Monday, December 06, 2004

GENE SAVOY

It's odd looking at the LA Times and suddenly seeing the name - and face - of a person you have not seen in... quite a few decades. While I have not been on the Inca Trail since the late 1960's/early 1970's - I'll never forget the time Savoy and a buddy of mine - first came face to face high up in the Andes. And those two larger than life personalities instantly realized that this planet, much less that trail, was simply not going to be big enough for the two of them. More later - though likely... much later.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

THE WINNER OF THE WORST SCRIPT OF ANY KIND EVER WRITTEN IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND CONTEST.....

... has a new winner: The just aired two part mini-series CATEGORY 6: DAY OF DESTRUCTION. While there is often a reverse correlation between the quality of special affects and the quality of a writing in a film, there has never, and I mean never... been as delightfully wide a gap as just witnessed on CBS.

For true appreciators of really, really, really bad writing - this was a feast beyond compare. It was hard to even find a single line that could imaginably be spoken by a real human being - and that was only the start.

We had 'characters' watching the world end around them while they acted as if they were discussing the finer points of needlepoint, an often total disconnect between what was going on and what people were saying and, as a special treat, jaw-dropping, heavy-handed moralizing that had some of the funniest lines of dialogue anyone has ever had the pleasure to hear. In fact, it is impossible to imagine that all the political point making was not intended as wonderfully subversive low comedy since the awfulness of it was so deliciously over the top... awful.

So while I had been tempted to turn off the sound five minutes into the first episode and just look up from working to watch the special affects, I would have missed the joy of fully appreciating the biggest turkey ever to grace the nation's Thanksgiving season.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

GETTY MUSEUM - 0 METROPOLITAN MUSEUM - 1

While it was no surprise that one of the greatest works by the first master of Western Art - Duccio di Buoninsegna - was just acquired by the Metropolitan Museum, what was at least a small surprise was that when the Metropolitan spoke of their competition to purchase the painting - they mentioned the Louvre, but not the Getty Museum.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

BARRY MUNITZ AND THE DEATH OF THE GETTY MUSEUM

When Getty Museum director Deborah Gribbon resigned yesterday, she made it clear that the mission of the Getty Trust was no longer the mission that J. Paul Getty had intended it be, the acquisition and public exhibition of great works of art. What she did not say, though, is what art world insiders have long known - that Getty Trust President Barry Munitz has instead turned the institution into an ego driven self-aggrandizement of... himself.

Aided by a board that has little or no knowledge of art - and a board that has few connections with Los Angeles - the money that should be going into building a great Los Angeles arts institution is now being squandered in hundreds of projects all over the world.

The upshot is that as masterpiece after masterpiece goes up for auction with the Getty sitting on the sidelines - it is becoming increasingly impossible for J. Paul Getty's dream of creating a first class art museum in Los Angeles to be realized. Instead, the money he left in trust to better the lives of the people of Los Angeles is being funneled to everywhere but Los Angeles.

Now I do not know the exact terms of Getty's will - but perhaps some of his heirs can sue the Trust to remove Munitz and the board from their offices and save J. Paul Getty's bequest to the people of Los Angeles. The secondary hope would be that even if they can not prevail in court - that possibly this would shame them into resigning and allowing new caretakers who will follow Getty's intent and vision.




Thursday, September 23, 2004

WATCH OUT WATER GRILL!

A new top gun/spatula is headed downtown. A lease was signed today in the Historic Core by the latest contender for the title of the top restaurant in downtown - if not all of LA.

Developing...

A GIANT OF CINEMA PASSES

All men who came of age in the 1960's and 1970's will mourn the recent passing of Russ Meyer. A throw back to the age when actual sex did not need to be shown in a soft core porno for the film to be mesmerizingly erotic, Meyer somehow managed to combine his four passions in life - women with enormous cleavages due to the wonders of advanced modern technology, violence - but mainly women against exploitative men and - most bizarrely of all - anti-communism and anti-racism, in films that continue to be shown and appreciated all over the world.

