BINGE WATCHING THE MALIBU FOLLIES

If you unfortunately didn’t have anything better to do on a recent Monday night, you might have inadvertently turned to public access Channel 3 and glimpsed the City Council follies. I did, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and select websites

Talk about binge watching an amateur production of what might be labeled City Hall E.R., as staff and consultants in a discordant concert with a fractured City Council struggled to patch up an overblown proposal for a single-family house on Wildlife Road.

Starring in the pitiable production for the developer was Malibu’s Mr. Fixer, Don Schmitz, and a scene-chewing, off script councilman, Skylar Peak in a role that sadly for him, and unfortunately for the audience, seemed beyond his skill set.

In lesser Council roles was a confused Laura Rosenthal, who kept unusually quiet, and neophyte Rick Mullen, who tried to lend some reasoned perspective to the proceedings, in a shining but in vain monologue.

Not being able to steal a scene, Mayor Lou la Monte let the farce run into the late hours, as the audience drifted off. Most had been there for a Trancas Field item.

There also were walk-on roles for the house builder, Richard Sperber, known locally for being one of the developers of the Lumber Yard project, and as a member of the Civic Center Design Standards Task Force, an appointment of Laura Rosenthal. His family also founded the Valley Crest Landscaping, which in the past has done business with the city

If I am prejudiced it is because of the involvement of Schmitz, who seems to be everywhere when a developer needs a hired gun, such as for the civic center’s La Paz and U2’s Edge’s residential proposals. When he is for something, I tend to be against it.

Then there was the protagonist, the next door and former friendly neighbor Chris Farrar, whose objections prompted the tortured chronology of the Wildlife project and the latest City Council hearing.

As for the back story, what had been a relatively routine proposal for a typically immodest Malibu residence of 6600 square feet, plus the usual pool and an unusual bocce court , turned into a farce when changes to the original plans by Sperber were approved over-the-counter by a city planner.

The changes involving shifting the building site and extensive landscaping should have required a public hearing, a fact the City later admitted when pressed by neighbor Farrar, and tried to correct while ordering a construction stop.

Too late, said Sperber. No, it’s not said the city. And that was just the overture to the first episode. Appeals and law suits followed.

It all presumably ended Monday night when the Council voted 3 to 2 to approve, with a confusion of conditions added by Peak. Hearing him redesign the project from the dais was like following him trying to knot two live wires blindfolded in a hidden electrical outlet.

My view is flavored by having been an adjunct in the UCLA graduate landscape program for several years, and where I continue to serve on juries. I would have to give Peak a failing grade.

Voting against the project was Wagner and Mullen, and another indication that the much hyped slate they formed with Peak in the past election is not functioning as a reform bloc as promised.

Ending the evening on another ominous note for those who had hoped the City be less pro development was the mumbled announcement by Mayor La Monte that his interim appointment to the Planning Commission would be long serving former mayor, Jeff Jennings.

Jennings is known for his articulate support for development, however it might compromise the city’s code and mission statement. Paramount is property rights. I expect we can expect some more heated debates on an enlivened city’s public access channel.

Better set my timer to record.

2.18.17

 

OFF BEAT ON STAGE AT THE WALLIS

The title of the latest ambitious production at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills is “946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips..”

If the title is cryptic, so is the production, as I comment on my weekly arts and entertainment observed on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

But let me add, it is also engaging, at times indeed dazzling, if somewhat scattered. And adding to the stew on stage is that it is based in part on a true story, and as we know, the truth often can be messy.

“946” in the title stands for the number of troops actually killed in a disastrous single-at-sea military exercise in preparation for the D-Day Normandy landing in June, 1944.

“The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips” is a popular children’s book by Michael Morpurgo about a lost cat of a girl coming of age during World War Two in a village in England where American troops were stationed, many of whom died in the exercise.

