Schools Do Need Oversight: Los Angeles CA Downtown News, 4/30/07



Los Angeles Downtown News has applauded the LAUSD [Los Angeles Unified School District] school-building efforts on many occasions, and recently the paper gave the district an important award at its Downtowners of Distinction event. But that doesn't mean we approve of everything they do. Somewhere in their process an essential truth gets lost that city ordinances should not be disdained. They are the laws made by representatives of the people of the city, a very different reality that ought to be an imperative. Our representatives should have the right to control what happens here.

If it makes sense for you and me to be required to follow the regulations as we build a playhouse for our kids in our backyard, and if it makes sense for a developer to follow the law while, say, building low-income housing, it makes sense for the school district to follow the rules, too. They do not. They do not even pay lip service to the rules. They swagger their way toward their school-building goals.

LAUSD has the right of eminent domain, and they have used it ruthlessly.

Two quick cases in point: the Ambassador Hotel site and the Belmont Learning Complex site. Carefully thought-through and vetted land-use policies had sensibly and obviously designated the Ambassador site for high-rise development because it is on Wilshire, the city's most well known metropolitan street, one with sky-high land values. The school district snapped up the Ambassador with appalling disregard for any kind of good urban planning or the dollars involved. They decided it should be reassigned as a school site, and there was nothing the city could do to stop them.

In another part of town, the City West Specific Plan locked in the corner of First and Beaudry for a massive residential development, one essential element that made all the other aspects of the plan work. The City West Specific Plan took years of discussion, planning and compromise among neighbors, landowners, political leaders and stakeholders of many descriptions.

After dozens of parcels had been assembled for the eagerly anticipated housing, the LAUSD sauntered in and took the whole thing for the new Belmont Learning Complex (now part of the Vista Hermosa project). Again, it didn't matter that City Council had approved the City West Specific Plan after years of wrestling with pertinent issues. The school district had the right under state law to take it by eminent domain, and they did. Yes, the school was needed, too, but LAUSD ignored serious effort and investment by the citizens of the city in plans for its own future. The fact that the district failed to adequately test the land for toxicity and earthquake faults - resulting in a school that is still under construction nearly a decade later and will cost more than $300 million once complete - only adds fuel to the fire.

Currently the district is in a huge brouhaha in Echo Park over a similar conflict involving eminent domain, so there is a new battle on the horizon.

The mayor and his policy makers should keep at it. They should continue to try to find ways to solve the issue of LAUSD oversight until they get it right. The behemoth is capable of great damage, as is the mayor if he doesn't pause, listen, think and try something new.

Los Angeles CA Downtown News: http://www.ladowntownnews.com