March 3, 2005 - From the February, 2005 issue

Residents Want Promised Civic Park, Not Police Station for Downtown Los Angeles Site

On Feb. 3, the LA Cultural Affairs Commission voted against the new Los Angeles Police Department headquarters in Downtown. Continuing our coverage of the proposed police headquarters [See TPR December/January 2005], TPR is pleased to print two memos presented to the Commission before its vote: one from, a coalition supporting the use of the land for a park, and another from Adele Yellin, co-chair of a city advisory committee helping to plan the park.


To: The LA Cultural AffairsCommission

Re: Hearing on Proposed Police Headquarters, Jan. 20, 2005

The city's plans to build a new police headquarters on the old Caltrans site and the neighboring block anchored by St. Vibiana's will undermine the emerging arts and cultural movements downtown and squander the ideal site for a major civic park for Los Angeles.

The city's abrupt selection of this site for a police headquarters in June 2004 was made without input from the communities most directly affected and disregarded previous plans calling for open space. Hundreds of people have protested this decision at public meetings in August, October and November. More than 1,000 have signed a protest petition. We ask that you not approve this plan – it is short-sighted and short-changes the entire city.

Impact on the arts community would be dramatic.

The block at 1st, 2nd, Spring and Main streets marks the start of Gallery Row, the arts initiative along Main and Spring streets that in less than a year has grown from 4 galleries to 15. Across the street is historic St. Vibiana's, built in 1876. The former cathedral – narrowly saved from an earlier wrecking ball – has just undergone a $6 million renovation and transformation into an arts center. On the other side of Main, the Linda Lea theater is about to be renovated and re-opened as a film and performance arts venue.

Works of art, art fairs and festivals in the park were to have played a key role in bringing people into the area and supporting these city-backed arts endeavors. Under the city's current plan, not only would there be no park to showcase artwork and attract crowds, the building on Main where the Gallery Row concept was born -- formerly Inshallah, now MJ Higgins – would be torn down to make space for police parking and a motor pool. The plan leaves virtually no public parking in the area for arts, restaurant and shop patrons.

Allowed to thrive, these important cultural initiatives will help create a lively, authentic arts district that bridges the established art museums just east and west -- MOCA, the Geffen Contemporary and the Japanese American National Museum -- and the Music Center's performing arts venues up the hill.

The current city plan shows an 11-story, 500,000-square-foot headquarters, an auditorium, parking for 700 police vehicles and a small community park on the old Caltrans site. On the other block, next to St. Vibiana's, would be parking for another 500 police vehicles and the motor pool where police cars are washed and serviced. This massive project would permanently alter the potential of the area to develop into a commercial and pedestrian friendly zone that would help the arts community and surrounding neighborhoods succeed.

We have a historic opportunity to give the citizens of LA a place in the city's civic center.

Public parks and civic gathering places are hallmarks of great cities but Los Angeles has grown up with almost none. The old Caltrans block – which is about to become the property of the people of Los Angeles – gives us a rare opportunity to dramatically change that. Urban planners and city officials have repeatedly identified it as ideal for a great public space – the master plan adopted by the City Council in 1997 calls for open space on this block.

At the steps of City Hall, it is the public's gateway to its government and it is the city's gateway to its historic core, business districts, and emerging residential and arts corridors. The police building proposed for the site would visually and emotionally close off that connection. Creating a park would nourish it and extend a long-overdue welcome to residents of this far-flung city, so in need of common ground. Bordering the site are LA's earliest thoroughfares and some of its oldest and newest landmarks – including City Hall, the LA Times, St. Vibiana's, the new Caltrans building, and, just up the street, Disney Hall. How this block is used will in many ways define the kind of city we become.

Workers, residents and downtown's children need a healthy, welcoming park.

This site is close to thousands of downtown workers and a growing number of residents who need park space to help them lead healthy lives. In a densely populated area, we have a critical responsibility to ensure that there is park space where people can gather, jog, relax and breath a little easier – and where our children have a safe place to play. Two-thirds of Los Angeles children do not live within walking distance of a public park – the ratio is even worse downtown.

Developing market rate and affordable housing downtown isn't just a trend, it's a necessity. Creating a park on this site would radically improve the environment for those who work and live in the surrounding districts and all who come to visit. This is a quality of life and health issue that we can no longer afford to ignore.

A park on this site will foster business and housing development.

Little Tokyo, the Historic Core, Artists, Toy, Broadway, Bunker Hill and Grand Avenue districts will all benefit if pedestrians and other visitors can move easily from one area to another. This site has the unique potential to help bring these interests together in a critical mass of arts venues, restaurants and other businesses. Although banners proclaim downtown as a place to live, work, and play, there is precious little place to meet or play. Human-friendly public spaces will help ensure the success of downtown redevelopment that will generate tax revenue and other benefits for the entire city. Many of the 8,000 new downtown housing units in the pipeline or under consideration are near this site.