Morpurgo adapted the play with Emma Rice, who directed the distinct mash up style of the English production company of Kneehigh , replete with an on stage swing band, a parade of puppets and a large cast of jumping jack actors.

Throw in a clutter of washtubs filled with water in the orchestra pit fronting the stage representing the English Channel where the troops tragically died. And then there are the toy jeeps, the occasional bicyclist coming out of nowhere and going nowhere and, well, you get the picture. You might kindly label the effort innovative. Others might say it is a muddle.

As for the story line, the young girl loses her cat named Tips, or vice a versa, and spends most of her time on stage looking for her, aided by a couple of jitter bugging American soldiers based in the village.

Then there are several sub plots, some somber – after all a war is going on—and sweet, a young woman is coming of age. By the way, the performance of the girl by Katy Owen animated by flying pigtails and flailing arms and legs enlivens the stage, and lends the tale a winning focus.

It all might be untidy, but it is fun to look at, and actually to join in at, in a rousing finale. You leave the theatre smiling.

“946” runs through March 5, at the welcoming Wallis

2.17.17

 

 

 

A STOPOVER IN CULTURAL ZURICH

It is back to Malibu after nearly a month abroad, mostly at sea in the Indian ocean and on safari in South Africa.
 
It was great, thank you, though arts and entertainment venues were limited, and it is good to be at large again in southern California seeking out the diversity of its rich cultural scene, and so I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.
 
To be sure, our adventure did have its cultural experiences, in particular in a stopover in Zurich i had once known and enjoyed briefly 44 years ago. if anything, the city. like the Swiss, is enduring and engaging.
 
I stretched the stopover from LAX to Capetown to a weekend so as to be able to catch a controversial opera and an outstanding ballet in the opulent Zurich opera house. to see anything in the 1100 seat neo classical building is a rare treat .
 
The opera was the political production Lady Macbeth von Mzensk, written in 1934 by the edgy Dimitri Shostakovich, and reportedly almost sent him to Siberia by an underwhelmed Stalin.
 
Despite despising the Russian despot — he treated my family and millions of others cruelly – in this singular instance i have to admit his criticism was on target. the opera was a musical muddle. A bad. the translation from Russian to English did not help.
 
The disappointment was allayed the next night attending the ballet Anna Karenina. The production was marvelous, the sets and costumes dazzling, the dancing to the music of Rachmanioff by the resident ballet company breathtaking.
 
During the two days I was also able to visit the Kunthaus Zurich, the city’s, and Switzerland’s, outstanding art museum, and much to my pleasure view a very accessible collection that included an enormous water lily painting of Monet’s
 
Also on view were select works of van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso, and a surprising number of Edvard Munch paintings, though i could see how his distinctive canvases would appeal to the sober Swiss.
 
And a cultural excursion to Zurich would not be complete without visiting the Fraumunster church and viewing the stunning Chagall windows.
 
But it is now back in L..A., with lots to see and hear, and so little time, and so much traffic.

PROPOSED CITY LAND BANKING POSES QUESTIONS

Land banking is the latest item the City has added to its plate, and on first bite it appears tasty. But let the buyer beware, in this case Malibu residents, for if we really needed to be reminded, real estate here is a blood sport,And to be sure with any property transaction, public as well as private, the devil is in the details. Blank checks as indicated by the city proposal should just not be issued any government entity, no matter how servile.

That the ad hoc committee just appointed by the council to oversee the effort conjoins an irresolute Skylar Peak and realtor friendly, lame duck Laura Rosenthal, could present conflicts.

Indeed, there are aspects of Malibu’s land banking program that could well turn the most definitely well-intentioned effort into a land bungling program, and so I caution in my commentary for public radio 97.5 KBU, select websites and the LOCAL.

But first, some background, that at first glance makes land banking appear like a good idea:

Given the land use controversies that have roiled residents in recent years, resulting in costly contested propositions, snatching private property from the jaws of ever-avaricious developers for public use seems smart,

Logically less land for commercial use would undoubtedly mean less rapacious development of high end stores catering to flush tourists and the increasing horde of deep pocketed part time residents, resulting presumably in less traffic. That is the mantra of Malibu’s majority.

