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Wed, Apr

Celebrating Louie! His Leaving Left a Hole the Size of His Heart

REMEMBERING LOUIE (1961-2016)-On January 17, after a long fight with diabetes and its devastation, Luis (“Louie”) Manuel Moreno suffered a fatal heart attack, leaving family and friends throughout Boyle Heights and the communities of East Los Angeles and the family of LA city workers with a hole the size of Louie’s heart. 

Councilmember José Huizar responded on Instagram: “I am lost for words in hearing of the passing of Louie Moreno. He was a dear friend to all and never backed away from the opportunity to help others, especially our youth. His passion for empowering our youth through sports and education helped motivate many people in Boyle Heights and on the Eastside, including myself. You will be forever missed. Rest in peace, brother… #BoyleHeights” 

Louie loved his daughter, Teresa Michelle Moreno, and she loved him. “Can't sleep. I just miss you so much daddy when I used to cry for you when you left for work or when I hid in the car and said I'm going to work with you. Daddy, you are and always will be my everything always and forever,” said Teresa, sharing the news of Louie’s passing on social media. 

Louie was proud to be a city worker and he took his city service very seriously. It defined him and drove him to do more. 

I knew Louie Moreno. Every day, for so many years, Louie’d greet me with his friendly smile. And if Louie had a union question, it meant 100 other city workers had a question. It was never about him. It was only about “we.” 

Louie showed up after every earthquake. And on 9/11. Like thousands and thousands of public workers – government workers – Louie showed up and served and smiled. 

Eddie Santillan must be the head of all City Hall parking by now. He met Louie in 1985 when he started working for the City. “Dad knew him from a summer youth program back when Art Snyder was the Councilman,” Eddie recalls. “Louie was a good man, a good friend, my best friend. He never stopped, even when his health fell apart, he was always out, working to do good, with the kids, his gig at Steven’s, his sports show, whatever good he could do. He wanted to show the kids that there’s so much out there, so many opportunities. Nothing could stop Louie.” Eddie added sadly, “He never asked for help.” 

Eddie and Louie worked together throughout the years, at security, special events, Council District 14 activities, whatever needed to be done – in City Hall and in the community -- always for the kids. 

A 1980 graduate of Roosevelt High School, Louie Moreno loved giving back to all of the communities of East Los Angeles and to his beloved Boyle Heights. Rough Rider Forever.    

Mayor Sam’s Scott Johnson sums it up with the voice of a compadre: “For decades, Louie's endeavors in promoting the positive, mentoring values in sports, saw him give selflessly of his time in supporting the … Boyle Heights Wolfpack Pop Warner Program, the El Sereno Stallions, the annual East LA Classic between Roosevelt and Garfield…while himself teaching those same values on the field of play to community youth, including someone who would become Boyle Height's current City Councilperson.” 

For years, Louie hosted a public access “Sports Rap Up” program and Channel 35 local sports program, aimed primarily at LA kids. He emceed and DJ’d countless community events, helped organize an annual toy giveaway supporting hundreds of Ramona Gardens children, Movie Day at the old Edwards Theater in Alhambra, Council Office activities, and union gatherings.

Louie is mourned and missed by the LA32 Neighborhood Council, the Community Police Advisory Board (CPAB) of Hollenbeck, city officials and city workers, visitors to LA City Hall…so many.

Like Eddie said, “Louie never stopped.” 

From the Los Angeles City Council draft adjourning motion (CD14) honoring the life of Louie Moreno:

“More than anything, Louie loved his community. Louie’s goal for this year was to become Honorary Mayor of Boyle Heights. I think many of us always saw him that way anyway. No title necessary. 

“He was truly a community ambassador and by far one of the most faithful servants Boyle Heights and the eastside has ever seen. 

“Louie Moreno was a loving son, father, nephew, and friend who taught us all, no matter how rough things get, life is beautiful. Even as Louie’s health declined, his spirits remained positive. On the day before his passing, he reminded us all to smile.” 

Funeral services are set for Saturday, February 6 at 11:00 a.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 407 S. Chicago St., LA 90033 followed by a reception at Steven’s Steak House, 5332 Stevens Pl., Commerce 90040. 

Louie’s friends and family have set up a GoFundMe page to help honor Louie with a funeral and send-off befitting his life of service and love. Here’s the link: https://www.gofundme.com/mckqjj2k. Please do what you can! 

(Julie Butcher is a retired union leader, enjoying Riverside and her first grandchild.)

Can LA Afford 4 Weeks of Paid Family Leave for its Workers?

