THE TRANCAS FIELD FOLLIES

A clarion call was sounded for Trancas Field at a meeting this week at City Hall that attracted some 80 residents, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU.

Topographically, the Field northeast of Trancas Canyon Road and the PCH is an open 35-acre sloping site of mostly scrub brush, offering striking views of Zuma beach and the ocean.

Politically, the field for most nearby West Malibu residents has been a planning and development battleground. For a succession of developers, it has been a swamp.

Whatever plans were put forward over the years for whatever density and design, they were vociferously opposed by residents and dutifully opposed by a parade of Malibu city councils and their legal counsels.

Let them fiddle with the commercial development of the much more valuable Civic Center. But Trancas Field was sacrosanct, and the feeling at the meeting this week was that it still most definitely is.

The buzz there was quite audible, fed by the fact that the City announced that earlier in the day it had completed the purchase of the site for $11 million plus dollars, after decades of legal wrangling,

 

The meeting was supposed to be a workshop reviewing a host of alternatives. These included keeping the field open and undeveloped, to erecting a host of facilities.

 

Proposed for consideration were the construction of centers for seniors, cultural and nature venues, various playing fields, from football to baseball, and a ubiquitous skate board park.

 

There was no workshop, other than asking the unvetted participants to pin a green dot for a yes, or a red dot for a no, on a series of proposed uses pictured on display boards. Confusion ensued.

 

It seems the distribution of dots was not monitored particularly well, and the voting could not be accurately tallied. The boards ended up looking very much like a kindergarten project.

 

In particular, when the picture of a skate board park at first had attracted a flood of red no dots, several youngsters reacted somehow getting sheaths of green dots, and bullet posting them in equal numbers

 

An informal count of the dots tallied over 100, 20 or so more than those in attendance. So much for the workshop.

 

Instead, a skittish Reva Feldman, the city manager, moved on to soliciting comments from the milling crowd. Most were passionate pleas to keep the field open and undeveloped, nothing that would compromise the natural setting and attract unwanted visitors, noise, and crime.

One brave soul suggested housing. And a few added to me that it should be for local seniors like themselves, who want to sell their homes, indeed need to sell their homes, but want to stay in Malibu.

Feldman said the comments and questions would be taken under advisement, and would await the fate of the proposal for Bluffs Park. She added the Coastal Commission was now reviewing with the city alternative plans that included a wish list of facilities, including a skateboard park.

As for the question, what will happen to Trancas Field, stay tuned. The controversy is just warming up.

 

 

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.

UCLA Landscape Architecture Students Excel

To end the year on a positive note –there be no bemoaning star architecture today, or censuring city government – I take heart in some graduate student presentations I recently juried for UCLA’s landscape architecture program.

Of course, I’m prejudice, having taught a city-scaping studio there for several years in the past, and having embraced and extolled the extension program’s praise-worthy emphasis on real challenges in real communities.

For me, it also was a refreshing departure from the many design schools where I juried in the past, and the architecture award panels on which I had sat.

Too many of the projects I felt tended to mimic the conceits of the current crop of celebrity architects, or ignored the context, culture and climate of the proposed project.

What made many of the student projects so appealing was that they were particularly site and user sensitive, with several addressing the challenge of derelict locales in under-served communities.

These included a master plan for an evolving Echo Park, with the design by the student Brian De Paz incorporating safety, comfort, health and a sense of place. I particularly liked his treatment of a small, odd shaped vacant site into a modestly landscaped mini park, a friendly place to sit.

Another of note was a plan to link Burbank’s transit center to the surrounding fragmented neighborhoods, Designed by student Tricia O’Connell, the linkages were not just paths, but greenways featuring sitting and play areas, to encourage connecting people as well as places.

Most noteworthy was a project by student Elisabeth Miller-Weinstein labeled Dominguez Crossing. Her ambitious project proposed transforming a swath of vacant land in the adjacent communities of Gardena, North Torrance and the Harbor Gateway into a web of appealing urban trails.

Actually, the land is not exactly vacant, but existing train, electrical transmission and storm channel rights of way. Satefy precautions of course will have to be enhanced for these easements, as the existing public agencies are sure to insist.

But much of the encompassing land is indeed vacant and raw.  just awaiting some imagination and initiative to be turned into useable open space, and the backbone of a linear park celebrating the history of the communities .

Miller-Weinstein’s very professional plans detailing the project’s scope and a timetable indicate a trail network of no less than 10 miles and 50 acres of designed open space, a much needed amenity in the sprawling and wanting south Los Angeles urban expanse.

