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Sam Hall Kaplan

Hooray, We Hope, for Hollywood

July 31, 1988|Sam Hall Kaplan

For the last half-dozen years Hollywood has been the scene of some of the more heated battles over planning and redevelopment in Los Angeles.

To this observer, it is obvious that Hollywood desperately needs a plan to deal with the current chaotic commercial construction and tangled traffic there, as well as to guide the development of needed housing, more and accessible parks, public services, and sensitive streetscaping to bind neighborhoods.

Various plans and revisions attempting, in part, to deal with these issues have been floating around Hollywood for the last year or so, orchestrated by the city's Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), with the Planning Department and the office of Councilman Michael Woo acting as a sort of a chorus. The resulting tune has been quite discordant.

Unfortunately, as has been pointed out by Hollywood Heritage and others, the plans seem to have some gaping holes in them, enough so that a developer could ram some high-rise office towers through them with little difficulty and aggravate the scale and traffic of the community even more than it has been in the last few years. The result is that the plans have not been particularly well received.

Compounding the situation is Hollywood's history as a sort of ball of Play-Doh, to be capriciously mauled by politicians and real estate interests, a mold it found itself in during the tenure of former council member Peggy Stevenson. It is no wonder that residents were wary when the CRA waded into the muddied waters there, welcomed by Stevenson and funded, in part, by a host of commercial property owners.

However well intentioned the CRA might have been then, it really should have gone much further to embrace the broader community, including the growing confederation of neighborhood and preservation groups there. Instead, like so many other governmental bodies, its collective ego got involved, and it retreated into an advocacy position, dealing with residents as if they were, in effect, the enemy, to be manipulated and pacified.

What obviously is needed now is for the community to lower its voice and for the CRA to listen harder; for those in the planning process to come up not with edicts or vague guidelines, but a host of alternatives and an honest study of consequences.

The planning of Hollywood should not be thought of as another notch in a bureaucrat's belt, or a line in some resume, but rather a democratic process leading to the goal of a more livable community.

This brings me to the issue of the city-owned lot in Hollywood at the northwest corner of Franklin and La Brea avenues that has been proposed as a site for a housing demonstration project sponsored by the CRA and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), and blessed by Councilman Woo.

Presumptuously trying last March to force feed the proposal to the community, as if it was a classroom of fawning students, was a self-described avant-garde clique. It had been christened by MOCA to carry out the demonstration in connection with an exhibit scheduled for October, 1989, exploring the legacy of the Case Study Houses program of the 1950s. Under that program, a series of houses were built in Los Angeles to demonstrate how modern design could produce both affordable and attractive housing.

A year ago, MOCA, with much fanfare, called for the commissioning of six architects to design prototypes of affordable multifamily housing. But the lack of sites and funding, and questions by the development community of the competence and commitment of those involved, prompted a cutback. The only site identified was the one in Hollywood, the design of which would be the subject of a limited competition among three of the surviving architects, Adele Naude Santos of Philadelphia and locals Craig Hodgetts and Eric Owen Moss.

When the architects, accompanied by the CRA and Woo, went before a community meeting last March they were booed. In addition to not being enthusiastic about the housing and preferring instead a park, most of the residents made it clear that they were tired of being lectured to, and not being involved, in the decision-making process shaping their neighborhood.

While the community grumbled, MOCA and CRA went ahead with the competition, which was won by Santos. The six-member jury that included only one community representative, declared the Santos design of the 40-unit complex as the most site- sensitive and innovative, being set like individual houses in a hillside garden, featuring sunlit parking areas and a series of inviting pedestrian-oriented spaces.

Though I take exception to the way the program was handled and presented, and also think there should have been a few more residents on the jury, after reviewing the submissions myself, I agree with the verdict.

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