GEHRY WADES INTO THE L.A. RIVER

The water level of the Los Angeles River may be at a record low due to the drought in Southern California and this being the traditionally dry summer season.

But the words and promise of the 51 mile waterway that is not much more than a concrete scar across the cityscape continues to flood the region’s planning and politics trough.

Though having drank from that trough in my maverick past, my first article bemoaning the neglect of the river was nearly 40 years ago, I remain a persevering, yet conflicted, skeptic, as I comment on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net and other websites.

Over those four decades, in which I also have been involved in several site specific vainglorious proposals, the river has risen in prominence; an ambitious masterplan was approved and the waterway was included in President Obama’s so called Great Outdoors Initiative and the Urban Waters Federal program.

With an estimated price tag of $1.3 billion plus, the river’s restoration has attracted an army of advocates and sycophants, dedicated environments and urban grifters and gifted designers. Most notable: world renown home grown local architect Frank Gehry, who was retained to master plan the river nearly two years ago, at first secretly by L.A.’s star struck Mayor Garcetti, then publicly a year ago, to mixed reviews.

I had previously commented that Gehry’s involvement was disturbing for several reasons: he has had little design success beyond his iconic singular structures, which for all their publicity in turn have shown scant sensitivity to context, communities and climate.

In addition, he has displayed little flair for landscape architecture, in particular the profession’s increasing concerns for sustainability and public use.

But some river advocates urged Gehry be given a chance; that he could bring needed attention and prompt needed private funding; and he, or more likely the competent team he has assembled, might add something to the effort. So what if there is already an approved master plan, it can be improved.

That being true, I reluctantly agreed, especially if there is a chance it might benefit the river’s revitalization, my prime concern. I also thought a surprise from an earnest Gehry would be most welcome.

Now a year later a cautious Gehry sensitive to a skeptical public has disclosed, not a plan, but what I feel is an interesting process that may indeed prompt some interesting plans to serve the river and the city. It contains no fireworks for July 4th

Rather, it’s described as “an innovative and revolutionary new tool for planning and design,” that, for the first time centralizes in one place the “data, reports and findings relative to the river’s past, present and future along the river’s entirety.”

Like the river these days, the presentation is dry probably purposely so, with no indication of Gehry’s past propensity for flash and dance It can be labeled a primer, with comprehensive sections on flood risk management, water recharge, water quality, ecology, habitat and public space, public health and social equity, and transportation.

Said Gehry, Quote “we needed to invest in learning how to think about the river before we could begin to make recommendations, let alone design solutions.” Endquote. This included culling all data and past plan while listening to scores of movers and shaker with a history and interest in the river.

Whether it’s a planning, public relations or political tool is ambiguous, as is what specific projects it might generate, if any at all. Time will tell, hopefully not another 40 years.

 

 

HOT WEATHER AND POLITICS RILE POINT DUME

It look as like it is going to be a long sweltering summer, making the beaches in Malibu more popular than ever. And for Point Dume that means an invasion of visitors on the prowl for free parking spaces, prompting growls from us residents who pick up their trash.

This may be a parochial issue, but it does spot light the increasing conflict of planning and politics in our burgeoning and beset communities, and the imperative of a more informed citizenry and city government, as I comment this week on 97.5 KBU and everywhere on radiomalibu.net and select websites.

As hot as the weather is, so are the protests for what many of us residents consider an ill considered proposal recently approved by the City Council to compel property owners to remove landscape encroachments, less mature trees, from the municipal right of way edging roadways.

The proposal was an item in a city traffic calming plan that included the lowering of speed limits and the questionable installation of speed humps. The encroachment issue came as an extra to many who feel if pursued would compromise the rural ambience of the Point, to say nothing of the personal expense to property owners.

And this despite numerous studies having found removing landscaping from roadways has the opposite effect, and actually promotes speeding, and increases accident.

Though it is not clear why the City at present has raised the fractious proposal, whether, as the city manager has said, to accommodate sidewalks or, as the Mayor has indicated, that more parking was needed to placate the Coastal Commission.

As for the sidewalks, the results of their placement on a few Point streets has been definitely mixed, with people especially in a group and with dogs, preferring to walk in the roadways.

This is not necessarily bad, for it does have the effect of slowing traffic, and indeed is considered very much a traffic calming tool, in Europe. There the concept is labeled “woonerf,” after being initiated in the Netherlands, and designates select streets to be shared spaces used equally for cars, bikes and pedestrians – just as it works informally on beach streets here in Malibu and other coastal villages.

To be sure, each street is treated differently, with roadway dots and signage, necking portions, and where feasible encouraging landscaping to lend the neighborhood character

Whatever, the issue of landscape removal has generated much heat, flamed by the mayor’s comment caught on the city’s own television channel declaring the Point’s grandfathered no parking street signs should be pulled. This prompted one resident to comment that politically the remark was the equivalent to pulling the pin out of a grenade.

And echoing in the debate — thank you city planning commissioner John Mazza – is our General Plan’s Land Use Policy 2 point 4 point 6, “ The City shall avoid improvements which create a suburban atmosphere such as sidewalks and street lights”, with the section specific to Pt Dume.

