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Dick Turpin

L. A. Pluses, Problems

January 17, 1988|Dick Turpin

Our City of the Angels has been alluring to newcomers over the decades, particularly since World War II, from farms and ranches, deltas, mountainous areas and scores of big cities.

Attracted by surface promises of all sorts--jobs, our enviable climate, our heralded life style, our beaches, deserts and mountains and the hoopla and magnet of Hollywood and the entertainment field--people of all economic classes have drifted westward. Then, in the last decade, the migration extended beyond our shores to the world. For life-saving and other good reasons, thousands of Asians, Central Americans and Middle Easterners made California their all-encompassing goal.

Their arrivals and settling in the Greater Los Angeles area has created the modern-day version of the turn-of-the-century melting pot that symbolized New York City for millions of our freedom-seeking European ancestors.

Yet, with all this new vitality, our diverse and enviable economy and drive, our problems remain constant--from the ground up, involving land use, water, sewage and bad air.

"Los Angeles Comes of Age," the current Atlantic Monthly magazine's lead article by two authoritative Angelenos, Christopher B. Leinberger and Charles Lockwood, showcases the city and its pluses and problems.

Their principal point is that unless there is "regional unity" (among City Councils and county Boards of Supervisors) nothing much will ever get done to solve or lessen the major ills of traffic, smog, ethnic rivalries or generally bad public schools.

What they say boils down to the attitudes and actions of local jurisdictions facing such overwhelming problems of traffic or smog. Such serious issues simply don't stop at the boundary line of a city and its suburbs.

"Only with regional unity and cooperation will Los Angeles fulfill its dreams of greatness," they conclude.

Leinberger is managing partner of Beverly Hills-based Robert Charles Lesser & Co., whose urban affairs and realty consulting extends throughout the world. Lockwood, author of several books on American cities and architecture, is also a contributor to this section.

Leinberger, speaking by phone from the recently opened new offices of his firm in Santa Fe, N. M., offered his views of a future Los Angeles:

"In 20 years, greater Los Angeles' urban form will take the shape of a doughnut--with the San Gabriel Mountains being the hole. Major new residential and commercial complexes will emerge out of nowhere in the Mojave Desert.

"Sure, that climate isn't equal to Malibu or the Westside but it is just like Phoenix, which has been booming for the past 15 years."

As usual, he added, this area's traditional "boom or bust" vitality will continue to add strength and constant innovation to an existing economy that is the most diverse anywhere.

He singled out California and Texas as the only states that provide real estate expertise through their respective developers' experiences and daring, entrepreneurial spirit. Because of their experiences in the development field, they can "export real estate" know-how, he said.

Until Oil Patch problems beset the major Texas cities of Houston and Dallas, they, along with Los Angeles, were national leaders in major residential and commercial real estate developments, but the Lone Star state has been out of that race for several years.

The Antelope Valley, Leinberger said, has been a typical example of boom and bust, now booming again and perhaps for keeps because most of its residents have found affordable housing, are willing to drive to employment centers in the San Fernando Valley and are no longer that dependent upon defense industry jobs in the high desert.

But if Palmdale, Lancaster and Apple Valley don't show mutual concern now about their sure-to-come big-city problems, they'll find themselves in the traditional soup later on, he said, referring again to the obvious need for regional approaches to growth and population problems, especially through efforts of the Southern California Assn. of Governments.

Looking at our area's "urban villages," Leinberger said many are becoming highly specialized by function.

For instance, Long Beach serves its port (see our Page 1 story today), while Pasadena specializes in office and insurance firms.

Of 18 such urban villages, he rates three--downtown, Century City/Beverly Hills/Westside and Newport Beach--as "A" cores with the finest buildings and, of course, the highest rents.

He ranks Pasadena and Warner Center in Woodland Hills--probably destined to become the future "downtown of the San Fernando Valley"--as two "B" cores. Ontario is ranked as a "C" core but it is approaching "B" core status, as it adds office and business park development to its existing "C" core-type industrial park and distribution facilities.

All this new growth will have its impact on downtown Los Angeles as metropolitan development momentum swings out into outlying urban villages.

The declining share of downtown office space, despite its continuing healthy pace, should not be despairing, he adds, because the price of downtown land and constructon remains high, and Los Angeles has the ability to sustain such robust building activity both in its central and outlying urban villages.

Leinberger noted also that Los Angeles ranks third in the nation, behind Washington and Sacramento, among the largest seats of government, perhaps a dubious boast, but nevertheless a highly important political and global distinction.

He described Los Angeles as the "most vital American city with its outreach,"--and, good or bad, "the Los Angeles urban form is being replicated in every major city of the nation."

But with things that good here, why, as he jests, are 75% of all new home buyers in his new home town of Santa Fe moving there from the Los Angeles area?

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