JUST THE FACTS-I began my employment with the City of Los Angeles in December 1967. While attending college, I became as a student worker with the Los Angeles Police Department. Following that, I moved onto the Police Academy in August 1968 and continued working with the LAPD for 33 years. That’s thirty-three years on the streets of L A, working a variety of assignments including Patrol, Detectives, Traffic under cover assignments, being a Protective League Director and beyond. How do my experiences compare to the current employment situation within the City? 

First of all, both salary and hard to find pension and health benefits have significantly improved over the years. Replacing comp time is cash paid for overtime. The rotary phone and typewriter were replaced by the push button phone, cellphones and computers. Instead of Liquid Whiteout, we have the backspace bar on the computer keyboard. Replacing carbon paper is a printer that will print multiple copies of a document in a variety of colors. Cars that used to lack air conditioning are now adequately equipped with dependable air conditioning. 

As society has changed and advanced, so has the role of local government and the jobs and benefits that local government provides. But when is it too much? It appears that the limits have not yet been reached for LA City employees. The most recent benefit being tossed around City Hall by two councilmembers (one under an inquiry by the FBI and the other an anti-gun advocate,) is the four weeks of paid time off for maternity leave. Employees can currently use their vacation and other accumulated time to bond with their child – one month off with full pay. 

As the father of two grown sons, I know the challenges of parenthood and the financial impact on the family. While it’s a nice benefit to have four weeks of full pay for those bringing that bundle of joy into the world, should the taxpayers be saddled with this added cost … a whole month of full salary? It’s something to think about when the City that just raised your water and power rates and is working on increasing the local sales tax to help provide the basic services we’ve all been paying for over the years. 

Homeless count 

I have been writing about the homeless population in Los Angeles for a number of months. Calling attention to this situation and the negative impact it has on our neighborhoods is a matter that has not seen significant improvement at City Hall. We hear about millions of dollars being directed to remedy the situation, but little, if anything, has been done. The same homeless population while empty promises to improve the situation continue to be made. In order to get a first-hand view of the matter, I will be participating in the Homeless Count on January 27 and will report my findings in a future article.

 

(Dennis P.  Zine is a 33 year member of the Los Angeles Police Department and former Vice-Chairman of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission, 12 year member of the Los Angeles City Council and current LAPD Reserve Officer. He writes Just the Facts for CityWatch. You can contact him at [email protected]) Photo: Huffington Post. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

California Coastline: Sold to the Highest Bidder?

THIS MUCH I KNOW--The California coastline has inspired artists, poets, rock lyricists, and any of us who have taken a drive up Highway 1, the spectacular panorama of mountains peering above crashing waves. The Coastal Commission has an over 40-year legacy of protecting the coastline, despite the attempts of developers and their lobbyists to encroach by weakening or even eliminating the commission. 

But the protection of our unspoiled coastline may be at a turning point as pro-development interests attempt to oust Dr. Charles Lester, the Executive Director of the Commission. Dr. Lester has refused to resign quietly, calling for a public hearing, which will be held February 10 in Morro Bay. 

The reasons for the attempted coup are vague. As one commissioner stated off the record, there’s a “growing sense that there are management issues.” Lester, however, has helmed the Commission during an impressive list of accomplishments, including increased transparency and recently received permission to levy penalties against individuals who violate the Coastal Act’s access provisions to the tune of $11,500 per violation per day. 

Lester has a solid report card from fifty environmental and social justice groups for his interpretation and enforcement of the Coastal Act. A coalition of representatives from the NRDC, Heal the Bay, and dozens of other groups made their feelings known in a letter they sent to commission chair Steve Kinsey and state leaders. 

The Coastal Commission serves as the zoning board for the 840 miles of coastline. Established by voter initiative in 1972 and made permanent by the legislature through the adoption of the California Coastal Act of 1976, the 12-member board is appointed by the Governor, Speaker of the Assembly, and the Senate Pro Tem. 

Just what’s at stake? A proposal to build 1,100 houses in the coastal zone in Southern California is before the commission right now. At $1.5 million per ocean view house, there’s nearly $2 billion at play. Developers regularly challenge coastall staff rulings, empty their wallets to candidates, and hire teams of lobbyists to encourage commissioners to make exceptions to give their projects the go-ahead. 

The Coastal Commission decides on proposals for residential properties, hotels, energy production facilities and other projects that are worth billions of dollars, all without much transparency in the process. Hotel developers, for example, hire lobbyists who are classified as agents under law and don’t have to report how much they are paid, often donating to the campaigns of commissioners who run for local office. 

There are rules in place to protect against conflict of interest but there is potential for abuse, which makes attempts by the commissioners to take control of the agency from the staff even more troubling. 

