Yes, I know there is real news out there that deserves, indeed demands, my attention and commentary, but I’m also a dedicated dog person, and cat and reluctant parrot person, too, so allow me some latitude.

So this week for City Observed on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, the serial drama of the fate of the Trancas Canyon Dog Park continues, as the Malibu burgeoning bureaucracy does what it does best: postpone any actual improvement as it moves the item slowly between the in and out baskets on their desks.

If you recall, in the last episode of the continuing drama, or is it a farce, of the Malibu City Hall foibles starring my willful Welsh speaking aging Corgi, Bobby the Bad, our canine hero was complaining about the raw surface conditions of the dog park.

They were abusing his paws, and those of dozens other dogs who visit the park, though not having the vocal chords of Bobby, they were not as shrill in their canine cursing of a recalcitrant City Hall that the pets and their owners remember had promised the resurfacing.

But the bids came in well above the $80,000 that had been budgeted, indeed from $132,000 to over $300,000, to replace the current decomposed granite (DG) surface.  The reason for the high bids was said to be the limited vehicle access to the park , one of a number of design flaws in the original design, along with using the cheapest DG.

Cited for this rejection also was that not enough people had complained about the condition, as if there is some magic number before the city acts, or do there have to be complaints when a condition is so evident.

It’s a problem when you have a neophyte city government that plays it cards close to its chest, and is quick to tell you why something can’t be done, rather than how it can.

So for the future there will be no resurfacing of the raw dog park surface, and the pets will just have to try to stoically ignore the pain as they do now while playfully romping.

However, to be sure the city did compose a cautious e mail in which it recognizes that there is a constituency that uses the park.

Perhaps if the city desk jockeys actually visited the parks to review the issue with real people and their pets, they would not have to create an annoying SurveyMonkey poll, as it is wont to do when postponing confrontation with actual taxpayers.

You know them, the minority of the modest 13,000 residents who actually live in Malibu, instead of just partying here on weekends, or rent their house out legally or not, as an air n b, hoping that it will keep appreciating as the smiling realtor promised it would.

Who worries about dog parks anyway, dogs don’t vote, nor do many of their owners show any inclination to get involved in civic matters.

Not that they don’t care, most who live here do, but many unfortunately have been turned off or turned away by a City Hall, with its long, sad history of imperious leadership.

Welcome to small town government in, I fear, a failing democracy, for people and dogs. .





Though having moved on to more inclusive cultural commentary, the itch of once being an architecture and design critic occasionally needs to be scratched, as I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere..
So it was when a prestigious architectural award, the Pritzker Prize, recently elbowed its way into the news, no small feat in these Trumpian dominated days.
What compels me to lend a perspective at this time is I sense the award just may be an indication that the profession is shifting away from the recent obnoxious obsession with celebrity architecture to more socially responsible concerns.
Particularly so in L.A., where architects seemed to have been more interested in self promoting, stand alone projects, rather than serving users and the public.
Considered architecture’s highest honor, and with a stipend of $100,000 certainly the profession’s most rewarding the latest Pritzker went to India’s Balkrishna Doshi, who is known in the Asian sub continent for his sustainable, low cost projects, and being an architect for the poor.
According to a statement by the prize jury, Doshi’s solutions correctly address the social, environmental and economic dimensions, constantly demonstrating that “all good architecture and urban planning must not only unite purpose and structure but take into account climate, site, technique, and craft, along with a deep understanding and appreciation of context.” In sum, that they be sustainable and social responsible.
Indeed from my liberal perspective, for the last several years it seems the coveted Pritzker prize has gone to architects with decidedly humanitarian predispositions, practicing in what could be described as design back waters, far from the limelight of the world cities.
I note it been more than a dozen years, since 2005, that an American has won, or for that matter any over blown personality that could be described as a star architect.
How refreshing, for when I was struggling as the architecture critic for the LA Times championing relevant urban design I felt the profession was preoccupied with how projects looked to a few peers rather than worked; that they were increasingly irrelevant, relegating architecture to a cultural sideshow.
To be sure, it was at times diverting. But I found the drive for celebrity status ultimately was corrupting, and that includes self aggrandizing schools and their impressionable students and faculty, fawning foundations and undiscerning media camp followers.
That it appears for now the Pritzker has broken this design daisy chain deserves praise, and hopefully might just help edge architecture back to its noble calling of designing spaces and places for human endeavor.


If there seems to have been more traffic delays in Malibu than usual, it is because there are. Of late there have been several bad accidents, on PCH and also on the two connecting routes over the hill, as I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere.

