City Controller Wendy Greuel’s appearance at the AIA/LA’s Mayoral Candidate Forum allowed her to revel in her strengths, from humanizing the LA experience with personal anecdotes to invoking the legacy of other public figures to entertaining the audience with tales of bureaucratic foibles.
Greuel was the fourth of five leading Mayoral Candidates to join City Planning Commission President Bill Roschen and LA Times Architecture Critic Christopher Hawthorne in a conversation on architecture, urban design, and city planning.
Wendy wasted no time in gently taking the reins from the moderators, a worthy trait for a Mayoral candidate, and in steering the conversation so that it meandered gently over her Valley Girl origins to her leadership pedigree to her positive message of hope for the future of Los Angeles.
“Let’s have a plan for the future, let’s have a seamless transportation system,” Gruel stated as she commiserated on the time it took for her to get from her home in the valley to Deaton Hall for the forum, “it would be unbelievably beneficial from a planning standpoint as well as from an environmental standpoint.”
Greuel navigated the hot topics of land use and urban design without hitting any potholes or committing to any controversial positions on topics that ranged from Farmers Field to affordable housing to corruption within City Hall.
In many ways, Greuel’s City Hall experience allows her to speak as an expert, such as when she invokes the role of LA’s City Architect in the planning and land use process, not just as an administrator, but as a part of LA’s vision for engaging the architectural community in designing the future of Los Angeles.
But in a room full of architects, Greuel missed a few opportunities to connect with LA’s elite design community.
Early in the evening, Greuel was asked to continue with her Valley Girl narrative by pointing out some of the San Fernando Valley architecture that impressed her, resulting in the first of several missed opportunities.
Greuel paused and told a story of a Senior Center that was built on her watch, an interesting tale of a community benefit that initially met resistance from the neighborhood but ultimately turned out to be a success story of great design, civic engagement, and community resistance.
Missing was a nod to the Valley’s architectural legacy, from the San Fernando Mission to the homesteader cottages to the California Ranch homes that tell the story of the Valley. Along the way, Lloyd Wright and Schindler left their mark, as did Duell with Casa de Cadillac and Kaliski with Auto Gallery Porsche.
At a minimum, LA’s leading Valley Girl should have been able to invoke the architectural evolution of the Valley’s shopping malls, from the older fortress style design to the contemporary village style, and its impact on the local economy.
When asked about the architectural and design elements of Farmers Field, Wendy sidestepped and invoked her experience watching the Rams and the Raiders, then gave a nod to the importance of addressing traffic, the financial aspects of the stadium, and its relationship to the convention center and its impact on tourism.
“We can do economic development and design,” she concluded, “and make sure that the Farmers Field and the new Convention Center create this environment and place where people can walk and take public transportation.”
Again, definitely true, but hardly specific to the question.
Missing was a nod to the rock stars of local architecture, including Michael Maltzan Architecture, Killefer Flammang, and Koning Eizenberg. They have all weathered the civic engagement process that demands community benefit, sustainability commitments, and a connectivity to local urban design standards, all while fulfilling affordable, transitional, and senior housing mandates.
Along the way, neighborhood council members have grown familiar with them and the language of land use, design, and architecture. In many ways it has been a positive experience for the land use neophytes who learned more about the built environment while the professionals where challenged to design according to higher standards.
Greuel acknowledged the importance of neighborhood councils in moving LA forward, calling them “passionate, community driven, engaged and involved” and declaring “I would take that anytime over people who don’t care about what’s happening.”
During the evening, the audience was regaled with stories that demonstrate how the City of Los Angeles can do a better job of delivering city services and taking care of its businesses and residents.
Greuel told a story of a woman who simply wanted to expand her business and create 10 more jobs, but the DWP was slow to respond to her request for more power. Missing from the story was a systemic solution worthy of a Mayoral Contender.
Greuel also told a story of LA’s River, noting that we live in a city where the streets aren’t paved but the river is. She also pointed out that nonprofits do a better job of managing public space and river resources than the city government. Missing from the story was a commitment to open space and green space that is worthy of a Mayoral Contender.
During the evening, the performances of Mayor Bloomberg in New York and Mayor Daley in Chicago came up, begging the question “What is the role of Mayor in raising the standards for urban design and emphasizing its role in upgrading the city’s quality of life?”
Greuel responded by stating “The Mayor can have a big influence on leading the city, by putting everybody in the room and then asking ‘Okay, what works?’”
This was the single greatest missed opportunity of the evening.
Wendy Greuel says she is running for Mayor because she wants to make a difference, “not just to be the status quo or to do things around the edges and to say I survived my eight years. I want to be able to say I’ve lead Los Angeles to design a city, to engage the public, about what we want to be when we grow up.”
Both Daley and Bloomberg have been taken to task for bullying their plans into action, Daley for using bulldozers in the middle of the night to expedite his plans and Bloomberg for circumventing the civic engagement process. Yet their record stands as a testament to their commitment to innovations and to the logic behind putting the most beautiful and ambitious public works in the poorest neighborhoods.
If only they had Greuel’s charm!
Greuel wrapped by calling for LA to be “A city that is open for business, a city with a seamless transportation system, and a city with an educational system where kids can go to public school.”
Unfortunately, this statement came as a conclusion, not as the foundation for her evening with LA’s architectural elite or for her commitments as a Mayoral Candidate.