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Sam Hall Kaplan

School Officials Deserve ' F ' Grade

March 15, 1987|Sam Hall Kaplan

You would think that with the passage of slow- growth Proposition U and the variety of other recent citizen protests of land-use abuses, the powers that be would understand that the major issue in the city is now neighborhood stability and quality of life.

But no.

While the rhetoric of some developers and their fawning politicians and bureaucrats may have changed somewhat to include phrases like "design compatibility" and "traffic mitigation," a nightmare of egregious projects continue to be processed.

No matter how architecturally au courant, how sensitively detailed and how well painted in the latest and most fashionable pastels and earth tones, the projects, by any other design or name, would smell the same. And they are not coming up roses, except perhaps for the real estate speculators, bureaucrats and politicians involved.

From such diverse communities as Mar Vista, Long Beach, Lincoln Heights, East Hollywood, North Hollywood, West Adams, Pasadena and in the Mid- Wilshire area come reports of out-of-scale and out-of-character apartment complexes being shoehorned onto sites, or worse, gobbling up existing housing.

Better late than never, the City of Long Beach has had drawn up for it a set of desperately needed design guidelines for multifamily development. The package put together by the consultant firm of Sedway Cooke Associates, addressing issues of scale, livability and aesthetics, makes sense and is well recommended. That Pasadena also is exploring such guidelines is welcome.

However late, the time has come for cities to make zoning more prescriptive and allow planners to be more creative, and not to waste them as simply plan checkers and paper shufflers.

As usual, Los Angeles lags behind. That the city has yet to find a way to somehow stop or scale down such horrors as the apartment complex proposed by the Homestead (read "homebash") Group for Detroit Street, says something about its lack of fortitude and the utter failure of the zoning process.

If allowed--and there is still time and ways for the city to stop or at least scale down the project--the Detroit Street debacle could set a dangerous precedent for the abuse of other, similar architecturally and socially stable areas. This could possibly touch off depressing waves of blockbusting speculation and accompanying deterioration.

Such projects that try to milk the last allowable square foot out of dated and inadequate zoning codes also make it just that much harder for more reasonable and sensitively designed housing proposals to gain community acceptance.

Will the Homestead horrors be the housing mini-malls of the late 1980s?

In the continuing battle to stabilize communities, one, unfortunately, has come to expect that most developers will be greedy, insensitive and shortsighted, but not the Los Angeles Board of Education. Schools are supposed to stabilize communities.

However, the board's announced plans for expanding various schools west of downtown are as bad as any recent rape of a neighborhood. If the board had not had enough recent troubles with busing, now it has added blockbusting to the list.

The plans, as they now stand, literally drive a stake through the hearts of a struggling half-dozen vest-pocket neighborhoods. These include, among others, clusters of well-scaled houses in the vicinity of Whitehouse Place and Vermont Avenue, Queen Anne Place and Pico Boulevard, Berendo Avenue and Olympic Boulevard and West 8th Street and Wilton Place.

Some of the houses are of historic interest, but more important, most of them are owner-occupied and well-maintained, lending a desperately needed stability to the struggling neighborhoods.

And making the possibility that the houses will be bulldozed, the lives of the occupants convulsed and the neighborhoods torn asunder, even more outrageous is that they need not be--if the board and its bureaucrats would just exert a modicum of common sense and imagination.

That, of course, is a big "if."

Even assuming that the board's calculations are correct on how much new and expanded facilities are needed to handle present and projected overcrowding in the area schools, there is much that can be done to ease the impact on adjacent neighborhoods.

A tour of the schools slated to be expanded reveals that there is on the present campuses much space that can be better utilized. They all need not be junior college campuses, composed of clusters of classrooms, inefficient recreation areas and parking lots sprawled over acres, as if located in some semi-rural county.

Before it starts wielding eminent domain as if it were peanut butter in a school lunchroom, the board's building committee should sit down and read the studies conducted a few years ago by the Ford Foundation-supported Educational Facilities Laboratories. In them are a variety of imaginative ways overcrowding and expansion has been dealt with efficiently and relatively inexpensively by other school districts.

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