PATT MORRISON ASKS

Rick J. Caruso: A work in progress

Send them to my neighborhood!

Maybe your neighborhood does, but we're going to survive in Brentwood without [it]. Be a leader. Make tough choices. Reallocate the budget. No different than you would do in a business.

You cast yourself as socially moderate, fiscally conservative, in the Schwarzenegger mold.

I call myself a pragmatist. I think the parties are a bunch of hullabaloo. I don't really stick with party lines. I don't think life comes in a box, so don't put every issue in a box.

And you're supporting Democrat Jerry Brown for governor -- a former governor, attorney general and Oakland mayor.

That's what really got me focusing on the importance a mayor can make in a city. I think Jerry did a great job in Oakland. Great job. And that's why I'm going to support him as governor. And I'm going to probably piss off a lot of my Republican friends, which is fine. But Jerry -- I'm eager to see him have a chance. He's a great guy. He's a fun guy. Very smart.

Critics of the Grove and the Americana say they turn their backs on the real city street.

I don't think I turn my back on the streets. We've created a street within the city. We don't have some rule that we turn our back on the street, but we do want to create energy in a confined space. There's areas I would love to redo. On the way home, I drove through Westwood -- dead. It just broke my heart. What a waste. Westwood should be a great thriving district, but now you've got a bunch of junk, just junk.

Would you ever build something like the Grove in South L.A.?

I would love to. I would love to build something in East L.A. You've got to build something successful or you're not doing a favor to that community. We've looked; we haven't found the right opportunity, but I would love to do it, absolutely.

What's necessary to make that a success?

You've got to buy the land at the right price. You've got to get the right entitlements. The right retailers to serve that community. You've got to get enough customers to use it, spend money, support the rents. A lot of very low to moderate income areas really thrive. I think if conceived right it can be done. East L.A., Boyle Heights, I just haven't found the right areas.

Your critics also say your developments are cookie-cutter. Do you want every part of town to look like Rick Caruso did it?

Oh God, no. That would get stale and boring. You've got to have it mixed up a little bit.

The writer Pete Hamill went on and on to me about how great it is to just walk downstairs to get coffee and a newspaper in New York City. I told him that in L.A., when you live close enough to walk to the store, it's time to move.

That's what we have to get away from. At the Americana, the whole idea [is] people can walk downstairs, grab a paper, go to the movies, go to dinner, shop. You shouldn't have to get in your car. I don't think it's for everybody, but a big group of people want to live in that environment.

The recession's making a dent in recreational shopping. Will people retreat from these spaces?

I think people are going to be careful with their money for a long time, which they should be, but people are thirsting for a sense of community and an environment that somehow enriches them. Give that to them and they'll respond mightily, because it's pretty, it's clean, it's fun, it's alive. A mall becomes much more destination shopping. You're not hanging around four or five hours like you would at the Grove.

They're technically private property. Has the line between public and private been blurred?

If we do our job right, it's blurred. It should be mostly seamless.

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