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The Incredible Mayor Bob and Other Tales


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By Lookout Staff

March 1, 2018 -- Former Santa Monica Mayor Bob Holbrook has been compared to Mr. Incredible and Andy Griffith, the sheriff of Mayberry U.S.A. His kindness and homespun style have touched, and entertained, Santa Monicans for more than three decades. Here are a few stories to celebrate the 35th anniversary of his first election to public office.

Jean Sedillos (political activist who worked on all of Holbrook's campaigns)

“When someone attacks people I know to be honorable, I take it personally.”
-- Bob Holbrook

In 2006 some of us working on Bob’s City Council campaign convinced him to enter St. Monica’s Chili Cook-off as the superhero Mr. Incredible, because they are doppelgangers.

Both are blond, blue-eyed, named Bob, and married to super-strong, super-stretched women (Jean Ann and Elastigirl). But—above all—both Bobs make it their business to defend people who are being treated unfairly.

Bob Holbrook as Mr. Incredible
Bob Holbrook as Mr. Incredible St. Monica’s Chili Cook-off (Courtesy Jean Sedillos)

I’ll never forget the time Bob used incredible finesse to stand up for my mother. She was living in a high-rise retirement home on Ocean Avenue. Her only pleasure by then was her view of the ocean and the Santa Monica Pier. But the facility’s general manager wanted her out: At 89 years old, she did not exude the image they wanted new prospects to see.

I was gearing up for a fight, but Bob said, “I’m going to an event there Sunday. I’ll talk to him.”

On Monday he reported that he didn’t think I’d have any more problems with the manager. “What did you say?” I asked.

“I told him that your mother was a family friend and said I assumed this was one of her properties. He looked nervous.”

It wasn’t “one of her properties,” but my mom lived the rest of her days there, looking out at the ocean.

Some situations called for Bob to put on his red spandex suit and fly in, even when he knew the odds were against him. In 2009 fourteen parents calling themselves Santa Monica Music Supporters wanted control of the Santa Monica Band Parents’ Association, specifically its bank account.

But first they had to oust the long-time SMBPA board members. In a letter to the board, but actually for the district superintendent, these parents accused the volunteer who had managed all the district music ensembles’ finances for the past 25 years of being incompetent and corrupt. They even produced a web site presenting all their exaggerated grievances as facts.

Bob was incensed: “How can they do that to someone who has given so much of his life to Santa Monica music programs? He is one of the most honest, hard-working people I know! It’s just WRONG!”

Already aware that the superintendent had fallen in line with the influential Music Supporters, Bob insisted on meeting with him anyway -- to defend the reputation of the SMBPA board, the band director (who had also been dragged into the fray), and the legacy built by thousands of volunteers for more than a hundred years. The superintendent intoned something about following procedure, and that was that.

At its June meeting, it was a foregone conclusion that SMBPA members would vote to dissolve the association and turn over its funds to the new Santa Monica Arts Parents Association. The superintendent had made it clear that otherwise the district would no longer accept gifts from the SMBPA, meaning the Marching Band would cease to exist. Parents couldn’t risk taking that experience away from their kids.

I could not make myself go to that ugly meeting. But Bob and Jean Ann marched right in.

Bob recounted how the SMBPA had saved the music programs from extinction and allowed them to flourish. He and Jean Ann defended people they knew to be honorable, told the character-assassinators they should be ashamed of themselves, and then went down in flames, as they knew they would.

Incredible. But not for Bob.

Asha Greenberg (City Councilmember 1992 to 1999)

One particular night, a man appeared before us in an evening gown with spaghetti straps. The straps kept falling down and he was obviously having trouble controlling them.

I remember Bob saying to me, "The speaker should have worn a strapless dress."

Even when faced with unusual circumstances, like the speaker in the evening dress, Bob never lost his equanimity.

Rosario Perry (local landlord attorney and longtime member of ACTION Apartment Association)

May I give all of our congratulations to Bob Holbrook for 32 years of dedicated hard work on behalf of the greater Santa Monica community. Bob, born in Ocean Park at a very young age, lived there until his wife Jean Ann made him move north of Montana Avenue; Bob is not an interloper.

My goodness, he was born in Santa Monica before St. John’s was built! Where you ask, don’t ask. Bob has been local all his life.

Bob Holbrook Council portrait
Council portrait (Courtesy City of Santa Monica Image Archives)
Most people only heard of Bob while he was on the School Board (up to 1990) but did not really know him. That all changed when he decided to run for City Council in 1990. At that time SMRR (Santa Monica For Renters' Rights) was the dominant political force in Santa Monica. Few candidates were elected to City Council without SMRR’s endorsement.