And the same goes for multi unit residential developments, such as had been proposed over the years for sprawling Trancas Field in West Malibu. It is a case in point.

The law suits over that proposal only ended last year with the city’s purchasing the field for $11 million plus in what could be considered a harbinger of a municipal land banking program. The purchase went without a hitch,

But the subsequent land use planning sessions by the city to determine what the 35-acre site be used for also could be a harbinger, albeit a disquieting one.

Proposed for consideration were the construction of centers for seniors, cultural and nature venues, a community garden, playing fields, and a ubiquitous skate board park. Also cited was the alternative of letting the fields remain as is.

There was no workshop, other than asking an unvetted audience to arbitrarily pin green and red dots on a series of the proposed uses pictured on display boards, reminding some of a kindergarden project. Confusion ensued.

No particulars were offered, such as cost benefits analyses for any of the wish list, design specifications, such as will the playing fields require stands, lighting and toilets; and for any use, parking, parking, parking.

Talk about a pig in the poke. Talk about giving out your credit card number and security code to a robo caller.

If doing nothing is proposed, or for that matter, too much, as it has for Bluffs Park, there is the concern the ensuing muddle would be a honey pot for the bureaucracy, and the planning could drag on for years, for City Hall’s favorite consultants.

And as for doing nothing, the $11 million purchase paid for by all of Malibu then would be gift of sorts to the 30 or so properties overlooking the field.

No doubt it would add to their property values, just as the very private access to the public beaches does for select Point Dune properties blessed by arbitrarily deeded beach keys.

Interestingly, this raises the question of whether the land-banking program could be tweaked and tapped to buy beach access on the Point for all Malibu residents; in effect provide a free alternative to the pricey beach key conceit and questionable real estate construct.

Now that could be an imaginative, if not, to say the least ,controversial, application of land banking. Yes, the devil is in the details. That possible pig in the poke the land bank poses just may not be kosher.  1.17.17

HAUNTED BY MEMORIES OF FACISM, CONCERNED FOR THE FUTURE

The skies over South Africa were mostly sunny and the Indian Ocean mostly choppy on our recent adventure abroad.

But hovering over us everywhere was the dark cloud of an anguished United States in the throes of what I would describe as no less than an attempted fascist coup, a nightmare of executive orders and alarming appointments; one after another in the quick step mode of a dictatorship.

I have sadly seen it before, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu.net and other select websites.

So excuse me as I try to catch my breath on my return to Malibu, as I settle back in our Cliffside retreat on Point Dume and its calming ocean views. Perhaps I can get a glimpse of the magnificent migrating whales that remind me of the awesome gift of nature of which we are an irresolute guardian.

To be sure, nature in my absence had eased concern for our drought stricken landscape with a steady stagger of rains. And thanks to friends, my makeshift drains and wheezing sump pump had worked.

But there also was concern while away of how my misanthropic Malibu was persevering, following the recent election of a slate promising reform, and a more planning and environmental sensitive, transparent City Hall.

Unfortunately it initially appears they are subservient, as the old guard ingenuously maneuvered to be reappointed to key subcommittees and to represent Malibu to other cities and the State.
Needed at the least is an accounting of what exactly they are doing and saying, beyond mumbling their reports at Council meetings and submitting expense accounts.

I do look forward to once again commenting on the planning and design issues affecting Malibu and elsewhere. This includes the further assault of our commercial centers and zoning codes, and beyond the fate of the L.A. River, and the vain glorious proposal to corrupt LACMA, while the region’s housing crisis deepens. Yes, there is much to be reviewed.

Meanwhile I’m still in a state of weltschmerz, due in part having returned from Africa with a stop over in Dubai in the United Arab Republic, that incidentally was not on Trump’s ban list because he is said to do business in the country.

