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Update: Community Groups Sue City Over Autry Expansion

The lawsuit, filed at Los Angeles County Superior Court last week, cites alleged violations of environmental and zoning law.

Citing environmental and zoning law, the and the have sued the city of Los Angeles over their recent approval of the Autry National Center's planned expansion of its Griffith Park campus.

In a press release announcing the suit, Brigid Joyce of the law firm Otten & Joyce, who are representing the two groups, said, “The Autry project represents an attack on the City’s most fundamental zoning protections of the City’s first museum–a piece of important Los Angeles history at risk of completely unnecessary destruction at the hands of the Autry."

The "first museum" Joyce referred to was the The Autry National Center merged with the financially struggling Southwest Museum in 2002, in an agreement that community members hoped would lead to a revival of the historical location. However, the Autry has claimed that the Southwest Museum building , and has shifted the focus to expanding the Griffith Park campus.

The Los Angeles City Council approved the expansion plan on June 21, following a month of bitter debate between the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition and Autry leadership.

Click for a roundup of the expansion plan debate. 

Nicole Possert, of both the Highland Park Heritage Trust and the Friends of the Southwest Musuem Coalition, said the lawsuit was filed in an effort not only to prevent the Autry's expansion, but also to set a precedent that would protect the "integrity" of environmental and zoning laws.

"From the Highland Park Heritage Trust's perspective, we took issue with the process in terms of the integrity of State environemental law and city zoning law," Possert said. "It's our mission to uphold that."

Los Angeles City Council member Tom LaBonge (CD4), who sits on the arts, parks, health and aging committee, was one of the adamant supporters of the Autry plan.

"I have heard about the potential lawsuit.  But the City Attorney’s office has not yet been formally served with the lawsuit, so I can’t comment on its allegations," LaBonge said. "Still, I support one’s democratic right to challenge any City Council decision."

Patch has made calls to the Autry National Center and the City Attorney's office and is awaiting response. Keep checking Patch as we continue to follow this developing story.