And in recent decades, the idiosyncratic appeal of his films has increasingly brought them to the attention of film critics - and museums and universities - all over the world.

My own personal connection - other than as a profoundly appreciative viewer during my teenage years - was when a buddy of mine who felt Meyer was the world's greatest filmmaker (long before he had any critical respect) - somehow got the opportunity to work with him and I was able to crew on one of his films for a few satisfying days during my gratefully misspent youth.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

TODAY'S BUSINESS SCORECARD - WORLD - 3 - LOS ANGELES - 0

Today is a day like every other day in LA. Three Los Angeles companies are gobbled up by out of state companies - and no companies are acquired by Los Angeles area companies. Irvine's LoanCenter.com is acquired by a subsidary of Barry Diller's New York-based IAC, Carson-based Bistol Farms is snapped up by Idaho-based Albertsons and New York-based Bank of New York swallows Santa Monica's Wilshire Associates. Cries of protest by area media and politicians - zero.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

ITALIAN JOB REVS UP PERSHING SQUARE

The ITALIAN JOB was screened al fresco in Pershing Square tonight in what is hoped will become a regular event. It was put on by the Central City Association - among other groups - and it gave a chance for downtowners from all the neighborhoods to gather together and watch a cool film, much was which was filmed on the streets only blocks from Pershing Square.

It is exactly the kind of free, social event that we need to create an overall community and the kind of event that is very common in New York. So let's see what the follow-up event will be.

SUNDAY MORNING IN THE CITY

The sounds of the city.

On Sunday mornings I come to the office early to pursue my novel and my memoirs - that being only time that I can expect to get anything done on anything that might actually financially benefit me.

But even then the lure of downtown comes creeping into my office. And, inevitably, the sounds of the city slink into my consciousness - and slowly seduce me away from my work. Leaving my office door open, I hear the sounds of Spring Street though the windows of the vacant offices down the hall and I listen to a lone trumpet player sweetly playing Moon River with a sad, unusually melancholic lilt.

Now whether that is the musician's heartfelt response to this particular song or his own personal feelings as he discovers that the mere handful of pedestrians that pass him by are unlikely to be able to afford to fill his awaiting, upturned hat on the sidewalk, I do not know. I only wish I could afford to pay him to remain there the remainder of the day so I could continue to enjoy his playing.

Then, though the opened windows that face my building's courtyard, I can hear the sporadic enthusiasm of a power drill - the patron tool of all artists - busily working screws into studs and drywall for an art space (Kristi Engel Gallery) in the adjoining suite that will shortly become yet another contributor to Gallery Row.

But I can also hear the monotone sound of the sewing machine of the young fashion designer across the air well, the muted sound of a score for an Indy film being mixed next to her and the playbacks from a recording studio across the hall from them both.

And I find myself thinking more and more about all that is surrounding me rather than paying attention to my word smithing of the never-ending travails of Jed Matthews. in The Long Rider.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

COWABUNGA, DUDE! SURF'S UP IN THE 'HOOD!

You know the neighborhood is changing when on a single Saturday morning I observe not one, not two - but three (three - count'em - three!) seperate dudes carrying surf boards in or out of three different loft buildings on Spring or Main Streets. The ex-Westsiders are definitely representin' themselves in the 'hood..

Friday, September 10, 2004

GRAND AVENUE - WAITIN' FOR THE PHONE TO RING

The August 8th, 2004 Edition of the Slatin Report (a leading real estate newsletter) describes New York's The Related Companies winning the Grand Avenue 'competition'. Peter Slatin does his usual superb, concise overview of the project and its most recent history (though I would disagree with some of his more subjective judgments) and he hits the major points of both the community's almost unanimous distain for the secretiveness of the process and the concerns that many of us have in Related's past failures in developing even one project with any strong sensibility for either design or urbanism. (And in interest of full disclosure, I am the unnamed community activist they identity as stirringly speaking in favor of one of the their competitors, Forest City.)

