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Sam Hall Kaplan

Planner Choice: Not Just Resumes

May 04, 1986|Sam Hall Kaplan

The city is in the last throes of selecting a new planning director, having pared the list to six.

In a planning and development process where compliance has counted more than competence, and connections more than competence, the position cries out for a commitment beyond that to a comfortable civil service system and a capricious City Council.

So far, the stale air of the civil service has been hovering over the selection process, that--typical of the city--has been conducted behind closed doors and with evaluation sheets close to buttoned vests.

And while the quality of the resumes appears to be impressive, and no doubt each finalist is quite articulate, the basis for selection should be what they actually have done in physical terms to improve the quality of life of the communities where they have served.

We are talking bottom line, where people live, work, shop and play, not a blue-ribboned report or a fancy brochure full of cliches and studied photographs, delivered with a smile.

So, for instance, when it is noted that Richard Counts of Phoenix pushed the "urban village" concept there, what really happened? Was it just a catchy phrase to placate local residents while providing another loophole for developers to exceed height and density limits, as a journalist there recently related? Or maybe it does make planning sense?

Or when Efraim Garcia of Houston is said to have talked about spurring economic development in low-income areas of the city, does that mean the wholesale relocation and demolition of existing affordable housing to make way for yet more office towers, as had been pointed out to me on a recent trip there? Was my respected tour guide being fair or flip?

Can Kenneth Topping display anything in San Bernardino County he helped develop that can stand as a model for Los Angeles, or indicate how he would handle the increasing challenges of density here? The sprawl there is not too impressive.

And is there more to Robert Lurcott's Pittsburgh than a few glittering high-rises downtown? One would like to see his mark on the neighborhoods, or maybe not, as a local wag there suggested.

As for Doug Ford of the city's Community Development Department and Kei Uyeda of the Planning Department being on the short list says something about their resilience. This, in turn, makes their records of achievements in Los Angeles suspect.

Survival in local government should be respected, but not rewarded. The design and development potential of Los Angeles demands something more.

Lemon Trees . . . It was time, last Thursday, for me to again pass on my mantle as critic to the Downtown Breakfast Club, if only for a day to allow the association to make its annual "roses and lemons" awards.

As usual, the loose association of development types concerned with the shape and look of downtown, made some barbed judgments about a couple of projects, praised others and honored three individuals.

While most of the proceedings focused on the "roses" and accented the positive, it was the "lemons" that generated the most interest and comments. It seems the proof of the puddings of criticism is in its tartness.

The club this year bestowed its lemon award for the worst addition to the downtown landscape to the sculptural work cluttering up the forecourt of the new office tower at the corner of Figueroa and 9th streets.

Funded in part by the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, the sculpture by American artist Eugene Sturman, which includes a time capsule, was called by the club a "visual abuse of public funds." Time, unfortunately, will not heal this abuse.

Runner-up for a "lemon" was the Wilshire Finance Building. The group's comment was that the building at 1100 Wilshire Blvd. resembles a classic television set from the 1950s, the one with the free-form tube sitting awkwardly on its base. The logo on the building does not help.

The engineering might be innovative, but the design by the firm of Albert C. Martin is uninspired, to say the least. Making it worse is that the tower has taken advantage of the site's permissive zoning to stand out like a twisted mistake against the skyline, an argument if there ever was for height limitations in select districts.

A "rose" was given in the structure category to Citicorp Plaza, for being "a major commitment to provide downtown with a quality facility through its architecture, partnership structuring and location." The club was very kind to the 42-story building at 7th and Figueroa streets designed by the Chicago office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill. It looks like the box the Wilshire Finance building came in.

In the category of "other," a "rose" was given to Seventh Market Place, designed with a flair by the Jerde Partnership. The club declared that the project provided "a dynamic sense of people space to satisfy a drought of urban landscaping downtown. " Here the club was on target.

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