Tuesday, June 21, 2011

City Council Accepts Autry Remodel

The Los Angeles City Council today took three important actions that affect the future of the Southwest Museum in Mount Washington and of the Autry National Center in Griffith Park.

• The Council denied a contention by the Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance and preservation expert Charles Fisher that a state-funded Autry renovation, undertaken in large part to display Southwest museum artifacts in Griffith Park, is subject to environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
• The Council let stand a city Recreation and Parks Board ruling that the Autry could remodel in Griffith Park.
• Councilmember José Huizar introduced a motion, with seconds from Councilmembers Ed Reyes and Tom LaBonge, promoting dialogue regarding the future of the Autry National Center, the Southwest Museum and the Casa de Adobe.

Only Huizar and Reyes voted in support of the CEQA contention. They were joined by Councilmember Paul Koretz in the failed effort to send the matter of the Autry remodel back to the Recreation and Parks board.

In allowing the Recreation and Parks Board ruling to stand, the Council majority turned aside arguments made by Northeast Los Angeles residents that moving two galleries and an ethno-botanic garden to like-named spaces in Griffith Park violates the Northeast Community Plan, a legally binding City document that specifically outlaws any change of use of the Southwest Museum.

“The whole city lost today,” said Daniel Wright, a Mount Washington resident and pro bono attorney for the CEQA appellants, after the Council meeting.

Nicole Possert, co-chair of Friends of the Southwest Museum, a coalition of 70+ neighborhood councils, residents’ organizations and preservation groups, quickly ticked off several points of irritation with the Council’s handling of legal issues surrounding the Autry remodel, including ignoring the City General Plan, ignoring the law of environmental review, ignoring the fact that Rec and Parks General Manager Jon Mukri signed a letter to the State regarding lease extension, when that should have been the responsibility of the City Council.

“Mr. Huizar, Mr. Reyes and Mr. Koretz at least took the vote for integrity,” said Possert.

143 people attended the City Council meeting to express opinions on the matters. 87 submitted cards against the CEQA appeal and/or for upholding the Rec and Parks support of the Autry remodel. 56 submitted cards supporting the CEQA appeal and/or against upholding the Rec and Parks support of the Autry remodel.

Northeast Los Angeles resident Philip Dorsey Iglauer likened the Southwest Museum situation to the demise of the City’s trolley system, a move that years later has residents wondering why that ever happened.

“Where’s the vision of the City of Los Angeles?” Iglauer asked.

Many of the Southwest Museum supporters asked for further vetting of the complex planning issues involved. They would have liked to see the Council send the matters to the Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee for “unwinding.”

Autry CEO Daniel Finley said that the Autry is “looking for a solution to the use of the former Southwest building,” but Northeast L.A. residents in attendance were distressed by his use of the word “former.”

“But that is not before you today,” said Finley.

A majority of the Council agreed.

The Huizar-Reyes-LaBonge motion, if ultimately passed by the full Council, will require the Chief Legislative Analyst’s (CLA’s) Office to establish and convene a working group comprised of the city Department of Recreation and Parks; the City Administrative Office; the City Attorney’s Office and Huizar, Reyes and LaBonge’s offices (representing the areas around the Southwest Museum, Casa de Adobe and the Autry National Center respectively).

The working group would be charged with several things:
•To engage in formal discussions with the Autry National Center of the American West, museum experts, stakeholders and community groups;
•To develop a long-range plan for the Autry Center in Griffith Park;
•To develop a long-range plan for the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe in Mount Washington;
•To advise as to the status of the lease renewal process between the City and the Autry regarding public land in Griffith Park (a subject about which conflicting opinions have been given regarding the Autry’s use of State funds for its remodel);
•To review the 2003 merger agreement between the Autry and the Southwest and to review the implications of its mandates;
•To identify funding sources for the renovation and operation of the Southwest Museum and
•To report to the Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee and to the Budget and Finance Committee of the City Council within 60 days on the progress of these discussions.

The motion represents a formal request. The Autry National Center is not obligated to comply with its provisions. If successful, it could have the effect of subjecting the carrying out of the Autry-Southwest merger agreement to a new level of public scrutiny.

Several council members expressed support for the idea of dialogue toward preservation of the Southwest Museum.

“Why haven’t you taken this beautiful facility with its objects and made it your first priority?” asked Councilmember Bill Rosendahl. “Why can’t you give us some assurance you’ll open it up?"

“This is a city of immense wealth,” said Council President Eric Garcetti. “It is a city of intense artistic resources.”

“We have new museums opening up,” said Garcetti. “We need to find the resources to make the Southwest work again.”

Garcetti pledged to help reach out to people who have resources.

Reyes pointed out that the City spent a lot on the Griffith Park Observatory because “we supported that iconic structure.”

The Councilmember added that he was looking to the Autry for “a conversation on how we can get it done, not why we can’t get it done.”

“Lummis vision of what a new Los Angeles would become is embedded in the Southwest,” Huizar said in conclusion.

A hearing on the Huizar-Reyes-LaBonge motion has not been scheduled yet.

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