Thursday, June 26, 2008

Downtown Freeway Park Cap Plan To Be Unveiled Today!

A proposed plan on how the 101 Freeway AKA - the Hollywood Freeway - between Alameda and Grand Avenue - can be capped with a park - and other civic amenities - will shown to the public at 5PM today - Friday 27th June - at the Cal Trans Plaza on Main Street between 1st and 2nd Streets.

Twenty-four interns from around the world came to Los Angeles to design a plan that will also include suggestions on how the adjacent neighborhoods of Downtown - the Civic Center, Bunker Hill & the Historic Core - and China Town, the Plaza & Union Station separated by the below grade 101 Freeway slot can be reconnected and revitalized.

And they did this all in two weeks.

Among the speakers will be City of Los Angeles Planning Director Gail Goldberg and Department of Transportation (Cal Trans) District Director Douglas R. Failing.

But the highlight will be a 45 minute presentation of the plan by the interns them self. Much more on this after the event along some ideas on what the Downtown community needs to do next. Because in the city with countless shelves filled with endless forgotten reports - unless we get organized to make this vision a reality - two weeks from now, the dust will already be settling on this plan.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Los Angeles Times Building To Go On Auction Block?

Here are the opening graphs from Peter Villes L.A. LAND blog on the LAT website:

Zell to entertain offers for Tribune Tower, L.A. Times building

Sam Zell, the real estate mogul who runs the Tribune Company, put out this stunner this morning: he's willing entertain offers for the company's prize real estate holdings, which include the Tribune Tower in Chicago and the Times Mirror Square complex here in Los Angeles, which many know as the Los Angeles Times building.

This from an e-mail Sam sent to me personally, as well as every other Tribune employee: "... we are in the process of asking a number of real estate firms to give us their best thinking on how we can generate more value from Tribune Tower in Chicago, and the Times Mirror Square complex in Los Angeles."

More: "We’ll be considering numerous options to maximize the value of these properties. While a near-term transaction is possible, we’ll be focusing on opportunities that allow for some level of ongoing occupancy in both buildings for the mid-term (defined as five years), for farther out (15 years), and beyond.

A RFP will go out to potential buyers today. And while the Times not being in the Times building was once unthinkable, with the quality of local coverage of Los Angeles in the print section having recently deteriorated so dramatically - even while the rest of the paper and the website have continued to improve - the print version of the Times has already ceased to be a credible local institution.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Another Rare Case Of Actual Journalism In LA Times Metro Section!

Once again, Evelyn Larrubia manages to break the increasing trend towards factually challenged propaganda pieces masquerading as news article within the LA Times Metro section. Her cause is also helped when she has an editor who writes brilliant headlines that actually tell you what the story is about as opposed to headlines that either contradict the story - or are so biased as to be fictional.

Below is the opening of her story; as you will see, the headline, the sub-headline and the story all allow both sides to make their best points - and then allows the reader to make an intelligent, informed decision on who is right.

(And, btw - the LAUSD is ignoring the wishes of the voters with their present actions and - as usual - refuses to allow any true public debate on this very complicated issue in which both sides have valid points)

L.A. Unified will have more seats, but fewer students to fill them

Despite falling enrollment, the district will keep building schools as a way to eliminate year-round calendars, forced busing and portable classrooms. Critics say it's overbuilding.

By Evelyn Larrubia, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 23, 2008

San Fernando Middle School is expecting 1,600 students this fall, but officials estimate that the north Valley campus could handle 2,300. Lake Primary Center in Echo Park is expecting 160 but has room for 260. And Lincoln High School in Lincoln Heights is anticipating about 2,700 students; it has space for about 3,000.

What do Los Angeles Unified School District officials plan to do with the empty space? Add to it.

The district plans to build campuses that will take hundreds of students from those schools, further reducing their enrollment. By the time the building program is completed in 2012, there will be tens of thousands of empty seats at dozens of once-crowded schools, a Times analysis shows.

