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Cultural Affairs Takes a Stand

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, February 03, 2005, at 12:24PM

It was a fun morning. I skipped out on my public service class this morning (with teacher approval) to go sit in on a meeting of the Cultural Affairs Commission (note that the list of Commissioners is out of date). As I mentioned Tuesday, they were revisiting the city's proposal to build the new LAPD headquarters on the old Caltrans site across from City Hall. I'll give a more detailed report in the body, but I think this quote from Commissioner Lee Ramer sums up the meeting

I don't know if I can say no, but I think I'd like to say no.

Filling in a bit of backstory, the item first came before the Commission on January 20th. Any buildings the city wishes to erect must come before Cultural Affairs for them to approve the design. On the 20th the Commission voted 3-2 against approving the city's presented design, most likely in large part because of community concern over the site (I wasn't at the meeting, but that's what I heard). I learned today that what in fact happened on the 20th is that the applicant (the city) withdrew their plan from consideration after it turned out that approval did not have the necessary majority votes (four).

The item was brought back to the Commission today at the behest of the City Attorney's office. Basically the representative from the office advised the Commission that it was outside of their jurisdiction to consider sites; they were tasked only with approving or disapproving designs. The Commissioners seemed less than thrilled about this advice; comments were made to the effect of being unable to separate the design of a building from its location.

There were two camps of public comments: those who want a park, and those who were from Little Tokyo. In short, largely the same arguments I heard back in August. That said, I thought the comments at this stage were a lot more focused and civil, and better presented the park argument. Adele Yellin, who I mentioned a few days ago had presented an in absentia letter to the Commission's last meeting, was in attendance and gave public comment.

When it came time for the Commissioners to make a decision, the debate was far more focused on what they were able to do, rather than what they should do. As I said, the City Attorney's office was pushing a very narrow scope, and advised that City Council would likely veto any decision that was too broad. Though the Commissioners liked the building designs presented (at the last meeting), they mentioned not feeling that they could in good conscience approve a design for a building they did not feel qualified to say should be built where proposed.

In the end a motion was made that -- and I paraphrase here --

The Commission urges that the project be revisited by Council taking into account the appropriateness of the location given existing master plans and the objections raised by this Commission.

This motion passed, five to one. The Commission will draft a letter itemizing many of the concerns presented to them and will deliver that letter to Council.

Because they did not address the preliminary design issues, the need for their approval will time out in 15 days. So in essence they allowed the design to be approved while at the same time not voting on an issue they didn't feel right about. It was an interesting tact, and one that I thought was well-crafted. No one objects to the building's design, just where they're trying to put it.

All in all it was a very interesting meeting to attend. There was a reporter present from the LA Times, so it will be interesting to see if an account makes it into the paper. The ever-quotable Brady Westwater told the reporter he thought the Commission showed a lot of backbone by taking the action they did, and I have to agree.

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