TPR endorses Bobby Shriver's election June 3rd for Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to succeed Zev Yaroslavsky in the Third District. From land-use planning to transportation, infrastructure investment, economic development, and the environment, Shriver’s vision and skill set is one of innovation and principled engagement. In an exclusive interview, less than two weeks before the election, we ask the candidate and former Santa Monica mayor for his views on issues central to his campaign and to TPR readers, specifically: the Purple Line extension, LAX, the 405, and quality of life.
“The most important thing in any son of Measure R legislation would be for the Valley to get its fair share.” —Bobby Shriver
“My dad always taught me, ‘Never take the credit but always get the job done.’” —Bobby Shriver
A $2 billion commitment to fully fund the long-awaited extension of the Purple Line subway into Los Angeles’ traffic-choked Westside was announced this morning in Washington. Does such news meet with your approval? If so, is it your intent to assume from Zev, if elected his successor, the mantle of LA County political leadership on further transportation investments?
I’m thrilled with it. Zev and so many other people worked for so many years to get it done. It’s going to revolutionize the Westside. As for the second question, it’s a little daunting to try to pick that mantle up from Zev, because he and Vivian both have done such a brilliant job. I’m going to do the best I can, but I hope to do as good a job as Zev. He has had some pretty amazing accomplishments. $2 billion, with all those stations and access to public transit!
Candidates while campaigning for Supervisor of the Third District this week differed on the route of the Purple Line—unfortunately at the 11th hour and 59th minute of the federal government’s funding decision. Perhaps both the substance and timing of the candidate remarks will assist voters to distinguish—both substantively and in regards to personal courage—between the leading candidates for county supervisor. Could you comment?
Yes, I said then and I reiterate—reflecting my respect for the work that Zev, Vivian, and numerous safety experts have done on the routing—that this has already been settled. The route takes into account earthquake fault lines and other significant concerns. Sheila Kuehl said that there might be a “third way,” and/or that the route under Santa Monica Blvd. might be preferable. We all have enough experience with these federal processes to know that if you start studying new routes, the financing gets delayed. If the financing gets delayed in this world, it doesn’t get delayed a week—it can get delayed years.
Bobby, you’ve indicated in your campaigning that you’re in favor of not only the Purple Line to West LA, but also plans to connect the Valley to the rest of the region, connect rail to LAX, and finish the 405 improvements. Can you elaborate on your transportation investment agenda?
I think that’s a pretty good summary of it. I’ve traveled around in the Valley a lot, and that idea of connecting to LAX is a big one. Many people there favor the north-south connectors to reach LAX. The most important thing in any son of Measure R legislation would be for the Valley to get its fair share. I think people feel that they did not get their fair share in Measure R. Whether that is correct or not, for the voters to pass a second version, it’s going to have to include very specific allocations for Valley-based projects, which I completely support. As bad as the 405 is, the 101 is pretty bad—and the Orange Line is at capacity, as you know. Clearly, the demand for the service is there. There’s no question about ridership.
David, I got an idea from the President of CSUN and from my experience in Santa Monica for a near-term traffic reducer. Kids in the community college districts or even in the state university districts could be allowed to use their IDs to ride Metro for free. We did that with the Big Blue Bus in Santa Monica, and it has been a wild success. That could be done in the very near term for very modest amounts of money. The goal is to combine long-term solutions with near-term fixes that cut traffic.
The Planning Report has focused for a quarter century on smart growth and regional livability. In Santa Monica, where you were mayor, the city adopted a much-lauded land use and circulation element, with the tag line, “Maintaining the character of Santa Monica, while enhancing the lifestyle of all who live there.” How does Santa Monica’s success inform your approach to the challenge of being an LA County supervisor, and shape your understanding of the affect a local government can have for 1 million people living in 2,653 square miles of unincorporated LA?
As you know, in the Third District, the unincorporated areas of Topanga and Malibu are not highly developed for transit and their neighborhood character should be maintained. In Santa Monica, we tried to up-zone the areas around the transit stops in order to increase density there, mixed-use development, and so forth, which has been successful elsewhere in the country.
We find a lot of young people want smaller units, they don’t want parking, or they want one parking spot instead of two. To the extent they live near transit with access to employment, life for them could be easier and very different than when we grew up. We have found that to be the case in Santa Monica, and to the extent that I have areas in my district where these questions arise, I’m very persuaded by the facts of a particular neighborhood. I’m a fact-based decision maker and I think the smart-growth facts are pretty strong, as long as you focus on quality of life.
