One Hand Clapping for L.A. Landmark City to Sea Expo Line

The celebration continues for the opening of the long awaited Expo line connecting downtown L.A. to Santa Monica, with the powers-that-be, their acolytes and the mimicking media hailing it as a landmark in Southern California’s maturation

Ever since I could duck under the turnstiles in my native New York, and later wave my pass in L.A.s burgeoning system, I have been a public transit advocate. I even was briefly a planning consultant to the MTA, trying to raise its user awareness.

In my weekly city observed commentary for 97.5 KBU. radiomalibu.net , cityobserved.com and select other websites. I applaud the opening, but frankly with one hand. It works, for a finite few at leisure or for whom it is convenient.

This includes tourists, dogged pedestrians, grounded students, and think tank minions who constitute a vocal constituency and together make a faithful lobby for flush transit funding.

Many were at the launch ceremonies along with the politicians and bureaucrats who for a day abandoned their official cars for a rare transit ride.

And of course also present were the construction industry chieftans and lobbyists who have benefitted well from the billions of dollars spent on the Expo Line.

However, the system doesn’t work particularly well for those who live along the coast and also those who work there, and have to commute. Affected are the enclaves of the Pacific Palisades, Topanga and my Malibu.

Indeed , if you can’t walk from home to a station, and have to be on time anywhere, you will have a problem, especially in Santa Monica., and especially at the terminus at 4th St. Bus connections suck and trying to park all day near is worse.

There is no parking there, not even a kiss and ride curb cut. At the 17th St, SMC station are only 67 spaces, with many already going to monthly permit holders.

The dearth of spaces is a result, I feel, of a maladroit MTA and the sanctimonious city of Santa Monica, not wanting to aggravate local traffic anymore than it is, and also not wanting to spend the money acquiring sites for all day public parking.

It is a win-win for the city and agency, lose, lose for the commuting public.

In one of the more gratuitous print commentaries, the usually reasoned critic Christopher Hawthorne of the L.A. Times takes a 64 year old Pacific Palisades resident to task for asking how to get to the station.  He argued like a  bureaucrat rather than a user advocate.

Hawthorne contends by his count there are up to 10,000 spaces within a healthy 20 minute walk. This is not so healthy if you are handicapped as I am. They are also pricey.

But first one has to get these conjured up spaces, which means for most driving on the dreaded PCH.

That is another 30 minutes in the usual iffy morning traffic from, say, Point Dume. And then to find a parking space, hoffing it to the station, catching a train for a stop and go 48 minute ride downtown.

There you can exit at the 7th Street Metro Station if you work nearby, or if elsewhere transfer to the Red or Purple Line trains, which is another 15 minutes to wherever. On a good day making connections could total a 2 hour commute for people working downtown.

Worse is for those living in or about central L.A. and working in, for instance, Malibu, be it as a teacher, clerk, laborer, or house cleaner. The region’s grunts.

And now the bus schedule is said to being tampered with to encourage use on the Expo Line. Work force commuters beware. They remain almost an after thought, as they have all during the design and development of the rail system.

To be sure, the launching of downtown L.A. to the sea is historic. It just has to be fine tuned. And it can be, by the MTA initiating speedy shuttle buses on the PCH, to serve the coastal communities, and beach parking lots , for commuter use. In addition, the train also can be speeded up instituting signal priority.

And the sooner the better, MTA has to keep in mind Measure R2 calling for yet another transit sales tax is coming up, and there are a lot of voters among the commuters.

 

 

REVELING ALONG THE ROMANTIC RHINE

I recently wandered far from my usual roost in Malibu viewing city-and-land-scapes projects and pronouncements in southern California to savor the storied settlements and scenes of the romantic Rhine. Yes, it was a welcomed vacation.

It was also for me a trip back in time, having roamed the back roads there decades ago as a journalist and briefly as a test driver for Audi Motors, thanks to my former affiliation with the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena; design being my passion, then and now.

Happily this time there was no need to tightly grip a steering wheel to bounce around the European countryside as if in a pinball machine, blinking intermittently at the control panels and passing scenery, sightseeing at a glance.

The exacting, encumbering car was contentedly forsaken for a river longship, where I had to open the suitcase happily just once for a week’s cruise, and be able to enjoy all at leisure.

There would no driving for me, thanks to Viking River Cruises, as its sleekly designed craft plied down the serene river from Basel, Switzerland, beneath a parade of legendary castles and cities, to Amsterdam.