It is the type of student project that renews one’s confidence in the future of the landscape architecture, and its vital role in the panoply of the design profession. Deserving credit was the studio instructor, Meg Coffee, and program director Stephanie Landregan .

To be aired Dec. 19 on 97.5 KBU and everyhere on radiomalibu.net

 

 

 

 

 

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and Beyond

While combining pleasure and work surveying cultural tourism in Europe a few months ago, I could not help but wonder if there also were some lessons for my Malibu.

And indeed there was one in particular, a diverting arts and entertainment experience in Edinburgh that for years has been hyped by au courant friends and family.

The Scottish city, of course, is on a completely different scale, if not planet than Malibu, with a very successful history as arguably the world’s leading festival city.

Its International Festival was launched in the wake of World War Two, as a much needed celebration of the creative human spirit. It then flowered into a host of cultural happenings: music, dance, film, art, books, drama, you name it.

Most interesting for me, and harboring some ideas for Malibu, is Edinburgh’s aptly named Fringe Festival. Whatever engages and entertains, be it single performers or ensembles, is material for the decidedly democratic festival.

This year’s was a grand affair, hosting an amazing 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues across Edinburgh, in school halls, university auditoriums, a few aged theaters, churches, under tents, in public parks, private gardens, living rooms and on closed streets and dedicated sidewalks.

Everywhere you wandered in the ancient city there was a peek at a production. Nearly 2.3 million tickets were issued, at modest prices, half price near curtain time, and many free.

The challenge was what to see: an acclaimed company performing an act from a London bound play, a comedy team from Germany doing mime, a Korean dance troup, juggling ballet dancers, acrobatic office workers, standup comics, stand down story tellers,, and buskers everywhere, behind every bench and bush, and on sidewalks and streets, to be sure each spot dedicated and subject to scheduling

It was all doable, because performances were limited to an hour or so, and if you were alert to the buzz, you might score the best of the fest.

The result were wild and wonderful, in part made so because the festival amazingly is open all; absolutely anyone so inspired can stage a show or event, though helping would be having a producer and securing a venue and a time slot. There are no auditions, no second guessing by bureaucrats or politicians. It’s about having the hubris and hustling.

Can something like the fringe on a thumbnail scale work in Malibu?

There are certainly scattered spaces and places that can be transformed temporarily into performance sites, schools, churches, city hall, shopping plazas, parking lots, indeed Legacy, Bluff and Trancas parks. For sure not in the crowded summer, but anytime else, thanks to our weather.

Malibu already has the cache. All it needs is the creativity and flexibility.

If the Cultural Arts Commission can ease its bonds with the city’s innately conservative council and faint hearted city government, and tap its laudable commitment, become transparent, and inspire the city’s many talented incipient residents, it can happen.

Speaking as a former if briefly Disney Imagineer, needed is imagination. It is also what the ever candid Scots in Edinburgh would say.

 

 

A Community Garden as a Central Park for Malibu

Let’s face it, Malibu as the manifestation of a city, a town, a village, or however described, is a mess.

Of course, there is the ocean. There are concerns about water quality, access and views, but it perseveres.

The PCH is a perplexing problem, and will be forever as long as people drive.

The Civic Center is definitely not civic or centered, rather several disconnected shopping malls, and an isolated library and city hall.

And in the marrow of this mess is Legacy Park, my latest commentary heard on 97.5 KBU, and everywhere on radiomalibu.net

An anxious Cultural Arts Commission and entangled City Council are waiting for a team of consultants to come back with a detailed plan for revitalizing the 17 acre expanse. In the interest of accuracy the word should not be revitalizing, because the overgrown area of undergrowth has never been vital and not particularly friendly or frequented.

Less we forget, it is in fact the earthen roof of a city blessed water treatment plant serving the adjacent high-end stores and pricey residences, packaged by avaricious real estate interests and sold to an undiscerning city council. Some have labeled it perhaps more accurately as the leech field, and with derision, Lunacy Park because of the thinking by the city that hyped its approval.

It is most certainly a design challenge, worthy of the consultant team of Hodgetts and Fung with an assist by Calvin Abe landscape architects, which recently presented a rough draft plan to the commission.

Displayed and illustrated by select photographs was an array of sketchy alternatives. They included expanded water features, functional art works, and a web of pathways to the adjacent library, country mart, city hall and the proposed Santa Monica college extension.