And now there is a rush of construction of the ill advised projects of past pro development roosting city councils ,whose bad eggs they laid are being hatched . This includes a traffic light to accommodate the Malibu Beach Inn, and a rash of road widenings in and around the civic center to serve the approved new shopping centers there.

So don’t expect traffic to get any better, despite the usual mouse squeaks of concern coming out of City Hall. To be sure, even with their doors closed, or away on another expense paid governmental boondoggle featuring free meals and advice, the city’s top staff couldn’t ignore the welling anger of the Malibu constituency, especially those who have to use the PCH daily.

So with only a few days notice the city has scheduled a so-called “informational workshop,” for next Wednesday, the 14th, to ostensibly discuss transportation improvement projects funded by the county Measure M.

But hopefully the audience will insist the entire transportation mess plaguing Malibu will be aired, and not let the city get off the hook by blaming it all on Cal Trans. Malibu could assert itself much more, if it only had the moxIe.

However, if these meetings follow past scripts, those attending should beware of protracted presentation by city and county representatives designed not necessarily to details a list of pending projects, but to take forestall public comment and questions. In short, to bury the audience in bureaucratic blather, and deflect the arrows aimed at those responsible.

I wonder how many past council members, and the present lame ducks will be present to explain why and how they turned our seacoast coast village into a suburban-scape.

Probably not present will be the gaggle of high priced traffic, planning and political consultants that have been feeding at the city’s trough, and supposedly addressing these issues. That is in addition to hosting our neophyte municipal leaders who seem to have outsourced every city hall issue except staff payrolls and pensions, and councilperson trips.

There are so many questions to be asked, and so few answers to be expected. It is I feel frankly the sad and sorry state of local government these days

This brings to mind the urban adage, “People get the city they deserve.” Perhaps it is time to take back some of those awards given out to select past council persons when they retired.





If post modern and conceptual art leaves you wondering just what was the artist thinking when he or she conceived a particular piece, the Jasper Johns exhibit at the Broad Museum downtown might just provide some answers.

Indeed, if you are at all interested, or think you should be, in the constantly shifting and ever-challenging modes and methodology of the art world, the exhibit, entitled “Something Resembling Truth.”

As I comment on public radcio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere, it is a must, and runs for several more months through May 13th, and worth the $25 entry fee. The Broad is usually happily free.

This is an exception, but so is Johns, who at 88 is considered our greatest living artist, as someone once described him, an iconic iconoclast, the father of Pop and Conceptual art. Certainly he is revered among the multi-media avant garde in art, music and dance.

And specifically, if you have been entranced by Johns as I have been for six decades. the exhibit is a most welcomed well organized and explained comprehensive survey, for Johns in his constant experimentations has arguably influenced nearly every artistic movement from the 1950s to the present day.

Beginning with no less a rejection of the Modernist isims of Dada and Abstract Expressionism that isolated one’s aesthetic experience from any cultural context , Johns conversely explored what we actually see.

The curators state in a gallery introduction that “by approaching widely recognizable signs and symbols, Johns sought to make the familiar unfamiliar, inviting viewers to look more closely at what he calls, things the mind already knows.”

Thus displayed, and explained, are Johns widely recognized images of the American flag in a parade of subtle permutations. Also displayed are targets, numbers, maps, light bulbs, and several collages that feature broken school rulers. All of this may be commonplace, but it also cryptic. And Johns is not saying, and is quote suggesting “the meanings may just be that the painting exists.”

But the cultural critic Marc Haefele. says it is sometimes apparent, as in a painting called “In Memory of my feelings.” With a gloomy finish and pathetically dangling fork and spoon, Haefele suggest it evokes Johns’ sorrow over the loss of his longtime lover, the artist Robert Rauschenberg. You get it.



This week it was to the U.S. premiere of the English production of “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk .” an arresting portrait of the relationship between the Russian born, shtetl haunted, artist Marc Chagal had with his wife of early years, Bella.

And as it seems almost always with the stage production at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, you expect the unexpected. For me, it makes the Wallis along with the UCLA ‘s Art of the Performance the most exciting venues in theatre today

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, I was not disappointed. Though, to be sure, the marvelously acted two character play was challenging, with bursts of dialogue, dancing, and songs exploding on an open stage that shifts with lighting and props to hint of a synagogue, an artist’s studio, wherever.

Challenging, yes, but so was the relationship between Chagal and Bella, fanciful, frustrating, and mesmerizing, certainly to these Russian shtarker’s eyes

With a unique vision Chagal had depicted a magical portrait of his love for his wife Bella, colorfully entwined flying above a Russian fairyland where brush strokes were caresses.

