Like nearly everybody, I awoke last Wednesday morning to ghastly images and video of the Haitian earthquake. Anybody who lives along the California coast – and that's about 80% of the state population – is likely to have respond to this event with a combination of pity, fear, sadness and possibly a bit of what psychologists call "the guilt of the survivor."

Even in earthquake-reinforced California, a temblor measuring 7 on the Richter scale, God forbid, could result in many failed structures and many casualties. Haiti was hardly built to California standards. The City of Port-au-Prince, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, bestrides two continental plates, which have been building up tension for the past 250 years. Virtually the entire city and many others have been leveled. 

At times like this, my head fills with happy fantasies about how planners, architects, engineers and home builders could swoop in and assist the surviving Haitians. In my fantasy, volunteers with Habitat for Humanity could rebuild entire neighborhoods in the island nation with low-cost, low-maintenance, high-durability housing designs. Plus, we could create make-work programs to build new infrastructure, particularly up-to-date water mains, sewer trunk lines and power grids. Hell, we could throw in a couple of sea walls to protect coastal cities against increasingly severe hurricanes. We can put our city-building talents to the service of people in adversity, rather than greasing the path of speculative development.

Sobriety soon follows. I remember having similar thoughts about New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Yet we have barely made a dent in rebuilding the neighborhoods destroyed by flood in a major American city, as Harry Shearer, the political satirist who lives in the Big Easy, would readily tell you. The average human being is good-hearted and wants to help when he or she hears about a catastrophe. Months down the road, however, when the news has grown cold, the need remains. While my fix-it fantasy may be Pollyanna-ish, one aspect might be taken seriously: Compassion needs to take the long view.   

So let's talk about something more pleasant … like real estate development. It's not the fault of Phil Anschutz, developer of the $2.5 billion LA Live entertainment and hotel complex in downtown Los Angeles, that he scheduled a promotional event for his hotel tower the day after a disaster. Our renewed awareness of the basic necessities of human life, however, do not make the most flattering backdrop for the developer's plans to spend $100,000 to celebrate the completion of the absurdly tall hotel tower.

At 54 stories, the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott tower hovers like a circus clown on stilts above everything else on the south end of the business district. Anschutz's big show called for the lights on the top 27 levels of the structure, according to the Times, "to flick on floor by floor in a rising wave to celebrate completion of the hotel, the last piece of the massive …entertainment complex." (I can feel a rising wave right now.) The "flame-on" was part of a City of Hope charity gala honoring AEG President Tim Leiweke, who was joined by a host of celebrities.

City of Hope is a very worthy charity that does extraordinary work. My gripe is with the real estate developer's afflatus, which felt especially ghastly in the wake of the Haiti disaster. There's nothing restrained about Anschutz's project, but a little restraint was in order last week. 

– Morris Newman