By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Witte insists that Grand Avenue, with its tiny allotment of just 1,500 new parking spaces, was not intended as a destination — and contains no plans for substantial traffic coming into already congested Bunker Hill.
“It’s not an attraction itself,” Witte declares. “It’s for people who might be going to Disney Hall for a concert, then can stop by Grand Avenue for something to eat afterward. It’s for residents in the area, and people who work in the area. No one’s going to come downtown to shop.”
Given the stark divergence of purpose, even between Witte and Broad, many insiders were not surprised when word recently leaked out that key architect Gehry probably won’t stick around for phases two and three. (Related Companies insists to the Weekly that Gehry is still involved but refused to comment further.)
While local media have fawned over Grand Avenue, covering its upcoming construction and huge subsidies as almost a given, critics say the county and city government — both struggling with big deficits — have lavished public workers’ time, and public money, on what is little more than a luxury neighborhood with a high-end shopping strip. New York Times architectural critic Nicolai Ouroussoff slammed the project this year as “among the most misguided” efforts ever undertaken to make downtown relevant, noting that Related Companies has “forced Mr. Gehry to remove the cascading staircase that was the project’s main link to the life at the bottom” of isolated Bunker Hill.
The Bonaventure Hotel is suing over alleged unfair practices, arguing that City Hall is handing wads of public assistance to a directly competing luxury hotel corporation.
Meanwhile, Paul Novack, planning deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich — the only sitting politician in L.A. to vote against Grand Avenue — says, “You got $4.5 million in subsidies from the county and $90 million in subsidies from the city of Los Angeles. Yes, some of this includes money to be spent on affordable housing — but that would be spent on affordable housing anyway!”
Novack calls the county supervisors’ $4.5 million giveaway “a subsidy not going to health systems, new schools, new parks. Not keeping libraries open. Not going to ease overcrowding in jails — or any other basic county service.”
WHILE MANY L.A. NEIGHBORHOODS STRUGGLE with official neglect, downtown can seem to suck air out of the room.
The unsuccessful San Fernando Valley secession movement, in which half of the Valley’s residents voted in 2002 for a new Valley city to break off from Los Angeles, was driven in large part by fury over City Hall’s chronic fascination with dressing up downtown.
David Hernandez, a leader of Valley secession, says that nobody in City Hall has the spine to oppose Villaraigosa, Broad or their developer friends. Nobody, in fact, has filled the shoes of former City Councilman Joel Wachs, the thrifty maverick who successfully attacked a similar major public subsidy for, of all things, Staples Center.
“Grand Avenue is just that type of project,” says Hernandez, referring to City Hall’s attempt to hand fat subsidies to Staples Center. “All the tax breaks [are] for the developers, instead of money [going] into the general fund. Remember that when the Staples Center was being developed, people were so outraged that the Valley went down the secession path.”
During that dustup, Wachs taunted fellow council members who insisted that Staples Center could not succeed without public money. As Wachs predicted, Staples became an incredibly lucrative venture without “substantial corporate welfare” from L.A. taxpayers.
In neighborhoods near downtown, some residents are miffed that Grand Avenue uses their money, but seems to be conceived for anybody but them. Cynthia Ramirez, an elected member of the Community Redevelopment Agency’s East Adelante Project Committee for Boyle Heights, says, “I don’t think we need any more hotels downtown. I am always downtown — my doctor, gym, dry cleaner. I live on the edge of downtown. I don’t think we need this project. What we need is a Trader Joe’s or Costco.”
Yet inside City Hall, virtually no one utters a peep against Grand Avenue. Even city councilman and former police chief Bernard Parks, an often lone council voice demanding fiscal responsibility, joined a unanimous 13-0 vote for phase one.
Broad and his Related Companies allies managed to mute criticism from city leaders by offering them a public park. The park will wipe out an existing treasure: the airy El Paseo de los Pobladores de Los Angeles, a plaza with a court of flags, a fountain and manicured tropical gardens that are filled each day with downtown workers enjoying bag lunches.
Some residents downtown believe the promised 16-acre park makes the subsidies worth it. Russell Brown, president of the Downtown L.A. Neighborhood Council and chairman of the Residents Association of Downtown L.A., says the project exemplifies “how downtown can be a place for everybody.” He envisions the 16-acre park being used for “signature events that people will see .?.?. all over the world.”
But the park plan is fraught with questions. Because the public already owns the land, including the popular open-air plaza that is to be razed, Novack explains, “what it boils down to is the developers will make the improvements and pay the city and county rent for the park space.”