Bruins Who Build Los Angeles
Published Apr 1, 2013 8:00 AM
Climb a hill and marvel at the magnificent views and extraordinary art. Stroll the bustling streets of a revitalized downtown. Ease out of the automotive rat race and take a train. Eat well, secure in the knowledge that the restaurant you're in is sanitary. This is all part of today's Los Angeles. And there's much more: rejuvenated neighborhoods. Improving schools. An ever-greener city. These and other catalysts for the modern city we live in today all bear the stamp of UCLA alumni, faculty and administrators. The story of Los Angeles stars many such visionaries. Here are a few of them.
The City Sculptor
Modern Los Angeles grew up during Tom Bradley's unprecedented 20-year tenure as mayor. Between 1973 and 1993, L.A. surpassed Chicago as the nation's second most populous city, a downtown skyline emerged, the port and airport saw enormous growth, the city hosted the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, and construction began on the light-rail network.
Meanwhile, the faces of City Hall—where minorities had occupied only the lowest positions—assumed a different look. Bradley enabled anyone to compete for advancement without regard to color or gender.
The ability to break down barriers and forge coalitions, especially between blacks and Jews and between labor and business, was Bradley's hallmark. He championed minority- and women-owned businesses and expanded social services to the poor.
The grandson of slaves and son of sharecroppers understood the importance of equality of opportunity. Through athletic prowess, he earned a scholarship to UCLA and rose to the rank of lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department. In 1963, he became the first African-American member of the Los Angeles City Council.
When the 38th mayor left office, he had implemented lasting changes that left the city more diverse, more progressive and more competitive. There was no looking back.
Let it Rise
You'd never suspect that one of Bradley's closest allies and the city's strongest supporters was not a daughter of Los Angeles. Businesswoman and community activist Linda Griego '75 is actually a native of New Mexico, raised by her Mexican-American grandmother, a baker.
Griego got into politics before college, working for a New Mexico congressman and then for California Senator Alan Cranston. Her first business venture was The Chili Stop on La Cienega Boulevard. Then in 1988, she got the idea to renovate a 1912 firehouse downtown into a restaurant, Engine Co. No. 28. Investors she approached were skeptical.
"Downtown was dead at night," she says, "but when you tell me 'no,' I don't go away." Slowly the business grew, others moved in, and Bradley named Griego deputy mayor for economic development.
Her task became ominous in 1992, when civil unrest killed commerce east of La Brea. "I didn't know if we'd survive," Griego says.
But she dove into Rebuild L.A., the agency in charge of the inner city's recovery. Today, downtown is what she believed it could be. She has sold Engine Co. No. 28 and is chairing the foundation of Martin Luther King Hospital. But, still the baker's granddaughter, she's opening small market cafes, the first one on Bunker Hill, starting with "really great bread."
Women and Politics
Learn more about Linda Griego's rise in the political sphere and her role as the First Woman to Run For Mayor Of L.A.
While Griego and others were growing downtown, a group of 30 Angelenos called LA 2000 was working to improve the future of the city. Among them: William Ouchi, who holds the Sanford and Betty Sigoloff Chair in Corporate Renewal in the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
"We saw that job number one was improving public schools," he says. "Quality education is necessary to the workforce, to a healthy society and to the recruitment of scientists and others who want good schools for their kids."
By 1990, Ouchi was an original board member of a new group, LEARN (Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now), whose goal was to decentralize LAUSD. The effort did not succeed—"Ultimately, LAUSD didn't want the power at the schools," he says—so the group turned to charters and formed the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, which includes six middle schools and 15 high schools, with one named for Ouchi and his wife, Carol. The students are 99 percent African American or Latino and 95 percent low-income. Ninety percent go to college; 19 matriculated at UCLA in fall of 2012.
"We've demonstrated that Los Angeles students from disadvantaged neighborhoods can succeed at the highest level," Ouchi says. "But I will not rest until the remaining L.A. students also attend good schools."
Meanwhile, "there'd been little in L.A. to interest people in the history of art," says Harold M. Williams '46, who grew up in Boyle Heights.
In 1981, Williams was finishing up as chairman of the Securities & Exchange Commission in the Carter Administration just as the J. Paul Getty Trust was about to receive a very large bequest the following year—much more than enough to support its small museum in Malibu. The board was looking for a president with a vision.
And Williams was their man. In 15 years working for Norton Simon, Inc., he had gained financial and managerial acumen as well as knowledge of art and the world of collecting. He also had served as dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Management. The executive welcomed the prospect of broadening the work of the Getty.
After a year's research, he presented a plan for a larger museum, plus five institutes and a grant-making program. Then he needed a "campus" to bring it all together, a site that would draw more than art aficionados. He found it at the top of an undeveloped hill in Brentwood by the 405 freeway. The views were magnificent. A stream flowed down the mountain.
The Getty Center opened in 1997, with bus lines altering their routes to stop at the entrance. Now, Getty education initiatives span the city, and the conservation and grant making programs extend around the world but maintain an emphasis on Los Angeles.
Williams, now retired, keeps an office on the hill. "Some of my proudest moments," he says, "are when I see the demographics of Los Angeles up there enjoying it."
Taking Health to the Street
None of the strides made in urban life in L.A. would have been possible without something invisible undergirding everything else. "You know public health is working for you when you don't have to wonder if the water's safe and the food's not contaminated," says Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, UCLA professor of health services and pediatrics who is director of public health for L.A. County. In 2012, he and his wife, Karin, made a donation with an estimated worth of $50 million to the UCLA School of Public Health, which was subsequently renamed the UCLA Jonathan and Karin Fielding School of Public Health.
One of Fielding's greatest accomplishments is ubiquitous: the A-B-C grading system for restaurants, a win-win for everyone involved. After the system started in January 1998, hospitalization for food-borne illness in the county dropped 13 percent. And for restaurants, a higher grade means more patrons.
Fielding is also proud of what his department has accomplished in tobacco control, emergency preparedness, prevention of communicable diseases and reduction in chronic illnesses. Add to that his efforts to cut Angelenos' dependence on cars and give schoolchildren healthier food choices and more physical activity. Yet, much remains to be done. There are, for example, the "scourge of violence" and "terrible disparities" among sub-populations. He's also deeply concerned about the growing effects of climate change.
But, given "the resiliency of the population, the wonderful cultural diversity and the very committed public servants and policymakers," he foresees a healthy future for L.A. "I'm optimistic," he says, "but impatient."