But Slatin's most interesting point, though, was that West Coast Related head Bill Witte was quoted as saying that he would start working with the community the very day he got back from vacation on August 19th. Well, it is now September 10th - three (3) weeks later and if anyone's phone has rung - no one has yet told the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, which is only organization officially designated by the city charter to represent the community in land use matters.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

THE LA WEEKLY vs. THE NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCILS

The phone calls started coming in early today as the LA Weekly and its cover story on the Neighborhood Councils hit news racks around town. And all the callers had the same message. They each wanted me to sternly reprimand the writer of the article and to defend the tarnished honor of neighborhood councils with a strongly worded letter.

But upon reading the article - while I deplored the sub-title (What can save LA's broken neighborhood councils), which suggested that the NC's overall needed to be fixed - the article was actually quite accurate in the individual stories it told. And it was even understated when it came to describing the problem children of our NC's.

The mentally challenged lunatic fringe running the Venice Grassroots Council actually came out far better than any of the first hand reports I have heard of them, and the factionalism that has split the Van Nuys Council (and which is legendary in NC circles) was calmly dealt with. And the writer very accurately described the nursery school antics of the Lincoln Heights Council which equal if not surpass some of the early Malibu City Council meetings where I once opined that what Malibu's new city manager would need most was a degree in child psychology.

The only real problem I had with the article is that these councils are the exceptions rather than the rule, a fact that was not at all made clear. Now, granted, the article does cover the activities of some of the more typical councils and it does end on a very hopeful note, but I do feel the article really only tells one (albeit, important) side of the story. Still, as for being an examination of the problems that do face the handful of true problem NC's and the pitfalls that all NC's are and will be faced with - it is a very accurate article.

In the interest of full disclosure, I might add that I have run into the writer - Robert Greene - a number of times during his writing of the article and we have developed a kind of relationship that can best be described as follows; when a person once asked him if he wrote for a newspaper, I graciously answered for him that he did not - that he wrote for the LA Weekly.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

GRAND AVENUE... BE AFRAID... BE VERY, VERY AFRAID.

In Roger Vincent's excellent (as usual) article in today's LAT's Sunday business section, he mentions the until now only rumored details about the final selection of Related over Forest City in the Grand Avenue 'competition'.

While one member of the Forest City team told me their not trying to compete with the massive retail complex being built at Staples as the main reason they were not selected, Eli Broad instead posited in the article that the proposals were essentially tied with the deciding factor being Related's agreeing to pay more ground rent and to put forth more subsidies for low and moderate income housing on the site. However, of course, the building of far more high-end retail would enable them to pay higher rents and subsidies, so there could be some correlation there.

The one part of the article that should worry anyone concerned about the future of Los Angeles, though, was that statement that the head of Related - former tax attorney Steve Ross - is intensely involved in every detail of his projects - down to the art work and the lighting fixtures.

The only problem is that as one who has seen many of their projects, I have not seen any art or a lighting fixtures in their projects that would be particularly suitable for any place in Los Angeles (and this is - alas - especially true of theIr one built project in downtown LA), much less on Grand Avenue.

Now this is not to say that their projects are tacky or in bad taste, for they are not. They are generally quite tasteful - if your taste is 1960's corporate modernism (though their lead architecture David Childs prefers a very heavy handed 1930's Art Deco style 'updated' to the 1960's) - modernism after modernism has lost its edge and its nerve - or an inoffensive shopping center Taco Bell type of Spanish revival pastiche architecture such as their highly suburban Florida shopping mall with apartments on the roofs of the stores in West Palm Beach.

They are highly efficient machines with which to make money and have it shipped back to their corporate headquarters in New York. Nothing less and nothing more.

In short - it is the kind of taste that is antithetical to true urbanism, antithetical to quality design - and inappropriate for a great street even during the middle to late 20th Century, much less what is needed to redefine what is necessary to create a great urban center in the 21st Century.










Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Mr. DeMille... I'm ready for my Close-Up.... (not)

I can count on one hand the number of times I have been photographed since age 17 other than by family or by female and other friends. I have also managed to avoid even once being captured by a TV camera. However, today, at the request of Greg Nelson of the Department of Neighborhoods Empowerment (DONE - the agency in charge of Neighborhood Council's), I just shot a half-hour TV show for the city cable channel on the economic development in the Old Bank District/Gallery Row area of downtown. I am beginning to realize that this sort of thing comes with the territory, but do not expect the time and date of its showing on this site.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Mayor's Budget Day - Strike Two.

If anything proves the Neighborhood Councils are a work in progress, today's Mayor's Budget Day did. Last year, each Neighborhood Council was asked to list five categories they would like to see better funded. Then each of the five regions of the eighty odd NC's were to meet and vote on their collective five highest priorities. The biggest hitch was that the priorities were so broad - and also already in the budget - it was impossible to quantify if anything actually happened because of our lists.

Now this year the Mayor's office tried something a little different. They gave us four categories of priorities and asked us to rank them, and to then sub-rank smaller categories within each of the larger categories.

Unfortunately, the categories make no sense. Under economic development were homelessness services and low income housing while under livable neighborhoods (which would seem to suggest... housing, but which was not addressed there) were social programs such as the status of women, civil rights and AIDS assistance programs, which should have a fifth section of their own. And infrastructure issues were mysteriously split between neighborhoods and mobility.

But the biggest problem is that we are not being asked which (often politically motivated) programs we would like to cut or drop. Nor are we going to be engaged in the examination of the programs we are being asked to endorse. Plus nothing as sensitive as pension reform is even hinted at. Lastly, there is no way of quantifying if any of our input has any impact at all. Not surprisingly, not a single member of a Neighborhood Council was involved in the development of the survey.

Friday, July 30, 2004

LA Cowboy... Returns!

Shortly after I started this blog... my life abruptly changed, a not too uncommon occurrence in my life; hence my recent hiatus.

To my surprise, I found myself elected the president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC). I also was appointed by the Mayor to DWP Green Ribbon Commission. Additionally, I was already serving on a number of committees that deal with many of the city's agencies.

So, more than just being an observer - I am now, increasingly - more of an active participant in many of the issues facing this city.

To back track - the City of Los Angeles a few years back started an experiment in democracy called Neighborhood Councils. More than eighty of a projected over a hundred councils have already been certified citywide and each council is elected by the stakeholders of each community. Depending on the individual council, seats can be held by business owners, residents, workers, non-profits, the arts, social service agencies - among many other stakeholder groups - and - in our case - even the homeless.

Importantly, this is the first time the city has charter mandated stakeholder groups that directly communicate with the Mayor and the City Council, along with city agencies. It is also, even more importantly - the first time each of the different groups that make up all the communities of LA can sit down and... talk to each other and get to know and, most importantly - understand each other.

It will also be the first time that any one other than the lobbyists and special interest groups will consistently be at the table every time any issue of importance comes before the City Council or before any city agency. But rather than detail the history/current status of the Neighborhood Council - check out the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE) website at www.lacityneighborhoods.com/sitemap.htm for further information.

So along with the life, politics and culture of Los Angeles I had planned on essaying about - this blog will, from now on, also report on (and, sometimes, opine on) the birth pains of this new grass roots experience in local, town hall style democracy. Neighborhood Councils.

So - Cowboy Up!

It's going to be an interesting ride.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Reagan Dead

An era of American and world history ended today with the passing of former President Ronald Reagan.

The first time I ever met Reagan was in 1965 when I was still a high school student. I had volunteered at the Spencer-Roberts Public Relations firm, then the powerhouse political firm in California, after Reagan had formed an exploratory committee while he considered running to become the governor of California.

From that very first meeting and during each of the times I had the honor of either being a guest in his home or to otherwise meet him, the one thing that stood out most was his belief and confidence in the American people. No matter what your political opinion of him was or is, if you ever had the pleasure to meet him, you could not doubt the sincerity of his beliefs or his passion for this country.