Nevertheless, the debate over the ban was at fever pitch, and after hustling through customs at LAX, thanks to having Global entry, we were greeted by a sign waving crowd with cheers.

It brought tears to my eyes, prompted by long lost memories of my public school days during World War Two, where several of my classmates had somehow made it out of Nazi Europe, sent by parents unable to get visas and doomed to die in the camps.

Among the memories is the smell of camphor, rising from the donated clothes they wore distributed by Jewish charities. My perception of the world then was frankly viewed as simply peopled by Jews and Nazis.

It took me many years to move beyond the prejudices and embrace the American myth of equality, engendered by my mother’s observation that the mark of a survivor is not to look back.

If she was around today – having the Ashkenazi gene she lived to 106 — I would reply, yes, for me certainly the smell of camphor has been replaced by the smell of the ocean. So much for the past.

But I would add with Trump trumpeting as president , what now of our future?

SOME POSITIVE PLANNING BOOKS FOR THE TOUGH TRUMP YEARS AHEAD

There are a few treasured, dog-eared planning and urban design books I return to periodically for inspiration, and a little nostalgia, as I comment on public radio KBU and select websites.

Dating back to the 1960s when I was a metropolitan reporter for the New York Times during the day and a community activist in East Harlem at night, the books then and in the years following served as guides, generating both ideas and hope.

Yes, there was hope back then spurred by the emerging civil rights movement, urban consciousness and advocacy architecture, employing a host of innovative planning and development programs.

Good intentions prevailed, unlike now in the perverted programs proffered by a loathsome Trump and his stooges. They appear in lockstep, dead set to gut our democracy and the fragile efforts serving our cities and the less fortunate; indeed to only serve themselves and the obscene one percent.

And so we escape to books that remind us of their inherent good will. How insightful was Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City, awakening our awareness, and appreciation, of the cityscape.

Then there was William H. Whyte’s The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, which he called more of a manual than a book, exploring with a camera and insight what makes public plazas and streets work for, and don’t work, for pedestrians.

Enlightening also was Jan Gehl’s “Life Between the Buildings,” which I like for not being about touristy city centers and staged occasions for the leisure class, but about everyday people experiencing the public realm.

That is what I also like about Alexander Garvin’s recently published “What Makes a Great City.” Be the title taken as a declarative, or a question, Garvin declares in the preface it is the people and public spaces that makes a city great, not the architectural icons, beauty or function.

The well illustrated and accessible book, from the environmental advocate Island Press, goes on to identify several essential characteristics needed to make a city attractive to people, and noteworthy.

These include being open, inviting and offering something for everybody, sustaining a habitable environment and nurturing a civil society. And he notes where and how it is happening.

I was hoping that is what “People Cities” by Annie Matan and Peter Newman would also be so informative, published as a celebration of the life and legacy of Jan Gehl also by the resolute Island Press.

While touching upon a selection of city planning projects Gehl pursued, the book is more a parochial testimonial to the however deserving and inspired cityscaper.

I prefer reading Gehl’s old books, while looking ahead, beyond the Trump misadministration.

 

ARCHITECT FREDERICK LYMAN’S MALIBU MASTERPIECE

Recently published by local author and architect Cory Buckner is a richly illustrated book, focusing on the Lyman House, one of Malibu’s late and lamented landmarks. It is also a reminder when the community was an exurban outlier, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

The book entitled “The Lyman House and the Works of Frederick P. Lyman” is an estimable testament to a talented but relatively unheralded architect, and his singular project, an intellectually considered, crafted canyon house.

To be sure, Lyman was a Yale graduate, had worked in the office of the prestigious Richard Neutra, and in time was president of the local American Institute of Architects. He also was involved in the fledgling efforts for Malibu’s cityhood.

But he was never what you might call today, a star architect, a big name with a big ego, nailing big commission and big headlines.

