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Bruins Who Build Los Angeles

By Mary Daily, Photos by Naomi Harris

Published Apr 1, 2013 8:00 AM

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Linda Griego: In the wake of the devastating 1992 riots, the passionate entrepreneur and community activist helped forge a rebirth of business in downtown Los Angeles.

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.

New School

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."

Art, Elevated

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."

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Michael Lejeune: The Metro creative director has redesigned the L.A. transportation entity's identity and, in the process, made riding public transportation cool—even in car-crazy Los Angeles.

Making Transit Trendy

Making modern Los Angeles work, of course, also hinges on tackling the problem of too many cars and too many solitary drivers. Yet the whole world knows how much Angelenos love to drive alone.

To hit that moving target, Michael Lejeune '86 was charged with remaking the image of the once-clunky Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "Make it cool," he was told when he became the first creative director of the nation's third-largest mass-transit system more than a decade ago.

He and his team changed the name to "Metro" and then did a visual overhaul that included websites, timetables, billboards, a mobile app and tickets. Today, public awareness of Metro and its mission is almost 95 percent, up from just over 50 percent in 2003. Rail ridership has increased 38 percent since 2005. Metro's 30-person team has won more than 100 awards and completes about 2,500 projects a year. They target the 30 to 40 percent of riders who might choose to drive by reminding them of transit choices.

The native Angeleno practices what he preaches, taking the Gold Line from his home in South Pasadena. And he sees the city's lack of "collective urbanism" changing. "We want to show L.A. to itself in the city's perfect best light," he says.

Improved Parking

To learn more about Shoup's parking solutions, visit: SFpark.

The Parking Prophet

The first cousin of traffic is parking. Where to put all the cars? Professor Donald Shoup has some solutions: Adjust on-street parking prices according to demand so that a few spaces are always open. Use the parking revenue to pay for public services in the neighborhood.

"Parking is the single largest land use in most cities, and small reforms can produce big benefits," he says.

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Donald Shoup: His ideas on innovations in parking policies and their potential benefits to urban life are so popular, he has become America's de facto parking guru.

Shoup's ideas have been implemented in a number of cities, including downtown Los Angeles, where L.A. Express Park includes 6,000 meters that charge variable prices to regulate supply according to demand. Sensors report the occupancy of each space. He cites Old Pasadena as a signature success. The area made a dramatic turnaround from commercial skid row to popular shopping destination after parking meters were installed and the revenue funneled toward local public improvements.

Shoup was also behind California's 1992 parking cash-out law, whereby many employers who offer free parking to commuters must also offer the cash value of the parking subsidy to those who don't drive to work. Shoup's 1997 study of eight L.A. employers found that parking cash-out increased public-transit use by 50 percent and carpooling by 64 percent. The Wall Street Journal called Shoup a "parking rock star," which he knows is not the same as a real rock star, although he's thinking of changing his name to Shoup Dogg.

Big City, Bigger Dreams

"Los Angeles holds so much promise for the 21st century," says L.A.'s current leader, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa '77. "It's the city where the world comes together."

In his two terms as mayor, Villaraigosa says, "I asked Los Angeles to dream with me. We needed to improve our schools, become a safer city, expand public transit and become the cleanest, greenest big city in the country."

In his own words

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks about the art of leadership.

So what has been achieved? The mayor points to a 40-percent drop in violent crime, with the LAPD force exceeding 10,000 for the first time. He cites the doubling of the rail system and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 30 percent.

The Villaraigosa administration also claims to have reduced water use by 20 percent and cut air pollution by more than half at the Port of Los Angeles. The number of schools in the LAUSD meeting the state goal for academic performance has more than doubled.

But the City of Angels' 41st mayor acknowledges that he built on the foundation others have laid. At his victory celebration in 2005, he said, "I am standing here on the shoulders of Tom Bradley."