our local agencies now is not merely to succor
those without homes, but to get them housed and with services and
treatment to keep them housed.
There is a paradox about non-profit providers of services to the
needy, including to the homeless and the mentally ill, which is
that the providers tend to need more money just at those times when
the economy is bad and everyone is broke or feels broke.
Obviously, those times are now.
Many people make their charitable donations at the end of the year.
My holiday message is that if you have any money to spare, give
generously to those agencies that need to do good even when the
rest of us aren't doing well.
Here's a list of a few of the local providers of services to the
homeless with links to their websites; they all could use your help:
Step Up on Second http://www.stepuponsecond.org/
St. Joseph Center http://www.stjosephctr.org/
Venice Family Clinic http://www.venicefamilyclinic.org/
CLARE Foundation http://www.clarefoundation.org/
New Directions http://www.newdirectionsinc.org/
Upward Bound House http://www.upwardboundhouse.org/
Common Ground http://www.commongroundwestside.org/
* * *
Music is also important. Give yourself a treat and got to Barnum Hall
to hear the Samohi Orchestra at its Winter Concert -- tomorrow night,
7:00 p.m. For more information go to the orchestra's website http://www.samohiorchestras.org/