Since taking the job in 2011, Lester and his staff’s expert opinion to deny coastal projects hasn’t pleased commissioners. In 2006, the commissioners denied 26 projects. During Lester’s tenure, the commission has turned down 24 projects over the entire four year period. 

Ironically, the group of commissioners attempting to oust Lester are Brown appointees and it was Governor Brown who signed the Coastal Act into law forty years ago. These appointees serve at-will appointments, unlike the eight commissioners who serve a fixed four-year term. The governor can replace them if he’s unhappy with them but has so far not stepped up to defend the commission’s independence under Lester. 

The California Coastline must not be up for grabs to the highest bidder. Governor Brown should not leave that as his legacy.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and CityWatch contributor.)

-cw

 

Boning Up on the Fight for Neighborhood Integrity

PERSPECTIVE-The year 2016 will offer some local drama to Los Angeles, complementing the spectacle of the national elections. In what may be the most far-reaching ballot measure of this century, the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will affect how the city does business with developers. The backers have targeted the November ballot. 

I sat down with Jill Stewart last Saturday to get some insight and clarity on the measure.  She is the campaign manager for the initiative who believed that its objectives were important enough for the good of the city that she resigned as managing editor of the LA Weekly to lead the effort. 

It is an understatement to say that anything to do with land use is a very technical subject; therefore, this article is only a start in understanding the complexities. I hope to discuss it further with Stewart and others. 

In her view, spot general plan amendments are creating congestion and reducing affordable housing.

Today, such amendments are granted on a piecemeal (spot) basis. They have led to spurious, disjointed development. 

She explained that this approach favored the financial return to a developer over the needs of the residents. Contiguous areas generally lose their character as a hodgepodge of architectural styles and transformation of demographics replace the harmonious nature of established neighborhoods, which is what happens current residents and businesses are banished. The high-density nature of these one-off projects almost assures congestion. Even when situated close to a major transit route, the occupants are unlikely to give up their cars in numbers sufficient to reduce traffic. If anything, there will be more cars as the neighborhood population increases. 

In addition, the number of affordable units are low in relation to the total. 

From my own experience, I have witnessed the displacement of middle-class residents as a result of projects with density bonuses granted under SB1818. The bonus is in return for the developer setting aside a few units as “affordable.” Unfortunately, the buildings which were replaced contained far more affordable units. For the record, the affordable units that were destroyed in my community were not substandard. They lacked the bells and whistles of newer units, but they were very livable and within reach of most budgets. Recently passed AB2222 closed the gap somewhat, but projects built under spot amendments are another matter. 

Stewart emphasized the importance of “significant areas” in determining how and if a General Plan amendment could be approved. Amendments must encompass an area which, as defined in the measure, has significant social, economic or physical identity. That translates to an entire community, district plan or specific plan area, an entire neighborhood council, or an area not less than 15 acres. 

She believes this allows ample leverage to address blighted areas. Carefully planned amendments could offer a coordinated revitalization process over wide swaths (as opposed to disparate projects.)

One controversial action, if the measure is approved, involves an up to two-year moratorium on amendments (unless required by the Department of Building and Safety.) A staff person for a Councilmember expressed concern if this should happen. He told me it would probably kill a major deal that’s in the early stages. 

According to Stewart, the moratorium is designed to allow a systematic review the General Plan (this review will be performed periodically as a requirement under Section 5 of the proposal.) It appears to me that this would amount to an undertaking which would likely attract the attention of every conceivable interest group with a stake in the city. The review could be as important as passing the measure itself. 

She indicated that the city’s current approach to development has pushed the working class farther out, created a boom-or-bust construction economy and replaced industrial zones with gentrified communities. 

Developers or their agents will not be allowed to prepare Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) under the measure’s rules. This will eliminate a blatant conflict of interest. Only the public’s lead agency can prepare the report, recovering the cost from the applicant. 

As I see it, the current system invites widespread corruption. There are simply insufficient checks and balances. Spot amendments can serve as the liquid currency of municipal political quid pro quo and create temptation some officials find irresistible. This is one reason why former mayor Richard Riordan is supporting the initiative.  

Councilmembers trade amendments for contributions. According to Stewart (and consistent with Riordan’s observations,) the net result of these deals are higher rents. So-called affordable units are priced starting at $3,000 per month. 

Stewart plans to develop a web of supporters representing a diverse cross-section of residents and interest groups to educate the public, collect signatures and otherwise promote the initiative. Her background as a journalist for a widely-read publication seems well-suited for reaching out to the many component groups of Los Angeles. She anticipates the full-court challenge the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative will face from elected officials and their allies. 

So much needs to be shared with the public. Case studies providing clear examples of what to expect would be most helpful. 