The district will use boundary changes, smaller class sizes and other methods to even out enrollment and reduce the surplus. A decade ago, the nation's second-largest school system was bursting at the seams, with campuses so crowded that students sometimes had no desks. And the number of students was predicted to keep growing. The dire situation persuaded local voters to approve four bonds, which launched a $20-billion building and modernization program.

But now, with 180 new schools and additions completed and 79 more on the drawing board, things have changed dramatically.

Economic and demographic changes have resolved some of the space crunch that the construction program was created to fix.

Over the last decade, fewer people moved to Southern California, large numbers of school-aged children grew up, and the birth rate among Latinos declined. Some students left traditional public schools to enroll in publicly financed charters, experts and officials said. Rising housing prices changed the face of some neighborhoods in the urban core, bringing singles and childless couples into what were once communities of large, poor immigrant families.

As a result, L.A. Unified has lost 57,000 students, nearly 8% of its total enrollment.

"When we wrote the ballot arguments against the last bond, we said they should wait. There were still billions of dollars in the pipeline, and their own figures showed declining enrollment," said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. "We were speculating that these schools were eventually going to be housing the homeless because we're running out of students."

With the district paying $600 a square foot for construction costs, the extra schools add up to real money.

Facing a budget shortfall, the school board last year scrapped 19 projects and reduced the size of others, citing demographic changes, but officials said every remaining school is necessary.

L.A. Unified plans to add space for roughly 70,000 students at currently mandated class sizes by 2012. But its own projections show that would produce space for 25,000 more students than needed to take schools off year-round schedules and eliminate forced busing, the goals of the school building program.

The district is continuing with plans to build some schools in areas of dwindling population and others that are too large, in some cases because the projects are too far along. Also, the district, running up against state deadlines for matching funds, is primed to avoid delays.

"If we're locked and loaded, let's go," said Edwin Van Ginkel, a high-ranking consultant for the district's building program. "You don't save a whole lot of money in redesign. You're just taking a few classrooms out."

In addition, officials said, the extra space will allow the district to stop crowding playgrounds with portable classroom trailers, leave a large majority of classrooms empty for one period to allow teachers to plan there and, potentially, shrink class sizes at all schools. The extra space will also allow the district to take advantage of a seven-year state grant to make classes at select campuses smaller still. These measures were not envisioned when voters were asked to approve the bonds.

Rena Perez, the district's head demographer, said an increase in births in the region is expected to cause enrollment to begin rising in six years.

"If we build to our absolute need, then we wouldn't have any margin if and when our enrollment starts to grow again," she said.

The rest of the story is at the above link....

Downtown Freeway Park Cap Halfway Point Review!

After an intensive first week of work, the 24 interns developing a master plan to the cap the 101 Freeway Downtown between the Civic Center and the Plaza (see prior post for details), presented six different visions to the Review Committee on Friday. We were shown substantially proposals on how – and where - the freeway might be capped - and we were also given sweeping visions of how the adjacent neighborhoods might be redeveloped and connected with each other.

These 24 interns from all over the country – and all over the world - have worked at the Cal Trans Building under EDAW’s leadership and in less than one week from their arrival in LA, they have produced an amazing array of choices from which the panel could comment upon.

The single most striking point of the session, though, was not the high quality of each of the presentations, but the fact that by using the most salient points from each of the proposals, one unified vision could be constructed.

In fact, not only could large parts of each of these six proposals be used in combination – but it is absolutely essential that any plan – or plans – contain the key elements from each of these proposals. But they now have just one week before they present their final vision – or visions – to the Review Committee – and the public at large at 5 PM – at the Cal Trans Plaza at 1st and Main Streets.

So while I have a lot to say about what I saw, I will defer any comment until after the public unveiling. But I will state this now.

Monday morning needs to be the start of a permanent committee to begin a far broader public process for this project. With the high quality of work already produced, getting the public excited about their vision should prove easy. Keeping our civic leaders engaged for the long process though, will – as usual, be the far harder task.

