Readers comments 6-30-17
Dear Dr. Starr
[The following letter was sent to Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr, with an edited version published here. —KD]
Dear President Starr:
You arrive at Pomona College at a propitious time. The college is about to construct a new art museum and, although it has legally prevailed against a neighborhood group supporting the integrity of College Avenue (subject to appeal), the existing plan still faces opposition. It doesn’t respect context, animate the streetscape or require integration of public arts. As the first college administrator in Pomona history with a serious interest and academic training in aesthetic theory, there is an immediate need to put this expertise into practical effect.
It will take courage to revise the plans. Courage seems to be in short supply on American college campuses these days. Certainly there is too little critical thinking about aesthetic issues as administrators seek cover behind consultants.
In this immediate controversy, you can take a well-considered view that looks at the long-term value for town and gown rather than the expedience of Pomona’s need for a facility. Why perpetuate a very narrow view of how an art museum can function at a time when the museum can be reconceived as a Medici city palace? There are funds to do this. The college has been too richly impervious to outside suggestions.
The museum should showcase the arts both as a leader of the Claremont Colleges and in a civic partnership with regional arts in Southern California. The buildings can include artists’ residencies, space for the patrons group Pomona has never had and a site for community forums in the evening. A cinema café and theatre can light the gateway between the Village and campus. It can even strengthen institutional memory in Claremont with an ongoing exhibit of civic projects.
Indeed, building a sense of mutual responsibility between city and college is one definition of a working culture. There is still time to get that balance right. Pomona has been the proverbial 800-pound gorilla, getting its way but not getting the best ideas. New funds can be pledged to redress the costs. Please accept some advice from a distinguished urbanist, Stefanos Polyzoides, who did the original master plan for the college.
As a planner, urbanist and with thanks to my great grandparents, I pledge $5 million to redress the street crimes with the current plan. This is from a charitable remainder trust, which I have been offering for several years.
In the hierarchical top-down nature of college politics, you have the opportunity to put your stamp on the quality of campus life. You have inherited a sprawling 1950s California modern design, which looks like a shopping center. Indeed, the expansive footprint was Pomona’s argument for the expensive move of Renwick House. Renwick, like its original owner, Helen Renwick, a promoter of town and gown fraternity, could have provided an animating function if the building had been left where it was.
The art museum can be slimmed down and scaled up, perhaps with the dignity of a Myron Hunt-style facade.
Build a gateway between town and gown, not a “border” as President David Oxtoby originally described it. Indeed, that anti-urban mindset still infects the plan. Animate it with public uses and make it easy to traverse. The architectural firm Machado and Silvetti recently designed a building for Harvard Business School with another flawed and purposeless space because they didn’t organize effective street programing with the business school. Why didn’t they know about the cinema café and theatre space at Wellesley College? Who is doing their homework?
Why did this happen at Pomona? Mr. Oxtoby stubbornly refused to understand these larger obligations. There have been only token nods to the community. Pomona was better at stealth. It kept plans under wraps until it could gain approval from the city’s planning department before the city’s architectural commission could do an after the fact analysis. Pomona also compromised potentially challenging commission members by offering them architectural work, which required them to recuse themselves from review. It was cynical but effective.
The challenging lawsuit claimed that Pomona violated CEQA requirements. The case is too broad to deal with the real issues of siting, scale, design quality and appropriate uses, which a new legal challenge considers. The city needs to tighten its review standards to gain a better understanding of the CEQA standards they can employ.
Pomona was so rich it could self-finance the museum. Without a need for more money, Pomona could circumvent a more comprehensive planning process. This is an expensive lesson, but there are funds available to quickly address these problems. Under your leadership, Pomona can meet the challenge of the college’s fund raising slogan about “daring minds.”
Show daring and courage, Dr. Starr. Pomona can swallow its pride and, with a little help from its friends, expand its vision and credibility as a place with a long view. We all want Pomona to be a national leader for the arts; at this stage the vision hasn’t kept up with the resource base. We need to go beyond the self-absorption to a community vision.
Part of Pomona’s naiveté is that administration believed with enough consultants they would have great architecture. But they got it wrong. Your aesthetic training gives you an advantage that most administrators don’t have: a quality of independent judgment. Pomona needs that at this time. Please set an example so we can all “hail Pomona” once again for courage and leadership.
Ronald Lee Fleming
Pomona College ’63; FAICP
Thank you for the update on La Casita. Several years ago, the COURIER told us that this Girl Scout property was at risk of being sold off. However, due to the efforts of local scouts, their leaders, concerned citizens and our city council, this hidden gem is once again providing local kids with invaluable summer experiences.
Seeing the ropes course in use and learning that there’s a waiting list for a week at La Casita is wonderful. Readers should also know that many more improvements are planned for the site, but additional funds are needed.
Georgeann Spivack has been coordinating with Gerardo Castro, director of properties for the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles. Renderings created by Chuck Key-Ketter show wooden shade structures and platforms to accommodate activity hubs. The stone chimney and fire ring should be repaired and seating expanded. The archery range could double as a theater (once arrows are safely secured, of course) with the installation of a simple wood stage.
Stargazing and hillside tent camping could be accessed with improved hiking trails. Solar panels could provide lighting and hot water.
Expanding the offerings at La Casita would give more kids the chance to learn about our Southern California climate and landscape. Physical activities help strengthen self-confidence and develop camaraderie. Camping can create cherished lifelong memories.
In the coming months, the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles will be evaluating proposed projects and required budgets. Fundraising will be necessary. It is my hope that La Casita will be able to realize these improvements so that more kids can have these invaluable childhood experiences. An enhanced La Casita is a solid investment in our community.
As we approach another Independence Day celebration, it is important to remember and affirm that patriots come in many guises. Young idealists who join the armed forces should indeed be honored but no less than veterans for peace, conscientious objectors and war resisters.
We need to remember that many who served in war and later went to serve as politicians advised future generations against the futility of war. George Washington warned against “foreign entanglements.” General Eisenhower carefully spoke against the “militaryindustrial complex” (that is the way he spelled it, perhaps to further dramatize the collusion.) President John F Kennedy, who served in PT Boats, went on to find alternative paths for peace, negotiating behind hawkish generals and bravely opposing plans to attack weaker nations.
It was Kennedy who said war will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today. Perhaps the city of trees and PhDs can also become a city of peace.
The US Senate has finally unveiled its legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act—and it is even worse than the version we saw from the US House.
This is a nasty bill that will hurt millions of Americans and it is time to stand up and urge your senators to reject it.
The “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017” will cut coverage and raise costs for millions of Americans while giving a huge tax break to the wealthiest individuals and large corporations. The cuts to Medicaid will be massive and will destroy the system that so many Americans rely on.
Tell your senators this legislation is not worthy of this great nation.
Written in secret, by a few select senators from one political party, this bill will leave millions of Americans without health insurance. If this backroom bill passes it will fundamentally change the way laws are passed in America.
Transparency and openness in the legislative process are important because they improve the final product and this bill clearly has deep flaws as a result of its secret drafting.
Senate leadership is counting on pushing this legislation through without public input because they fear what we might discover. Don’t let secret legislation that threatens the lives of millions of Americans become the law of the land. Call your senators today.
VP for Advocacy
LWV of Claremont Area