There will be much more to come on this subject, from any number of sources. Reform is needed; the initiative could be a catalyst to that end. It deserves our attention.

 

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: [email protected].) Photo: Talbot Troy/Flickr. Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

Los Feliz Ledger: LaBonge’s Questionable Exit Ethics Takes another Turn … Boxes Found Marked for Destruction

EDITOR’S PICK--More than 30 boxes from former Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge’s office, marked for destruction, have been recovered by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office, according to a city attorney spokesperson. However, it is believed more than another 150 boxes may either be unaccounted for or destroyed. 

According to Rob Wilcox, a spokesperson for City Attorney Mike Feuer, 35 boxes pertaining to Council District 4 (CD4) have been in the City Attorney’s possession “for several months” since it was discovered the boxes were at Piper Technical Center, a city facility, east of downtown, that houses varies city offices, including its records management and elections divisions. 

It is not clear who alerted the City Attorney’s office that boxes from CD4 were at the facility. 

According to Wilcox, representatives from the City’s Attorneys office were seeking legal documents relative to a least one lawsuit, a land use issue in Los Feliz, when “management” learned documents related to that litigation and other CD4 documents were at Piper. Wilcox said, the City Attorney’s office then had the Los Angeles Dept. of General Services transport the 35 boxes to the City Attorney’s office. 

According to Wilcox, it is not known how long the boxes were at Piper facility. Additionally, Wilcox said he was still seeking information about who alerted the City Attorney’s office of the boxes.

Additionally, Michael Miller, a former city attorney who lives in Los Feliz, said in an interview today, that another 100 or more boxes may have already been destroyed. (Read the rest.) 

-cw

 

Out to Lunch? LA Ethics Commission Unethical?

GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE--Those of us who happened to have been scouring the cluttered bulletin board in the corridor near the John Ferraro Chambers at City Hall this week, may have been surprised to come across, wedged behind a FilmLA permit, a document entitled, “Notice Of Intention To Amend The Conflict of Interests Code of The City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission.”  

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The Nasty, Ugly Truth about Transportation Funding

TRANSPORTATION POLITICS--While any reasonable person will acknowledge the need for transportation/infrastructure (T/I) funding, too many of us are acting blind, deaf and dumb (especially the "dumb" part) about our hideous state/federal funding reality: by treating T/I funding as an afterthought, we've forced and ignored the reality of high gas prices as a necessary means of funding something that should be part of the general fund. 

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Tearing Up Tickets No Pipe Dream for LA’s Homeless

DEEGAN ON LA--Tearing up your tickets may be a pipe dream for some, but it became reality for over 200 people with homelessness and other issues a few days ago when the City Attorney hosted another in a series of Homeless Citation Clinics, administered through their innovative program called HEART (Homeless Engagement and Response Team). 

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South LA: The Tenth Wonder of the World is No More

ART POLITICS-While South LA does have its share of incredible murals, it doesn’t have much in the way of public art, as a general rule.

This is beginning to change. Councilmember Joe Buscaino recently celebrated the installation of several new sculptures along 103rd St. recently. In the 8th district, Community Coalition’s Power Fest and artivist events regularly feature live painting and art-making around community justice themes. In the 10th district, Leimert Park Village stakeholders turned the plaza at 43rd Place into a work of art grounded in African principles and symbols and cemented its role as ground zero for creative expression of all forms. And in the historic 9th district, Councilmember Curren Price hosted a meeting recently as part of an effort to put together a strategic art plan for the area. 

Sadly, South LA’s art scene lost one of its more unusual staples as 2015 came to a close. The Tenth Wonder of the World, located at the corner of 62nd and Budlong, is no more.

I first stumbled across the marvelous hodgepodge of sculptures and structures a few years ago. Dianne and Lew Harris — brother and sister, curators and residents in the home — were sitting outside as they usually did, and invited me to check out the space.

I didn’t make it very far into the yard. Since 1981, the pair had been scavenging enormous chunks of carved glass, transforming metal tubes and fans into tall turrets and telescopes, and planting propellers like flowers all over the yard. There was no room to move. And there was more scrap metal and glass behind the house, they told me. They were just trying to figure out what to turn it into and where to put it.

Tenth Wonder of the World or not, it was the kind of thing I imagined neighbors in a better-off community would condemn for bringing down their property values. But the Harrises’ neighbors seemed quite happy to have them there. The Harrises regularly sat outside and talked with their neighbors. Kids on the street saw their yard as a sort of Disneyland and liked to stop by and gawk at the ever-changing inventory of crazy objects. Hoping to inspire kids to see beauty and opportunity in the ordinary, the Harrises often had candy pieces to hand out to those that visited and were always kind, friendly, and welcoming.