Editorial On Proposed Downtown Freeway Park!

The only words I can add to the below editorial is that while 100 acres are technically possible for the proposed park - and while a far larger area than that should be benefited by this project, the actual park will likely be smaller.

Where's our Central Park?
Putting a 'lid' over the 101 Freeway could give L.A. the gathering place it needs.
By Vaughan Davies

June 20, 2008

Great cities have great urban parks. Central Park in New York, Millennium Park in Chicago, Washington's Mall. They are magnets for the key ingredients that make a successful city center: housing and hotels, shops and cafes, museums and concert halls, public festivals and recreation from active sports to leisurely strolling. They provide breathing room amid the civic bustle; they open up the densest cityscapes; they signify the heart of the heart of their hometowns.

Unfortunately, Los Angeles -- a great city by most definitions -- has no important downtown park. Griffith Park meets many needs, but it's not in the center of the city. The Cornfield, north of Chinatown, is also removed from the action (and mostly not off the drawing board). The public space that links downtown's civic center buildings may get a polish as part of the Grand Avenue project, but it's tucked away, hemmed in by government buildings. None of these alone is the great, open-air city gathering place that L.A. needs.

It is time for something bold and visionary.

More than 100 acres of potential downtown urban parkland are hiding in plain sight. The site -- which is passed by tens of thousands of people every day -- is close to all the new transit lines that converge on downtown. Building a park there would not require hundreds of Angelenos to be relocated or dozens of buildings to be demolished. And the money to pay for it is available now from a variety of sources, both public and private.

Where is this potential park? On top of the "Big Trench" -- that unsightly two-thirds of a mile of the 101 Freeway, just east of the 110 interchange between Grand Avenue and Alameda Street -- that brutally slices through the historic heart of Los Angeles. The Big Trench separates some of our most prized and appealing landmarks -- Olvera Street, Chinatown and Union Station on one side; Disney Hall, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and City Hall on the other -- creating isolated pockets of activity rather than what we need: a livable, walkable and unified downtown district.

All we have to do is put a "lid" over the Big Trench and its exit ramps and acquire nearby parking lots and underutilized land next to the freeway, turning an urban eyesore into a 100-acre urban park and knitting the core of downtown together again.

If we build it, the Grand Avenue arts corridor would end at a magnificent park, not a freeway no man's land. Angelenos could walk from Union Station through a park to their jobs at Civic Center or to weekend events on Bunker Hill, not trudge across intimidating bridges above the roar of freeway traffic.

Students at the $200-million performing arts high school, which is nearing completion -- without playing fields -- next to the freeway at Grand Avenue would have outdoor recreation space at their doorstep. Chinatown would gain a great "front door," and the long-proposed Latino Cultural Center could become one of the park's great destinations. Surrounding property values would get a boost.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who frequently speaks about the need for more urban parks, gets a Central Park footsteps from City Hall.

Can it be done? Decking over the Big Trench and constructing a park on the "lid" is a relatively straightforward engineering enterprise. Other cities have built parks on top of freeways. In Manhattan, the 15-acre Carl Schultz Park and Gracie Mansion (the mayor's official residence) have been sitting atop the East River Drive expressway for 50 years. Seattle opened its 5-acre Freeway Park atop Interstate 5 in 1976. A similar scheme is being discussed in Hollywood, also over the 101 Freeway.

Funding for such public projects is always a challenge, but money sources are available. Because the freeway could be streamlined and improved as part of the project, state infrastructure funding, provided by Propositions 1A and 1B, could be tapped. Property owners who would benefit from a new park could contribute to a fund for this open space as part of new development agreements. Fees for environmental "mitigation" programs at the Port of Los Angeles and similar initiatives could be put to use. And finally, the patchwork of funds available to Caltrans and other agencies for landscaping, sidewalks and the like could be marshaled to support a major new park.