Indeed, his reputation was based in large part on the Lyman House, a design of 1200 square feet he crafted for himself in Malibu, essentially as a bachelor pad. In the preface, renown architect Ray Kappe, a contemporary of Lyman’s, declares the house a masterpiece.

Built in 1960, apparently using no nails, the house was very much in the spirit and style of Japanese design, which he had studied. I would add he apparently was influenced by the vernacular dwelling known as the “Minka,” specifically of a modest mountain structure called a “sanka.”

It was eventually sold to another architect, and who in making what he considered improvements, naturally corrupted the design, and flipped it, reportedly at a hefty profit, which he enjoyed telling Lyman. So Malibu.

What was perhaps also indicative of Malibu, from an architectural historian’s view, the bastardized house mercifully was destroyed in the Las Flores fire of 1993. Perhaps there is such a thing as architectural karma.

And talk of karma, the house in 1969 caught the eye of a young art student, who stopped to sketch it. Emerging out of the house, Lyman asked the student whether she wanted a job. She did, and for the next ten years Cory Buckner worked as his apprentice, and in time became a recognized architect in her own right, and an author.

This of course lends the book a rare and welcome perspective, and the Lyman’s design of the house and the wealth of his illustrations the distinction that they deserve. Lyman mentored Buckner well, and she has most respectfully repaid him.          1.7.17

A GRACIOUS GORDY REMEMBERED

Monday night, January 9th,  at the Ahmanson Theatre downtown there will be a memorial for Gordon Davidson, who died last fall at the age of 83, one of the truly liked notables of the L.A.’s arts and entertainment community.
 
I will be attending as a friend dating from way, way back, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU, radiomalibu. net and select websites everywhere.
 
The founding artistic director of the Center Theatre Group for 38 years – from 1967 to 2005 – Davidson guided the center and the city to unquestionably the crest of regional theatre across the country.
 
More than that, I feel, he established Los Angeles as a theatrical wellspring in its own right, separate from New York, though, to be sure, always looking respectfully and at time enviously at the Broadway of his home.
 
And Broadway looked back at Davidson also with respect. It awarded him a Tony in 1977 for his direction of “The Shadow Box,” a play by Michael Cristofer he brought to New York after polishing it in L.A. The same year the center’s centerpiece Taper was awarded \a Tony for outstanding regional theatre.
 
That recognition was followed in 1978 with the resounding success of “Zoot Suit,” as both a play and a social commentary , exposing the bitter injustices toward Mexican Americans in L.A. That also went on to New York to great acclaim.
 
Then there was also the landmark production of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” that explored the AIDS epidemic in two six hour epics. Staged at the Taper in 1992, it went on to win two Pulitzer Prizes.
 
Davidson was an unabashed liberal sensitive to the social and political issues of the day, for which I truly respected him, pursuing with an uncommon passion productions that challenged the status quo. He loved directing, but I feel his conscience compelled him to be a producer.
 
And on a personal note, he also had been an actor, in college, at Cornell University. That is where I first met him and, truth be told, where we were in several productions together, including Elmer Rice’s Street Scene and Bertold Brecht’s “Good Woman of Setuzan.”
 
Back then 60 years ago he was known as Gordy., and a causal friend then, and also through the years, in New York and L.A. And once, through the center, actually encouraged me to finish a play I was struggling with, and mercifully didn’t finish.
 
He was a good person, and a great stage producer. He will be missed. The memorial will be at 7.30, I intend to be there. on cue..
 

NEW YEAR’S EVE MUSINGS AND MEMORIES

This being the last day of the year, the journalistic tradition is to do a wrap with a snappy summary of hi lights, and low lights, of the past 12 months, a sort of print Auld Lang Syne.

The song happens to be an ancient Scottish tune; penned by the poet Robert Burn about two friends remembering, “auld lang syne,“ the English translation being “times long past.” It is unabashedly sentimental.

Well frankly, as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere, I don’t feel particularly sentimental about 2016.