The castles, of course, were a highlight, each with a rich history, fabled or not, and together for a significant stretch of the river a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Each day the Longship docked at a succession of distinctive towns and cities, my wife and I among the friendly, mostly well traveled 190 or so passengers to be greeted by resident guides for engaging free tours of historic neighborhoods.

This included the more modest Alsatian medieval village of Colmar, with its web of 9th century streets; 13th century Gothic churches and17th century half-timbered houses. Couldn’t help but buy hand made candies there.

And I could not resist the pastry or the architecture in Strasbourg, a city distinguished by a magnificent Gothic cathedral dating back to 1176, as much as having been under repeatedly recurrent French and German rule.

To an architectural and planning critic, it was heartening to see how pride has taken root in the continuing local preservation efforts, with its obvious communal and commercial benefits.

Other stops of note was Heidelberg and its majestic castle overlooking the historic university town, and in particular, the bustling, beer consuming city of Cologne, with its landmark towering Gothic cathedral.

I, of course, went rogue, and visited Museum Ludwig there, with its impressive collection of modern art, including raw German expressionism and a wealth of Picasso’s.

There were side trips to the commanding Marksburg Castle, the only castle in the Rhine Valley never having been besieged, undoubtedly because of its strategic siting and daunting steps. They were a challenge.

More accessible was the rococo Augustusburg Palace, lovingly designed and lavishly built by a German archbishop, and now also a UNESCO site.

Then it was on to the Netherlands, for a tour of some select windmills. But on the way was an impressive riverfront view of the broad shouldered city of Rotterdam. Prominent was the graceful Erasmusbrug Bridge, known in engineering circles as “the swan.”

It was a modern touch to a historic rich river, before cruising on to Amsterdam, which deserves its own commentary, and then on to Scandinavia, and eventually back to my waterfront Point Dume.

 

LOCAL POLITICS PERSISTS IN MISANTHROPIC MALIBU

Forget the hysterical national political campaigns for the moment. In neophyte communities, such as my misanthropic Malibu with its entitled population, local politics persist as the stuff of daily drama.

Here the center stage is the embattled Civic Center. It is a fractured mess, as I comment in my latest broadcast heard on 97.5 KBU and radiomalibu.net. and read on cityobserved.com and select websites.

It is more scattered than centered, more commercial than civic, more tourist serving than local friendly, more commonplace than colorful, and besides, driving there is a drag, the circulation sucks and the parking a pain.

Unlike other sister seacoast enclaves, such as Laguna Beach or Del Mar, Malibu’s Civic Center is neither quaint nor attractive, not for promenading, or for meeting friends. I would not call it particularly neighborly.

For that the Point Dume or Trancas shopping centers are much more disposed to be serendipitous, even stretches of our accessible beaches, thank you Coastal Commission, no thank you our key Nazis. The Zuma walk, Bluff’s Park or the indiscriminate Trancas Canyon dog park are friendlier.

So it was that after too many years in planning and politics, I welcomed a Santa Monica College satellite campus to the forlorn and much too retail ravaged misnamed civic center.

Finally, the City Council recently stumbled forward to barely approve the project by a 3 to 1 vote.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been just another city council hearing without some heartfelt objections to the project And most likely I would’ve been sympathetic if the objections were directed at yet another commercial conceit, especially pricey and tourist oriented.

But clearly the college proposal with a new sheriff’s station and communication tower attached would be a community benefit, and as much as I take exception to the council notorious tendency of granting variances, in this instance it was justified. A better, more green, and user friendly building will result .

The respected architecture firm of Quatro Design of which I am familiar deserves our thanks for persevering. Not many firms would have in the face of the maelstrom that Malibu’s politics.

\Ah, local politics, you have to love it. It is our theatre.

If anything, I hope that the campus, with its parade of students and promised community outreach to all ages and interests, will generate a sense of place for the civic center, based on public service rather than crass commercialism.

 

 

 

 

MALIBU COUNCIL COMPROMISES ZUMA BEACH

Put this commentary under a new category: what were they thinking

I am referring in my cityobserved.com heard on KBU and everywhere to the recent mindless action by the City Council endorsing a private photographic exhibition on Zuma Beach.

If it clears several legal hurdles –which I hope it doesn’t –it would run for three months, in a sprawling temporary structure in the parking lot, charge an entrance fee, host v.i.p. events, show films, and no doubt gild Malibu’s reputation as an elitist enclave.

Featured would be a solo exhibit of photos taken by an artist promoter of the wild horses of Sable Island off of Canada’s Nova Scotia Island, previously displayed and pedaled in his private gallery in New York, as well as other select locations.

The photos by Robert Dutesco also can be seen in a book, priced at $150.00 and most likely will be available with other items in the ubiquitous museum shop also proposed for Zuma.

