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Angelenos Demand a Say in Growth

September 22, 1985|SAM HALL KAPLAN | Times Urban Design Critic

If there is one constant about Los Angeles, it is change.

Over the years in starts and spurts, Los Angeles has changed from mission to frontier settlement, resort and boom town, to burst about 50 years ago into a fragmented collection of cities and suburbs that, for the last few decades, have stretched and strained to link up as a megalopolis.

And despite fears of fires, floods, earthquakes, smog, gridlock and real estate prices, and its derision by carping critics as a lotus land where only the more vapid would want to live, the megalopolis continues to grow.

The growth up to now has known few limits, except for the Pacific and the mountain ranges of the inland national parks. It has marched over mesas, leveled hills, diverted rivers and filled in wetlands, while ignoring for all intents and purposes, city and county lines, planning theories, and energy conservation and environmental concerns.

In the last decade the greater Los Angeles-San Diego region has grown by about 2 million persons to an estimated total of 13 million. This includes increases of about 500,000 each in San Diego and Orange counties, 400,000 in Los Angeles County and 220,000 in Riverside County and about 300,000 in San Bernardino County. Nearby Ventura County has increased by about 150,000 to an estimated 600,000.

Beyond the statistics are patterns of growth, which become quite evident to anyone doing a lot of driving or a little low-level flying in the region. Los Angeles and Orange counties are inexorably merging with San Diego and Riverside counties, while also advancing west in the San Fernando Valley, through the Simi Hills, to meet Ventura's growth moving east.

Suburbs almost everywhere in the region appear to be extending themselves, toward each other and farther out into the countryside. It is a march for the most part along grid-patterned streets sprinkled with single-family houses in a bastardized Tudor Mediterranean ranch style that apparently is quite popular these days of shifting public tastes.

At the same time, there also has been marked commercial growth in select areas within cities, particularly downtown Los Angeles and its surrounding communities of Little Tokyo and Chinatown. Always the center of the region but of waning and waxing impact, downtown with the new office and residential construction, combined with preservation efforts there, once again is asserting itself, as it did more than 50 years ago.

Interestingly, the growth downtown has come at a time when the downtowns of Pasadena, Glendale, Burbank, Santa Ana, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Riverside and San Bernadino, among others, also have been expanding, as well as such city centers as Century City, Westwood, West Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Warner Center and the Los Angeles International Airport area.

The result is a cityscape studded with new office towers, many displaying a gangling awkward adolescence as they strive for attention and, not coincidentally, tenants. Suffering the impact of the new development are many of the surrounding residential communities.

Whether this growth and the changes it prompts in the life styles of the region's burgeoning population will continue over the next few decades, as it has relatively capriciously in the past, is at question.

Prompted by traffic, waste disposal and other problems directly or indirectly generated by new development, more and more communities within the region's cities and beyond are reviewing or demanding reviews of their land use policies. Few public meetings are held these days without the discussion of a possible moratorium on development, or at least the imposition of stricter controls on growth.

What groups seem to be saying is that they are not necessarily opposed to growth, but that they want it better shaped to at least maintain, if not improve, the quality of life of their community. After all, they add with logic, it is the particular quality of life of their community that must have attracted particular projects, so it would also be in the interest of developers not to harm it.

The region's future growth also can be expected to be affected by a combination of other factors. These include new commercial and technological developments, the location of businesses, birth and immigration rates, whether there ever will be a mass transit system here, the quality of local support services and schools, as well as, of course, the economic and political climate.

In predicting the future, there are a lot of wild cards. The only thing for certain is that there will be change.

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