When Bob decided to run (without the SMRR endorsement) no one believed that he could get elected. But elected he did get, and elected he stayed, until he decided he had enough and retired in 2014.

Now if you are a bleeding heart SMRR-ite don’t take what I say negatively. Bob is not anti-SMRR. He just believes council persons should be free to express and vote their opinions without first calling the SMRR oligarchy for direction. He calls his view of politics “democracy.”

Indeed, Bob has always been concerned and supportive of tenant rights and voted to protect them on any and all matters which came up before the Council.

Still, those of us who had little faith in SMRR's politics were thrilled that he was elected. Bob did many wonderful things as a Council member, and he did it all with a huge sense of humor (read his 2014 letter defending Bobby Shriver against Sheila Kuehl’s misinformation-attacks: people who believed her were “drinking too much Kuehl-Aid,” and so it was true).

Indeed, as an example, Bob was originally against the City’s plan of installing a horizontal urinal in front of City Hall (the City calls it a “fountain”); but Bob relented and moved along with the flow (or flushing?). He originally believed the rose garden installed by the Gold Star Mothers to honor their sons who had died in World War II should not be removed.

However, he reached out to them, and when the mothers did not object he withdrew his opposition. Now we have a wonderful $500,000 urinal.

I remember January 17, 1994 at 4:30 a.m. I was just getting to bed when all of a sudden God unleashed an earthquake upon Santa Monica. Clearly, God wanted to test SMRR, to see what they would do to rebuild the 3,000 residential-unit disaster. (Repeat, Book of Job, Exodus 2:15 et seq.)

“Rock” Holbrook knew what needed to be done, and he (with the help of Councilmember Asha Greenberg) took charge and directed the better City legislation which helped property owners quickly restore Santa Monica’s damaged housing.

God was proud; he told me so (Oprah Winfrey don’t fret that you have not heard from God -- it is on a non-related matter). I was proud too -- not that God cared; and grateful that Bob was there on the City Council to help restore housing for the tenants and housing providers.

Thank you Bob for keeping your head during heady times, for always being the voice of reason and always being calm when hot air storms blew through Santa Monica.

Denny Zane (Former mayor, founder and Co-Chair of SMRR)

Bob Holbrook wins the prize for being the "nicest guy ever" on the Santa Monica city Council. I enjoyed him personally more than most of the people with whom I had stronger political agreements.

He seems to have absolutely no guile; he is always giving his honest truth. It never mattered whether you agreed or disagreed with Bob, he always seemed to treat everyone like they mattered.

I think that's because he truly loves Santa Monica and all the people in it. He believes that all the rest of us who are involved with the city, either on the city Council or in the community, love the city as well.

With Bob it is as if we are all one family, with disagreements to be sure, but still with deep common bonds.

Eddie Guerboian, AKA “The Stache” (Small Business Owner of a Jewelry Store for more than 40 years and chairman of the Board for SM Chamber of Commerce 2005-2006)

Congratulations Bob, you deserve this honor immensely. I’m proud to call you a Friend.

I think of Bob as a Big Brother. For me personally, Bob has been one of the most honest and sincere people I have known. I can easily confide in him and ask him for his guidance.

When I was serving the Chamber of Commerce as Chairman of the Board, Bob was serving on the Santa Monica city Council. We had a wonderful partnership because of him.

However, aside from his civic and community duties, and his true dedication to our city of Santa Monica, I was amazed to learn that Bob is a collector of antique pocket watches. I was shocked to learn that Bob knew more about pocket watches than me!

One day he was in my store and I was showing a customer a pocket watch from my showcase. It was an intricate watch, and I asked Bob to step in and help me with the presentation of the piece. I don’t think I could have made the sale without him.

So not only is Bob a pharmacist, a Councilman, and a former Mayor of Santa Monica, he can add to his resume, expert watch salesman.

Sam and Paulette Kardashian (Southern California Disposal)
Andy Griffith show

Bob is a wonderful, wonderful man. We supported him when he ran for School Board and then for City Council.

He's a good human being. When a German tourist was killed (on Santa Monica Beach in 1998) he was so disturbed. He always takes everything to heart.

Bob reminds us of a Norman Rockwell kind of person, or like someone out of Mayberry, Andy Griffith.

Bob's Mayberry is Santa Monica.


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