A great civic park in downtown LA will be a point of pride for generations to come.


Backers of this park envision a place as extraordinary as this city. The design possibilities have already generated interest around the world. One concept shows it with a great artwork – a palm spiral envisioned by the late artist Robert Smithson. Others show a place where plants transform the space as seasons change, an urban waterscape, a high-tech center for communicating ideas. Most see it with multiple uses, dynamic attractions and an underground parking facility to accommodate visitors. All see it as a place where people from LA's many and diverse communities can gather and enjoy their city.

All sites are not created equal – and this one is unique.

There are alternative sites that would be suitable for a new police headquarters – and the city needs to redouble efforts to identify them. There is no other site so well suited for a park -- in addition to its keystone location, the old Caltrans site is on level land and is open and welcoming from all sides. The decision to put the LAPD on this site appears to have been made without taking into consideration the impact it would have on the surrounding area – or its value if developed differently. The size and requirements of this project will dominate not just one, but two key blocks in the very heart of the city. The police facility requires security setbacks, there can be no parking underneath the headquarters, access must be tightly controlled, operations must exist in specialized configurations – in short, a defensible space. While these are necessary and important considerations, they preclude other more neighbor-friendly uses.

From wrong location to wrong location: It's time to find the right site for the LAPD.

The LA City Council listened when residents and businesses in Little Tokyo and the Artists District protested that the police headquarters at 1st and Alameda would disrupt renewal efforts in those communities. But then the council did something stunning: it voted to put the police facility on this even more sensitive site. It is time for city officials to develop a rational plan that gives the LAPD the headquarters it needs and supports rather than disrupts the real yet fragile urban renewal under way downtown. The sooner the city focuses on identifying the right site, the sooner progress can be made.

We ask you, as members of the Cultural Affairs Commission, to help make that happen. And to join us in looking ahead to a new kind of downtown for LA.

Attention: Members of the Cultural Affairs Commission

From: Adele Yellin

Subject: Proposed Police Headquarters at 1st Street: South of City Hall, East of the Los Angeles Times building and West of the new CalTrans headquarters

... Please note my strong objection to the Police Headquarters Project on this site.

Let me explain. My late husband, Ira Yellin helped develop a downtown civic plan that included a public square as its center piece. He was committed to building Los Angeles' sense of community.

Indeed, Ira was a proponent of a Civic Park, a public green space, opposite City Hall as proposed in the Diamond plan. He was certain that a Civic Square opposite City Hall was important as a gateway between the revitalizing Historic Core and the halls of city government. At the very end of his life he encouraged me and others to make sure the park was created. Ira envisioned the park as a central, gathering place for this city-without-a-center: a place to hold a city gathering for the New Year; a place to protest, a place to celebrate.

Moreover, Ira dreamed of instituting a program in the park similar to the summer program at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, London. There, each year a famous contemporary architect builds a pavilion for the public to view. This program has been credited with educating the British public on the beauty and creativity of contemporary architecture. While a program such as this could be installed on any site in the city Ira felt this site at the heart of the city was the ideal location.

The problem: The city has decided to build a 500,000 sq. ft. building on the site to house the police headquarters. Parker Center is decrepit and I am committed to making sure the police have a state of the art building for their headquarters. In my view siting the building on this land opposite City Hall is a planning mistake that will be with us into the next century. Not only does it become a physical barrier to the historic core, it is a psychic barrier as well. The message of a heavily fortified police headquarters opposite city hall and next to the LA Times will feel more like a government under siege rather than an open democracy where people can voice their support and/or their objections to one issue or another. I am convinced this is not the message Los Angeles wants to convey to the community and world.

There are a number of other locations that would be ideal for a new LAPD headquarters. The headquarters does not need to occupy the only natural site for a civic square and the gateway to downtown Los Angeles' historic core. Let me be clear, the placement of the police headquarters building next to the new CalTrans building will create a wall, effectively blocking off the Civic Center from the revitalizing downtown.

I have tried to carry on Ira's vision. To that end I enlisted the help of the J. Paul Getty Trust; they underwrote a design plan for civic square. I believe this park will make Los Angeles a stronger city. I have emailed to Sharon Paulo the presentation of the Civic Square concept developed by Campbell and Campbell last year. Look at the importance of this open space to anchor, and animate the area; this site is the hinge that connects the civic center with the historic core.

I urge you to object, indeed, to stop this unfortunate planning/building proposal! Preserve this unique site for a Civic Park! ...


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