He indeed is once quoted declaring “In our life there is a single color, as on an artist palette, which provides the meaning of life and art, it is the color of love.”  Poetic to be sure, but to the play’s credit also illustrated is the marriage’s turmoil.

Of course the Russia where the couple came of age also was in constant turmoil. There was in Czarist times the pogroms, followed by a world war, a revolution, civil war, and the machinations and madness of an emerging Soviet Union.

For the record, the Chagals left Russia in 1922, for a welcoming Paris, never to return. But Russia never left them, gnawing at their souls, and testing their marriage, to its last days in New York, There escaping the horrors of World War Two the flying lovers eventually landed, and Emma, alas, died.

As a production of the always inventive Kneehigh and the Bristol Old Vic , the play is loosely structured, more of a performance art piece, where knowledge of the Chagals is frankly helpful.

Helping definitely is the multi talented cast: the acting, dancjng and singing of Marc Antolin and Daisy Maywood, the onstage presence of the musicians Ian Ross and James Gow, all under the inspired direction of Emma Rice. .

Of particular note is that Rice played Emma in the original production of The Lovers 25 years ago, with the writer Daniel Jamieson then her husband playing Chagal.

The production runs for another week at the Wallis, through March 11th, Catch it if you can.



One of the distinguishing physical characteristics of my companionable Pembroke Welsh Corgi, known to all as Bobby The Bad, is his dark eyes etched in black rims, which when the occasion calls for it can be penetrating and accusatory.

And so they were recently at the Trancas Canyon Dog Park of which he considers himself lord and master, as I comment this week on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere.

Bobby’s eyes were indeed ablaze, and he was noticeably snarling, at the informal afternoon socialization and therapy session at the park as he broke from a pack of canines he was herding and limped up to me where I was perched among a gaggle of owners.

The limp and the look were enough to tell me why he was angry, but just to make sure that as a sometime bird brained human—his anthropomorphic description, not mine – I understood, Bobby let out with a volley of all too familiar annoying loud barks.

Since confidentially I‘m conversant in Welsh Corgi, I interpreted Bobby’s barks to say that the coarse gravel underfoot was hurting his paws when herding, and uncomfortable when lying down, and where in the hell was the fine decomposed granite promised several years ago by the city of Malibu?

I reminded him that last year when the bids to resurface the dog park came in slightly higher than anticipated, I think by $20,00, city staff recommended that it be rejected, and that the proposed contract be renegotiated or new bids solicited.

So what happened? barked Bobby. Isn’t the Malibu City Hall suppose to be a font of outsourcing? Just look at the money being pissed away – that ‘s Bobby’s language –on reseeding the grass playing fields at Trancas every few months.

Yes, soft, sweet smelling grass, like they have in other dog parks in less affluent cities. Bobby of course was right, as he usually is.

And he added with a snarl, “That’s a drop in the bucket when you think about all those trips councilmembers and the city manager take to those dogshit conferences, and what the city pays to its suck up consultants for making a few phony phone calls about what we are never told.” Bobby does have a butt sniffing nose for that sort of stuff.

That got the owners gathered at the bench talking: how the city short changes west Malibu, like not following through on the promise of the right turn lane off the PCH at Trancas Canyon Road.

“This city is going to the dogs,” chirped an owner.

“Are we talking a canine consultancy here?” I asked.

“If only,” barked Bobby, in Welsh.




“I’m missing Lee the architect already:

Certainly at the funeral HE would have in his understated way checked out Riverside Memorial Chapel to see if it had:

1) proper means of access and, especially egress, for a place of public assembly.

2) how the lobby could be improved to accommodate public congregating, especially mindful of seasons and weather, to check and retrieve outer garments.

3) seating made more comfortable, sight lines enhanced, lighting more flexible

4) audio reviewed, with special consideration for the hearing impaired.

5) any special amenities for the seated family, cushions, raised for viewing

6) stepping to the pulpit, speaking at pulpit. descending, back to seat.

7) ease exiting, accommodate pauses in aisles, lobby, and on sidewalk. And if the venue could be vacated in the 6 minutes, in accordance to the NYC Fire Department performance standards.

The check and punch lists would (should!) go on, and on, into eternity. Yes, eternity.

I taught senior thesis with him as a team as adjunct professors at City College for several years, in the early 70s, nearly 50 years ago but really only like yesterday. He enjoyed talking about those years whenever we met.

Lee was very much the professional architect, and when he taught was indeed the advocate for the architect. He viewed the student designs as an experienced, insightful architect while I acted as the advocate for the user.