You have to wonder what the residents in the area might say, that is if they had been asked. They weren’t, and neither was the Planning Commission. So much for the city’s transparency.

To be sure, the support by the Council was limited for the moment to blessing the concept, which nonetheless is a statutory act, and requesting the cooperation of the County, which owns and operates Zuma Beach.

It should be noted there are limits for which the Beach can be used, consistent with state’s Coastal Act the city’s own Municipal Code, and a raft of exacting environmental reviews, though this has not stopped their abuse.

To some Zuma already has been compromised too often by filming and special events, so much so that it has been suggested renaming the beach the Zuma Industrial Park.

It will be interesting to see how county supervisor, Sheila Kuehl, reacts to the proposal. At stake here is her reputation as an avowed coastal advocate. Also at stake is no less than Malibu’s heritage.

If Malibu as a singular community is distinguished by one physical feature, it is its beaches.

Among its many personal pleasures is simply being able to view them, the endless ocean vistas, spectacular sunsets, and the seasonal parade of spouting whales.

Then there is the delightful diversion of walking along its shores, smelling the fresh ocean, tasting a taint of salt, hearing the waves break, the bark of sea lions, and if barefoot, feeling the wet and warm sand. It can be magical.

In a more philistine mode, it is this coastal setting, edged by confining mountains, near an engaging Los Angeles, but yet comfortably removed, that undeniably makes Malibu so desirable, and not coincidentally pads its real estate prices.

For these and more ethereal reasons, being fortunate enough to live in Malibu prompts, or should prompt, a special affinity for the environment and a communal concern for the beaches.

Zuma is special, not just on beach days when it hosts hundred of thousand, but year round, even in winter, when every morning people can be seen walking their dogs or braving the surf, creating a special egalitarian community of acquaintances. You have to love Malibu

And therefore if for some reason or other the County does not deep six the presumptuous proposal, and it returns to the City Council, let the clarion call be sounded, and the resident heard.

It is one thing to compromise the civic center, as the Council has shamefully done. It is another more sadly egregious act to shamefully compromise the beloved beaches of Malibu.

 

 

TRYING TO CATCH THE TRAIN , FROM MALIBU!

 

We love living in Malibu, but as most residents hate commuting, especially on the accident prone Pacific Coast Highway. It is the bane of the city, as I declare in my latest commentary, on 97.5 KBU FM, radiomalibu.net, and cityobserved.com.

And whatever constraints we might impose on questionable commercial development to discourage traffic on the PCH, it can be expected to get worse.

On a more personal note, the isolation is particularly vexing considering the frustration driving just to spend some time in a burgeoning Santa Monica, or in an increasingly engaging downtown L.A. And add to that the headache of parking.

With the crazed traffic situation almost everywhere in mind, it is interesting to note that as a service to its residents West Hollywood is launching a free, peak-hour bus shuttle linking select stops in its city to the expanding Metro rail service.

Meanwhile, also soon to be launched this Spring is Phase 2 of the Expo Line extending light rail service from the current terminus in Culver City to Santa Monica, with 7 new stations serving the Westside. The result will be to put downtown Los Angeles 46 minute away from downtown Santa Monica.

Nice, if you happen to live in easy walking distance to a station. Not nice if you happen to live miles away, like in Malibu.

Residents there wanting to take the train will still have to drive to Santa Monica on the dreaded PCH, and then search for a parking space near the Expo station.

But no new parking is planned at the Expo terminus at 4th and Colorado, and only a ridiculous few 70 spaces available at the 17th Street station.

Yes, there is the lumbering 534 bus, though it is notoriously slow and makes many stops.

Perhaps if the service could be better organized –lets call it the 534X- to offer express buses at convenient times to and from the Expo terminus to select stops in the Bu, say Trancas, the Point, and the Civic Center, where commuter parking could be provided.

Certainly this it would be an incentive not to drive the PCH, especially for venues downtown.

A variation to get into Santa Monica with a minimum of driving and the headache of parking would be to offer commuter parking weekdays at, say, Will Rogers Beach, and provide a shuttle to the rail terminus.

As an added incentive. the service could be free, as in West Hollywood, or charge a nominal amount, say $1, with extended hours to serve the returning late night crowds.

A shuttle service featuring something akin to a jitney buses could be particularly attractive, and could be decorated to be very Malibu.

Such a service if managed with common sense and civility , I feel, has the potential of reducing traffic on the PCH and also giving more easy access to downtown.

