November 24, 2001 - From the November, 2001 issue

Perspective: Caprice Young

School board member Caprice Young argues that LAUSD has a responsibility to create a state of the art school facility, and a true community center, on the Ambassador site.


Caprice Young

Last month, the LAUSD finally started the process of buying the Ambassador Hotel property as part of its effort to relieve severe school overcrowding in the Wilshire Center neighborhood. With the Ambassador, we have the chance to create a community focal point for the diverse and highly concentrated area of Wilshire Center.

Wilshire Center-also known as Koreatown and Mid-Wilshire-has a rich history as a residential, religious, cultural and business core of Los Angeles. For decades new immigrants have been making the neighborhood their first home before moving to areas east and north. There is a genuine international feel to the area. Yet it is also home to some of the most overcrowded schools in the nation.

Just one example is Cahuenga Elementary School, which was built in 1909 for 400 students, expanded in 1980 to hold 400 more students, yet today houses 1,300 students on multi-track, year-round schedules. Even with all those measures in place, 1,315 students have to be bused out of the Cahuenga neighborhood to schools on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley.

To compound those figures, school district officials expect enrollment to increase in Wilshire Center alone by 3,800 students in the next 5 years. Clearly, it will only get worse.

Nearly 2 years ago, members of Wilshire Center residents associations, business organizations and religious groups met over the course of several weeks as part of the New Schools • Better Neighborhoods effort to select sites for schools. These community members raised many concerns:

• Stopping the bussing of children out of the community;

• Creating more afterschool and enrichment programs in partnership with the community and religious groups;

• Increasing the academic expectations for our kids;

• Addressing traffic flow and pedestrian safety issues;

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• Adding more parks and libraries;

• Maintaining the retail and business streetscape along Wilshire Boulevard.

During this process, neighborhood teams walked the blocks bounded by Olympic, Norton, Virgil and Melrose looking for school sites that provided the most potential benefits, but caused the least pain in terms of taking housing and businesses by eminent domain. They came back with 13 sites. Some require relocating businesses. Some require relocating residents. None are easy. After environmental studies, seven are moving forward. Two of the seven face challenges and may have to be dropped. Not counting the Ambassador site, the neighborhood will still lack one elementary school site, one middle school site and one high school site.

Besides the community concerns there are competing interests, all of them legitimate.

The L.A. Conservancy wants us to preserve the hotel building, saving the ballroom where Robert F. Kennedy gave his last speech, the kitchen where he was assassinated and the Cocoanut Grove nightclub where the celebrities sang, danced and drank martinis. The challenges in doing this include asbestos, low ceilings, closely placed pillars and other quirks of early 20th Century design.

Some members of the business community want the frontage of Wilshire Blvd. to be used for retail/commercial purposes. Others don't want a school because they fear it will become more difficult to obtain liquor licenses.

As a school board member my first priority is to create state of the art school facilities that will support student achievement.This development offers an important opportunity for us to solve these problems together in hopes of creating a true community center.

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© 2022 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.