By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
THE GLITZY UNVEILING OF the new Civic Park at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion didn’t have much to do with the public. It was hosted by the Grand Avenue Committee — an exceedingly obscure taxpayer-funded entity that controls the development process on Grand Avenue. But, oddly, the committee is calling the shots on this major downtown park — not the county, which is providing the land, or the city, whose parks department controls all city parks. Even worse, the committee has zilch track record in park development, and its decisions cannot be overturned by taxpayers who own the land.
The design involved two schemes: a “base” park that would cost an already high $56 million, or a far pricier, “enhanced” plan, in which a playground, stage and “architectural components” — including a 200-foot-long multileveled pedestrian bridge over Broadway — could be added.
But nobody mentioned that the extra money to add those bells and whistles — including areas for commercialization and man-made shade — would be raided from “affordable housing” bonds that California voters believed were to be spent on housing for the poor.
The Housing and Emergency Shelter Trust Fund Act, approved by voters in 2006, promised to provide, among other things, “shelters for battered women and their children; clean and safe housing for low-income senior citizens; and homeownership assistance for the disabled,” but the fine print left big loopholes. The wealthy Related Companies applied for the money — $30 million from the cash-strapped state of California — and promptly got hammered in the Los Angeles Daily News. But the affordable-housing money was awarded anyway.
Though the private designer of the park, Mark Rios, envisions revolving “garden rooms” that follow the natural lifespan of plants, and meandering paths of trees, a current fad in Southern California is to host “urban activities” rather than allow for quiet open space. The result is a busy mix of what proponents call “programmable sections” — movies, activities, farmers markets, music. (Calls to Rios were referred to Welborne, the bureaucrat.)
Russell Brown, president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, instead of sounding an alarm, praises the “programmable” park as a way to feed the budget, saying, “There’s opportunities for naming rights [and to] brand the park for corporate sponsorship,” such as letting Disney show movies.
Brown suggests that Angelenos who want a classic park can instead use one that’s well outside of the Civic Center — 32-acre Los Angeles State Historic Park. There, volunteers and artist Lauren Bon have involved the community in helping to define the park, nicknamed the Cornfields. Without designers or tens of millions of dollars, they chose grass and open spaces.
Some experts believe that no amount of taxpayer money will make Civic Park work because it sits on a very difficult land site, and its true beneficiaries were never intended to be Angelenos but egotistical politicians and rich developers who needed it as a fig leaf for the massive Grand Avenue project.
Other park experts are showing, by example, how such riches could be vastly better spent. Tsilah Burman heads the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, which furnishes small “pocket parks” at the cost of $1 million or less. The group has opened seven in the past four years, and another six are in the planning stages.
Asked how many parks she could supply for $56 million — the budget for Civic Park’s base scheme without the concrete arms and sunscreen overhangs — Burman hesitates for a moment, the $56 million amount unfathomable in her universe. Then, she offers an equally unfathomable number. “Fifty-six,” she answers.