It was very much a laundry list of features, which some felt were too art and urban oriented. Reiterated by several commissioners was that the park should be as natural as possible, consistent with an ecological theme appealing in particular to locals and children. The commission gave its preliminary approval, but directed the consultants to go back to the drawing boards, and return in a few weeks with a more focused plan.

This also gave me some time to walk the forlorn site, keeping in mind its constraints of no structures or ball fields, which had been negotiated away by a past council. The challenge is somehow craft it to be local and green, with a smattering of art.

As I wandered I recalled the sage advice of a landscape architect I once worked with, Dan Kiley, who said a site will tell you what it wants to be. Just pick up some soil, rub it, close your eyes and think how the site be used

The vision that appeared was a community garden, a collection of small plots tended by locals, producing an abundance of vegetables, fruits and flowers, for themselves and for sharing, connecting to the environment, and each other in a singular commonalty, sustaining the park with people and purpose.

As for the art the commission would like, it can mark the gateway to the garden, the seating, or lighting, things that can be used use and delight us. And given its size, there also could be room for a passive, wildlife friendly native landscape, and perhaps a dog park, hopefully better designed than the one at Trancas Canyon. Maybe also a multi use field, if the city could find a legal loophole through the constraints.

But the focus of Legacy I feel should be a community garden.

Think about it; envision it.

Traffic Continues to Challenge Misanthropic Malibu

In my half century plus of journalism that has included the NY Times, LA Times, NPR, Fox News and others, I found the more local the news the more reader response. And so it is with my weekly commentary on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net, which I’m also posting here:

Traffic concerns continue to be an issue on my Point Dume neighborhood, as they are in most, suburban and exurban communities.

Here in misanthropic Malibu, the City Council was primed to approve a street paving contract, until local radio KBU raised concern. These included why humps for certain streets and not others, and whether they are the best solution to the Point’s traffic woes.

It appears that the city was responding to petitions gathered on select streets from residents concerned about speeding, in particular the cul de sacs Grayfox and Wildlife, where not incidentally there is gated access to the hallowed beach below.

Presumably the traffic was locals with keys or meeting people with keys, looking for parking or ferrying people. Ah, the blessing and curse of being on a beach key street.

Not on the list for speed control measures were the more traveled and perilous Dume and Cliffside drives.

And there was no mention of Grasswood, where residents had testified before the city and circulated petitions not about speeding, but how parking on beach days there made the street impassable, in particular for emergency vehicles. Apparently they did not get enough signatures.

But who is counting? As I stated before, as a planning professor, practitioner and commentator, public safety should NOT be a political whim, certainly not traffic.

Voters do not set speed limits. Politicians should not proscribe parking rules. Traffic controls should not be mandated by petitions. (What, the more signatures the higher the humps, or bumps?)

That is what traffic engineers do, at least good ones, based on voluminous studies, site appropriate paradigms and time tested field experience.

Unfortunately, Malibu city government and our city council do not have a history that inspires confidence.

You do not have to be for or against Measure W, to question the associated traffic studies accepted by the city; we as a city did not have to go the brink to save the trees on PCH, if Caltrans had been asked, as I did, couldn’t instead the highway just be narrowed by a foot?

Why did we have to rely on a developer’s consultant? Where was ours? Amiable as a few members are, this council just does not have the chops.

And so, at the last meeting despite the concerns of residents, including a petition, the council focused on the paving contract and went for a compromise. It approved the paving with humps for Wildlife and Grayfox, and threw a bone to Pt. Dume by calling for an open meeting to consider traffic issues.

It also asked staff and the city’s traffic consultant to review applicable traffic calming items, and to unearth a traffic study that was once done for the Point.

I recall the study being presented to the Point’s Resident Association and then being buried alive, by the then Barovsky dominated council.

It will be interesting what will happen, and not happen, at the yet to be scheduled meeting, and will it, or should it, make a difference,. Stay tuned.

 

THE SEARCH FOR THE SOUL OF CITIES CONTINUES, ABROAD AND HOME

My search for what I label the soul of cities, continues, abroad, and home.

For me, these are the prime public places, the existential life of the city, its genius loci.

These are the places people experience and take pride in. Varying in form from city to city, layered with tradition, these places are what I feel lend a city and its people that evanescent quality of soul.

My trip to old haunts included the La Rambla in Barcelona, Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, and the museumplein in Amsterdam.

Others places with rich memories come to mind: Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, the piazza del campo in Siena, and Washington Square park in my hometown of New York.

As for my public Malibu, where I have lived for the last several decades, not so.

To be sure, there were select communal times with the kids on Westward Beach, on the Pt. Dune elementary school lawn, and in the play area edged by the picnic tables in the country mart.

