LaFayette Squares Off

The usually-polite and quiet gated enclave of LaFayette Square has been roiled this Spring with a controversy over….landscaping.

JUNE16LAFIn late February, some residents were surprised to hear that the LaFayette Square Homeowners Association board had agreed to move forward with a proposal to replace the existing shrubbery, (grass, plantings and trees - including the original Canary Palms) on the park like median islands in the middle of St. Charles Place, with drought tolerant native plants and rocks.  Given the current water crisis condition this seemed like a reasonable project. 

But suddenly the Square was noisy with neighbors complaining that the plan was approved last fall by the HPOZ Board without the required public hearing and was also a violation of a key historical component of LaFayette Square: the original “pasear” (a place where residents could stroll and socialize) envisioned by developer George L. Crenshaw in 1913. In 1914, the Los Angeles Times described the design: “The crowning and central feature of the square is St. Charles Place, a drive planned after the Spanish Pasear surrounding the Theater Municipal at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In the center of this broad, smooth roadway is a series of park plots set with tropical palms.”

Today, St. Charles Place remains the centerpiece of the community and is described in the HPOZ’s Context Statement (a document that was adopted by the City Council in 2000) as a significant, character-defining element of the historic district:

"LaFayette Square has retained the character of its original design, an elegant residential park. St. Charles Place, a broad avenue with a center median landscaped in grass and palm trees, provides east-west access to the four north-south streets that cross it."

In recent years, several drought conscious LaFayette Square homeowners have removed their lawns and other plantings, replacing the landscaping with native plants. but the majority of the Square’s historic homes still feature rolling lawns, leafy trees, roses and other traditional landscape elements. Yet the medians remain in the public realm and protestors contend that the appropriate process for changing anything, including allowing the community at large to weigh in, was not followed.  

The protesting neighbors went to a LaFayette Square Homeowners Association meeting in April where they learned that the proposed project, if it happens, would be part of the City’s “Adopt A Median” initiative. The Los Angeles Board of Public Works has an Office of Community Beautification (OCB) whose mission is to encourage neighborhood groups and community organizations to adopt medians and engage in other landscaping/community beautification projects.

Anyone can file an application to "Adopt a Median" which is paid for by the applicant if approved  and it does not require approval from other neighbors. But what happens when the median is a featured element in the community, when one resident’s idea of “beautification” runs counter to someone else’s? And what about the historical component?

Concerned neighbors reached out to city agencies and after several phone calls and e-mails to various Planning Department staffers, Ken Bernstein, Manager of the Office of Historic Resources and a Principal City Planner in charge of the Department’s Policy Planning section, responded to a resident. 

“I've looked into this further and have spoken with Joe Williams, the HPOZ Board Chair, to let him know that due to the scope of the project, including the removal of 17 trees in the median, this should have been processed as a Certificate of Appropriateness,” Bernstein wrote. “Joe was also going to follow up with the Association to get an update on the status of the proposal. Once we confirm whether there have been any changes to the project scope, we will make sure that this gets reviewed again by the Board as a COA (Certificate of Appropriateness, a project approval process that requires a determination from the Director of City Planning, and is appealable), with a public hearing.”

The staff planner for the LaFayette Square HPOZ, Bradley Furuya, confirmed on May 23rd that no official forward movement has taken place: “The project does need to be re-presented to the board with a complete landscape plan as a COA case. However, I have not heard from any applicant or association regarding this project.”

Photo by Dawn Kirkpatrick

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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