A decision by the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission to reject plans for a Korean War memorial at a city park in San Pedro has left veterans and their backers--including a top aide to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley--wondering what happened and trying to figure out their next move.
“I just don’t understand how we were all blind-sided on this,” said Bea Canterbury Lavery, the Bradley aide who has been coordinating the memorial effort. “I’m just appalled at what happened.”
The commissioners’ vote was a harsh lesson in city government for the veterans, who apparently believed that the strong support of the mayor was all they needed to build their monument where they wanted: at Angels Gate Park, on a slope between the Korean Friendship Bell and the Pacific Ocean.
Said Jack Stites, who chairs the memorial committee: “I feel totally betrayed. . . . I guess I was stupid to think that we had something that we obviously didn’t. I have letters from city officials, including the mayor, saying, ‘The site is yours, go build your monument,’ and suddenly we find that that’s not the case.”
A spokeswoman for the mayor said Friday that while Bradley remains supportive of the monument effort and would like to see it built, he will not intervene on the veterans’ behalf.
“He says the Cultural Affairs decision stands and he does not plan on going in and telling Cultural Affairs to approve a design that it rejected,” said spokeswoman Lydia Shayne.
By a unanimous 5-0 vote, the commission decided Thursday that the current design of the monument, which features a bronze sculpture of a dozen larger-than-life soldiers in battle, is inappropriate for the site near the bell.
In so doing, commissioners adopted the position of the Friends of the Friendship Bell, a community group that has opposed the monument on the grounds that it glorifies war and would destroy the integrity of the bell.
“I’m ecstatic,” said group member Colleen Clement of the commission’s decision.
The city panel’s action leaves the veterans with three main options: They may propose the sculpture for another site, propose a different sculpture for the bell site, or try to take their monument to another city.
None of those options are truly palatable for the veterans. Stites said they have already spent more than $250,000 on the site design and have a commitment to the sculptor, Terry Jones of Newtown, Pa., who has begun work on the project.
Stites, who represents a nationwide group of veterans called the Chosin Few--after the Chosin Reservoir battle--said he is not sure what his group will do. He said he will likely recommend that the veterans find another host city or drastically alter the design of their monument.
“I personally believe that this design would not be accepted for any location within the city of Los Angeles,” Stites said. He said he believes it is most important to place a monument next to the bell. But he said he suspects the majority of the veterans he represents would choose to keep the design and find a new site.
The Cultural Affairs Commission is one of three city bodies that must approve the monument if it is to be built at Angels Gate Park. The others are the state Coastal Commission--the park lies within the coastal zone--and the city Recreation and Parks Commission.
Recreation and parks officials had planned a public hearing for 7 p.m. Thursday in San Pedro to hear public comment on its decision not to do a full environmental impact report on the veterans’ proposal. Alan Tolkoff of Friends of the Friendship Bell said Saturday that the group is assuming that the public hearing will be held and is preparing to address in full the environmental impact of the monument.
However, it is now not clear whether that hearing will occur. Joel Breitbart, assistant general manager of the department, said officials are waiting to hear from the veterans before deciding how to proceed.
One reason the veterans are so dumbfounded over the Cultural Affairs Commission decision is that the commission had approved the concept of the memorial three years ago, when the scale of the sculpture was considerably larger than it is now.
Although the veterans had since switched sculptors, both Stites and Lavery said they expected approval to be routine because the current design is very similar to the one approved in 1986.
In addition, the monument had already received preliminary approval from the Recreation and Parks Commission, and a recent report issued by the recreation and parks staff recommended that the commission give full approval to the project.
“We had the support of the bureaucracy, and I just don’t understand what’s gone wrong,” said Lavery.
Nicole Lupo, the executive assistant to the Cultural Affairs Commission, said she, too, was surprised that the Cultural Affairs Commission came out so strongly against the memorial. She said she expected the commissioners to make design suggestions to the veterans, rather than vote to kill the project.
“But,” she said, “clearly they felt that it had to be nipped in the bud because the site was so inappropriate to them.”