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Sun, Apr

The Socialist and the Billionaire: Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez Calls For Gondola Inquiry 

LOS ANGELES

DEEGAN ON LA - One has constituents that sleep on the streets, the other owns parking lots. The only thing that Councilmember Eunicesses Hernandez (CD 1) and Frank McCourt have in common is concrete. They are also a Socialist and a Capitalist with very different views on hanging a gondola across a slice of the city from Union Station to Dodger Stadium. 

First-term City Councilmember Hernandez, helped by fellow first-termer Hugo Soto-Martinez (CD 13), is trying to put the brakes on parking lot magnate Frank McCourt’s plan to run an aerial gondola from Union Station to Dodger Stadium until some questions are answered. 

The project has been kicking around for several years without much progress. What little forward momentum it may have is now caught in the politics of a new breed of LA politico represented by Democratic Socialists Hernandez and Soto-Martinez. Both prioritize helping people over enriching businessmen. 

The developer class that has traditionally run City Hall from behind the curtain is being forced into the sunlight by a combination of federal indictments and prison time for politicos, and the further left than usual politicos being voted into the governance system and demanding a new set of priorities. 

Gone are the Garcetti days when the mayor, in 2018, cheerfully endorsed the gondola concept with his poetically channeling of the movie “La La Land” (2016) saying that “the bubble-like gondola cars could serve as the backdrop for first dates, nights out with friends and marriage proposals…Los Angeles is a gorgeous city…it lays out at night like this bed of jewels.  This isn't something that's just about Dodgers games.” 

That void, an admission that the 181 Dodger home games would not be the sole utility for the gondola, opens a gaping hole of a question of why else would you go by gondola from Union Staton to the Dodger Stadium parking lot on the 184 days the Dodgers are not there? 

While he hasn’t come out and directly said it, developer McCourt may be romanticizing how he can diversify a portion of his 72 acres of parking lots into a retail experience, making it a “Grove with a gondola”. 

The former Dodgers owner held onto the parking lots when he sold the team to current owner Guggenheim Baseball Management in 2010. 

The Los Angeles Ariel Rapid Transit entity LA ART, fronting for the gondola project, estimates that 3,000 cars will be taken off the roads to and into Dodger stadium on game days. Garcetti pegged it at 5,000 people. Either measure—cars or people—is a minor league dent into the 16,000 parking spaces or 56,000 seats stadium metrics.

A lack of logic and social equity may be why the pair of politicos say “not so fast, Frank!”. A motion (Council File: 24-0011-S4) originated by Hernandez and seconded by Soto-Martinez just a few days ago is now at the Transportation and the Budget and Finance committees. 

Others are lining up behind Hernandez and Hugo, especially County Supervisor Hilda Solis who has made a ten-page motion with twenty-seven specific public benefits that may be non-negotiable conditions before the project will get her approval. 

It’s easy to imagine a fanciful panorama of LAART gondolas spreading across the basin that would definitely add a “wow” factor to LA. Major cities are becoming more sensitive to their branding as competition for tourism increases. It’s hard to beat our beautiful beaches, but visitors need more than a day slathered in sun screen. 

If Paris can have Olympic swimming events held in the River Seine why can’t LA have something as attention-getting as a gondola for the 2028 Olympics, especially if Dodger Stadium become an Olympic venue? 

Right now more theoretical than practical, these questions and the many others raised be Hernandez and Soto-Martinez must be answered. 

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose Deegan on LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at [email protected].)