Deja Vu for Jalili and Casa

By Jorge Casuso

It was deja vu all over again at Casa del Mar Thursday night.

There was once again another grand opening for the storied roaring twenties beachfront luxury hotel, which officially opened its doors a month ago. And there was yet another send off for City Manager John Jalili, who officially leaves his post at midnight Saturday.

And for the first time in more than half a century, the restored 1926 hotel -- with its chandeliers and potted palms -- was once again the setting for Santa Monica's elite, with city leaders rubbing shoulders with the business elite, and for a good cause.

The proceeds from the $250-a-plate black-tie dinner (which thanks to a personal check from Jalili topped the $100,000 mark) will go to John Muir Elementary School, one of the district's poorest; The Santa Monica Historical Society & Museum; Chrysalis, a job training and placement center for the homeless, and the Westside Food Bank, which will be able to buy 125,000 more pounds of food for the hungry.

Jalili was reluctant to have it any other way.

"John's first reaction," said master of ceremonies James Conn, a former mayor, "was to politely, quietly, thoughtfully say he didn't need a big send off."

Mgsr. Lloyd Torgerson, the pastor of St. Monica Catholic Church, praised Jalili's "integrity, vision, kindness, reconciliation," adding that he was "a listener" who put "others first, not minding who takes the credit."

"Keep that spirit going, good and faithful servant," Torgerson said during the invocation.

There were light-hearted recollections - Conn recalled Jalili's mishaps with his new BMW, which was scratched, crushed and bumped - as well as heart-felt tributes.

"I am accepting this on behalf of 360 smiling, adorable children," said Muir Principal Patty Flynn, referring to the more than $25,000 that will go to the cash-strapped school. "They are the future, and they will reap the benefits of your work and generosity."

There were presentations and proclamations from County Supervisor Zev Yaraslovsky, State Senator Tom Hayden, State Assembly member Sheila Kuehl, Congressman Henry Waxman, Santa Monica College Board President Dorothy Ehrhart-Morrison, School Board President Margaret Quinones and Sgt. Steven Brackett, representing the Police and Fire Fighters unions.

The heaviest plaque was presented by Casa del Mar and will be affixed to a cornerstone. The black bronze plaque will commemorate Jalili's "vision and guidance."

It was finally Jalili's turn to speak, and he took the audience down memory lane, starting with the ballroom of the hotel, which once housed the Sinenon Drug Rehabilitation Center. "They had poisonous snakes and didn't hesitate to use them when necessary," Jalili joked.

He recalled Santa Monica's transformation from "Oshkosh by the Sea" -- home of "the newly wed and nearly dead --, to the Capitol of Hip and The People's Republic. He talked about how parking and traffic always have been problems and how efforts to speed up City Council meetings were "as successful then as today."

He joked about how a fortuneteller's advice to "go slow" was put into practice as "part of the permit processing system," and, on a more serious note, recalled two major disasters - the storms of 1983 and the earthquake of 1994. And finally, Jalili touted the city's achievements in education, transportation, social services, arts and entertainment, health care and public safety.

"I am proud to have served you," Jalili told the crowd. "You're a population that really cares year in and year out.... We've had disagreements, controversy, hurt feelings, but what do you expect from a community that has pushed the envelope."

Outside the luxury hotel, a homeless woman was asking for spare change. She spotted a guest emerging with flowers.

"What was that?" she asked. "A wedding?"

"No," the guest answered, giving her a flower. "It was a retirement party for the City Manager."

"Oh, John Jalili," she said, and walk away smelling the orange rose.