Ken Bernstein is a city planner who serves as manager of L.A.’s Office of Historic Resources, where he directs the city’s historic preservation policies. He previously served as director of preservation issues for the Los Angeles Conservancy, the largest local non-profit historic preservation organization in the country. Before taking part in a Zócalo/Getty “Open Art” event on saving L.A.’s past, Bernstein answered some questions about basketball, jacaranda trees, and finding beauty in ordinary life.
What dessert do you find impossible to resist?
Boston cream pie.
What’s the strangest application you’ve seen for historic preservation in L.A.?
We frequently get calls about haunted Los Angeles. People are looking for places inhabited by ghosts with a historic pedigree. I tell them that’s not my department.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
My biggest pet peeve would be people who still believe Los Angeles is a city with no history.
Whose talent would you most like to have?
I would like to be able to play basketball like LeBron James.
What was the last thing that inspired you?
I just recently saw the documentary Finding Vivian Maier. I found it tremendously inspirational that an ordinary, anonymous woman could see the world through such a unique lens and artistic vision. I think it’s inspiring to all of us to be able to see beauty in everyday life in such a unique way.
Which of your friends, family members, or colleagues tells the best jokes?
Give credit to my dad, who is a long-winded, but very amusing, storyteller.
What is the last habit you tried to kick?
I do have an annoying habit of chewing on ice cubes.
What is the weirdest acronym in the urban planning world and what does it mean?
You know NIMBY—not in my backyard. I’ve also heard the acronym “BANANA”—build absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody. Which is NIMBYism to the extreme.
What’s your favorite plant?
In late spring in Southern California, the jacaranda trees. They leave a mess on the sidewalk, but they’re awfully beautiful in parts of downtown L.A.
If you could play any musical instrument, which would you choose?
I was a clarinetist in my high school youth orchestra and high school marching band. My son is a classical clarinetist and actually a music major. He is much more talented than I.