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Green City 

Four vital steps toward a better L.A. in under two weeks

Wednesday, Aug 1 2001
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Just as Mayor Jim Hahn’s new administration was beginning to feel like the latest thing in regional torpor, last week saw a series of outright triumphs on the city‘s Green Front. Triumphs that promise a new era of livability to inner-city Angelenos and the rest of us besides.

I’m not sure how much, if any, of the credit actually goes to Hahn, although some discredit goes to his predecessor, Dick Riordan. But a bit of glory does accrue to Governor Gray Davis, who has been justly maligned for his meandering responses to the state‘s monthslong power predicament. Despite the fiscal strains of the electricity crisis, Davis put into his budget the $5 million in matching funds needed to acquire the Chinatown Yards, a stretch of discarded railroad property adjacent to Chinatown. State park bonds had already secured $35 million toward the purchase of the land from developers, but the funds allocated by Davis were crucial to cinching the rescue.

Though there still are uncertainties involving the Union Pacific Railroad’s cooperation with the deal‘s broker, the Trust for Public Land, “We can now safely say that 30 acres of flatland between Chinatown and the Los Angeles River [are] now safely in public hands,” noted Lewis MacAdams, founder of Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR). “So many of us have worked so hard for so long to make this happen that I think we should all take a moment to congratulate ourselves. This is a jewel in an emerald necklace that will someday become the Los Angeles River greenway.”

Also to be credited is a decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe. The decision gave us a better chance at getting Taylor Yards, another potential section of the city’s future central park -- on the other side of the riverbank. The court ruling stalled a commercial-development proposal that had been pushed by former Mayor Riordan and his then-sidekick, Rocky Delgadillo (the newly elected city attorney). Judge Yaffe ruled that the developer, Lennar Partners, failed to conduct the appropriate air- and water-pollution environmental review on its proposed 41-acre project.

“I can‘t tell you how good it feels to win one,” said Melanie Winter, top organizer for the River Project -- the coalition that’s backing the Taylor Yard parklands effort. “To have the court consider the evidence and rule unequivocally in our favor is a real validation of the hard work of this coalition.”

Of course, Lennar can perform the required review and seek to get its project on track again. But there‘s a different City Council now, and chances are this particular proposal wouldn’t get the time of day -- especially since new 1st District Councilman Ed Reyes has done a 180 turn on predecessor Mike Hernandez‘s support of Lennar. The new mayor’s apparent benign neglect on this proposal won‘t help either.

The Taylor Yards and the Chinatown Yards would together give Central Los Angeles as many as 150 acres of green recreational heart, embracing the city’s long neglected, befouled and abused eponymous river. As major city parks go (think Chicago‘s Grant Park, Paris’ Bois de Boulogne and New York‘s Central Park), this is not a vast hunk of land. But it’s a beginning; a major constituency is developing that sees the revived river, with parks and other public space along its banks, as needful complements to a Los Angeles that has finally grown up -- a mature, true city, not a disorderly assembly of suburbs girdling a seedy downtown best shunned. No longer would our collective notion of green space mainly consist of private back yards for homeowners, but of plentiful, central public parks for everyone. Just like in most other great cities, all over the world.

The creation of such a downtown park along the abused and concrete-lined Los Angeles River has long been dear to the heart of the governor, says Davis Resources Secretary Mary Nichols. Political spin? Sure. But who cares?

Another beneficent environmental package in Davis‘ budget ought to delight those of us who tire of flulike symptoms and worse after our saltwater swims. The Gov’s budget revise also contains nearly $5 million in cleanup money for some of our region‘s most popular beaches. The biggest bundle, $2 million, will help clean up Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey. This facility, ironically, is one of the county‘s most popular family beaches and one of the worst polluted.

The budget also granted $1.25 million for cleaning up Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, $500,000 for Long Beach’s Colorado Lagoon, $810,000 for Dockweiler Beach near LAX, and $350,000 for sanitizing the waters around the Santa Monica and Redondo Beach piers. The budget revise prioritized, for the most part, the local beaches that serve the most diverse and least affluent greater Los Angeles populations. And it‘s notable that we’re talking an entire new philosophy of public expenditure, in which Sacramento seems finally to have realized that the Southern California beaches are not just local amenities but statewide recreational assets, drawing tourists from all over America. As Marc Gold of Heal the Bay pointed out, “This is the first time that the state has provided money for cleaning up polluted beaches.” May it not be the last.

And the governor‘s budget also provided a useful $4 million to advance the Baldwin Hills Recreation Area -- the biggest new park project in the region. This would become what some have termed “a new Griffith Park” with over 2 square miles of recreation space available to park-starved Southwest Los Angeles.

All of which makes one willing, perhaps, to forgive our governor the odd brownout. Unfortunately for Davis’ reputation in other areas, California‘s own Disneyland Electrical Parade continues to march, even though consumer demand is down and Southern California Edison may elude bankruptcy. Along comes the disclosure, in Saturday’s paper, that five of Davis‘ energy advisers got the sack because, guess what, they owned stock in companies, particularly Calpine Corp. of San Jose, from which the state is buying power.

According to a governor’s spokesperson, the Davis policy that limits what certain consultants must disclose about their financial holdings is based on the ethical guidance of an unlikely source: none other than L.A.‘s own veteran citizen-commissioner Raquelle de la Rocha. It was she whom Richard Riordan six years ago appointed to the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, so that she could neuter its rambunctious then-director for being too, well, for being too ethical when it came to policing local pols.

Why not, if you’re the governor, instead pick someone like Warren Christopher or Erwin Chemerinsky to render an opinion? Judgment, Governor Davis, judgment.

Good Bye to All of That

One of the weightier objects I had to personally move from my temporary office back to the original pressroom in the renovated City Hall was a 5-inch-thick sheaf of official papers -- many of them (to my discredit) as yet unread.

The papers, to be fair, do not promise diverting reading: They have titles like “Department of General Services Fuel Card Audit Report,” “Report on the City Attorney‘s Petty Cash Funds” and the last I have, the June 21 “Audit of the Department of Animal Services Dispatch Process,” this one by itself nearly an inch thick.

They represent but a fraction of the copious and worthy outpourings of the city Controller’s Office, under its just-departed occupant, Rick Tuttle. In the past five months, Tuttle and his staff seemed determined to audit every conceivable portion of city governance -- and to advise those scrutinized portions what they‘d best do to clean up their acts. Tuttle’s pre-departure mega-audit leaves his successor, Laura Chick, a high mark to hit during her own career to come, as well as a priceless trove of information on what to keep an eye on. It‘s also a tribute to Tuttle’s two top assistants, Tim Lynch and Louisa Lund, who made many of these audits happen and who departed with Tuttle. Most of all, it‘s a tribute to Tuttle himself, who made sure that the new city charter included a strong Auditor’s Office. Because of term limits, no future controller will serve as long as did Tuttle, whose 16 years of service leaves a legacy of effective diligence, honesty and openness that no other recent citywide official has equaled.

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