And as embarrassing as it is for City Hall and its entourage, debate over the traffic plan is going to continue, a harbinger no doubt for other neighborhoods in Malibu and beyond. There is nothing like an issue outside one’s own front door to stir emotions.

 

 

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL ON POINT DUME, MALIBU

Indulge me, the city observed for this week on 97.5 KBU and everywhere on select websites is my Malibu neighborhood of Point Dume, an eclectic collection of varied if pricey homes for a varied population of nearly 3,000, a rambling rural village on a singular promontory overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

I feel very fortunate, if not downright lucky, having lived and raised several children there for a score of years, tasting the fruit from my orchard, smelling the salt water, hearing the nightly bark of nesting seals and watching the seasonal migration of whales. Its location is truly a blessing.

But it also brings with it the bane of traffic, especially on the many beach days. Roads become speedways for visitors and indulged part time denizens. Also very much a problem is parking, it being free on the streets, as opposed nearby lots, resulting in the constant cruising for premium spots  on the web on Point streets..

After years of resident complaints and several community meeting, the city drafted a traffic management plan that included striping some streets, installing radar speed advisory signs, and lowering the speed limit.

These have met with general approval, tinged of course with some skepticism. The constraints affect both visitors and residents, as the sheriff’s department observed in reviewing enforcement efforts.Less unanimous has been installing speed humps, which many including the Fire Department feel slows the response of ambulances and fire trucks.

But most controversial has been the call for residents to remove landscape encroachments less mature trees on the city’s public right of way edging roadways.
The city council had approved the removal, but rising and reverberating protests promoted the issue be aired again.

It most certainly dominated the community meeting last Thursday at the Pt. Dume elementary school, where about 60 residents gathered to hear an update on the progress of the City’s traffic plan.

To be sure, the meeting started out congenial enough, but residents soon got impatient hearing the repeated recitation of the City’s initiatives and wanted to get to the proposal regarding the rights of way.  Sensing the mood, city manager Reva Feldman and city public works director Bob Brager opened up the meeting to questions and comments.

Most in the audience including me were opposed, noting among other things that denuding road edges would lend the appearance of street widening, which would encourage speeding, the opposite of the City stated goal to calm traffic.

Aside from the expense of removing plantings as well fences and mailboxes, there was real concern that it would deface the Point’s eclectic rural character, and harm property values. And for what?

The City manager was asked pointedly just why it had been proposed, perhaps to provide more parking to placate the Coastal Commission. She assured the audience there was no such plan; that the city was just concerned about pedestrian safety, and thinking about sidewalks. She added that perhaps    some compromise can be explored, that maybe only four feet would be needed, and asked for a show of hands of those who might consider this. There was some, but no count was taken.

The meeting ended, with the promise by the city manager that nothing will be done without further review.

Excuse the metaphor, but it appears that the can of worms that is traffic has been kicked further down the Point streets — just the way the City has dealt with many of municipal problems, such as the civic center. And just the way some residents like it.

THE SILK ROAD TREASURES COMES TO THE GETTY

If not soon, but definitely this Summer, get yourself to the Getty Center to see the Cave Temples of Dunhuang, an engaging, enlightening exhibit displaying Buddhist art uncovered on China’s ancient Silk Road.

The singular exhibit is the focus of my weekly arts and entertainment commentary heard on 97.5 KBU , and everywhere on radiomalibu.net and select websites. And in summary, it is a rave, prompted by the exhibit’s rare treasures imaginatively displayed.

Some background: There by some estimates were 1,000 temples carved into cliffs known as the Mogao Grottoes, on the western edge of the Gobi Desert, near the oasis town of Dunhuang, creating a treasure trove of archeological artifacts.

For nearly a thousand years, from the 4th to the 14th centuries, the town was a gateway on the landmark road linking medieval China, Europe and India, serving traversing merchants and monks. That is before trade routes took to the seas and land routes and the towns along them languished and some vanished..

Though a World Heritage Site, for the last 25 years under the care of the Getty Conservation Institute and a local Chinese academy, the town for all its rich history is not an accessible tourist attraction, and I venture to add few will ever visit.

That in part makes this exhibit fascinating, and all the more so by featuring three full scale replicas of select grotto temples decorated with paintings and sculptures, dating back to the fifth, sixth and eighth centuries.

They were exquisitely hand painted by local artist aided by international scholars, and lend touring them, in a temporary structure on the Getty arrival plaza, a singular museum experience. Be prepared to get a free timed ticket and nevertheless still wait on a line, but it is worth it. Jt’s just unfortunate the Getty does not provide seating for the handicapped and elderly.

But before entering the temples, you are directed to the Getty Research Institute galleries, where there are video presentations and a selection of objects detailing the history of the temples and the grotto. They are a must to appreciating the replicated caves.

This includes the a detailed Chinese scripted Diamond Sutra, indicating its printing in 868, making it the first such book ever so dated. Incredibly, it was one of 50.000 manuscripts and art pieces found stored in just one cave, appropriately labeled the Library Cave.