More recently with the kids sadly gone but happily self sufficient, out with my sociable Corgi and irrepressible Shih Tzu, the Trancas Canyon Dog Park and its transient pet lovers have for me lent Malibu a rare sense of place — except when its too hot, or it rains. .

The search goes on, especially with civic center overrun by tourists and luxury outlets catering to their indulgences, and that of Malibu’s one per centers in their weekend safe deposit boxes.

However, take heart, a few miles west are two promising places that I feel lend hope for a more friendlier, public Malibu.

It just is some chairs and tables. a few comfortable couches, in a small field stone apron, centered on a modest fountain, and edged by the clubby Bank of Books, in the Pt. Dume Village center. But, increasingly it is populated by locals, enjoying family, friends and tolerating leashed dogs. Umbrellas and plantings help.

Add to this the venerable Lilly’s and an array of other eateries, and you have, a sense of place, where more often than not you see a neighbor, smiling hello.

It is reason enough to frequent the stores there, if only you could grab a parking space without having to circle the lot several times.

Also coming into its own is the Trancas Country Market, thanks in particular to a friendly Vintage Grocers and its Friday night concert series.

A recent offering there drew an estimated 300 locals, many walking from West Malibu, and turning a modest lawn into a celebratory space, if only for a few hours.

An attraction no doubt was Lenny Goldsmith, a long time Malibu resident and accomplished rock and roller, whose many gigs include the Tower of Power. Here before a hometown crowd he performed with a band appropriately named the New Old.

For me, it was great to hear Lenny, but also see friends and neighbors. It made me feel after a long trip abroad, very much at home, and that is what a public place is suppose to do.

 

 

Can the L.A. River Surmount the Current Rising Tide of Bullshit?

Frank Gehry’s anointment to spearhead a new iteration of the master planning of the L.A. River continues to muddy the waters.

I had previously commented that Gehry’s involvement in the river was disturbing for several reasons: his lack of planning experience could be calamitous: further, his recommendations could undermine pending funding, and not the least, his star architect ego and servile supporters could corrupt the river’s hard wrought cooperative spirit.

But some reasoned river advocates are urging 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 that took a decade to craft; it can be improved.

OK, I reluctantly agree, especially if there is a chance it might benefit the river’s revitalization. Let’s see what he does, if anything.

And having observed Frank for nearly 40 years, if his effort doesn’t match expectations, consistent with his m.o. he’ll probably just blame politics, the river corporation, FOLAR and the unappreciative community, someone in his office, and of course the carping media. Anyone but himself.

But I do feel compelled to lend some perspective if not a little needed churlish candor to the prospect of Gehry’s attempt at planning, taking to heart a cue from another commentator, Jon Stewart, who declared in his popular television program’s finale, beware of bullshit.

This is good advice certainly in the current political burlesque, and also I would add in the current planning and design arena. Prompted and polished by a gaggle of marketing and public relation pros, our celebrity architects and their wannabes do seem to have down the crowd-pleasing catch phrases.

Now clichés to the discerning, these include the absolute imperative for design to be “sustainable,’ “user friendly,” and “contextual.” (For how they are used in sentences just audit any urban planning confab.

You have to listen carefully what they are saying, but more carefully look at what they are doing or designing. Sometime it is just the opposite. That is what I liked when I moved on to become a television reporter, where the adage was, don’t tell me, show me.

I remember too well Gehry during the intense competition for Disney Hall hyping his design as the city’s living room, and how it would be open to the community and energize the adjoining streets.

It was one of the reasons why as the critic then for the L.A Times I championed the design, only to see the public garden sited a poor inaccessible three stories up, the critical First Street frontage an unfriendly wall hiding a private patio for the patrons, and the corner stairs a stage for automobile commercials. Street access and egress is compromised, as is the lobby.

Still, the hall is a striking piece of sculpture, an iconic design popular among tourists for selfies and for those who can afford tickets to be seen. Its urban design is not very urbane.

Also I have to be wary of Gehry’s dependence on technology, in particular touting his team’s 3D mapping of the 51-mile waterway, and how it could aid a sweeping master plan vision.

I personally hope Gehry and his entourage spends a little less time at their computers and at self-congratulating conferences, and more time experiencing the river and its adjoining communities.

I am reminded of a lesson from a landscape architect I once worked with, Dan Kiley, who when I rolled out the maps of a park restoration project, suggested instead we walk the site. “Listen and look and it will tell us what needs to be done. Not some images on paper. Beside it always good to get out of the office.” Good advice