“Chain Reaction” was designated a Santa Monica landmark last Monday night by the Landmarks Commission. It joins a long list of dubious landmarks approved by the politically appointed (by City Council) citizens group.

I don’t much care for “Chain Reaction,” the 26-foot-tall, mushroom cloud sculpture made from chain that sits between the Los Angeles County Courthouse and the Civic Auditorium on Main Street.

It was created by the late Paul Conrad, a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. It’s a classic example how a work created for one media — pen and ink editorial cartoon — doesn’t translate well to another media such as a three dimensional copper and steel sculpture.

I love Conrad’s illustrative work, but “Chain Reaction,” a heavy-handed warning about nuclear war, is clichéd and irrelevant. It may have been a bold statement in newspaper editorial pages 40 years ago when the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union had everyone fearing nuclear Armageddon. Now, it’s passé and dated.

In the mid 1980s, the anti-war Conrad wanted to make a “big statement” about the nuclear bomb as a weapon of mass destruction. He approached City Hall with his idea for a monumental sculpture of a nuclear mushroom cloud. Frustrated by lengthy delays for its approval, Conrad offered the sculpture to Beverly Hills and was turned down.

According to L.A. Times news reports at the time, when a model of it was displayed, the public voted 703 to 392 against it. Nevertheless, the Arts Commission ignored public opinion and voted to accept the sculpture because, they claimed, opponents of the work had stuffed the ballot box. Nothing changes here, does it?

Finally in 1990, the City Council voted 4 to 3 to accept Conrad’s sculpture and display it in the Civic Center.

The work is facing removal because, over 20 years, its supporting structure has rusted and corroded. It presents a danger to public safety because of potential collapse. City Hall has indicated no willingness to put taxpayer money into its restoration — a smart decision. Public donations are being solicited for the estimated $227,000 to $423,000 repair costs.

If it’s preserved, I hope it’s moved. However, our Civic Center has become such a planning disaster, what harm is one more, badly placed monument to political propaganda going to do?

East Pico project ‘out of scale’

Another Santa Monica development is raising red flags in the Sunset Park/East Pico neighborhoods. It’s a four-story, 197,971-square-foot mixed-use project consisting of 300 apartments, approximately 5,000 square feet of ground floor retail space and 554 parking spaces in a two-level subterranean garage — all on 2.5 acres.

The project is at 3402 Pico Blvd., which was the headquarters for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences — the Grammy folks. It’s being redeveloped by TC Pico Development, LLC, a Trammel-Crow Company which is an independently operated subsidiary of real-estate giant CBRE Group, Inc., headquartered in Los Angeles.

Pico neighborhood and Sunset Park residents have indicated they want Crow’s project scaled down in size, height and mass. Because the developer hasn’t provided renderings of the proposed project, nobody even knows what it will look like. Add another red flag.

But, the biggest issues are traffic, traffic and traffic. Neighbors are concerned about how much congestion the development will introduce onto adjacent, single-family streets already impacted by traffic from the I-10 Freeway on and off ramps, Centinela Avenue, a nearby Trader Joe’s market and Santa Monica College further west on Pico. Estimates are Crow’s development alone will add approximately 2,000 daily car trips to the area.

Two other projects are pending on Pico, further east in Los Angeles. One is a 95 unit apartment complex with parking for 163 cars at Pico and Centinela now under construction at the old Rent-A-Wreck site. The second project from Casden Development is a proposed 538 residential unit, high-rise, mega-complex at Pico and Sepulveda boulevards, with 271,000 square feet of commercial space and parking for 2,000 vehicles.

I have a suggestion: remove all the on-site parking. If none of the residents have cars or drive (like at 401 Broadway) and just walk, bicycle, ride the bus or Expo Light Rail, there’ll be minimal traffic impacts. Yep. Everything will be “OK.” Cough.

3402 Pico is on Wednesday’s (July 18) Planning Commission agenda. Commissioners will review the project and make recommendations before sending it on to City Council for the eventual granting of a development agreement. The commission meets in council chambers, City Hall, at 7 p.m. Public input is strongly encouraged.

SMRR’s crystal ball

Local political watchers should attend the Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) Annual Convention, Sunday, July 22 at John Adams Middle School beginning at 12:45 p.m.

This is where SMRR members (as of April 24, 2012) will endorse candidates for four open council seats, three school board seats, two rent control board seats and three Santa Monica College Board of Trustee seats.

SMRR-backed candidates usually prevail in municipal races, so anyone endorsed at this meeting will have a big advantage in the fall election. Keep in mind that two years ago, SMRR’s Steering Committee later added persons not endorsed during the membership voting to SMRR’s “endorse” list creating a big stink among members.

The SMRR convention is a great political theater and a primer on staying in power like a Middle East dictator. And, it’s open to the public.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.

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