Daniel Wright August 04, 2011 at 01:01 AM
To read a copy of the environmental lawsuit, press release, and background about the issue, the website of the www.FriendsOfTheSouthwestMuseum.com has alot of information.
Charles Miller August 04, 2011 at 02:00 AM
This is a cross post of my comment on the Arroyo Seco Journal blog. Anyone familiar with the documentary, "The Art of the Steal" (Philadelphia) will see parallels to this situation in Los Angeles. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Art_of_the_Steal_%28film%29) In Roger Ebert's review of the film he states, "It is clear that the city fathers acted in obviation of those wishes, and were upheld in a court of appeals. What is finally clear: It doesn't matter a damn what your will says if you have $25 billion, and politicians and the establishment want it." In this case it's a Los Angeles collection worth millions not billions, but while the difference is a bunch of 0's, that doesn't change the fact that it is a fundamental and material breach in trust with the Los Angeles community.
Marino August 04, 2011 at 09:49 AM
Yes, I've watched "The Art of Steal". It's the story of some uppity white homeowners who want all the prestige of having a world class museum next door but none of the hassle of thousands of school children and tourists visiting every week. So one day the African American college that owns the museum picks up the collection and leaves and takes it a few miles away where more people can enjoy it. The uppity homeowners are left behind with an empty building. The documentary is made from their point of view but I failed to sympathize with their plight. I was just happy that the art collection was made more accessible and the African American college got much needed financial assistance.
Marino August 04, 2011 at 10:13 AM
Thanks for the link, no thanks for the lawsuit. As a taxpayer I'm upset the City of Los Angeles has to spend money to defend against such a frivolous lawsuit. Basically the city is being sued for not compelling the Autry to do an environmental impact report for converting some of their storage space inside the museum to exhibition space.
Rob Schraff August 04, 2011 at 02:42 PM
Calling this action an "environmental" lawsuit really says it all about the "Friends" delusional strategies and desperate spin. And by the way, why didn't the "Coalition" file this suit? Perhaps because there is no such thing?
Apples August 04, 2011 at 04:28 PM
Oh, the race card, Marino. Really? Shame on you, cry-loser!
Alberto August 04, 2011 at 04:31 PM
Wait, weren't there a bunch of meetings already? Weren't the meetings to determine what would happen next? Isn't that what happened? Now, after the meetings, I have to pay of more meetings to happen - but in our overburdened court system? Seems to me they could have initiated the suit immediately (making their intentions perfectly clear) and held the meetings to give their opponents to opportunity to have the suit cancelled. It might have made proceedings more efficient by applying enough pressure on both parties (one side wants to avoid court, the other wants to avoid looking like jerks for making it a court case). Anyway, I loved the Southwest Museum but there just weren't enough museum lovers to prevent all this in the first place. Change happens, huh?
Alberto August 04, 2011 at 04:43 PM
Ha ha! But, seriously, the point, as presented by Marino, is direct and ultimately has nothing to do with race: a collection, rarely appreciated, was moved to a location where it was appreciated by many more... which is the point of a collection anyway, no? Also, if he's for allowing the changes to go through he's not on the losing side. Just sayin'. I think a major difference between the final outcome of the movie's story and ours is that we'll still have, according to the proposal, a functioning building with exhibits and other pieces of the collection will be located in a place where still more will enjoy them.
Alberto August 04, 2011 at 04:52 PM
Okay now. The fact is, race descriptions aren't even necessary to make your point anyway - a fact missed, apparently, by both of you. Simply say, "homeowners" and "a college" and the point is made and nothing watered down. ...but if race is important (and I believe we're too focused on race and color and too little focused on class - the actual definer) then leaving off "uppity" keeps things civil. You may have both names but you come out looking like the last image in the cartoon. Been fun; back to work now.
David Fonseca (Editor) August 04, 2011 at 05:18 PM
Hi Marino, I appreciate you're feedback but I had to delete your last comment--as it linked to NSFW content. If you'd like, can you please re-post without the link. Thanks again for participating in the conversation.
Nimby pimp August 04, 2011 at 05:52 PM
Marino Pascal's description of the film is spot-on. Pascal did not introduce the race card to this debate. That card has been introduced in a very ham-fisted manner by the mostly white and definitely uppity "Friends"/Friends bunch. Pay attention Alberto!
Peter Grant August 04, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Highland Park and Mount Washington should be ashamed of themselves. Enough was long ago with this. Why don't they raise the $25 million it would take to bring the SW up to standards and take it off the Autry's hands? The Autry has made an important collection exciting through imaginative programming. The SW was a sad reminder of how museums were 75 years ago.
Charles Miller August 04, 2011 at 06:46 PM
Marino, I take issue with your comments here, but particularly your second point. This statement does not match with the actions of the community. One example: Local community members asked for the Southwest Gold Line station location precisely to bring more people here, not less. Touring school children through the museum was a decades long tradition which many are fighting to continue and people have volunteered their personal time to tie this to the Scenic Byway and other efforts to drive economic development for the neighborhood with cultural tourism. I will always put more stake into those who take action and roll up their sleeves, than those who choose to post derisive comment from the sidelines. The reality is this means less business and local jobs for the neighborhood, and a cultural loss for the founders vision for this museum to be located in the Arroyo Seco.
Pat Griffith August 04, 2011 at 11:36 PM
The Autry did present a plan to maintain a museum at the Southwest Museum. A series of community meetings were held, one specifically hosted by the Human Relations Commission on Sept. 19, 2006, and other meetings continued throughout the community. The Autry plan would have the 2 large galleries at the Southwest Museum maintained as gallery space, with the remainder to be used for Archeological Research, with the main storage of Archeological materials stored there. There was also a goal to have adjunct classrooms for LA City College in what is the Braun Library, which relied on raising funds for staffing. The Autry continued to operate the museum and host community functions through 2009. Examples of draft Autry proposals can be seen at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ASNCAlert/files/SW%20Museum/ The Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition rejected this proposal, and an example of the discussion, including the Vision for the Museum can be read at: http://www.asnc.us/2007-archives/07-Jul/0707letter-SouthwestMuseum-WhatVictoryLooksLike.htm The Friends did post examples of their vision, which included new buildings added to the existing campus, and it can be seen at: http://www.friendsofthesouthwestmuseum.com/newsite/vision.html
Pat Griffith August 04, 2011 at 11:37 PM
The initial estimates for renovating the Southwest Museum and maintaining it were only for the existing structures. The dollar quotes did not include the vision seen here. It is unclear whether any agreement with Occidental College would require more museum gallery space than the original Autry proposal.
Alberto August 05, 2011 at 03:18 PM
I agree with both of you, dude, but by "Pay Attention" I suppose you mean "get on board the abuse train", right? Believe me, I'm paying attention and understand - and I'm on (I think) the side you're both on. My point, however, stands - and I don't think it's hard to understand where I'm coming from... If your thinking ain't elevated, it's sunk.
Nimby pimp August 05, 2011 at 05:25 PM
@Alberto. I stand corrected on the dumb "pay attention" line. I wasn't paying attention and met my comment for Apples. I'm heartened to know that there are a number of attentive residents of this area that are fed up with the played out politics of the "Friends"/Friends. I'm game for getting involved in an alternate organization that would help to usher the codgers off the stage and work toward new futures.

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