New Year's Hopes for a Better L. A.

A new year being a time of renewed hope, the following is a list of my hopes concerning select local architecture and planning items and issues:

--That community planning boards be established across Los Angeles, to hold public hearings and to make recommendations regarding revisions in local plans, delivery of local services and, most critically, proposed major projects.

There are, of course, problems with such boards, especially if dominated by special interests or demagogues. But, with the proper support, the boards also have great potential to provide responsible participation in a planning process that needs to be more sensitive to the city's diverse neighborhoods.

I also hope that the board members will be selected from among the current web of established neighborhood groups and institutions in an open procedure involving the City Council, city Planning Commission and mayor's office, and not be anointed behind closed doors, or elected in what surely would be local donnybrooks, manipulated by political or real estate interests.

--That the "Pedestrian Bill of Rights" proposed by Councilmen Michael Woo and Marvin Braude be considered by the council more than a sympathetic statement to be approved and then filed away like so many other resolutions. But that it be a preamble, as intended, to specific actions, such as encouraging street vendors and sidewalk cafes, planting and preserving more street trees and promoting the development of housing nearer places of work. What we are talking about here is a more livable city.

--That the promised design advisory panel be established to aid the city's Cultural Affairs Commission in its review of major municipal projects, and in the process, generally raise the city's design consciousness.

However, so that the panel will not become a vehicle for self-interest, fads or favoritism, and be mired in tenure, appointments should be for a limited time and be rotated. The panel also should include a landscape architect, a planner and a preservationist, in addition to the already indicated selection of well-connected architects and well-intentioned academics.

--That a viable reuse be found for the threatened remnants of the Pan Pacific Auditorium, to serve both the adjacent Fairfax community by generating needed activity, and the broader community by restoring a national landmark. To its credit, the county, spurred by Supervisor Ed Edelman, has displayed a commendable patience in the continuing effort to save at least the sculpted Streamline Moderne-styled facade of the 1935 structure.

--That the proposed renovation of the Million Dollar Theatre and the Grand Central Market on Broadway be funded, either by city-backed bonds or another imaginative financial vehicle. The marvelously ornate theater and the flavorful market are the heart and soul of downtown, evocative reminders of the district's proud past, persevering present and hopeful future.

Whatever it takes to save these historic landmarks must be done, and now, before some sort of desperate situation arises, such as an imminent closing or a threatened demolition. It would be nice, on occasion, to take preventive action to save landmarks, instead of seemingly always reacting to a crisis.

--That the Getty Trust stop acting like a phlegmatic federal bureaucracy, break out of its self serving academic shell and, in keeping with the public intent of the tax laws by which it is governed, implement its promised architectural preservation program. To save art, sometimes you have to get your hands dirty.

--That the region's myriad local governments and community groups explore and encourage the development of needed new housing that does not necessitate the destruction of existing housing, and that preserves and enhances neighborhoods.

What I am talking about here are more projects like the senior citizen and handicapped persons complex built in combination with a food shop and a parking garage in Beverly Hills on what previously had been a municipal parking lot, or, more modestly, a few imaginatively designed units being tucked here and there above and behind retail strips and on odd vacant parcels.

What we don't need is, when such a concept is proposed, as was in the the mixed-use Edgemar proposal in Santa Monica's Ocean Park, that it be defeated by a few hysterical residents and a gutless city government. If we want to reduce traffic, it is time some employee housing be built in conjunction with such developments.

What we also don't need is the heedless destruction of homes by the Los Angeles Unified School District so that it can expand its facilities. My hope for the new year is that the district and, in particular, its bureaucracy and consultants, use some imagination in the planning and design of the facilities to minimize the disruption of neighborhoods.

It is depressing to think that at a time when individuals and families have been made homeless by a tightening housing market, the district would even consider destroying houses to provide, among other things, off-street parking for teachers and administrators.

--That the spirit of Bertram Goodhue visit all parties involved in the ambitious plan to rehabilitate and expand the historic Central Library and that their egos subside and the project move forward.

I, for one, am getting a little tired of the petty politics, and feel if the issues can't be resolved, soon a pin be stuck in the ballooning project, and the library simply be tastefully restored as a downtown branch facility and the central services and resources be located elsewhere, such as in its present, temporary facilities.

--There are numerous other hopes I have for the new year. These include that Grand Hope Park become a park and Pershing Square be squared away, that the Brentwood Country Mart be preserved, that the dreams for Windward Circle in Venice become realities, that the bottom line on city-instigated projects such as North 1st Street in Little Tokyo, not be the dollar return but livability; indeed that more community-sensitive standards be applied to all projects.

As for the architecture and planning communities, my hope is that the spaces they design be for people who use them, not an ego trip for themselves, or to impress peers or award juries.

I have tried in my listing to be optimistic, knowing full well that still at large, misshaping the cityscape is the usual cast of greedy developers, pandering politicians, civil serpents, bungling bureaucrats, egomaniacal architects and self-centered and self-serving community groups.

Helping is that I know that out there in the wilderness are also conscientious developers and politicians, dedicated civil servants and user-sensitive architects and socially responsible community groups. May they, and common sense and common decency, persevere in the new year.

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