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When will they ever learn…


Scaled down and still unable to arrange financing, Eli Broad’s grandiose vision for L.A. is in deep trouble.

The Grand Avenue project was supposed to be the Central Park of L.A., the masterpiece of human ingenuity that was finally to make downtown the true center of the city, the place where all roads led and all people came to celebrate the wonders of urban life in Southern California.

In truth, the project exposes everything wrong with the city.

There is utterly no grassroots support for it, no public demand or interest, only the vision of a philanthropic billionaire who truly believes great monuments and a great downtown make a great city and has the clout to bring politicians to their knees to do his bidding.

Ever since Tom Bradley won election in 1973, the insider power structure has invested the city’s wealth into downtown with massive public subsidies that robbed neighborhoods everywhere of services, infrastructure investment and support necessary for community health.

Instead of a transit system that moves people where they want to go, we have a subway and train system that only goes downtown but doesn’t go to the airport, the Coliseum, Hollywood Bowl, the Westside, anywhere in the Valley.

We could have had a transit system that works with all the tax dollars that were spent and by now we could be enhancing it with a subway and train lines along the most heavily traveled routes.

But the problem was and remains today, the exclusionary nature of L.A.’s political system.

I don’t blame Eli Broad. He had a vision, money and influence and believed rightly that great monuments and a vibrant core do make Paris, London, New York, Chicago and other “old” cities great.

But not L.A. For better or worse, it sprawled outward rather than rising upward and the only way to make it great was to create satellite centers in various parts of the city, places where people walk and socialize, shop and play, where local culture in all its diversity flourishes.

In fact, that was once the plan. It gave rise to Century City and Warner Center but the Bradley revolution abandoned that vision and replaced it with a scheme to build an artificial downtown. The developers who helped elect Bradley have made billions and downtown for all its growth remains a bizarre area, the yin/yang of a city of light and dark, rich and poor and a beseiged middle class being chased out of the schools and out of the city entirely.

The lesson to be learned should be clear: Until the people in the neighborhoods are empowered — or seize power themselves — L.A. will remain a place and not a city.

With its climate, its myths of absolute freedom and stardom, the richness and diversity of its population,  L.A. could become a truly great city, a beacon to the world of what can happen when democracy and freedom flourish.

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9 Responses to When will they ever learn…

  1. Anonymous says:

    Broad should just buy the City — and the LAUSD, while he’s at it. Then he could just invite us over once in a while to see his art.

  2. VG says:

    I agree with the earlier comment, only problem is Broad doesn’t really want to share his art or he would have given it to LACMA as anticipated. I think Broad has already bought the city and the LAUSD – he maintains them as private collections and still gets tax credits as he plans to do with his art.

  3. Eli Broad and Frank Gehry—didn’t they bring us the Disney Hall?
    That was only delivered 12 years late and $150 million over budget, and all that was built was half the site they pitched.
    Ron, I believe there is great potential for the park space, which lies on axis between LA’s cultural center (the Music Center) and political center (City Hall), but only if they pop in things like a Speaker’s Corner a la Hyde Park. The City is desperate for some kind of sacred gathering space, and that could be it. But the megastructure? Ick. Just another building. Look what this firm did to Columbus Circle and you’ll see a forecast of what they might do for downtown LA—Carusofy it.

  4. Michele says:

    Keep history and add more green!
    Wouldn’t it be great if our beautiful downtown movie palaces (seeing this is the city of the film industry) would be allowed to shine once again? Right now, they’re all buried beneath T-shirt shops.
    Rather than build more, why not uncover the great architecture that already exists, replace T-shirt shops with cafes, plant trees and put in a great park for walking, bike riding and sitting in the grass?
    This city has a tendancy to tear down what’s great (the Ambassador, Schwab’s, etc.) and cement over anything green.
    Look at the Valley – once citrus groves, ranches and rolling hills – it’s now almost entirely cement, malls, and congested streets.
    P.S. I love the above comment of Speakers’ Corner. And wouldn’t be great if the Mayor, rather than posing for photo ops, would be required to show up and listen to the people, for once?

