Wednesday, October 27, 2010

All's Well That Ends Well - Saying Goodbye to the Daily Press

For four years, I've been a citizen journalist covering politics and pop culture in Santa Monica as a transplanted Bostonian. My artistic approach was to find space between Ralph Wiley and Charles Bukowski; and my philosophical approach was to try to capture Art Buchwald's longevity. Since you're reading the final installment of "Word In Edgewise," I've failed on that second one. But I know my body of work will compare well against the greats whose legacy I sought to honor — 900 carefully chosen words at a time.

I would have been kicked out of journalism school, if I'd ever attended, because I would have called my professors frauds every time they advised me to move on to a different question whenever a subject is jerking me around. Only jerks get jerked around, and I'm nobody's jerk. I have an Adlai Stevenson-esque level of commitment to the truth, so I'm prepared to wait for my answers until hell freezes over. At times, that makes me difficult to defend and impossible to support — a perceived character flaw I've learned to accept.

While the opinions of its columnists don't necessarily reflect the views of any publication, the columnist has an obligation to represent that publication well. I haven't always lived up to that responsibility in my private life and for that, I owe an apology to all the people on the Daily Press team who have sweated and toiled and smiled and dialed to keep me in paper and ink since 2006. I'm sorry, everybody.

That said, I am most proud of my work exposing the negligence of our City Council and its decades-long abdication of the responsibility to enforce the city ordinance that is the Development Agreement with the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas, covering one of the Sisters' 15 hospitals: Saint John's Health Center. And I won't apologize for breaking the story about the corruption in the political party that put most of those council members in place. My readers deserve to know the truth about their politics and their politicians.

The truth is that representatives from Saint John's have been lying to me since I attended my first community outreach meeting last August. I wrote then that my BS antennae had been activated, and it's been working overtime ever since; though now its more of a BS divining rod that keeps pulling me past the offices of Harding, Larmore, Kutcher, & Kozal, past the desks of Brad Misner and Eileen Fogarty in the Planning Department and straight into City Council chambers — where seven chairs are occupied by individuals who are probably guilty of one count of gross negligence for every 12-month period which has passed without a written review of, and determination of good faith compliance with, the Saint John's development agreement.

There is no dispute about the facts on which these charges are based. State law and Municipal Code require the council to review annually, thus be intimately familiar with, any and all development agreements with the city — not just Saint Johns' — and both require an annual determination of good faith compliance. Thanks to great reporting in this newspaper, we know that no such review had ever taken place before this year (for proof that your City Council has no knowledge of the agreement at all, ask about the Parking Operations Plan for the North Subterranean Parking Garage and watch for seven blank stares). Also reported in this newspaper, no such determination of good faith compliance has ever been made. In preparing the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), Planning Director Fogarty and her department had conducted what they called a thorough review and produced a big, beautiful, three-ring binder that claimed all development agreements were up to date and in compliance as of last November. She's singing a different tune now.

When I found out this column wouldn't be running any more, the front page headline in Santa Monica's newspaper of record read, "Several developers still out of compliance," and the editorial page said, "Time to get tough on DAs." The way I see it, if I had been wrong about anything I have reported, the record would have been corrected by now. The fact that it hasn't means we're on to something. This story has gotten the people's attention and I know I had something to do with that — as well as the recent re-review that revealed the truth to Ms. Fogarty and directly contradicted what was in her magic binder. Now the time has come for me to move on so that wherever this story goes, I can give it the respect it deserves in the form of a book-length exposé.

It's been a privilege and a pleasure to have this one-sided conversation with you. If I've done my job as an artist, I've made you care about something you didn't care about before through the stories I chose to cover in this column and the words I used in the process — and maybe even showed you something unexpected along the way. It's up to you now. You will only get the journalism and politics that you insist on, in Santa Monica and beyond, and I hope I've inspired you to demand more from your government and your journalists. Even though it seems scary, never forget that some things are more important than being afraid.


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