Seek­ing a key to civic en­gage­ment

Vi­sion­ar­ies pon­der how best to help Los An­ge­les achieve ‘world-class’ sta­tus.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - CHRISTO­PHER HAWTHORNE christo­pher.hawthorne@la­times.com

The 3-year-old house owned by Jeanne and An­thony Pritzker, high on An­gelo Drive in the up­per reaches of Bev­erly Hills, is a vast and im­pos­ing neo-mod­ern chateau, loosely Richard Meieresque in feel, that holds a no­table col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary art and cov­ers 49,000 square feet. It opens onto a lawn as long as a fair­way and of­fers a view stretch­ing from the down­town sky­line to the ocean.

It was in the sunken living room of that house that Donna Bo­jarsky, for­mer aide to Tom Bradley and ar­che­typal “con­nec­tor” in the Tip­ping Point mold, con­vened a high-minded dis­cus­sion Tues­day evening on what she con­sid­ers the piti­ful state of civic en­gage­ment in Los An­ge­les.

The guests, per­haps 150 in all, in­cluded Michael Go­van, direc­tor of the L.A. County Mu­seum of Art; Cal­i­for­nia En­dow­ment Pres­i­dent Bob Ross; mu­si­cian Moby, who is an L.A. ar­chi­tec­ture buff; Madeleine Brand of KCRW-FM (89.9); and David Ryu, newly elected mem­ber of the L.A. City Coun­cil. They were nearly out­num­bered by a pha­lanx of wait­ers, bar­tenders, valet-park­ing at­ten­dants and se­cu­rity guards.

One woman ap­peared to have the job of stand­ing for the en­tire night next to a trans­par­ent, low-slung blue art­work in the style of DeWain Valen­tine and po­litely in­form­ing those look­ing for a place to sit that it was not, in fact, a bench.

Bo­jarsky be­gan by say­ing that while ex­cit­ing “change is afoot” in Los An­ge­les, new strate­gies to mar­shal that change were re­quired if the city had any hope of reach­ing “world­class” sta­tus. As a re­sult, she has started a group called Fu­ture of Cities: Lead­ing in L.A., which will hold its public de­but at an event in Oc­to­ber at LACMA.

I could swear there were a few groans, barely au­di­ble, when Bo­jarsky ad­mit­ted some nos­tal­gia for the ef­fi­ciency and ef­fec­tive­ness of the Com­mit­tee of 25, which con­trolled L.A. in the post­war years — nos­tal­gia that should be tem­pered, she was quick to add, by how white that group was. She then in­tro­duced speak­ers in­clud­ing Go­van, Ross, L.A. mag­a­zine edi­tor Mary Mel­ton and his­to­rian Wil­liam Deverell, direc­tor of the Hunt­ing­ton-USC In­sti­tute on Cal­i­for­nia and the West.

Deverell of­fered a use­ful long-view per­spec­tive on cy­cles of change in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Gre­gory Ro­driguez, a founder of the Zocalo Public Square se­ries, was ea­ger to throw cold wa­ter on the no­tion that any mean­ing­ful change was un­der­way. He was es­pe­cially keen to share his thoughts on bike lanes, and how we are un­wise to think they will do any­thing but turn L.A. into a “great Dan­ish vil­lage.” No bike lanes are planned for An­gelo Drive, as far as I know.

Bo­jarsky is right, of course, that L.A.’s civic fab­ric has long been flimsy and prone to fray; for many decades, the city has been far bet­ter at pro­mot­ing, and en­abling, in­di­vid­ual than col­lec­tive am­bi­tion.

Yet the pre­cise out­lines of her fledg­ling group’s agenda re­mained fuzzy. As the pro­gram wore on, the crowd in the living room thinned. When Bo­jarsky called out for Moby, the an­swer came back from a far cor­ner that he had left al­ready, to deal with a balky mixer, pre­sum­ably some­where down the hill and far from the 90210.

Left un­ex­plored was the suc­cess or fail­ure of other no­table re­cent at­tempts, by the Broad Foun­da­tion and oth­ers, to groom a new gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers. Sim­i­larly un­clear was the ex­tent to which the dis­cus­sion was meant as a cri­tique of Eric Garcetti and his still-young ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Bo­jarsky, who sup­ported Garcetti’s op­po­nent Wendy Greuel, an­other for­mer Bradley aide, said some com­pli­men­tary things about the mayor dur­ing her in­tro­duc­tion, and a few City Hall fig­ures were in at­ten­dance, in­clud­ing Garcetti’s young chief data of­fi­cer, Abhi Ne­mani. But it was out­go­ing L.A. Deputy Mayor Rick Cole, soon to take over as Santa Mon­ica’s city manager, whose pres­ence struck the most in­trigu­ing note of all.

A popular par­lor game among city-watch­ers has been to di­vine the true rea­sons for Cole’s move. Should we see his de­par­ture as a sign that it’s time to lower our ex­pec­ta­tions for the Garcetti ad­min­is­tra­tion and the fu­ture of our great Dan­ish vil­lage? Af­ter fail­ing to col­lar him at the Pritzker house, I tracked him down by email.

“I’m leav­ing be­cause I got a cool job in a cool city that has money,” he wrote back. “I wish I could stay to keep my shoul­der to a very, very big wheel. But I’m go­ing where the wheel is smaller and it is al­ready greased.”

He added, rather omi­nously, “L.A. is not de­signed to work.” Ital­ics his.

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

MANY HAVE SPEC­U­LATED as to why L.A. Deputy Mayor Rick Cole is leav­ing to be­come Santa Mon­ica’s city manager. “I got a cool job in a cool city,” he said.

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