All You Need To Know About The "LA" Times

One of the great civic benefactors of Los Angeles died yesterday, but you would never know it by reading the news sections of the Chicago, I mean, LA Times. Richard D. Colburn was the force behind and the major financial supporter of the Colburn School of Performing Arts on Bunker Hill and the major supporter of the soon to be built $80 million expansion designed to give Los Angeles a school equal to New York's Juilliard.

But Colburn's extensive obituary was buried on page ten of the 'B' section rather than being on the front page as the story would have been if he had lived in Chicago - or any other city in with a locally owned and operated newspaper. To do this, though, would have required bumping off urgently breaking front page stories such as one about a horse in Bensalem, Pennsylvania.

I would like to say I was surprised by this, but this is the same out-of-town team that did not feel that even Ira Yellin's passing was worthy of coverage in the regular news section.

Unfortunately, this is the continuing price this city has to pay for a paper owned by absentee landlords and edited and published by outsiders for whom LA is just another temporary pit stop in their careers.

The Last Of Perino's

In today's LAT, Bob Pool covers the impending demolition of the historic Wilshire eatery, Perino's - the site of so much of Los Angeles's social and political history. He also details the efforts by the developers to save many of the Paul Williams designed building's architectural details for re-use both on and off-site.

What is not discussed is that in many other cities - San Diego and San Francisco to name just two - buildings of historic value are far more often moved to new locations - including structures that are far larger and more difficult to move such as large, unreinforced brick warehouses.

There precedents demonstrate that there is no reason why an elegant structure of Perino's compact size can not be moved to another commercial site before its scheduled August demolition.

What would, however, would make this far easier to do is if Los Angeles had a revolving trust to buy, move and restore historic structures - like many other cities do. The buildings are then protected with easements and re-sold, with the funds then used to buy, move and restore another building.

I can think of few things that would have a more beneficial impact on the quality of life in LA than the establishment of this kind of civic institution.

Does anyone know the phone number of the Getty Trust? Or Eli Broad?

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Forget ChinaTown, Jake - It's El Pueblo We Have To Worry About!

Two events have finally pushed me over the edge into the living hell that is blogdom. FIrst, both the process and the end result of the Grand Avenue competition for redeveloping Bunker Hill around Disney Hall, which I will delve into later.

Second, was Laura Chick's audit (and she is our watchdog of a city controller) of El Pueblo, which 'runs' Olvera Street and the historic buildings for the city around the Plaza. The initial story of the audit was followed by a second story in this week's Downtown News about just fired employees allegedly breaking into the El Pueblo offices and shredding files and possibly even destroying computer hard drives. And there is a reason why I am interested in 'Pueblo-gate'.

When I wanted to do an art show in one of the vacant buildings several years ago, I tried to find out who was in charge. And it only took one day to discover that there were large numbers of city employees being paid to do ... absolutely... nothing... and that many of them were not even bothering to show up at their non-existent jobs while they worked their real jobs.

But when I went with that information (along with two volunteers willing to go on record) to the council office, to the Mayor's office and to the press - I could not get even one person to listen to what was going on - much less do anything about it. It just seemed to be accepted that this type of Chicago-style political patronage was acceptable in El Pueblo and that there was something wrong with me if I had any problem with it.

What will be interesting to find out - assuming there is not a cover-up (a not very safe assumption, of course) - is exactly who has been the political protectors of this criminal activity for so many years - if not decades.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

LA Cowboy - Politics, Culture and Art in LA

Accepting a dare from Matt Welch of the late, lamented (other than by the LA Times, of course), LA Examiner - I am going to take a stab (which may prove to be an all too relevant verb) at starting a debate about politics in in Los Angeles, along with all the other aspects of life in LA that make life here both exciting and despairing.

So... as soon as I figure how how the hell to make this thing work with a 1997 browser.... I will begin....