As for cost, I’m confident that there are funds available for a pilot program from government sources, such as the MTA, and for private ticket tie-ins.

It’s certainly worth considering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York Born and Ill bred: You gotta problem with this?

My latest commentary on “New York values” actually could have been a subject for my City Observed broadcasts, except that the issue was raised in the sadly comical Republican Presidential debates.

That puts in the classification of Entertainment, hence for me, an A&E Observed broadcast segment.

Of course, in disparaging New York, candidate Senator Ted Cruz could have slammed the city’s recent rash of high rise luxury residences scarring the skyline, the pressing need for affordable housing and the nagging homeless problem: Items in my critical realm.

But the Canadian-born, Texas transplant tea bag chose to criticize his equally repellent rival Donald Trump, for embodying “New York values.” Cruz further define these values as “socially liberal and pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage, “with a ”focus on money and the media.”

These traits broadly labeled “too New York” are usually a veiled aphorism for saying “too Jewish.”  And you don’t’ have to love Rye bread, be Jewish or a New Yorker, to consider the remark an anti Semitic slur. Whether Cruz meant it or not, it needs to be put down.

Yeah, I’m from New York.

It was where I was born and some people would say ill bred, and despite living in California for nearly 40 years, 20 in mythic Malibu, I still refer to New York as my hometown.

When asked why, I could reply as a tanned Californian by politely smiling, or as a New Yorker, with a snap back question. “you gotta problem with that?” Depends on my mood. and we are a moody breed on both coasts.

I guess the popular proverb applies here, that you can take the boy out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the boy, especially if he was born in a once mocked , outcast Brooklyn. Yeah, “Brruklin,” that now hipster heaven where craft beer has replaced egg creams.

Despite years on radio and television, a thousand voice overs, and countless corrections by friends, I like to think my diction has improved.

But apparently not my attitude, as I immodestly believe my years of being critic and these commentaries bear out.

I’m a New Yorker, opinionated, contentious, and quick on the offensive, and on the defensive.

And I love New York, its energy, drive, diversity, tolerance and, yes, toughness.

These are traits I frankly I feel Los Angeles, and every community, could use more of, including my liberal, libertarian, misanthropic Malibu.

“Gotta a problem with that?”

Hooray: Pritzker Prize to Chilean Architect for Social Housing

Today, on 97.5 KBU FM, and everywhere on radiomalibu.net and select websites, a departure from the usual touting of cultural attractions in and around Los Angeles, to comment on the recent awarding of the 2016 Pritzker Prize, the highest honor in architecture, to Alejandro Aravena.

Not only is the award noteworthy this year for tapping a relatively unknown designer in Chile, –most previous honorees have been from mainstream United States and western Europe – but for its focus on social housing.

This really sets Aravena apart, declared the Pritzker jury. which this year included the British Richard Rogers and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Beyer. The prize comes with a $100,000 award but perhaps more importantly is usually followed with a swarm of international commissions.

If so, it will hopefully lend additional attention to the groundswell here and broad for affordable, well designed, user-friendly housing, that also serves and involves the communities where located.

The 48 year old Aravena – that is relatively young for an accomplished architect,– is best know for his modestly inexpensive residential projects, and his commitment to create sustainable, affordable and resilent cities.

In the past, with a few exceptions, the focus of the designs of the architects honored have been on flashy forms and iconic buidings, stand out projects that generated media attention for its sponsors and celebrity status for its architects.

This increasingly high end bent in the profession was duly noted by this year’s intrepid Pritzker jury, which in a statement prefacing the award declared –quote:

The role of the architect is now being challenged to serve greater social and humanitarian needs, and Alejandro Aravena has clearly, generously and fully responded to this challenge. Unquote.

The statement and award frankly warms my heart, for in the years past as an urban affairs reporter for the New York Times ,and later as the architecture and urban design critic for the L.A. Times, I immodestly spotlighted social housing .

The definition I cited in my writings and teaching over the years was that first and foremost, architecture is a social art, used to create spaces and places for human endeavor.

I still believe that.  Thank you, Pritzker jury , for remind me of that

I’m Sam Hall Kaplan, and is the arts and entertainment observed, heard locally on 97.5 KBU, everywhere on radiomalibu.net, and read on cityobserved.com and discerning websites.

 

New Year’s Day Musings from Malibu

My New Year’s commentary  aired on 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net, and elsewhere on the web, and posted here:

A hearty Happy New Year, with a fervent peace and good will to all, though I frankly offer this with faint hope, for it seems to me that despite wishes to the contrary, peace and good will, everywhere, continues on the wane.