But last year, Lew fell ill and was in and out of the hospital, according to a neighbor. Given the pair’s limited income, they quickly fell behind on bills and found themselves having to move out in the fall. A relative who agreed to take them in came down from Bakersfield to help them close up the place. The neighbor, who also helped them move, was a little shocked at the condition of the interior — it was like something out of an episode of Hoarders, he said, with stacks of magazines and newspapers blocking all but a few paths through the home.

Given the unhealthy condition the Harris’ home appeared to be in, the move may — in the long run — be a good thing for 76-year-old Lew.

Still, it was sad to see that the owner of the property wasted no time in gutting the place, removing any last remnants of the “art” collection that had been so carefully curated over the years, and building a generic dwelling in its place. The only thing that remained of the Harrises was a set of hand-painted signs tacked high onto a telephone pole reading, “What’s up, discipline? Try patience.”

 

(Sahra Sulaiman writes for LA Streets Blog … where this piece was first posted.)

-cw

 

 

 

Larry Flynt Wants to Buy the Playboy Mansion and Kick Hef Out

PUBLISHING POLITICS--The infamous Playboy Mansion came up for sale earlier this month asking $200 million, and with the provision that Hugh Hefner be allowed to continue living there until his death.  

It's one of the craziest real estate stories of all time in a city known for its crazy real estate stories, and thank god and Larry Flynt, it just got a million times crazier: Flynt, the founder of Hustler and the Rabelaisian pornographer of the people to Hef's aspirational smut peddler, supposedly wants to buy the Playboy Mansion, kick Hef out, and turn the place into the Hustler Mansion. STONE COLD.

Is it a stunt? Who cares? It's a GREAT stunt. Of course, Flynt told TMZ last week that he wasn't interested: "I like my own toys and I don't want his dirty sheets," but Harry Mohney, the head of the company that runs the Hustler Stores, claims that was before the two talked and decided that the Mansion "is an excellent place for The Hustler Club and Hustler Mansion," reports the New York Daily News.

Mohney claims that Hustler wants to "move their own staff into the 29-room estate and host 'at least' three parties per week for VIP guests. He also says those gatherings would out-Hef the parties Hefner has been throwing there for 45 years."

And, to add insult to injury, Mohney says "We are not going to offer half" of the $200-million asking price. That might be a problem, since one of the real estate agents involved says the land alone (five acres on one of Los Angeles's most coveted blocks, plus a rare private zoo permit) is worth $100 million.

But the biggest problem is that Mohney says "Hefner could not live in the mansion" (and, incidentally that "Hef's old pal - accused serial rapist Bill Cosby - will never step foot on the estate again if Hustler moves in," as the NYDN puts it). Playboy is firm on that matter, though: "a condition of any potential sale is that Mr. Hefner have the right to continue living at the Playboy Mansion." Maybe he'll really enjoy those Hustler parties.

(Adrian Glick Kudler is the Editor of Curbed LA … where this piece was first posted.) Photo by Jim Bartsch

-cw

DWP Reform:Fuentes Upstages Pickel

PERSPECTIVE--The Ratepayer Advocate is supposed to be in the vanguard of DWP reform efforts. Fred Pickel (photo) can’t even find the rear. To make matters worse, a proposal for substantial reforms is coming from an unlikely source – Felipe Fuentes, a councilmember whose motive to eschew reelection is the subject of speculation. 

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Dog Poop and Homelessness Could ‘Bite’ Mayor Garcetti’s NFL Plans in the You Know What

ANIMAL WATCH-Although dog poop was not mentioned as a possible offender in his post, “A Disgusting Day to Breathe-in-L.A.,” in February 2015, EarthJustice Attorney Adrian Martinez warned that large areas of central Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, and southern LA communities are breathing levels of particulate pollution that the SCAQMD classifies as “unhealthy,” after years of fighting for clean air. 

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Candide: Long Beach Opera Opens with a Hit

GELFAND’S WORLD--The Long Beach Opera is opening its new season with a hit -- Leonard Bernstein's Candide. It's kind of a Broadway musical and an operetta all wrapped up into one. It has a series of hummable Broadway-type melodies alongside music that is reminiscent of earlier European opera and light operetta. As stage director David Schweizer explained, Bernstein was doing homage to numerous styles and traditions. This approach is risky, because it can fail or succeed spectacularly. Candide is still perfo rmed because it manages to walk the line artfully, through everything from south American dance music to a Mozartean-sounding soprano aria. 

What LBO does with the written text and the score is what makes it different as a company. In short, LBO is the opera company that dares to be and do differently. 

