Downtown L.A. architect Simon Ha never expected taking his 4-year-old daughter to a local playground would turn into one of the biggest challenges he’s ever faced: trying to open a charter school.

It started last December when Ha and a bunch of other dads gathered at the playground in his South Park neighborhood to watch their preschool-age kids play. The conversation soon turned to what would happen once the children were ready for kindergarten.

Even though an estimated 50,000 people now live downtown, school planning has not kept up, he said.

“We realized there are no elementary schools downtown, and the only one that L.A. Unified was planning was going to be right near Skid Row,” said Ha, 38, who until recently was a principal at downtown architectural firm TCA Associates.

“What I love about downtown is that I don’t have to use my car, so the thought of driving my daughter to school every day in Silver Lake was definitely not appealing,” he said.

Ha recently left TCA to set up his own architectural firm. In the meantime, he’s devoting most of his time to the charter school effort.

On Sept. 8, he and other downtown parents hosted a fundraiser that netted $17,000. That’s far short of the $250,000 they will need to open a school by their stated goal of the 2013-14 school year.

But Ha is determined.

“I never thought I would be doing this,” he said. “But we really like living in downtown and don’t want to move to the suburbs just for school.”

Snow on Top

The weather may still be warm, but it’s awfully snowy in Linda Dishman’s Los Angeles.

The executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy was feted recently at a grand party in downtown’s Vibiana because she is celebrating her 20th year on the job. At the event, attended by about 250 friends and supporters, Dishman was given a snow globe featuring several L.A. landmarks saved by the conservancy, including the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza hotel.

An avid collector, Dishman said she has “well over 1,000” snow globes, but probably not many that mean as much.

“It’s really special. It’s a really nice one with a wood base,” she said, with more than a hint of excitement in her voice. “It was such a wild gift.”

Dishman is currently working to preserve portions of the Port of Los Angeles and a building in Brentwood. But at 56, she said she’s not sure she’ll last another 20 years.

“I’ll be 76,” she said, laughing. “I love what I’m doing (but) I don’t know about that.”

Staff reporters Howard Fine and Richard Clough contributed to this column. Page 3 is compiled by Editor Charles Crumpley. He can be reached at

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