Still, there is a modicum of hope, which I’m pleased to express based here on KBU, as I have from myriad media outlets where I have toiled over the last half century plus.

Whatever, then and now, the ringing in of the New Year is a time I feel for looking back as well as looking forward.

Indeed. I recall quite vividly the new year 56 years ago when I was a fledgling journalist for WQXR, then the radio station of the august New York Times, working odd hours and on holidays.

Back then in addition to scripting a 5 minute broadcast every hour, on the hour, I also wrote the news crawl for the famed Times Square ticker tape.

This entailed walking from my desk in the news room on West 43rd street a half block to the triangular Times building in Times Square, up three flights, to hand deliver my script to the typist banging out the blaring headlines.

New Years was the toughest day of the year, for to turn my copy in I had to elbow my way through the pushing and shoving crowds to get to the landmark tower.

More challenging was timing the salutation I had scripted,  HAPPY NEW YEAR, to flash on to the ticker tape at the exact moment the ball on the flagpole touched down in view of the celebrating multitude.

There were no super computers back then programming the display to the millisecond. It was done with dumb luck.

I still get shivers as I watch on television the ball descend in Times Square, albeit at midnight New York time, 9 P.M on the coast. By midnight in Malibu I’m asleep

So much for looking back. As for looking forward to 2016, hope still persists on the world stage, for which I leave others to comment on, though of course I have opinions.

As the tag of this radio spot states, my purview is the city observed, how spaces and places are shaped or misshaped to serve or hinder human endeavors, in particular in Los Angeles and my Malibu.

So for 2016 that means on the Southern California scene, among other things, following the fate of the revitalization of the L.A. River; whether architecture and planning can craft a livable, sustainable city; and how best to protect our threatened environments.

Also, and most critical, I intend to monitor whether our current political constructs- the city councils, the commissions and bureaucracies –are up to the challenge,  whether they can act in the pubic interest and not their own. And of course I will be casting a wary eye on the avaricious private sector.

We are talking here of respecting the culture, context and climate of communities. More specifically, locally, whether measure R should be pursued or is there a better way; does Legacy Park have a future; what now for the Civic Center?  Is there any hope for affordable housing, the homeless, and an independent Malibu school district?

For the answers, tune in  …

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

 

 

 

 

 

Architecture As A Social Art Subsumed by the Architect As A Social Animal

I don’t think it’s cynical to state that the noble pursuit of designing spaces and places for human endeavor is being corrupted by the cult of star architecture.

From my long tenure as an urban design critic, I see the scramble among a select gaggle of professionals to be anointed, as increasing insidious and insistent,.

This is no thanks in part to a celebrity obsessed media, and so I declare in my weekly commentary for 97.5 KBU, everywhere on radiomalibu.net and on cityobserved.com. and other websites.

And so we have tomes such as Paul Goldberger’s “Building Art: The Life and Work of Frank Gehry,” reading more like “The Art of the Deal” by Donald Trump, with architecture as a social art subsumed by the architect as a social animal.

If anything, the read reveals Goldberger’s transition from when he was a solid, if not stolid, critic in his early years for the New York Times, and then the more fastidious New Yorker, to his present vain-glorious gazing at Vanity Fair.

As for the ever-grasping Gehry, noted is his transition from an aspiring architect of modest talent, to a self-aggrandizing, celebrity-schmoozer who sadly believes his own press clippings, and to hell whomever doesn’t.

But Gehry with the gift of a grifter does know how to massage the media, as evidenced by Goldberger’s undiscerning biography, and clients as well, as evidenced by his hyped designs. Little is heard from the users or their advocates.

Granted, it is hard to blame some of the architecture elite for manipulations, given the competition in the profession for deep pocketed clients and prominent projects promising yet more publicity.

It is very much a merry, merry-go-round, unless of course it is not, and one fails to grab the gold ring, and hang on, resulting in what might be labeled, professional envy

Also, running an office is expensive, especially when the principals have to be out and about pontificating at endless forums and glad handing clients, while the actual designs are being produced by the talent in the back rooms.

I recall it was the august Philip Johnson, who was to the manor born, commenting that to be a successful architect, as he was in his time, you had to be a whore.

It is all very depressing, if you think of the effect it has on conscientious peers with a trace of talent and good intentions, desperate for attention, if not a little love, while trying to piece together a practice.

The bad books they have written about themselves and the mountains of monographs documenting their projects tend to be embarrassing, even if just circulated among family, friends and clients.

Still, hope springs eternal, and I appreciate and embrace design. When focused on those who will actually be affected by the crafting of spaces and places – the users– it can elevate the human experience.

12.9.15