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Sam Hall Kaplan

Mayor's Speech 5 Years Too Late

April 05, 1987|Sam Hall Kaplan

President Reagan has the Iran/ contra scandal and Mayor Tom Bradley has planning and development. Both are tangled messes that can't be dismissed by slick speeches.

With insensitive development scarring many communities, traffic growing worse daily, and the city's quality of life diminishing, the mayor finally got around to addressing development issues recently, albeit not before a planning group or a neighborhood forum, but a safe gathering of American Telephone & Telegraph Co. employees.

It would have been a great speech--five years ago.

Among other things, the mayor called for "vigorous and fair enforcement of Proposition U," new limits on mini-malls and hillside development, establishing neighborhood planning councils and reorganizing the Planning Department to stress long-range planning.

I would hope that there will be vigorous and fair enforcement of slow-growth Proposition U, considering that 70% of the voters approved it last year, despite the mayor's opposition.

As for Bradley's call for stricter controls on mini-mall and hillside development, it is welcome. But for many communities the restrictions are grievously late, if not after the fact. When it comes to pressing planning issues, Bradley, unfortunately, often is an after-the-fact mayor.

The restrictions would have been much more welcome years ago when mini-malls began trashing the city's streetscape and new housing sites were being gouged out of the hillsides.

Actually, the attack of the mini-malls was reported here three years ago, along with a call for quick city action, while the restrictions on hillside development were proposed 11 years ago.

No one can ever accuse the mayor or the City Council of acting precipitously when it goes against a development community that includes some of the more generous contributors to local election campaigns.

With mini-mall construction slackening, what is now of more concern to commmunities is incompatible housing and commercial development. If only the mayor had said something about that, focusing in on specific, egregious projects, such as in the Mar Vista and Wilshire districts, and adding that he was actually going to do something about them, besides talk.

And not a peep out of Bradley about the most recent bureaucratic bungle, the Board of Education's block-busting, neighborhood-wrecking land grab.

Letters and copies of letters keep pouring in here, calling attention to ill-considered school expansions, and the utter failure of officials to involve affected neighborhoods and explore alternative sites and facilities. It seems the Board of Education bulldozer is running amok.

As for Bradley's blessing the concept of neighborhood planning boards, that was suggested in this column three years ago, pressed by community groups two years ago, and proposed by a citizens advisory group last year. The issue now is not whether we should have them, but in what form and how soon.

Most pathetic is Bradley's call for reorganizing the Planning Department to stress long-range planning, just when neighborhoods and logic are urging short-range, so-called micro-planning.

Now is not the time to spend bureaucratic energies rearranging offices, appointing advisory committees, holding all-day conferences and producing ultimately useless reports and multicolored area maps. That, in part, was what led to Calvin Hamilton's demise as planning director.

Instead, it is time for planning to get down to the street level, explore on a block-by-block basis with the help of residents how neighborhoods can be stabilized, sound housing preserved and streets improved with vest-pocket parks, in-fill development, sensitive landscaping and the diversion of traffic.

Welcome to L. A. and 1987, Mister Mayor.

In addition to the pleas for help from communities threatened with capital punishment by the Board of Education, came a provocative letter from J. Evan Miller of the California Society of Theatre Historians concerning the current controversy over the expansion of the Music Center.

The center would like to construct a $100-million, three-theater complex on a prominent 3.6-acre site across 1st Street from the present music complex. But the county owns the site and would rather see it developed, at least in part, as a commercial complex, generating needed income.

As for the theater complex, county officials prefer that a more modest version be located on a mall within the civic center, as proposed in a reasonable plan drafted by urban designer Barton Myers. But Music Center leaders have scoffed at the plan, charging that it does not give the theater complex the prominence they feel it needs to generate private donations.

Miller scoffs at both plans. He points out that while county officials and music center leaders debate where the new, pricey complex should go various existing landmark theaters downtown are being threatened with deterioration and demolition.

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