By Daniel Larios
August 11, 2014 – Having served on the Santa Monica City Council for 24 years with 17 different colleagues, Bob Holbrook has the distinction of being the longest-serving elected official in Santa Monica history.
Many political observers agree that the two-time Santa Monica mayor’s announcement on Thursday that he would not seek re-election marked the end of an era.
Holbrook – who has served without the backing of Santa Monica’s powerful tenants group, Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights – was widely viewed as an independent voice who held on to his convictions and grounded an often ideological council with his no-nonsense approach.
“Bob's retirement is truly the end of an era in Santa Monica's politics,” former mayor Paul Rosenstein, who served with Holbrook from 1992 to 2000, told the Lookout Friday. “Bob is the last of a once-vibrant opposition to SMRR.”
“Bob was always a class act,” said former mayor Mike Feinstein, who served with Holbrook on the City Council from 1996 to 2004. “Bob brought a sense of history and an unpretentious homespun set of values to our public policy making.”
Born at Santa Monica’s now-defunct St. Catherine's Hospital and educated in its local schools, Holbrook was one of the few native Santa Monicans in the past 30 years to serve on the dais.
“As a lifelong resident of Santa Monica, Bob brings a thoughtful, historical perspective to Council discussions,” Councilmember Gleam Davis told the Lookout Friday. “Although he knows and frequently shares wonderful stories of a bygone Santa Monica, he never lets himself or the City look backward.
“He repeatedly thinks about how the City could better serve future generations of Santa Monica residents,” Davis said.
Holbrook started his political career when he ran and won a seat on the School Board in 1983, serving two terms, including one as Board president.
That’s how Councilmember Kevin McKeown – who was then an activist learning to connect with other activists on Santa Monica’s pioneering Public Electronic Network -- first met his future colleague on the council.
“Bob was always gracious in sharing information and opinions in those intense local online forums, and I think that’s always been characteristic of Bob — from then, right through the sixteen years I’ve served on the City Council with him,” McKeown said.
“Bob is always affable, and never Machiavellian. You always know where Bob stands, and can be comfortable about it, even if you disagree.”
After eight years on the school board, Holbrook won a seat on the City Council in 1990, making him the only person to have served on both the school board and council.
For nearly three decades, Holbrook was one of the few council members who did not seek SMRR’s endorsement, often winning in close races with the backing of Santa Monica’s business community.
“While Bob and I had our differences, I never had reason to doubt his commitment to Santa Monica and his clear-headed passion about what he felt was best for the city,” Rosenstein said.
“I'm sure it was frustrating for Bob when he was in the minority, but it is also healthy for a majority to have to respond to dissenting views,” said Rosenstein, who was re-elected to the council without SMRR’s endorsement. “I know that Bob has also become irritated at the increasing polarization, cynicism and vitriol in our discourse.”
One of Holbrook’s main priorities while in the Council was fighting homelessness. In the mid-1990s when the Santa Monica was referred to as “the home of the homeless,” Holbrook led an effort to crack down on aggressive panhandling and sleeping in public parks, and he pushed for better accounting of City-funded homeless services.
Lately, Holbrook has been a vocal no vote on medical marijuana dispensaries, saying that allowing dispensaries in the City would be “problematic for Santa Monica.”
Holbrook was also instrumental in initiating plans for a new memorial wall at Woodlawn Cemetery honoring Santa Monica's war veterans who lost their lives while serving their country.
Holbrook is often considered too “pro-development” by slow-growth critics, who point out that the council member takes money from developers and votes for big projects.
But even political rivals on the dais can’t help but like the 72 year old grandfather of four.
“Bob provided a balance of perspective on many issues during his tenure on the Council and did so with a consistently collegial attitude and good nature,” Councilmember Ted Winterer told the Lookout.
“When he and I finished dozens of votes apart in November 2010, in an election that wasn't decided for another month, we chatted the day after the election about our predicament, laughed about an erroneous headline in a local paper and continued a friendly dialogue throughout the torturous process of counting absentee and provisional ballots,” Winterer said.
“That's the kind of stand up guy he is -- a mensch who should be recognized by all for his 32 years of tireless service to our community. I wish him well in his retirement from local politics.”
Holbrook cited many reasons for his decision to retire, mainly to spend more time with his family, help friend and former mayor Bobby Shriver get elected to the County Board of Supervisors and spend more time on his hobbies.
“I love Santa Monica history and have a nice collection of early (1900 to 1920) postcards of Santa Monica and Ocean Park,” Holbrook said in a 2005 interview with the Lookout.
“I collect and restore radios from the 1920's and 1930's and I drive my 1916 Model T Ford around town. If that isn't enough to keep me busy I am an avid USC sports fan.
Holbrook is also an avid whale watcher with many stories about his experiences.
“One time I was in a small bay in Ensenada, Mexico and three of them [whales] swam up to a group of people playing in the water, who didn’t see them coming,” Holbrook told the Lookout.
“When they did notice, I haven’t seen anyone run that fast out of the water in my life,” he chuckled.