DING DONG SCHOOL
(June 11, 2003)
It must be the chairs---that's all I can come up with. Have you seen them? They are grand, plush, high-backed, brown leather affairs. You disappear in them. I'll bet you can swing your legs, like a little kid.
I blame the chairs for the Belmont "Learning Center." I think the whole reason for this debacle is that L.A. Board of Education members really, really like to sit in those comfy thrones, and hem and haw, and ponder, and feel really, really important. I think the chairs put them in a quasi-dream state, and make them stupid. It's heroin for the hindquarters, which, of course, raises the question of where their brains reside.
I mean, it can't be that the Board is naturally this stupid, right?
Belmont "Learning Center," therefore, must be the product of a kind of daydream, a hallucination, a mid-afternoon reverie, a half-conscious idea born of numb buns.
How else do you explain spending $175 million to build a "showcase" school on top of great pustules of methane and hydrogen gases---and one earthquake fault? How else do you explain stopping the construction about two-thirds of the way through, studying the gas and quake problems for three years, then deciding nothing was wrong in the first place, and comitting $111 million more to finish it? How else do you explain construction that spans almost seven years over two centuries---with four more to go?
It's the chairs. Has to be.
Pro-Belmont School Board members Marlene Canter, Genethia Hudley-Hayes, Mike Lansing and Jose Huizar---you've all got bats in your Belmont. (Probably literally, considering how long the place has sat, abandoned.) You're rowing without a boat, playing tiddly without the winks, crackering without your jacks. Your dog is off the leash.
Get out of those chairs now, before you start drooling and asking for a Busy Board.
Oh, yes, you say, L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley spent two full years investigating Belmont for environmental violations, and didn't file a single charge. (Which makes you wonder what kind of chair he is sitting in.)
Oh yes, you say, the methane and hydrogen "pockets" will be "capped and vented." Heh, heh---you're full of methane. As if anybody knows exactly how to map out and control such things. The only gas you people can control is that which you expell into those fancy saddles. (Of course, one can see how a sudden subterranean eruption of poison gas might be useful in a science or geology class. . .especially if someone lights a match.)
Oh, yes, you say, razing and rebuilding two of Belmont's brand-new (never used) buildings so that they are the legally required fifty feet from an earthquake fault will make them safe! Yessir, just move your classroom fifty feet from an earthquake fault---that's from here to the bathroom, folks---and the kiddies have nothing to worry about! Bring on that 7.0!
Oh, yes, you say, cap it off with a really, really nice park with a lake full of duckies, and Belmont Learning Center will become the education showpiece of all Southern California. Never mind that the cinderblock palace looks more like Belmont Correctional Facility, and that any park in that area will not only attract lots of duckies---but also lots of Homies. Yes, local wildlife includes the Armed Gangbanger, the Ubiquitous Crackhead and the Redoubtable Mainliner. Many are sure to migrate from nearby Skid Row, Ramparts, and MacArthur Park. Hey, boys and girls, want to earn some extra cash after school?
I've heard all the arguments---that the park will have good security, that L.A. has as many earthquake faults as I have creases under my eyes; that we are all walking on cracked eggshells around here. But do your 'rithmetic, Board of Ed.---methane plus hydrogen plus earthquake fault plus gangboys plus crackheads equals. . .bad place! At least. . .bad place for high school!
And it equals real, real bad place for $286 million high school that will house only 2,600 students---1,900 fewer than originally planned! For that money, LAUSD could have built two high schools and one middle school, by its own estimate.
Which leads to this thought: imagine having used that $286 million to make district-wide improvements. Right, Marlene, Genethia, Mike, and Jose--- consider that. You could have gone from school to school, in person, to find out what they really, really need. Maybe a new library here, a new gym there, new gym equipment here, functional air conditioning there, toilets that flush here, textbooks there, new coat of paint. . .maybe even some (gasp) bonuses for teachers.
Of course, I realize this would mean vacating those plush Alice-in-Wonderland recliners (they do have a vibrating feature, right?), but the walking would do you good. You know what walking does, don't you? It circulates the blood out of your legs and back up to your brains. This can help you do something called "thinking."
But if you had been able to do that, you would never have approved of Belmont in the first place. You certainly would have abandoned the project when construction was first halted, if not torn it down altogether. Or maybe you would have come up with an alternative idea---perhaps a rehab center and get-back-on-your-feet job-training complex for the thousand and thousands of homeless people sleeping on the streets of Skid Row. (They have a lot of experience with methane and earthquakes.) Funny how L.A. just ignores this grotesque problem while it builds that goofy new $274 million Disney Hall, the $200 million Catholic Reichstag, and $286 million Ding Dong School. . .
But then, all the people making all these decisions about L.A. are peering at reality through a hazy dreamland produced by leather and half-digested lunch. Consider the statement by Board of Education freshman Huizar, who is credited with reviving Belmont:
"When this school opens, I'm going to feel very proud that it only came about because I decided to do the right thing and fight regardless of the political hurdles."
Spoken like a man in a comfortable chair.
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