NEW HOPE FOR THE L.A. TIMES

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.

 

 

ART WORTH THE TRIP

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, I’m a culture vulture, ever on alert, primarily, for what appeals to me, personally, and, secondarily, possible grist for my multi-media mill.

To be sure, many of my selections are arbitrary, and, yes, capricious. How else can explain my recent review of Doggie Hamlet in Will Rogers Park?

Then in deference to my presumed audience there is the consideration of location. I have to weigh whether access to a particular venue is worth, say, suffering traffic, especially to Downtown from my perch on Malibu..

Frankly, it really has to be promising before I decide to drive there. And while I embrace the concept of mass transit, the light rail to Santa Monica, and the bus beyond to Malibu, is not very convenient .

The car in L.A. is still clearly the preferred mode of transportation. You just got to time your trips.

But then there is the production or project you just have to see, and all rational considerations are out the window. That’s the way I feel about several events I’m penciling into my culture calendar, and suggest you might do too.

In Pasadena, on display at the Norton Simon Museum, is one of the rarest and certainly one of the more distinctive of Rembrandt’s many self portraits .

He painted it at the age of 34, and unlike the many that followed, shows the artist comfortable and confident, in his skill and in his self.

Worth a special visit to the museum for it alone, the mesmerizing painting is in the United States for the first time, on special loan from London’s National Gallery, on display until March 5th.

And for all the aggravation driving to an increasingly congested downtown, high on my list is a visit to the Broad Museum, for a blockbuster Jasper Johns exhibit.

On view are more than 120 of his varied paintings, sketches, sculptures, and prints, drawn from a wealth of public and private collections, including, of course, from the Broad collection.

Johns is considered of one of the most inventive and influential artists of the 20th century, making this exhibit a must for anyone interested in art. It runs until May 13th, with reservations strongly advised. I’ve made mine, and suggest you do too.

Now if you are really into art, and Rembrandt, as I am, and really don’t mind traveling, this month in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, you can view up close conservators restoring two masterpieces, (Portrait of a Woman Wearing a Gold Chain and Portrait of a Man Wearing a Black Hat.) It should be fascinating, if you can manage the commute.

 

 

 

MALIBU’S PLANNING PROBLEM

If any local government responsibility is apt to stir up the citizenry, it is planning; the review of zoning and building codes, and, generally, land use in the design of neighborhood character and the preservation of the environment.

It also is the prime source of wealth, for property owners, as well local builders and realtors,, and symbiotic facilitators, lawyers and lobbyists. And so in select cities where size and location marks status, as in Malibu, planning frankly has become a blood sport.

Certainly, all is not well at City Hall these days; as I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites. Witness the flurry set off by the admission by planning director Bonnie Blue at a recent council meeting that the department has fallen behind in both its reviews of policy and processing of plans.

This in turn prompted the challenged Blue to hurriedly propose several corrective actions, including the reassigning of staff and the hiring of a new planner to replace recent departures. These moves were doubled down by city manager Reva Feldman, who also announced hiring a deputy city administrator, at a salary of up to $190,000, to principally oversee planning and development.

The new city position has to have made Blue’s tenure tenuous, while cushioning the city manager from criticism for the planning imbroglio. It also no doubt will make for a crowded city manager’s suite and increased payroll and perks.

 

Meanwhile, whether adding and rearranging chairs in City Hall will correct the situation remain very much a question. One is hopeful, of course, but those familiar with the all to common government ailment of the hardening of bureaucratic arteries has to be skeptical.

I am, based on my investigative stints as a journalist with New York Times and New York Post, and oversight experiences in the public sector, including with the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. And having witnessed in my dotage Malibu’s 26 year history as a bovine city has made me downright suspicious.

Simply throwing bodies at problems doesn’t always work, and could actually makes the planning mess at City Hall worse, adding another layer to the bureaucracy, heightening the in-and-out basket shuffle, and generating countless do-nothing meetings.

More perhaps can be accomplished by a rededication of staff, letting them do their jobs without the city hall crowd trying to surreptitiously influence decisions.

