On a blustery recent morning, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Council President Eric Garcetti and Councilman Tom LaBonge held a rooftop news conference in the heart of Hollywood. They were there to announce the completion of the Hollywood community plan, a document intended to guide the growth of the historic community. The event went the way most such things go: Villaraigosa spoke first and longest; Garcetti gave a few earnest remarks; LaBonge mugged and got off a couple of laugh lines. Congratulations were offered to the residents who participated in the process and to the bureaucrats who guided it. Reporters asked some questions, and everyone beat it back to their cars before it started to rain.
But there was grumbling at the event's periphery. While Villaraigosa and Garcetti talked of the scores of public meetings convened to solicit input into the plan, a few Hollywood residents complained that their input had been ignored. While Villaraigosa championed "transit-oriented development" and bragged about the subway stops that have been built in the area in recent years, the neighbors grumbled that traffic continues to get worse. While the mayor sees growth as essential to pulling the city out of its nationally induced recession, these neighbors fear that the growth he envisions will simply cram more people into already crowded communities. And the mayor's push for new jobs, they worry, could benefit his union supporters at the expense of the neighborhoods where growth will occur.
In an essential way, these two groups are talking past each other. The residents express a kind of elemental conservatism: They want to preserve the qualities that drew them to their neighborhoods in the first place. The elected officials, meanwhile, are trying to create a vision for a future Los Angeles, one with denser housing and fewer cars, a place where people live close to their work and use public transportation to get to it.
The mayor and his allies, in other words, are trying to lead Los Angeles toward a break with its past. That's a sensible path toward a better future, but the public isn't as sold as the leadership.
Hints of that disconnect were evident in the news conference, or at least on the margins of it. The mayor described his recent trip to China, where he said planners from other parts of the world saw "L.A. as what you don't want to do." To them, he said, "we're the quintessential city of sprawl."
But the neighbors who turned out on the rooftop of the Hollywood Tower weren't interested in what Chinese planners think about Los Angeles. They wanted to know why they'd only learned of the event 72 hours earlier, and they wanted to know what the mayor had in mind for Sunset Boulevard and Franklin Avenue, which they said were already too congested. One neighbor worried about plans for a 46-story tower and the burden it would place on local infrastructure; another complained that more cars on Hollywood streets would "make it unbearable" to travel through the area. A third, longtime journalist and Hollywood resident Laurie Becklund (a good friend and a former colleague), sought some assurance that the Sunday Hollywood Farmers Market would be protected. Garcetti said it would be, though not through this plan.
Garcetti seemed to grasp better than the mayor did that there is still uneasiness about the community plan, as there is with other such efforts across the city. Still, he defended the resulting work and the prospects for coherent development of the area. "Never mistake the loudest voices for being representative," he argued.
He's right about that, of course, but it raises the question of what is truly representative. Is it the local chamber of commerce, or the residents who turn out for neighborhood council meetings? Or is there a quieter majority unaware of the plans being made and the effect they will have?
Neighborhood concerns and complaints did not dominate Villaraigosa's news conference. Indeed, politeness and diffidence triumphed over discomfort, allowing the mayor to continue doling out congratulations and anticipating the council's swift approval of the plans. When it was over, Villaraigosa shook a few hands, LaBonge worked the rooftop one more time, and they parted with smiles, content to have presented their work and seemingly untroubled by the doubts of the neighbors.