The year for me is clouded by the warped election of Trump, a shameless, narcissistic con man, who given his abominable appointments and dimwitted tweets threatens our precarious world.

Time to become more parochial, lose myself in culture, host the children and grandchildren, indulge the dogs, tend the garden, and try to be hopeful.

Certainly hopeful was the local election in Malibu with a majority of the candidates pledged to a more livable and democratic city. I just trust the new council will not fall, as several past council have, into a self deluding trap set by a servile staff and special interests.

Forgive me this holiday season, but time has made me a skeptic, as well as being an unrepentant liberal. Sing a song of auld lang syne; I quote an article I wrote 38 years ago for the L.A. Times:

“Malibu as a way of life is in danger of becoming extinct, its fabled privacy, proud independence and delicate ecology threatened by inevitable change.”I continued: “Nature, greed and government are seen as the major menaces to Malibu,” which I described as a 27 mile long or so wide strip of sparkling beaches, sinuous mesas and stark hills,”

Loved it then; love it now.

The article was written in the aftermath of the Agoura-Malibu fire of Fall 1978 that raced down Trancas Canyon and jumped the PCH to turn several home on Broad Beach to ash. The only thing certain about Malibu, said a fire chief then, is that it will happen again.

For those of us that have known Malibu for decades, it has, several times. Living here makes one particularly sensitive to the smell of smoke, the wail of fire engines.

The article also reviewed the bane PCH traffic had become, as well as the rising real estate prices that were making Malibu more and more exclusive, a weekend retreat for the very wealthy, and less neighborly. We’re talking 1978, so you know where I come from.

The article continued with a litany of concerns, but also included a passionate resolve by residents to continue the good fight to preserve Malibu. It indeed has been continuing these 38 years, and I expect will continue into next year, I hope.

 

 

HUNTINGTON’S ART AND GARDENS BECKON, DESPITE THE TRAFFIC

The sprawling Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens for me is always a serendipitous delight; always some unexpected, captivating art pieces, artifacts, exhibits, and plantings, to be discovered and appreciated. And so I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites everywhere.

To be sure, the Huntington is very much more than a museum, especially its ever-changing landscaped setting of native, and exotic plantings. Indeed, one can easily get happily lost in its 120 acres of gardens gracing its 207acre grounds.

By the way, it being winter it is the Camellia season, and time also for the aloes to raise high their torches.

Though once a scholar there, combing its library and marvelous photo collection for my book, “L.A. Lost & Found,” I do not get to the San Marino campus as often as I would like; the traffic these days being daunting.

Nonetheless, I recently set aside a day to go there, before an exhibit entitled Van Gogh & Friends closes on January 2. Forgive me, I know, I’m one of those bourgeois critics still reveling in Impressionism.

The exhibit is engagingly selective, featuring three representative Van Gogh’s on loan from the Hammer, in particular his evocative painting Hospital at Saint-Rémy.

Lending the exhibit context are singular works of his contemporaries, including Monet, Cezanne, Gauguin and Toulouse –Lautrec. And being in the Huntington’s principal art gallery, I had to glimpse for the umpteenth time Thomas Gainsborough’s Blue Boy.

Then it was on to the Huntington’s newest attraction, a modest addition to it American art galleries, designed by architect Frederick Fisher in his functional modern style. I loved the light and space, seamlessly flowing into the existing galleries.

The feature exhibit there on display through March 20 is a selection of photographs by Edward Weston, to illustrate a special edition of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.”

The photos were taken on what turned out to be a tumultuous cross country trip the aging Weston took with his wife Charis Wilson, cut short by the beginning of World War Two. The subject might be different from Weston’s signature landscapes and nudes, but the genius is still there to be appreciated.

There also were other pleasant surprises: a smartly well stocked and welcoming gift shop, and a refurbished restaurant, with a tasteful and reasonable menu. Both continue the gracious tradition of the Huntington, a Southern California’s treasure.