And the problem actually goes beyond personnel, to the city’s the zoning and building codes, or more precisely, their constant compromise by an appeals process that should be made much tougher. Almost every plan is dibbled with because the city’s lax precedents encourages it, such as the 18 foot height limits forever being stretch to 28 feet.

These appeals frankly also are grist for political favors, friends of friends and lobbyists. City Hall perhaps need fewer back scratching bureaucrats and more rat traps.

Don’t get me wrong. I sincerely wish bolstering city’s planning works. Just think of my comments as a dash of salted skepticism.

 

 

 

“DOGGIE HAMLET”

This week for public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites, observed somewhat wide eyed and curious was a production of “Doggie Hamlet,” staged under a sunny southern California sky at Will Roger State Historic Park by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance.

Admittedly, I don’t know exactly how to describe the event conceived, choreographed and directed by Ann Carlson: Whether it was a dance concert, a dog show, or a happening?

Or perhaps even something more, as Carlson writes in the program, that Doggie Hamlet “dares the preposterous, the absurd, the simple, even silly “ asking us, literally, “to sit together at the edge of the mystery and sameness that joins all living things.”

However explained, the event was diverting and delightful, featuring milling sheep, trying as ever to snap up a few blades of green grass, several cavorting humans in and out of floppy sheep skins, and a very focused, no nonsense, beautiful herding Border Collie doing his thing, while two others impatiently looked on with their distinctive gaze.

A more coherent dance narrative would have been appreciated, whether the humans were trying to mimic or divert the principal herding dog. Whatever their intent, they were frankly awkward, purposely or not. Forget Shakespeare. I missed the connection.

And as someone who has witnessed these dogs actually herding sheep in New Zealand, I feel it would have added to the drama seeing them work in concert. It is impressive. I also have to confess that I was partial to the principal dog Monk, being a dedicated dog person, and not incidentally the master and admirer of a herding Corgi.

Our dog known as Bobby the Bad is very much a working dog who instead of corralling cattle for which he was bred must now be content herding other dogs and humans. For those curious, Bobby can be seen and heard at the Trancas Canyon Dog Park most days at 4 PM. doing his thing, despite the coarse gravel there that cuts his and his buddies’ feet. So much for the city’s promise of replacing it last year. We the persevering pet owners I guess should be just glad the park is occasionally maintained.

Back to a more pristine Will Roger’s Park, where seated on a hay bale overlooking the polo grounds, I was very much predisposed for Doggie Hamlet.

To be sure, in my enjoyable pursuit of arts and entertainment attractions to review, I have come to expect the unexpected from UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance. Its main venue is the landmark campus centerpiece Royce Hall, but in recent years has branched out to the more intimate UCLA Freud Playhouse and Little theater, and downtown to the Theatre at Ace Hotel.

And now, of course, there is Will Roger’s Park. previously known for its polo matches and fabeled private rope twirling performance . But as its mission statement proclaims, the center is not a place, it’s “a state of mind that embraces experimentation, encourages a culture of the curious, champions disruptors and dreamers and supports the commitment and courage of artists.” I like that.

Just now · 7 neighborhoods in General

UCLA IDEAS CAMPUS VISITED

Something different this week for me on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere:

Taking advantage of the latitude of what constitutes art and entertainment, instead of viewing a performance or a new gallery or museum exhibit, as I commonly, do, I recently visited something called the Ideas Campus.

Tucked away on a non descript side street in Culver City, the industrial building and the tech interior cluttered with work stations and manned by earnest looking students, was promising.

Very much a conceit of UCLA’s department of architecture and urban design, the campus is the relatively new home of a post professional program labeled the Suprastudio. According to its publicity, this is where “students engage in real–world issues through intensive research to develop new methodologies of architectural design.”

It is a educational precept I enthusiastically embrace, having taught creative and critical thinking at the Art Center College of Design in the 90s, and several years later at UCLA conducting a graduate landscape studio focused on derelict properties.

