“Leo” at the Broad and history that repeats

I’m rushing to get this posted this Sunday morning to alert any readers who don’t have plans this afternoon that they should try to get tickets to see “LEO” at the Broad Stage in one of its two remaining performances (at 1:00 and 4:00). My wife and I saw it last night and we were mesmerized. I mean it’s not every day that you see gravity turned 90 degrees.

Whenever I attend an event at the Broad, which is part (the biggest part) of the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, I can’t help but think about Santa Monica politics, because ten or so years ago the small theater (about 500 seats) was a political football. A few nearby neighbors worried that it would generate traffic, some saying it was out of scale and would destroy the neighborhood, and most of the City Council opposed building it. (This was in the context of overall difficult relations between the City and the College at the time, which fortunately are much better today.)

Yesterday I was also thinking historically for other reasons, and not only because I’ve written a couple of posts recently on recent history in Santa Monica in response to the Jeff Tumlin affair. But I was with some people involved in local politics and the general consensus was that never had public anger been so great about development.

As I left the Broad last night I thought about this and I realized I had to disagree. I only became involved in politics here in the early ’90s and so I missed all the “important stuff” in the late ’70s and ’80s when Santa Monica politics fundamentally changed with rent control and the initial moratorium on development and down-zoning and the ban on hotels along the beach, but even in the ’90s I’d say that the anti-development arguments were more strident than today.

Today at least the anti-development energies are focused on big projects, or a large accumulation of smaller projects. One can agree or disagree, either in general or on a project-by-project basis, but there’s nothing irrational about being concerned about 35 projects in the development agreement pipeline.

Contrast that with the ’90s, when I first became involved in local politics as a member of the Board of Directors of the Ocean Park Community Organization. Yes, there was a big project, the Civic Center Plan, that was controversial, and after the earthquake there was the rebuilding of St. John’s Hospital that was the focus for much debate (but did anyone think that the hospital shouldn’t be rebuilt?), but what I remember vividly about the ’90s were long public battles that seem incomprehensible now: like whether to build a new elementary school in Ocean Park (for John Muir and SMASH), or build the Project New Hope AIDS housing on Ocean Avenue, or the Ralph’s Market on Olympic. And after those, the Broad Stage controversy.

I recall some of the people who opposed those projects and some of the rhetoric, and let me say — it was a colorful time.

As I said, I only became involved about 20 years ago, and I never considered myself an old-timer, but I’m starting to think of myself that way. A lot of people only now becoming involved in Santa Monica politics act as if they are raising concerns that have never been of concern to anyone before. But when you study history, you find out that it’s often repeated.

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