Your experience prior to serving in local government includes being an entrepreneur, both in the private sector and in service of philanthropic goals. How might this experience affect your approach to such county priorities as job creation and economic development?
The number one thing in the private sector is to have the most excellent people working with you on your team. I think I’ve had a pretty long record of attracting excellent people, forming teams, getting a vision, and executing against that vision. I think that kind of experience is valuable.
There are a lot of public-private-sector partnerships that can be done on various matters facing the county. There’s a lot of entrepreneurial energy out there, if we’re able to let it loose. I think I’ve had a record of doing that. There’s been discussion in this race of experience, and I have a lot more of that type of experience—attracting capital; forming teams; figuring out who the smart people are, and not trying to micro-manage them but letting them succeed and be accountable.
I’ve had success in my private-sector career, and I have to say, even in my public-sector career—the most important decision that the Santa Monica City Council makes is hiring the City Manager. If you’ve made a mistake of that, you’ve really got a problem on your hands. We did not make the mistake—we made two excellent hires while I was there. It’s an underestimated task of the supervisors to make sure that the people running the big departments are great. Dr. Katz is a good example of a terrific hire in the health-services area of the county’s work. There are other places where new department heads are needed and we have to make great hires there.
You served as chairman of the State Parks Commission—an appointee of two Governors, one a Democrat and one a Republican. As an example, perhaps, of personal courage in public life, you stood up to your appointing authority on a matter of principle on at least one occasion. Could you elaborate on what you did and learned?
First, for the record, Governor Davis appointed me originally, and my former brother-in-law re-appointed me. By the time I was serving under Governor Schwarzenegger, I had significant experience with the issues that came before the commission.
In this case, a toll road in San Diego County was proposed. The idea was to build a freeway through a state park that was heavily used by middle-income and lower-income people, and across a surf beach that’s the only one in the United States where national championships are held—Trestles Surf Beach. That was such a bad idea that, giving due deference to the governor’s office (which I did do), the Parks Commission could not support it.
We voted unanimously against it. There were many Republican members on that commission, including the vice chairman—the one and only Clint Eastwood. Then we opposed it at the Coastal Commission. We worked with then Attorney General and now State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who has endorsed me. After we successfully opposed it at the Coastal Commission, Governor Schwarzenegger fired both Mr. Eastwood and me, as you alluded to.
It’s a thing in our family that if you really believe in something, you have to go for it no matter who it’s going to agitate. You have to listen to everybody. But once I know who my client is—which in that case was the middle-income people using the open space that the road would have taken from them—I knew that I had to stand up for them. I also knew that the widening of the 5 Freeway could accomplish a lot of the same objectives of the toll road, and that the agency agitating for the toll road didn’t want to do that or wasn’t structured to. It was a bad structural situation as well as a bad policy situation.
To conclude, many presentations by candidates for office include promises of what they will do. But most seasoned observers of the legislative and elective process pay greater attention to whether candidates for office have the capacity to bring all interested parties together “to row as one” intelligently in the same direction through implementation. Do you have the patience to listen to your constituencies, and to negotiate with all of those involved to get to goal over 12 years on: safety-net service priorities, land-use planning and infrastructure investment, and economic development?
You’re assuming I’d be re-elected twice, which is a great assumption—thank you very much.
Yes, I think I’ve proved that. I worked on legislation in Washington that required Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, and required the Republican president of the United States to sign it. I was able, with the colleagues on my teams there, to get President Bush’s signature and pass legislation for HIV in Africa through Congress. I think that’s pretty good proof that I have the patience, the deal-making capacity, and the lobbying capacity to see that other people have good points. That’s the most important thing—to be able to see that some of your opponents’ points are actually smarter than your own.
Once you can establish that level of respect and intellectual honesty, people want to work with you because they see you’re really trying to achieve an objective rather than boost your own reputation. My dad always taught me, “Never take the credit but always get the job done.” I think he did that very well. Look at his career—my goodness! Head Start, the PeaceCorps, the Legal Services Corporation—the things he invented in the War on Poverty were, and continue to be, spectacular public policy accomplishments. I hope that, if I have a tenth of his intelligence and energy, I’ll be able to do similarly good things for the county.
Former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg—"I, like The Planning Report, have endorsed Bobby Shriver to succeed Zev both because at a time when the world is changing rapidly, local government more than ever needs an entrepreneurial viewpoint...creative thinkers to press service delivery reforms; and, because he's the kind of person—it's just the nature of his personality—who will show up repeatedly in the Valley and the Westside."