I felt with Lee I wasn’t teaching the class, but rather learning with the class. In a way, we were all students of Lee.

And I must add it was Lee in his declarative mode who dominated the grading, I never liked giving out grades, thinking the students when graduated will be graded soon enough.  He felt grades were appropriate.

Yes, Lee was judgmental, albeit in a soft voice that was sugar to his sometimes sharp reviews. This no doubt influenced me when I went into the next life to be a critic.

I especially liked it when class reviews were held in his office atop of the Plaza Hotel, in the former maids quarters, where he roosted for awhile, having been the architect for the hotel’s rehabilitation.  (Yes, he had opinions about working for Donnie back then, which we shared since my Dad was the Trump interior decorator. But I have no more to say on that.  We have enough sadness at present dealing with Lee’s death.)

I will say the Plaza was more pleasant than the ex Chevy facility on 133rd and Broadway.

Even after moving to LA. I enjoyed, staying in the illegal office bedroom, which gave me another reason to stay in touch with Lee, and to dine out on occasion with the wives.

For the record, the bill always was scrupulously split, with Lee, of course, doing the math, which I never questioned. I doubt anybody ever did.

And when the office was downtown, I loved it being above the culinary institute. I know he certainly did. Having lunch there with Lee, at his table, is a fond memory, even after we both went on diets.

For a Brooklyn born, Brooklyn Tech grad, subway commuter, street savvy New Yorker, he was exceptionally soft spoken and kind, to students as well as waiters, and also tolerant to colleagues, even the nasty ones who envied his success.

He even had a kind word for the bureaucrats here, and especially in India, who held up the design process, and worse, payments.

And he cared, not just for the clients. In particular, I remember him struggling with me of how should the 10,000 feral waifs living in the tunnels of the Calcutta train station be accommodated during the station’s reconstruction the office was planning.

It is a problem we never solved, like others Lee struggled with, in a life too short.

And I thought he was going to be immortal, like me, until, of course, we are not.”



Putting on my old battered hat as an architecture critic, which I was for a decade for the L.A. Times, my focus this week is downtown Los Angeles. If the ageless renown Frank Gehry can emerge as the designer of the latest addition to the hill, certainly I can, as an abiding commentator.

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere, Angelenos with a memory might recall the once grand residential topped hill was lobotomized a half century ago as an urban renewal project, with the hope of becoming a mixed-use district featuring the city’s cultural attractions.

Beginning with the sprawling Music Center, distinguished by the neo-classsic trio Chandler, Ahmanhson and Mark Taper theatres, built somewhat haphazardly over the years has been MOCA and Broad museums, the Colburn school and the Disney Concert Hall.

Despite providing photo ops for tourists, and designed by the preening Gehry, the glistening, curvaceous concert hall, frankly, has not as promised activated the area. Though promoted as L.A. ‘s Champs Elysees, the districts’ principal street, Grand Avenue, is not very grand.

But there is hope. At long last after much failed planning attempts, it appears a viable design has emerged for the critical central site across from the concert hall, known as parcels Q and w-2. and labeled Grand.

And grand, if ambitious, it will be, a $1 billion stacked conceit by Gehry featuring a 39 story residential tower, of condos and apartments. and a 20 story luxury hotel , with the base of the usual high end restaurants, retail and entertainment And yes, some of the apartments will designated as affordable.

Frankly, they appear boxy and functional in the renderings, though the project-friendly facades should lend it animation and interest, so says Gehry, who after decades has produced a design that makes both financial and urbane sense. That’s at least according to the developer, Related Companies ,in partnership with the China Communications Construction Group.

Most critically for the public is the frontage of the project, and the pedestrian plaza, facing a not distinctive or welcome entrance to the concert hall. To be sure, the hall works as an iconic work of sculpture, but not particularly well as architecture, providing a space and place for people to meet and mingle.

Gehry has explained that his original plan for the concert hall indicated a very public entrance, the building to serve as a “ living room for the city.”

I incidentally cited this is my original review recommending Gehry for the project. But it sadly was not in the final design, which Gehry subsequently claimed was compromised by the client.

It seems there has been a host of his other projects included in this blame game, which over the years have made one wary of Gehry’s presentations. Architects do have a way of saying one thing, what a client or the media want or likes to hear, and then designing another.

So while hoping the Grand as designed by Gehry will indeed revitalize Bunker Hill and that L.A. at last will get a grand boulevard, we at present have to be reserved and hold back judgment.




Wishing in a whisper a very happy centennial birthday to Leonard Bernstein, I listened last week with pure pleasure to his tonal distinctive overture to “Candide.”

