Jenny Burman Jenny Burman
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from Echo Park

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Dearest Citizens

I attended a most odd entertainment this evening. A scoping session. You should try one some time. First, you take a historic Barlow Respiratory Hospital that owns acreage smack in the middle of Elysian Park. I forget how many. Let's guess: more than fifteen. The hospital has 49 beds now, but it's a historic old place, all out of compliance with codes and whatnot. In truth, the respiratory hospital is fighting for its life. It wants to build a new facility, with 56 beds. So it plans to sell almost all of its acres to pay for new buildings, which it proposes to build in an east corner of the original property. This much is old news to you, I could be certain. The new news is nothing really new, except that it appears the hospital is stepping up efforts. There are consultants, and there are hypothetical plans. There are numbers! Numbers like 888. As in 888 residential units in the middle of Elysian Park. That number is on the lips of the neighborhood residents at the session, the ones who came for information.

The community room, Williams Hall, at Barlow is hot, and it is packed. I'm not good at crowd guessing, but I'd guess over a hundred information seekers, who have been cast in the role of input givers. Because, you see, there is no particular presentation -- because there are no proposals that have been made available to the good citizens who came to the meeting to...view proposals.

Instead, what we see is a three- or four-slide large projection explaining the principles of a scoping meeting. (These principals: this is a meeting for "Us" to learn what "You" want. Unless what you want is no new residential development in Elysian Park, because that's not what we're here to talk about.) There are no speakers. There is no video. Instead, there are representatives of the city planning commission and reps from about four consulting firms. With the exception of a planning guy from LA City, none of them have the names of their firms written on their "Welcome, I am--" stickers that they wear on their clothing. The name tags give their names and a general description such as "Project Management." (Project? What project?) The first consultant (let's call her Anne) I ask for a card says she does not have one. When I ask her to tell me all her information so I can write it myself, she goes and gets a card (from Impact Sciences) that she does have after all. The second rep has to go find one, and I wait a long time. At least he doesn't pretend he doesn't have a card.

So here's the event: each consultant or city employee has a folding table. There's "History"; there's "Community"; there's CEQA -- i.e., environmental impact -- and so on. The table "hosted" by the city employees has a few printed handouts...of maps of the general area (and no, I am not kidding; I am surprised the few pages they offered didn't include a map of the United States of America), and then the site. The "Community" table has nothing but a laptop and a staffer from who knows where.

I mean (as Arlo Guthrie would say) I'm sure the staffers knew which consultancy or which city department they were from... but we don't. And a laptop is not okay, in terms of sharing information with the public. At one point I tried to see what the "Community" laptop had to say. But there were people kind of crowding it, and they seemed confused. I asked what they'd seen (they were friends) and hell if they knew.

It must have been on this laptop (or maybe next door in the library) that the Eastsider found a pretty drawing of some apartments. You gotta fight -- or be smart -- to find the pretty pictures.

So each table (except "Community," which had only the laptop) has some sort of sign saying "This is a meeting to hear what you think." EXCEPT there is nothing to think about. Because no plans are proposed. Not EVEN hypothetical ones. We are being asked to give our opinions about a fictional construct that wasn't even constructed. The wordless poetry workshops were held next door in the library.

Here is one place where I really start to worry...because I believe there are more than enough hypothetical plans we could look at and comment upon. I have been contacted for over two years by grad students who have been drawing plans for this site. A couple of years ago, I attended a planning conference at the Pacific Design Center. Thom Mayne gave a presentation at which he insufferably declared that he'd been assigning his students at UCLA to think about high rises in Elysian Park. At Dodger Stadium, he said.

So why should the burden of expression be on the surrounding community? And, for that matter, why should it just be the community of Echo Park that has something to say?

Los Angeles has to be the biggest city in the US in square miles, and we have one of the worst person-per-park ratios. The best and most famous minds here have been grabbing at Elysian Park for a long time. The Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park is a tiny organization, but it is aptly named.

Among the crowd on Wednesday were about fifteen city planning students from Cal State Northridge. I'd be curious to know how they enjoyed this evening's theater.

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