Robin Buck and Suzan Hanson continue their careers as company stalwarts. Todd Strange plays the title character Candide, bringing a most engaging voice. His love interest Cunegonde is played by Jamie Chamberlin, who manages her role ably. Additional cast members include Roberto Perlas Gomez, Danielle Marcelle Bond, Arnold Livingston Geis, and Zeffin Quin Hollis. They get to play numerous roles and perform in ensemble numbers. Bond is fetching as she plays the character Paquette, the whore with a heart of bronze, if not quite of gold. 

LBO stages the first half of Candide as if it were a rehearsal. Robin Buck is both the director and one of the main characters. As the show begins, he chooses who will play what (to the obvious distress of the losers) and then appoints the remainder to other roles. Bringing the stage director into a show as a role is nothing new of course, as Our Town and later plays demonstrate. And interpreting an opera a little off kilter from the text is nothing new to the modern audience. There is a whole tradition of this in modern European productions. 

But you've got to get it right. There are lots of ways to get it wrong, and some of those other productions have shown this to their own embarrassment. So it's always a joy to see an artistic group twist things just enough to make them different, to do a little mind bending, and in so doing to bring out new elements of the script. 

This approach works well most of the time for Candide. For instance, in an early routine, the crew and idle cast members, in keeping with the presentation as a working rehearsal, watch from the back as two performers do a love song. This creates a certain emotional distance, since we are reminded that at some level, this is not quite reality. But it is at least an honest attempt to create one. 

This distancing is gradually removed. It is replaced by full company numbers, and this allows the powerful emotions of the later numbers to come out more strongly. 

The final number, Make Our Garden Grow, is lyrical and triumphant. An immediately preceding number, What's The Use, is strongly rhythmic and comedic, while remaining, to use the modern term, an intentional downer. 

That's my report, and you can stop here if you like. But if you are interested in the 18th century philosophical struggle that led to the book Candide upon which the opera is based, stay with me. 

First, I'd like to introduce you to an author who writes a fascinating blog about medieval and Renaissance thought.  Ada Palmer is now at the University of Chicago, and the blog post I'm linking here is about the development of skepticism as an intellectual movement. That's where Candide comes in, because Palmer writes about the philosopher and author Voltaire, and how his response to great suffering such as the Seven Years War and the Lisbon Earthquake brought him to write a poem in protest, and that poem was read all over Europe. 

You have to go quite a ways down that blog post to get to Voltaire, but allow me to summarize the argument made by Leibniz that caused skeptics such as Montaigne and Voltaire to rebel. Borrowing from Palmer's blog, the Leibniz argument: 

  • God is Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnbenevolent.  (Given.)  “Grrrr,” quoth Socrates.
  • Given that God is Omniscient, He knows what the best of all possible worlds is.
  • Given that God is Omnipotent, He can create the best of all possible worlds.
  • Given that God is Omnibenevolent, He wants to create the best of all possible worlds.
  • Any world such a God would make must logically be the best of all possible worlds

This is the best of all possible worlds. 

The experiences of life, including catastrophes such as the war and the earthquake, would naturally lead to skepticism (at least of some sort) in moderns, but it took a long journey through medieval theocracy to get there. Voltaire seems to have been the one who made the Leibniz formulation into more of a joke than a believable doctrine. 

Voltaire wrote Candide and published it under a pseudonym in the mid-1700s. It is variously described as a semi-pornographic, satirical adventure story, or as a deep satire intended to demolish a once-popular theological argument set forth by the philosopher Leibniz. 

A Broadway musical linked to a 1759 novella, itself based around a medieval philosophical argument? It seems strange, but Voltaire's story involves deeply human questions, the most central being, why is there such misery and suffering in what is supposed to be God's creation? 

Leibniz's argument is sometimes described as optimism. The philosophical idea is only a little oversimplified by the phrase "All's for the best in this best of all possible worlds." Everything has a purpose, and even suffering and evil are really part of a perfect creation. 

One precipitating factor for Voltaire's intense reaction to optimism was the event we refer to as the Lisbon earthquake. It was actually an offshore quake that killed tens of thousands and created a massive fire. In addition, the resulting tsunami did its own damage. It was The Big One we anticipate, but more so, and without modern technology to prevent massive loss of life. 

In short, the Lisbon quake was the sort of event that provoked theological doubt in an era that was ready for it. 

Candide, both as eighteenth century novella and as modern musical theater, begins with a naive young man named Candide who is raised and educated in the philosophy of optimism described above. Voltaire creates a character named Dr Pangloss who teaches this philosophy to Candide and his fellow students. This is the best of all possible worlds, and anything you can think of that seems bad or wrong is actually to the good. The characters in Bernstein's Candide sing the line that all's for the best in the best of possible worlds, and Dr Pangloss illustrates the argument with examples both illogical and comedic. 