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, the operetta, show musical, call it what you will, Candide is in its last weeks to a most successful revival at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center downtown.

\Indeed, the musical has been through several revivals in the half century since it initially flopped on Broadway in 1956, despite Bernstein already then being hailed as a young genius. It certainly didn’t faze his Music and Art High school fan club fan I hung with at the time back in New York City.

And sixty years later I frankly was not going to be fazed by the flaws in the story line that has been rewritten countless times, and is based on a comic novella by the philosopher Voltaire recounting a youth’s tribulations as he optimistically searches for “the best of all possible worlds.” The flaws persist.

But to my delight, and apparently the audiences’, the music survives and succeeds, with thanks to a cast of opera singers, and two show biz veterans, Kelsey Grammar and Christine Ebersole and a shout out here to sound designer Kai Harada, set designer James Noone, and conductor James Conlon

I also was relieved, for I heralded the production in advance of its opening and in anticipation that it would be a hot ticket.

This may be off course for a critic, but I feel does perhaps better serves my audience, especially when pressed by a tight calendar. That’s why I occasionally trumpet productions or exhibits I have not seen yet, though am reasonably confident of their being noteworthy.

So, with that in mind and alert to a limited two week engagement, tonight through Sunday March 11th, I am giving a heads up to “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, “ at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, in Beverly Hills.

It is a love story of the artist Marc Chagall and his wife Bella, a two character play that promises to be a most engaging production by Bristol, England’s Old Vic and the always inventive Kneehigh troupe.

According to the advance hype, it should dazzle, combining the visuals of Chagall’s paintings with the music and dance of the Russian-Jewish tradition. Talk about a theatrical bowl of borscht. My soul awaits.



So, the once robust but now sadly ailing Los Angeles Times is getting a new publisher, as I comment this on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere. He is fittingly a medical doctor, though to be sure with deep pockets.

But unlike the parade of noxious carpetbaggers from chilly Chicago who never seemed to warm to sunny Southern California, the new owner, Patrick Soon-Shiong, is a certified local, having been born in South Africa of Chinese parents, and now lives in and apparently likes L.A. so much has several homes here, including one on Broad Beach, Malibu.

Well, certainly he is as local as most of the other drivers of cars in the next lane clogging the very democratic freeways, but probably having the good luck of immigrating here whenever.

That is at least before the dotard in the White House painted the appropriation “immigrant” some sort of mark of Cain, and apparently no memory of the roots of his parents Fred and Mary. According to my memory, they were of proud immigrant stock, from Germany and Scotland, and for better and worse, embraced the America’s entrepreneurial ethic.

And in the interest of public disclosure, I must add that Fred Trump employed as an interior decorator for their residential projects, my father, an immigrant, from Soviet Russia via Paris.

As an immigrant who obviously also embraced the American dream, Soon-Shiong probably experienced the common rough road to success, and thus brings to the lofty perch as publisher a pocketful of prejudices. Hopefully among them is a respect for the First Amendment, essentially our Bill of Rights, guaranteeing the freedom of the press.

But realistically there is no guarantee that the publisher being local necessarily will translate into a needed better daily newspaper, certainly not if the bottom line does not pencil out.

We as the conscious class may view a newspaper as essential to an informed population, vital to the care and feeding of a democracy. Yes, but to an owner it is essentially a business, no matter how ego inflating, indeed seductive and possibly fun, it might seem in this celebrity crazed world. May Punch Sulzberger and Katherine Graham rest in peace.

There also are other problems at the LATimes, principally its staff, which when I was its indulged design critic in the 1980s topped 1,000. In a noble quest then to be one of the nation’s more prestigious papers, (A shout out here for the stalwart stewardship of Bill Thomas Tom Johnson.) The Times pursued select journalists. This immodestly included me, having been previously a reporter with the NY Times, briefly an editor of the NY Post, and the author of several best selling urban-oriented books.

After a dozen satisfying years there, I became bored and had the luck of timing to leave, in 1991. Purely coincidentally, soon after with the rise of the internet the newspaper business faltered, the paper was unfortunately sold and fell sway to questionable managers, who slashed and burned staff to a present flailing 400.

And further out of bad judgment most who were bought or forced out were the higher paid and more experienced, the type of “writers and editors who are passionate,” according to a quote of Soon-Shiong, and that the paper desperately needs. Sadly, I find the present paper poorly edited and written.

But ever hopeful, and acutely aware of the need for a discerning press, I have renewed our subscription to the LA.Times, at least for a few months. I suggest you might want to, also.