“We’re not planners, we’re doers,” Gil Cedillo repeats at campaign forums as he seeks election to the City Council’s 1st District seat against Jose Gardea. It’s a witty riposte to Gardea, who is seeking to succeed his boss of more than a decade, termed-out incumbent and professional urban planner Ed Reyes. Cedillo’s point is that under Reyes and Gardea, there has been too much talking, thinking and hand-wringing over tough urban issues and too little action — and that as a result there has been too little economic development in struggling neighborhoods like Pico-Union, Westlake and Lincoln Heights.
Clever and well calculated — but off the mark. Thinking, vision and, yes, planning have been good for the 1st District and good for Los Angeles and shouldn’t be shelved. The Times endorsed Gardea in the March 6 council primary and now does so again for the May 21 runoff.
Reyes and Gardea no doubt introduced a measure of wonkishness into City Hall, and that’s been a very good thing. They pointed Los Angeles toward a more rational future, rejecting (finally) a land-use template based on the demographics, the commuting patterns and the industry of a half-century ago. By no means has their work been all drawing-board stuff; MacArthur Park, formerly an open bazaar for drugs and a playground for gangs demanding protection money from local businesses, is now a safe, family-friendly district of small but thriving businesses with modern and affordable housing replacing squalid and cramped war-era apartments. Highland Park is becoming the hippest neighborhood in town, and long-moribund Chinatown is in the midst of a building boom. Tonier sections like Mount Washington retain their quiet leafiness, while new parks have been added all around the district and new housing has been focused around transit stops.
The district is moving in the right direction. No detour is needed.
Cedillo points to his work in the Assembly and state Senate helping to revitalize downtown, and indeed he was one of many who played a role, but the renaissance was by no means unique; downtowns all over the country are in the midst of a decade-long rebirth. Improving surrounding neighborhoods has been more of a challenge, one that Gardea has helped meet with a combination of homegrown feel for the district and mastery of city dynamics (and a keen understanding of City Hall’s bureaucratic and political land mines). One of his best projects is soon to come to fruition: The Cornfield Arroyo Specific Plan will no doubt seem to most people like a sleep-inducing series of reports in its current wonky phase, but it will show the way around job-killing red tape and toward a new vision of humane and successful urban development. It will be Los Angeles’ guide into future. Like much of Gardea’s work, it’s good planning. And good execution.