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Point / Counterpoint

Should a Studio City carwash be preserved as a cultural monument? : AGAINST: GIDEN KANNER

June 25, 1989

Gideon Kanner, 59, a Loyola Law School professor, has written and lectured extensively on the subjects of land-use controls, eminent domain and property law. A resident of the San Fernando Valley since 1955, he now lives in Burbank. He believes the preservationists' position is "an absurdity" and an example of "abuse of power by spoiled, rich, self-indulgent suburbanites."

Developer Ira Smedra wants to replace a 60-year-old gas station, a 35-year-old carwash and a 28-year-old cafe at Ventura and laurel Canyon boulevards with a mini-mall. Opponents argue the three structures epitomize San Fernando Valley culture and should be preserved. Others say if a carwash is culture, it's a culture they choose not to embrace.

Q. What do you think of the idea of a carwash as culture? A. Well, it's all nonsense. It has nothing to do with culture. My favorite quote was in a newspaper story in The Times. A television actor who lives in Studio City was quoted as saying, "It's not a cultural monument, but it certainly is a handy place to get your car washed." Now there's a man who's captured the whole thing.

Q. So in your view this political-cultural debate is really about convenience?

A. It's only partially that, and that part of it is understandable. If another ayatollah comes along and there's a gas shortage, you're going to see gas lines the likes of which you've never seen before because of all the gas stations that have closed since 1979.

But that doesn't make it any less nonsensical. These people are using the most absurd and flimsy pretenses simply to hijack somebody else's property. These people can't even utter these things with a straight face.

The developer wants to build a perfectly lawful project there. And these people know that if the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission approves this idiotic request to make the buildings on this corner a cultural landmark, then the developer is stalled for a year.

And that means they'll have a year to twist his arm and put pressure on him so that whatever he builds complies with the whims of these rich suburbanites.

Q. So you think this is nothing but a ploy?

A. Clearly. Let's take Mr. McGrath and his ridiculous statements about smelling the roses and watching the suds at the carwash. I mean, give me a break, Jack. You're celebrating taking your kid to the carwash to smell the fumes?

And look at the publicity the media has given him. He's all over the papers. He's been on TV. If he wants to run again for City Council, this is a lot easier than coming up with some decent ideas about how to handle problems such as the horrific housing crunch.

The most amazing thing is that McGrath has been in politics all of his life. And he's not stupid. And he has concluded that this kind of nonsense will not only not cause him to be laughed out of the community, but will further his career. That, if you reflect upon it, is absolutely terrifying.

Q. How does this issue, and the visibility it is getting, affect the cause of historical preservation in Los Angeles?

A. It trivializes the process. It makes a comedy out of something that is very serious and very important.

But despite all this nonsense about this being the gateway to a sleepy little town, you are talking about the busiest commercial corner in Studio City. And these people want to freeze some of the most valuable land around in a totally archaic usage that makes no economic sense. It's also bad from a planning point of view.

Q. Why is it bad from a planning point of view?

A. Because it's lawlessness. The San Fernando Valley's southern tier, from Studio City all the way west, has been subjected to tremendous scrutiny. They've had citizens advisory committees, general plans, height limitations, billboard limitations and so on. I mean, the planners have been over that area with a fine-toothed comb. They've said what Ira Smedra, the developer, wants is good planning.

But when it's all over, it means zilch because a bunch of neighbors stand up and say 'No.' And they go ahead and utter all sorts of nonsensical supposed reasons for that and nobody calls them to account.

They figure they can go ahead and kind of be the bull in the legal china shop. They can inflict harm and damage and then go home and congratulate themselves on their historical, cultural, preservationist acuity.

Q. What legal issues are raised here?

A. There is something very, very disturbing and ultimately very dangerous about a situation in which the landowner, de facto, is assumed to have no rights at all.

Like it or not, the Constitution protects property rights in a variety of ways. And I think it is institutionally foolish for society to allow this kind of erosion of a constitutional right.

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