In a stark contrast between downtown Los Angeles’ vast potential and its present-day woes, one of the world’s best-known architects today unveiled his long-awaited plans aimed at turning the Civic Center into a 24-hour-a-day “urban oasis,” while others mulled an appeal to a court ruling that essentially permits the homeless to continue living in cardboard boxes on its streets.

The cornerstones of the first phase of architect Frank O. Gehry’s futuristic plans for the Civic Center are two L-shaped, glass towers that would rise directly across from the recently opened Walt Disney Concert Hall. One of the buildings would have 50 stories and the other would have 24.

The 50-story tower, at the corner of Grand Avenue and 2nd Street, would include a 275-room boutique hotel, 250 upscale condos, restaurants and street-level retailers. The 24-story tower, at First and Olive Avenue, would combine retailers with 150 lofts and condominiums as well as 100 affordable apartments.

The two structures represent the beginning of a three-phase, $1.8 billion plan that will ultimately include even more shopping arcades, a 16-acre park, and eight condominium and office towers.

Gehry’s ambitious project, which could take more than a decade to complete, is in an area dominated by office towers filled with 9-to-5 workers. Though it bustles during the day, it’s a virtual ghost town at night because there is little housing in the community and few entertainment options.

Local officials hope Gehry’s plan will finally turn the area into a vibrant, 24-hour urban hotspot to rival such places as New York, London and Paris.

“This is a major urban plan … that will enhance the landscape and the lifestyle for the people of Los Angeles and raise our international stature,” L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at a press conference today.

But even as Villaraigosa talked about the project’s promises, his staff and other city officials were trying to figure out how to respond to a recent court ruling that essentially permits homeless persons to continue sleeping on city streets and setting-up cardboard shanty towns on its sidewalks.

For years, the Los Angeles Police Department has used sleeping on sidewalks as “probable cause” for questioning the homeless – a practice that has uncovered countless other crimes and led to the arrests of hundreds of violent criminals on the lam from authorities.

Most of the arrests were made on Skid Row, not far from where Gehry’s project would rise.

But the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier this month that unless adequate shelter is available, such arrests violate the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of six downtown L.A. homeless people. The court’s decision has put a temporary halt to such arrests, and some legal observers believe the ruling could foster the construction of more cardboard shantytowns in other parts of the city.

L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents the downtown area, is urging the mayor and city attorney to appeal the federal court ruling. So is Police Chief William J. Bratton, who had been hoping to clean up Skid Row by removing homeless encampments.

“I wish the judges would come down to skid row and see the situation,” Bratton said in an interview. “If they did, they’d see what a poor decision they have made.”

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