At the beginning of the story, Candide, Pangloss, and various love interests live together in a castle in an edenic lifestyle of wealth and power. Maybe there's something to this philosophy after all. But things rapidly turn sour for the young Candide, as he is banished from the castle to live a life of wandering, privation, and sorrow. Over the years, he finds his lost love Cunegonde, loses her again, finds her again, and so on. He gains wealth, only to lose most of it. His childish belief that all's for the best is continually being challenged, but he lacks the intellectual tools, and even the words, to find an alternative line of thought. 

Eventually Candide and his friends reject both optimism and its mirror opposite (you might call it pessimism) and agree to settle down to a simple life and "make our garden grow." 

The LBO season starts with Leonard Bernstein's musical Candide, and goes on to Fallujah, a story of an American Marine recovering in a veterans' hospital. LBO then goes on to Poulenc's La Voix Humaine, the story of a woman trying to converse over the telephone with the lover who is marrying someone else the very next day. The company finishes the first half of 2016 with something called The News, which is described as a Video-Opera that parodies a society addicted to the 24 hour news cycle. 

Candide will play again next weekend, Jan 30 at the Long Beach Opera

 

(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected]

-cw

 

LACMA Sets the Record Straight on the $50,000 LaBonge Grant

BACK TALK--We are writing to respond to and clarify some of the issues raised in your article "Tom LaBonge Leaves the Cupboard Bare … Records on $600,000 Missing" posted on January 19, 2016 on City Watch.  

First, it should be stated that LaBonge's funding proposal of $50,000 for the urban design study for the benefit of the Miracle Mile community at large and its museums did go through a formal and publicly recorded vote. Per Council File No. 15-0741-S1, dated June 17, 2015, all ten Council members present voted "yes." (Five were absent.)

Second, LACMA is not the sole beneficiary of the $50,000 grant in question. The proposed funding was allocated for a project to benefit the community of the Miracle Mile and its five museums (LACMA, La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, Petersen Automotive Museum, Craft & Folk Art Museum, and the future Academy Museum of Motion Pictures) to define and promote the Miracle Mile as a distinct and cohesive cultural destination. As a matter of accounting, LACMA was named the recipient of the funds in the name of all the museums and was in charge of paying the consultant using the grant funds. However, the benefits of the funding were to be equal among the five institutions and the City's 4th District community at large.

Finally, the scope of the project is greater than "a way-finding project involving signage along Museum Row."  The project's deliverable was a wide-ranging creative document detailing many factors that impact Museum Mile as a destination. This includes a variety of current and future concerns: consistent naming of the district; accounting of existing parking and proposed alternate models; available sidewalks and crosswalks before, during, and after Metro construction; possible collaborative public programming, and, finally, way-finding.  We believe the project will benefit the entire Miracle Mile community and are working with Councilman Ryu and his office to provide whatever information and documentation that he may need to support the project.

We kindly request that you publish this letter to address the factual inaccuracies and negative implications included in the article on CityWatch. Please reach out with any further questions or clarification about the far-reaching community benefits of this project.

(Miranda Carroll is Director of Communications at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.)

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 7

Pub: Jan 22, 2017

City Planning Debates: More Heat than Light

PLATKIN ON PLANNING--There is no shortage of heat when it comes to planning debates in Los Angeles, but not much light, especially when attention turns to the proposed Neighborhood Protect Initiative.  For example, an instant opposition group, that does not appear to have even read the initiative, is already mislabeling it the Housing Moratorium Initiative.   

So, borrowing a term from Hizzoner, Eric Garcetti, lets return to some (city planning) basics.  Maybe it is possible to shed some light on these heated planning debates through three simple questions and answers: 

What do we mean by planning?  In California there is not much grey when it comes to planning.  Every city is legally required to prepare and adopt a General Plan.  State law not only specifies that this General Plan must be timely and internally consistent, but it also must include the following elements:  Land Use (Called community plans in Los Angeles), Circulation and Transportation (Called Mobility Element in LA), Housing, Noise, Conservation, Open Space, and Safety.  

In addition most cities, including LA, have an optional Air Quality element.  Furthermore, LA has another element that ties everything together, the General Plan Framework Element.  It also has a new Health element, and many ancient elements, such as Infrastructure, that were prepared a half century ago, but never subsequently updated or rescinded. 

In LA nearly all of these General Plan elements are out-of-date. They are also internally inconsistent, with different base years, horizon years, and presumably even contradictory goals, policies, and implementation programs.  To say the least, they urgently need to be updated.  It is not just a question of following state law. Current, carefully monitored plans are necessary for LA to avoid the chaos resulting from roller coaster market forces determining the city’s fate. 

