Few were surprised when Bobby Shriver won a seat on the Santa Monica City Council recently. After all, politics is the family business for the nephew of JFK, oldest son of Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, brother of Maria Shriver and brother-in-law of fellow Westsider and current California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The 17-year Santa Monica resident debuted in the electoral arena only after leading the charge in a local ruckus over municipal hedge-height limits, but at 50 Shriver has been honing his chops for years. He's raised more than $60 million as producer of the "A Very Special Christmas" albums for the Special Olympics, which started in 1962 in his parents' backyard. He is a co-founder of DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa), which has lobbied for more than $400 million in debt relief and helped secure a promise from President Bush to spend $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS in Africa. A Yale-educated lawyer, the newly minted councilman shared some thoughts in a room filled with highly recognizable family photos.
Why was the Santa Monica City Council race your first run for office?
If someone had told me at 40 that I would run at 50, I would have said, I don't think so. I felt I was getting done what I wanted, the way I wanted, while being of service, so to speak. It just wasn't an issue. It wasn't like I was opposed to running for office. At the time, I just didn't need to be in office.
You've mentioned Santa Monica's homelessness problem as a primary concern. What are your ideas for addressing this issue?
I'm working on two separate ideas. One would be the Sobering Center and one would be at the VA. The VA is a longer range, housing-with-services concept. There's already [a similar program] there called New Directions run by a woman who got an act of Congress to put it there. Across the street are three very large buildings that could [also] be converted to housing with services for veterans. Since 20% to 30% of homeless people in Santa Monica are reportedly veterans, that would be a good thing.
What would people in Brentwood say if a large group of homeless people was shifted to the VA premises?
The homeless in New Directions are there right now. They've had this there seven years and I don't think they've had any troubles. When [participants] get into these houses and all their services are there and their life is there, they're not off in the neighborhood. They're not the guys panhandling.
How do you deal with the subgroup of people on the streets who are chronic panhandlers?
The guys who are panhandling, I'm not an expert, but they are substance--alcohol and drug--abusers. They need to sober up. The VA [housing-with-services idea] is not for drunks. The idea of the Sobering Center is, you're in my doorway or my carport. What is done? Basically, nothing.
Panhandlers in your doorway are taken to jail, aren't they?
No. They can be arrested for public drunkenness, but they go right back out on the street.
We understand you practice yoga. What has it done for you?
I do Ashtanga, hot or power yoga. It's enabled me to calm down a lot; I was very hyper. The best teachers in yoga are looking at your mind, not your body. Not to be a Moonie about it. There's something to be said about daily practice in anything. It's a form of prayer, not supplicating God necessarily, but connecting privately to your own spirit.
What do you like best about Santa Monica?
I like the weird diversity of it. I like the gym guys. I like the surfboarders. I like the actors. It has a feeling, a flavor, like the rappers say.
What should Santa Monica look like in 10 years?
As close to the way it looks like now, if possible. I prefer not to think of it as the status quo, but to think of it as Paris looking as much as possible as it did in the 18th century.
Any thoughts of an L.A. mayoral run?
No. I don't want to be mayor. At least, I don't think I do. I like Santa Monica.