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Bobby Shriver Says Goodbye to Santa Monica City Council

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

December 27, 2012 -- When Bobby Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family, ran for a seat on Santa Monica's City Council, he wasn't planning on changing the world. He was angry that the City had told him he had to trim his hedge.

The anti-hedge ordinance, which had been on the books since 1947, hadn't been enforced. But on a Friday in November of 2003, Shriver received a notice that if he didn't trim his hedges back by Wednesday, it would cost him up to $25,000 a day.

“This was not the only dumb thing the city was doing. They were doing other dumb things and abusing their power in other dumb ways,” he said. “It was part of a culture that existed.”

“If people don't have competition, they get arrogant and they exercise power in arrogant ways,” a fact, he said, which is confirmed repeatedly throughout history.

And, Shriver said, the City government in 2003 didn't have enough competition.

During his eight years on the Council, not only did Shriver help overturn the hedge ordinance, he was a driving force behind providing housing for the homeless and was widely viewed as having a keen eye for budget analysis, often questioning City staff about the finer details of budget planning.

Shriver attended his last Council meeting as a Council member on November 28, after deciding not to run for reelection. He sat down with The Lookout at a Starbucks on Montana Avenue to look back at his eight-year career as a Council member.

Shriver is the son of the late Sargent Shriver, who worked closely with former President John F. Kennedy and later became known as the architect of former President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs, and the late Eunice Kennedy, one of the founders of the Special Olympics and Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center for Community of Caring.

Despite boasting such a prestigious political pedigree, Shriver had not planned to follow in his parents' footsteps, eschewing politics for entrepreneurial pursuits.

“I wanted to find smart people and try to do something wild,” he told The Lookout. “I was 50! I had no interest in running for office.”

If you want to make a run for office, he said, you had better do it before you are 50.

But by the time the Council voted to reconsider the infamous hedge ordinance in June 2004, Shriver found himself at the head of an informal committee advocating for rescinding the law.

“We'd go and meet with Richard Bloom and Ken Genser,” he said. “We wanted the existing hedges to be grandparented.”

But when it didn't sound like that was going to happen, Shriver decided to listen to the people who had been encouraging him to run for Council.

“You could feel in the street... that people wanted” a change, he said.

So Shriver decided to run independently, foregoing the endorsements of established political organizations like Santa Monicans for Renters' Rights, one of the City's most powerful groups.

“If you sought the endorsement of every person, you couldn't get 'em because them is us!” he said. “I didn't have an ideology. I was just pissed.”

Shriver won an unprecedented victory, finishing first in 59 of the City's 66 precincts and in November 2004, a year after his then-brother-in-law, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was sworn is as governor of California, Shriver became Santa Monica's newest City Council member.

Now the City and the Council “had to deal with the fact that by their behavior and arrogance, they had produced this council member,” Shriver said.

Though his frustration with the hedge ordinance started Shriver on his political path, trying to address homelessness became one of his enduring passions.

“During the campaign, I got very interested in homelessness,” he said. “As I talked to people, people said this is the really big issue.”

While on the Council, Shriver helped move Santa Monica in the direction of adopting best practices for addressing homelessness, including a housing-first approach, which seeks to get people into supportive housing first and then attempts to address their other mental and physical health issues.

The Veteran Affairs complex in Westwood was another concern for Shriver.

“I got emotionally interested in it and went to the VA and saw the empty buildings,” he said.

The VA's 387-acre parcel was deeded in 1888 specifically to provide housing for returning soldiers, according to a lawsuit by the ACLU. However, the land is used by Enterprise Rent-a-Car, a charter bus company, a hotel laundry facility, the UCLA baseball team and Brentwood School.

Though the VA campus does have over 100 buildings itself, many of them are vacant or not used to capacity.

Shriver spent most of his eight years on the Council lobbying to get more housing facilities built for returning vets on the property, but the process has moved at a glacial pace.

He was surprised at how intractable the situation actually was.

“You gotta really study who's invested in a situation as it is to get it to change,” he said. “That's a big lesson” about politics.

Though he is leaving the Santa Monica political scene, Shriver hopes that his legacy will encourage people to look at the financial side of socially progressive programs.

Social programs “are actually quite cheap but they look expensive because (people) don't see the trade-off,” he said.

The guy with the shopping cart on the street doesn't look like he's costing the City anything, Shriver said, but if you take into account police cost, hospital cost, he might cost $100,000 a year whereas housing him might cost only $35,000 a year.

It's “much cheaper to house people than to keep them on the street,” he said.

Now Shriver is ready to let some new blood into the game.

“There's some smart people there, so creating some openings is a good thing,” he said. “I think making some young people come in with new ideas is good.”

He's still waiting to figure out what's next for him, but in the meantime, he'll be playing with his two daughters and spending time with his wife, whom he met in 1999.

“I'll be playing with my kid,” he said, while he waits to hear what God has in store for him next.

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