The first major step in creating the Big Trench park is happening now. Twenty-five urban design students from across the country are in town for a two-week workshop, a design "charrette" whose aim is to analyze the Big Trench site, identify challenges to covering it and making a park, suggest ways to overcome those challenges and present a design approach. The best of their work will be unveiled at 5 p.m. at the Caltrans building's plaza, across 1st Street from City Hall, on June 27, with the cooperation of Caltrans, the Los Angeles Planning Department, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Community Redevelopment Agency, the Southern California Assn. of Governments, City Council members and the mayor's office.

Imagine what today's New York would be like without Central Park. Now envision what downtown L.A. could become if we convert the Big Trench dead zone into our own downtown park reflecting the city's great and boundless aspirations. Better yet, come to the Caltrans headquarters next Friday and see how what you imagine might actually take shape.

Vaughan Davies is a principal and director of urban design at the Los Angeles office of EDAW, an urban planning and design firm. EDAW organized the Big Trench charrette.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Can Someone Please Buy All These New Reporters At The LA Times Thomas Guides?

I try to never read any stores in the LA Times Metro section since they have become so factually challenged - why bother? But when glancing a the website, I saw the headline about the Main Street off-ramp of the 5 Freeway which is in Lincoln Heights suddenly being moved into East Los Angeles.

Man, said to be tagging overpass, injured on 5 Freeway in East Los Angeles

Witnesses say man who fell from an overpass near Main Street off-ramp had a can of spray paint in his hands.

By Ari B. Bloomekatz, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
2:36 PM PDT, June 22, 2008

A man was apparently spray painting graffiti on an overpass when he fell Saturday night onto the 5 Freeway in East Los Angeles, authorities said.

Several motorists told authorities that the man had possibly broken his back at about 9:45 p.m. and had a can of spray paint clutched in his hands as he lay on the freeway near the Main Street off-ramp, said California Highway Patrol spokesman David Porter.

Granted some people call everything east of Downtown, East Los Angeles - but anyone who writes for what used to be the paper of record of this city should be able to know the difference between Lincoln Heights and the real East Los Angeles - which is unincorporated county territory many miles south and east of Lincoln Heights. Any out-of-town writer pretending to know this city should also know that Boyle Heights is between the two communities.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Downtown Freeway Park Cap Study Begins!

Yesterday, 24 interns from around the world gathered at the Cal Trans Building on Main Street to begin a two week study of how a section of the Hollywood Freeway that runs through Downtown Los Angeles can be capped with a park. The study will also examine how the communities on each side of the freeway can be connected with each other and made more pedestrian accessible.

This project is sponsored by EDAW which is also doing the official study of he Hollywood Freeway Cap Park in the heart of Hollywood.

The day started with welcoming speeches by Doug Failing of Cal Trans, the principals of EDAW - whose names I did not catch, EDAW project coordinators Mike Williams & Gaurav Srivastava, Planning Director Gail Goldberg, Jessica Wethington McClean who represented Councilman Jose Huizar and moi.

Afterwards, I gave a tour of the project area between First Street and the Plaza/Union Station area on Alameda all the way up to the Music Center and the Performing Arts High School on Grand Avenue and pretty much everything in between. We managed this all in under four hours.

My impression of the project after this first day is that EDAW has assembled a talented team of in-house staff members and local civic leaders to assist the interns in developing a much needed vision for both our Civic Center and our historic center. If anything, I think connecting these two sides of the freeway will be the easy part; the far bigger challenge will be to find a way to make the neighborhoods on each side of the freeway places one would want to connect with.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Guess Who Didn't Get Her Vote By Mail Ballot!

Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, who runs elections statewide. Below is her most recent FACEBOOK update:

Debra Bowen

Debra Bowen is in Monday-before-an-election mode, with press inquiries and the odd problem here and there - including not receiving my VBM ballot!

14 minutes ago

In her defense, her office is not in charge of those ballots. That is the responsibility of the individual counties.