In addition to the General Plan element, most California cities must prepare an annual monitoring report on its General Plan that is submitted to Sacramento for review.  In LA, which is a charter city, this requirement is built into the legally adopted General Plan Framework Element and its related Environmental Impact Report.  Despite these legal obligations and related lawsuits, City Hall has ignored this monitoring requirement for the past 20 years.  It never created a mandated monitoring program, and it has never drafted a full monitoring report, just a few partial reports.  

This, then, is what constitutes planning in California.  Issues related to zoning, which occupy most of the time and energy of the LA Department of City Planning, are nothing more than a partial implementation mechanism for the city’s Land Use Element.  The 3,000 building permits per year that the Department of Building and Safety shunts off to City Planning for special review are, therefore, only a tiny part of what constitutes real city planning.    

It is, therefore, unfortunate that in Los Angeles, a city that desperately needs good planning, city planning has been reduced to zoning technicalities.  Most city planners, even those with graduate degrees and professional certifications, wile away their days as zoning technicians, processing the building permits that Building and Safety sends over to them.  In effect, their job is to legalize otherwise illegal projects. 

What do we mean by density?  In Los Angeles most references to density take their lead from the primary focus of the city’s planning department: reviewing and almost always approving land use exemptions for large and tall buildings that are otherwise illegal.  This is why in LA there is often agreement by proponents of these discretionary permits, as well as their critics, that density is nothing more than large buildings.  

But, this is only a small part of what really constitutes density.  Many cities that have dense buildings, like New York City, also have high-density public infrastructure and public services necessary for those dense commercial and residential buildings to function.  This includes high-density mass transit, as well as wide, well maintained, tree covered sidewalks that support a high-density pedestrian traffic.  It also means high-density libraries, neighborhood parks, and schools for the high-density population.  In it entirety, this is what should be called good density.  It also accounts for New York City’s low per capita carbon footprint.  In its case, a high density built environment actually works. 

But, in LA what already exists or is proposed for such neighborhoods as Hollywood, Koreatown, Downtown LA, and even Warner Center, is bad density.  It consists of high-density buildings that are permitted through discretionary approvals decades before essential supporting high-density infrastructure and services appear.  LA’s current planning approach is to therefore put the cart many, many years before the horse.  If it were to plan correctly, the General Plan’s mandatory and optional elements would first be brought up to date.  At the same time the city’s public infrastructure and public services need to be upgraded through careful planning and monitoring prior to the approval of new high-density buildings.  If this were done in the correct order, then LA could end up with good density, rather than the bad density that is already blighting much of the city and getting worse as the current real estate bubble swells. 

What do we mean by growth and development?  In L.A. these are euphemisms for real estate speculation.  When officials and pundits talk about growth and talk about development, they mean privately financed real estate projects, usually commercial skyscrapers, apartment complexes, or a mix of the two. 

But, this focus on real estate speculation is an inaccurate definition of growth and development.  Growth also refers to the full gamut of the planning issues addressed in a city’s General Plan, and development also includes all of the public facilities that are necessary for a large modern city like LA, that intend to become a high-density world city.  

Growth also includes the expansion of schools, colleges, universities, galleries, theaters, and museums.  Development should incorporate the roll out of the alternative transportation modes addressed, in part, by LA’s new Mobility Element:  high speed interurban rail, commuter rail, heavy rail (subways), light rail (trolleys), express busses, local buses, shuttles, motorcycles and bicycles, and finally walking.  In short, all of these infrastructure and service categories, whether public, non-profit, or private, are the sum of what should be factored into any analysis and description of growth and development.   

The Unifying Principle:  If there is a unifying principle that will turn all of this heat into light, it can be found in every General Plan.  These plans cover 100 percent of a city’s land area.  They address far more than the privately owned lots that are the subject of building permits and discretionary planning actions. 

Depending on the neighborhood, these private owned lots only comprise 20 to 40 percent of a city’s land area.  The remainder is streets, parkways, sidewalks, driveways, parking areas, public buildings, parks and beaches, power lines and related easements, and different forms of open space.  

Since this is a majority of a city’s total area, and this is fully addressed through the planning process, it only makes sense that these areas need to be fully considered when talking about planning, density, and growth and development.  It also means that these discussions should be linked to each city’s budgeting process and reflected in the work programs of each city department.

 

(Dick Platkin is a former LA City Planner who writes on local planning issues for City Watch.  He welcomes questions, comments, and corrections at [email protected]. ) 

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 14 Issue 7

Pub: Jan 22, 2016

 

 

 

 

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