By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
No one really wants the future anymore. It certainly wasn't always thus. I was raised on the future's Jetsonian pledges: commercial space travel, personal air cars, picture-frame TVs on walls. And its threats: first, the Red menace and total nuclear annihilation, and then an ecological doom that somehow included California's falling off the continent.
From the '30s through the '70s, Americans thought of almost nothing but the future. Now that a new millennium's almost here, though, we seem to have turned our collective back on issues like: What must we do to improve public transportation? And where will we put all the hundreds of thousands of new Angelenos who are expected to show up over the next 20 years?
I wondered about this last week at Playa Vista, where some reporters were shown models and drawings and heard architects extol their plans to develop all over that wondrous landscape. I remembered the original promises of a new community attractive enough to be a destination of its own. Playa was supposed to meld its populations - renters, small-condo buyers and homeowners - into an amenity-studded context something like an ideal Italian hill town with easy freeway access.
Oh, yes. It's also supposed, in the end, to house more than 20,000 people in 13,085 units. There are cities in this county smaller than that.
Playa Vista may never be that big: Only 3,246 units are now authorized, and about one-fourth that many are now being built. So most of the project awaits authorization. But the presentation showed what's really at stake and helped explain the Playa promoters' persistence. Let's leave out, for the nonce, any consideration of the 3-million-square-foot commercial and industrial components, which may be worth even more. But with full residential buildout, the housing itself, if we fix an average price of between $400,000 and $500,000 a non-rental unit, could bring gross sales revenues approaching $5 billion. This is Pentagon-style money: No wonder those Playa insiders have been hanging in for this long, hard haul. For many months, it appeared that internal dissension among partners and the resolution of a lawsuit might stop the show. As of last week, however, the developers seem to have settled their differences by pushing founding partner Robert Maguire into a subsidiary role. So the only question at hand was, did the planners' proposals live up to the promises?
Hard to say. There are a lot of trade-offs going on. Marketing V.P. Kenneth Agid, the Playa presentation's floor manager, kept talking about how the architects tried to avoid "the red-tile-roofs" cliches of south Orange County. Yes, they have. But despite good use of interior space, they haven't quite eluded the classic condo-development footprint, which tends to exclude as much as include.
I love to hear architects talk. But what they were offering as "a celebration of the history of Los Angeles architecture" was in reality more eclectic and less interesting than that. One complex, supposedly inspired by Gianni Versace's Miami villa, flaunted the fantasy turret-spiral staircase architecture indigenous to fairy tales. While there were a locally inspired row of separated town homes a la the Silver Strand and a condo court reminiscent of Bullocks Wilshire, complete with copper spire, a clutch of cheaper condos with downstairs stores evoked the international "Spanish Flats" style of a century ago. There was even a Romanesque row of Henry Hobson Richardson-style homes that might have faced Brooklyn's Prospect Park. But there was little to suggest the local architectural heritage of Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra and Frank Gehry. Further, some condo communities will be gated - which makes them seem more like luxury senior-citizens reservations than part of a new borough.
But there's also some good that can be said about the housing at Playa Vista. First, the overall plan saves half the 1,087 acres of open space on which it's sited. Secondly, the area desperately needs all those 13,000 units of housing - 15 percent, or nearly 2,000, of which (if the 15 percent proportion stays) will be moderate-to-low-income apartments and condos, integrated into the overall project: The promise remains that this portion won't be ghettoized.
As my colleague Harold Meyerson noted here recently, since its recent economic recovery, Los Angeles has once again become one of the world's tightest housing markets. Playa's Ken Agid says the Westside vacancy rate is now under 1 percent - where it has been since the early '80s. Agid contends that those who insist that housing such as Playa's has no place on the Westside must understand that the Westside is sustaining a net loss of housing.
Lack of low-cost, moderate and even mildly expensive housing in Los Angeles' most desirable area hammers a diverse lower-income segment. On the bottom, it pushes marginal earners into homelessness. Further up, it puts many West Los Angeles wage earners into three-hour, high-pollution commutes to Palmdale, Ontario and Orange County.
At Playa, many residents - Agid claims at least 20 percent - will have jobs elsewhere on the Playa campus. Most of the rest will work in the west or South Bay county areas. So they won't be coming in from the high desert. Dare one say this sounds like a positive environmental impact?
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