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Getty Villa a Gem for Us All

October 27, 2002

You'd think someone was trying to shoehorn a toxic waste dump amid the swaying eucalyptus trees and ranch homes of the Pacific Palisades. That's how unhappy many neighbors are with plans to upgrade the old Getty villa on Pacific Coast Highway. Years of negotiation between residents and Getty officials have deteriorated into bitter court battles. Meanwhile, the former Getty museum site has remained shuttered, and, until last week's court ruling, the only clear victors were the lawyers.

What does the Getty want to do to its villa? Plans unveiled years ago would showcase the museum's extraordinary Greek and Roman antiquities by improving display space and adding a small outdoor theater where visitors could watch classical dramas. Add to this more restrooms, office space, parking and traffic improvements.

The plan addresses the neighborhood's valid concerns about noise and congestion -- the actors onstage will not wear microphones, and performances must stay below certain decibel levels. These concessions won over some homeowners, but others would be just as happy to see the villa, which housed the museum's entire collection until the Brentwood Getty Center opened in 1997, stay boarded up forever. There will still be too much traffic, they insist, too much noise, and besides, a museum/theater doesn't belong in a residential neighborhood.

Really? What about the Huntington Library in San Marino? Other local institutions also peacefully coexist with nearby residents -- for example, the L.A. County Museum of Art holds outdoor jazz concerts.

Nonetheless, two years ago unhappy Palisades neighbors persuaded a trial judge to halt work at the villa on the grounds that the L.A. City Council had improperly approved the Getty's plans. On Monday, an appeals court wisely reversed that decision, holding that the city had acted within its authority.

This dispute should end there, not with another appeal to the California Supreme Court. The Getty is a cultural treasure that all of Los Angeles should be able to enjoy.

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