Rod Gould addresses the crowd at Santa Monica Talks in November. (Photo from City of Santa Monica)
Rod Gould addresses the crowd at Santa Monica Talks in November. (Photo from City of Santa Monica)

At the end of this month, Santa Monica City Manager Rod Gould will retire, rounding out five years of service in the bayside city and a three decade career in city management. Santa Monica Next sat down with Gould to talk about the last five years, his plans for the future, and the challenges facing Santa Monica. This is part two of Next’s two-part interview with Gould. You can read part one, “The Politics of Abundance,” here.

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You have these two generations that have fundamentally different views of what Santa Monica should be. The City Council needs to make decisions that support the long-term residents, the new residents, and those who have yet to be born or come to this city… because many of these decisions will have 40 or 50 year ramifications.
[/pullquote]Santa Monica Next: What about Santa Monica has surprised you the most?

Rod Gould: One of the things I did not see occurring in 2010 is the generational cleavage that is going on now. The mayor talked about it in his State of the City speech. Our long-term residents are asserting themselves very loudly, very insistently that the city needs to look inward, needs to avoid change, needs to say no to development and new opportunities, needs to focus on the long-term residents. That’s understandable.

At the same time, we have this influx of young people who are coming here for the job opportunities, particularly in the tech sector, and for the quality of life and the ambiance of this city.

They are willing to invest heavily in terms of their time to build this new society. They live differently than their parents. They don’t buy the American Dream quite the same way their parents did.

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So, you have these two generations that have fundamentally different views of what Santa Monica should be. The City Council needs to make decisions that support the long-term residents, the new residents, and those who have yet to be born or come to this city… because many of these decisions will have 40 or 50 year ramifications.

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That’s something that, I like to think, has been part and parcel of Santa Monica, which if you look at its ideology over time, has often been very altruistic. I would hate to see the city move away from some of these values… out of fear of change, out of fear of traffic congestion, or overdevelopment, or whatever the evil is that you’re concerned about.
[/pullquote]SMN: You’ve mentioned the Athenian Code in several of your recent speeches. Can you expand on that?

RG: The early citizens of Athens took such pride in their city that they all swore an oath to it. The oath has many pieces, but what it boils down to is that it says, “We will leave this city not only not lesser, but greater and more beautiful than we found it.”

I think that’s the communitarian ideal. That’s doing for others, who you will never meet, a favor. That’s something that, I like to think, has been part and parcel of Santa Monica, which if you look at its ideology over time, has often been very altruistic.

I would hate to see the city move away from some of these values… out of fear of change, out of fear of traffic congestion, or overdevelopment, or whatever the evil is that you’re concerned about.

We have lots of cities that are just pleased to provide a modicum of basic municipal services. This city goes so much further. It strives for so much more and it takes on regional and systemic issues that other cities can only talk about.

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We have lots of cities that are just pleased to provide a modicum of basic municipal services. This city goes so much further. It strives for so much more and it takes on regional and systemic issues that other cities can only talk about.
[/pullquote]SMN: Santa Monica, in many ways, has the opportunity to make a profound impact on the region. People who don’t live here are impacted by the decisions Santa Monica makes. How do you get people to start thinking regionally?

RG: It’s hard for most people, with their busy lives, to think for even a few minutes daily about what should their local government be doing. I don’t blame them for not focusing on it. Life is very demanding. And, it’s even harder for them to think about what should the governments, plural, in their region should be doing and doing together. Santa Monica has an opportunity to play a larger role.

Part of it is, do our elected officials share their talents with the region? We’ve seen, in recent years, [City Councilmember] Pam O’Connor play major leadership roles on regional bodies, like the Southern California Association of Governments, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Expo board, and the League of California Cities.

The other area is by modeling behavior, experimenting and developing new solutions to old problems. There, Santa Monica has been leading for a long time and I think can become even more of a beacon city, shining a light for others.

For example, the President gave the State of the Union address on Tuesday. Buried in that State of the Union address was a call to let local governments compete directly with telecommunication companies for broadband service.

Currently, that’s discouraged under the law in California and is outright banned in 22 states. Santa Monica has built its own broadband network and is outcompeting the private sector, providing faster service at a lower cost, which allows it to attract some companies that would otherwise not look at us.

Santa Monica has struggled with homeless issues for year and come up with the housing-first model as the best way to deal with the homeless in our midst. Many communities are now buying into that and making that their paradigm.

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It has been both a privilege and an honor, and, for the most part, a pleasure to live and work in this special city. I will never forget it; it’s been the pinnacle of my career and I’ve given it everything I had for five years and I like to think Santa Monica’s a little better for it.
[/pullquote]The city is now experimenting with ways to get to the most at-risk, disaffected young people in the wake of the tragedy of June 2013. The Youth Resource Team and the Cradle to Career initiatives where all the institutions and nonprofits and community leaders share their resources and information to have the greatest impact on the individuals who need it the most. That is going to bear fruit.

Many of the other transit agencies didn’t really alter their services of the coming of [Expo] Light Rail. As you’ve seen, we’ve put forth proposals that will completely change how we provide bus service in order to link up seamlessly with the train.

Trying to divorce ourselves from reliance on landfills and go to zero waste is an awfully bold initiative. We may only get to 95 percent diversion from landfills, but if we get there, we’ll be one of the few communities in the world that can do that.

Weaning ourselves off of imported water completely and relying strictly on groundwater and recycled water and conservation to meet the water needs of this community. That will also be a pathbreaking thing if we can pull that off.

It’s things like that that Santa Monica can do that other cities can look at and say, “There’s at least a roadmap. That city has figured it out. It’s not impossible.”

We should be the ones experimenting, innovating, taking the best ideas from other cities, wherever they should be in the world, and using them to improve services, sustainability and safety. That’s the promise and potential of this city.

SMN: What is next for you?

RG: Since making the announcement, I’ve had inquiries from a number of universities, think tanks, firms, to do teaching, training, or consulting. My wise colleagues who have been through this before say, “Rod, don’t make any decisions for three or four months. Walk around in the world as nobody’s city manager. Figure out what’s really important to you before you commit to new work.”

The four criteria that I will use to evaluate these very enticing offers are: is it working with people I really like and admire?; is it doing things that I think are important?; does it allow me the time to have more balance in my life?; and is it fun?

Those are the four things to decide amongst the options out there and I will craft the next phase of my career accordingly.

SMN: Do you think you’ll stay in town?

RG: No, I have moved my wife five times in my career. She has been a trooper. She has made homes for our family wherever we’ve been. When I took the job in Santa Monica, I promised her that this was my last city management job and when it was finished, she could decide where we would live together.

She would like to return to northern California. She grew up in L.A., but she went to Cal [Berkeley] and we met in San Francisco. Our daughters just graduated from college in San Francisco and want to remain there, so we’re going back to Marin County where we did most of our child rearing.

SMN: Any closing thoughts?

RG: It has been both a privilege and an honor, and, for the most part, a pleasure to live and work in this special city. I will never forget it; it’s been the pinnacle of my career and I’ve given it everything I had for five years and I like to think Santa Monica’s a little better for it.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.