Will it be a tool for imaginative planning and design or will it be a smoke screen for bureaucratic insensitivity and indifference?
That is the question being asked by residents of at least a dozen neighborhoods in the wake of the passage by the state Legislature and the signing into law by the governor of AB 1700, the so-called Roos Bill giving the Los Angeles Unified School District considerable flexibility in the siting and development of new schools.
The bill was prompted by protests against an ambitious district plan to expand 42 schools in mostly inner-city neighborhoods that would have required the condemnation of 2,200 homes and the relocation of an estimated 6,000 persons--no small numbers in these days of a tightening housing market.
Some of the projects, which involve both new schools and additions to existing schools, had been urged and supported by communities faced with burgeoning enrollments. But others were, and still are, vociferously opposed as insensitive and disruptive land grabs.
As details of the plan became known last spring, neighborhood and parent associations, preservationists and homeowners complained of the arbitrary selection of sites, the lack of involvement of local residents and the failure by the district to explore ways to minimize dislocation through imaginative planning and design.
The district replied in meetings and letters that the expansion was needed and that its site selection and design process was very much constrained by state laws and financial allocation formulas that, in effect, dictated the height and size of schools and the size of play spaces.
Out of the conflict came AB 1700, which, allows the district to build up, instead of out, without jeopardizing funding. It was drafted by the district itself and sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Roos and State Sen. David Roberti Democrats of Hollywood and environs, the site of some of the proposed schools.
The district said at the time that the passage of the bill would allow it to review the more controversial projects and consider alternative sites and designs to minimize neighborhood disruption--even though it already had spent millions of dollars on architectural drawings for the projects. The statement and the anticipation of the approval of AB 1700 had the effect of reducing the protests from a boil down to a simmer.
However, the week AB 1700 was signed into law by the governor, the district notified a group that had been protesting the siting and design of an addition to the Grant Elementary School that it was proceeding with the original plans. Other groups involved with other projects that the district had labeled controversial reported no new attempts by the district to review alternatives with them.
The district said in response to questioning that it had been reviewing the controversial sites internally in anticipation of the passage of AB 1700, and would soon meet with the concerned neighborhood groups. "We are absolutely going to do everything we can within reason to lessen the disruption in the neighborhoods," said Sara Coughlin, an associate district superintendent for planning.
"We are listening, and we are waiting," replied Emanuel Culman, who since learning that his home was threatened by the expansion of the Wilton Place Elementary School, has been monitoring the district's actions and serving as a spokesman for affected others. AB 1700 presents the district with an opportunity to correct what I feel are some egregious planning and design errors that, happily, have not yet been set into stone. Also present is an opportunity for the district to shape its schools into places of neighborhood pride instead of neighborhood protest.
But as those who have watched the wax and wane of neighborhood battles over design and development know, such opportunities tend to be fleeting.
VERY LATE is the hour for the Los Feliz Theatre on North Vermont Avenue, at least under the management of the Laemmle organization. The theater is scheduled to close to the public tonight after more than 50 years of serving movie lovers and, more importantly, as the anchor of one of the few urbane neighborhood retail streets in Los Angeles.
For me, for years, a big night out on the town was a dinner at one of the ethnic restaurants in the area, a movie at the Los Feliz, and later browsing and inevitably buying a book at Chatterton's, at 1881 N. Vermont Ave.
I fear, as does the community, that without the theater there the vital character of the street would begin to unravel. That is why the effort to somehow keep the theater functioning, if not under the Laemmles then someone else, is so critical, and has rallied local merchants and residents to form Friends of the Los Feliz Theatre. (Anyone wanting to help is asked to call the group at 213/664-3882 or 213/665-3517.)