  5. Steven U says:

    Is it Eli Broad or the LA political class that’s broken? Ron seems to be implying that Broad is just a sort of symptom of what’s wrong with the political culture, but I think that lets him off too easy. Everyone’s talking about the LACMA debacle, but I think that the fact that he chose to give $100 million for medical research at Harvard & MIT says more about his priorities. That institute would have meant a lot to UCLA or USC – guess they just don’t have the same cache…

  6. Anonymous says:

    I agree with your basic premise, and especially the last few paragraphs — this is a city of neighborhoods, each unique and many nurtured over time, and now under attack as some “obsolute suburban myth” by those with class envy, or without an understanding of what makes this city unique. And that includes Gail Goldberg from San Diego, and many other planners assigned this responsibility.
    The middle class is “under siege” and driven out of the city and the schools in particular, which have been “invaded,” although that’s not a P C word, by kids from other areas who bring their gang problems and cultural differences with them oftentimes. The plain truth is, people want to be able to educate their kids in a safe environment which reflects their own beliefs about educational excellence, and the P C school leadership is at odds with that as “anachronistic.” Meanwhile the middle class is being taxed more and more for basic services, and getting less and less, which the fact that the school population, like that of the city as a whole, is heavily illegal.
    (This on the eve of another May Day “celebration” where illegals who often don’t even speak English and lack skills we need as a society, are “demanding” immediate legalization without penalties or consequences — something they’ve defacto enjoyed by getting social services meant only for citizens.)
    Putting over-emphasis on downtown, trying to make L A like other cities whose downtowns characterize them, is somewhat tied in to all this. You’re right, it’s a misallocation of city resources, especially when so much CRA money goes towards this development, and now will include as recipients, investors from Dubai. There HAS been some significant improvement downtown, but the area should have been used for more of the affordable housing politicians are talking about, and want to misuse AB1818 to push projects into the westside, hillsides and Valley, where people DON’T want their Community Plans disrupted.
    Not building the Red Line to go to the Westside, along the most traveled corridors (which Metro is TRYING to rectify now, 25 years and billions of lost federal dollars too late) IS perhaps the biggest failing of L A politics. But that’s due to NIMBY’s on the westside, that infamous Cheviott Hills group which is still at it in adversely affecting the Expo Line Phase II, but ALSO there were Hispanic politicians then who didn’t want the subway to go to the “rich westside,” and to stay in East L A and Hollywood.
    Where it is today — and is so under-utilized and publicized, that locals find it useless, and even tourists don’t know about it. I know someone who stayed at the Biltmore downtown last week, right across the street from Pershing Square’s subway stop, and he never realized he could have hopped on and gone to Hollywood to have a look. Even the Biltmore staff didn’t promote this — maybe, because Pershing Square is occupied by homeless and when I was there, lower-income Hispanic workers. All those gorgeous subway stations, with so much lovely artwork, all wasted.
    Councilman Huizar wanting to spend additional tens of millions to develop Broadway into a “real” Broadway like in New York, is another boondoggle. The area is low-rent Hispanic and no one from the westside or valley will ever go there when they have so many other options (look at how ethnocentric this weekend’s Fiesta Broadway was). Developing the areas around MOCA/ Little Tokyo and Disney Hall is more reasonable. Cleaning up Broadway into a safe environment might be like a second Olvera Street, that’s it.
    Downtown CAN be one of L A’s many hubs, but never “the” one. We’re more like Tokyo as a city than New York, Chicago or Paris — lots of “districts,” with different characters: e.g., some like Hollywood/Highland where lighted billboards belong (like Times Square or Ginza in Tokyo, shopping/ entertainment centers), but many residential areas where they adamently don’t.
    Our own Councilmembers often don’t understand this and are playing ethnic politics against the Westside and Valley — the billboard blight battle is just the tip of this iceberg.
    Unlike Tokyo, each district and Councilmember’s “vision” for the city is so different, that’s where the real challenge will be: to keep the Reyes/ Huizar/ Alarcon faction, when united with Perry/ Parks/ WEsson against the “rich” areas which pay the huge bulk of taxes but are still envied, from ruining what’s left of them by misusing AB1818.
    Bill Boyarsky in this week’s Jewish Journal has a story touching on this huge problem to come, and notes that the MSM won’t take it on, as too un – PC (“Zev Takes on the Developers”) — I hope you will, Ron, because the media is just NOT doing its job of educating people before it’s too late.

  7. thomjourno says:

    Remember these other would-be downtown mega projects: “Clouds of Steel,” which would have put a giant statue astride a downtown freeway, with “…wildly angled structural beams..” and “huge, oscillating aquariums suspended in the sky,” (L.A. Times, circa 1988), or Brett-Livingstone Strong’s City of Angeles monument, a 700-foot colossus with angel wings, and 100 acres of parks, malls and theaters north of the 10 and west of the 110? The former idea died in the mid 1990s, while the latter finaly had a stake driven through its heart only four or five years ago. Already Eli’s vision is being chipped down. In the end, it could be that organic, neighborhood-oriented redevelopment will be the tortoise that beats the harried grand schemes to the finish line.

  8. Anonymous says:


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