My academic pursuit of imaginative practical applications also were tested by assignments I concurrently held in the real world, including senior creative consultant to Disney Imagineering and various Howard Hughes corporation endeavors. .

So when Suprastudios announced a symposium exploring, “how artists and architects can transform urban space through temporary events and intelligent actions in an increasingly digital and privatized world.” I signed up.

I for one am quite concerned for the pressing need of more friendly public spaces and places, especially in an increasing alienating tech obsessed world. But the event unfortunately turned out to be a very mixed affair, if anything demonstrating the need for more user perspectives and advocacy, and less CAD design.

To be sure, there were several engaging presentation. Patricia Ruel offered a glimpse into the impressive creative process of the Cirque du Soleil and the Moment Factory, though one must question its applicability to low cost placemaking.

This was the focus of the presentation of Elizabth Timme of the street smarts LA. Mas. It site specific efforts were laudable, if not particularly original. And it does deserve praise for its battles with city of L.A. whose bureaucracy, as most local bureaucracies, are a morass. Nothing new here.

Most interesting, and applicable, were the various projects reviewed by Paloma Strelits, of the London-based design group Assemble. I particularly appreciated its user advocacy, including on behalf of the increasing senior demographic, which not incidentally I am. Public spaces and parks should not only for mingling kids or milling millenniums.

I would have liked to have heard more relevant discussion from the panel, but the moderator Mark Mack unfortunately did not moderate his self reverential remarks.

Not like me, of course,

 

MALIBU CITY HALL FOLLIES, CONTINUED

My city observed for this week for pubic radio 99.1 KBU and select websites was written and recorded BEFORE city manager Reva Feldman disclosed some corrective actions in the city’s troubled planning efforts,, and AFTER we requested a copy of the city payroll.

The actions involving several new hires and consultancies sounded hopeful, but from my perspective raises some questions concerning the governance of Malibu, whether indeed it a case of hardening of the city’s bureaucratic arteries.

These question and others I expect to review in time, but for now this week’s commentary stands, and, sadly, focuses in on another dubious deed by a self serving city bureaucracy attempting to feather its nest, and taking advantage of a woeful city council.

To be sure, Malibu is not being blatantly robbed, I hope, but council and staff just do not seem to be putting the interests of the city ahead of their own.

Prompting this latest criticism is the current crisis in the city-planning department falling behind in their varied assignments. This presumably was addressed last week by planning director Bonnie Blue, who announced a host of administrative changes and the intention to hire a new planner in the wake of several departures.

I was going to comment on these managerial maneuvers, while as a reprobate planner suggest the department become more efficient and proactive, consistent with the city’s mission.

In short, be less toady and more proudly professional, and as the long term hard nosed planning commissioner Jeff Jennings commented, not reinvent the wheel but push harder.

Of related interest, the commission is reported had been asked by City Hall last Fall not to call the Planning Staff to ask them questions about items on the Commission agenda.  They were told the staff was too busy to answer their questions.

Then out of left field comes the news that concurrently Feldman is planning to add yet more bodies to her bureaucratic bulwark, in particular a deputy city manger for up to $190,000 a year to help with legislative matters.

I thought that why Lisa Soghor was hired last year, and also for which Feldman just recently received a healthy raise that gives her $220,000 plus generous benefits. That is more than our U.S. senators receive.

As for the city’s bulging payroll, the city contended in an internal memo, “There is no fiscal impact associated with this proposed change in the current fiscal year due to salary savings realized from the vacancies in the Planning Department.” Talk about a shell game.

And this addition to select consultants, such California Strategies, which I have noted in the past has been paid by the city $2million for unsubstantiated services. The figures keep adding up as does the wall around the city manager,

Supposedly overseeing these shenanigans is the council’s administrative and finance sub committee, consisting of local government novices Skylar Peak and Rick Mullen. They meet periodically with Feldman in closed session, and are apparently under her sway. It is all very cozy and questionable.

Obviously needed is some independent oversight.