By Olin Ericksen
January 23 -- "Ensuring the past has a future"
is the Santa Monica Conservancy's motto. And Sunday, the grassroots
group dedicated to preserving the city’s historic structures
may have helped ensure that its own future is bright.
Along with three other members of the community, the nearly five-year-old
all-volunteer, non-profit group elected Santa Monica's former
City Manager, Susan
McCarthy, to its board.
"I come from a part of the country that has a longer tradition
of preservation than Los Angeles and the surrounding area,"
said McCarthy, who hails from Washington, D.C. "I live in
Santa Monica and care what happens to its past."
Keeping a decidedly "low-profile" over the last year
-- and enjoying some travel time with her husband, a RAND employee
-- this is the first time McCarthy has taken part in any high-profile
public service since she left her post in 2005.
"One of the key objectives when I left office was to stay
out of the way of everyone for a while,” said McCarthy,
who retired in November 2005 after six years as City Manager.
“When you are done, you are done."
Now, McCarthy -- who helped steer Santa Monica through some of
its toughest times with a trademark low-key style -- said she
would try to become more involved with the advocacy group.
"I hope to be involved in the programs and activities of
the Conservancy, yet as a former City employee, certain things
I will not be involved in, being that there is a prohibition of
certain advocacies," she said.
The group has taken a position on a number of issues and formed
Friends of 415 PCH, which pushed to convert the former Marion
Davies Estate into a public beach club.
many of its members played a key role in opposing a failed 2003
initiative that that would have required the go-ahead from
an owner before a single-family home could be designated a landmark
or included in a historic district.
“We will carry on with our work through the current development
boom, creating a more modern city whose historic past remains
intact and treasured,” the conservancy’s Web site
McCarthy, who said she believes in the group and its goals, recognizes
she must walk a fine line when it comes to her role with the group.
"As an example, I won't be before the City Council advocating
anything over the course of the next year," she said. "I'm
going to be a listener in the beginning… and I think it's
fair to say I can't be involved in any advocacy."
She may, however, join some activities, such as fundraisers and
workshops, McCarthy said.
Preserving historic structures in a City inundated with the pressures
of growth is important, the former City Manager said.
"The value of land in Santa Monica is very high, and I believe
my role as part of the conservancy is not to stop good things
from coming into the community and the needed things from coming
in, but to help raise awareness of the importance of preserving
the past," she said.
Still, any preservation efforts must be conducted within the
city's "framework" of zoning codes and elected and appointed
bodies, she said.