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Getting "ahead"

Here is what a home-grown, mom-and-pop business looks like in LA in 2012, at Sunset near Silver Lake--ground zero of Garcetti's district.  There are thousands of corporate-organized street businesses in the city too--these are called Starbucks and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf and McDonalds and Vons and Ralphs and Target and Fresh & Easy, &c.  They generally offer jobs that pay $24,000 to $35,000 a year--you take home under $2500 a month.

Yesterday local bought-off media blanketed the city with stories about how far we've come and how much better off we are since the riot.  I couldn't bear to listen or read a single one of these from start to finish.  The thing that made me cringe the most is the degree to which local media mentioned the looting of the Circuit City on Hollywood Boulevard--over and over.  They use it as an exemplar to demonstrate how bad the riot was--it lapped the shoreline of someplace where white people live!

Of course, the reason the city--and almost all other cities--feels far more stable in K-town and South LA is because a huge part of our underprivileged class have been jailed by three strikes laws and punitive drug laws--laws issuing from the state level.  Giving ourselves and especially our Police Department credit for this is like, to paraphrase something Walter Moore said in the last Mayor's race (which the local corporate media also tuned out nearly entirely), standing on an escalator and giving ourselves credit for climbing a stairway.

Ringing K-Town and certainly within it, our city is now largely owned by out-of-towners and absentee landlords, creating a renter-dominant class within the city who are so busy trying to make ends meet that they don't have any time to even pay attention to how the city really works, let alone riot. Most of the middle class money left in the 1990s.  What has replaced liquor stores and dry cleaners is something even more economically devastating--pricey apartments.

Most people who live in liveable buildings are paying a third to a half of their income--around $1700 a month in my neighborhood--on decent rental spaces.  As a consequence, we now have two kinds of rentals throughout the city: the kind in which six or seven people live, or the kind in which people in their thirties and even forties pay rents that are being subsidized by their parents.

As it happens, I also recall 1992 as the year the Camaro plant in Van Nuys moved from our city to Quebec.

I recall that the weekend of the riot I moved into a wonderful building in Los Feliz where the rent for a one bedroom apartment was $636 a month.  This represented about a third of my salary as an arts manager, working for the city for $18 an hour.  The same apartment in the same building today costs $1400 a month.  I pass by that building all the time, and I would bet that the tenants in that building today are still presently making around $18 an hour--but now their rent represents well over half their take home pay.  It's not a wonder why nobody's getting "ahead."

Biker chic

On Hyperion, in front of Bogie's Liquor, Peteicia preps to take off on her old Honda. She bought it new in 2006 and insists it has never let her down. Peticia Petecia

Gardens of solitude

Children's Garden, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, downtown.  I have been obliged to wander noon hours downtown the last few days.  The Cathedral grounds are certainly one of downtown LA's most underutilized spaces--but I think I like them that way.  I very rarely see children in the Children's Garden; I never see anyone standing before either of the fabulous meditative fountains; I only see people at the tables immediately after a mass.  The rain especially clears people out.

But many spaces downtown are underutilized, as people seem to think they need to spend their lunch hours in a restaurant.  The Biddy Mason court behind the Bradbury Building is generally clear as well.  Most Grand Central Market lunch grabbers would rather park themselves at the shabby tables there than cross the street and eat lunch at the small park between Angel's Flight and the Metro stop.  But really--it's very easy downtown to duck the crowds, to be alone.

John Noguez, Being There

My column at CityWatch this week is on County Assessor John Noguez, both real name and educational pedigree uncertain, presently under investigation for influence peddling, and how everyone from the Mayor to four of five County Supes to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer's Association brought this unknown quantity in prominence just because two other clowns in the Assessor's office gave him their blessing should.  Noguez is shown above in the days well before this week's special unit investigation of him--here he is, Being There with Eric Garcetti and also with everyone's favorite sweatsuit-stuffer.  But his flickr stream is possessed of many such photos, and four of five County Supes endorsed him too.  It is yet another sad account of the wanton caprice of our entire local political culture.

Villaraigosa listens to charges against Noguez in 2010, doesn't withdraw support

The Mayor in 2010 listens to a question about County Assessor Juan (John) Noguez, whom he had endorsed, when many charges are already known--and says he'll consider the new information. He never withdrew his endorsement of Noguez.

Noguez's home in Huntington Park and other locations were raided today by the District Attorney's office, looking for evidence that Noguez may have traded assessment favors for campaign contributions.  The Times says that "a former county appraiser who secretly and improperly slashed tens of millions of dollars from the taxable values of Westside properties in late 2010 told The Times he did it in the hope that wealthy homeowners receiving the reductions would contribute money to Noguez."

Koelsch con brio

Christopher Koelsch - photo for LA Opera by Rebecca Rotenberg

Christopher Koelsch has been appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of the Company, effective September 15, 2012, LA Opera has announced.  Steven Rountree steps aside to accommodate the move.  Rountree had served as CEO of the Music Center; I got into some of the difficulties that Rountree was brought in to address in this LA Weekly column from two years ago.

Koelsch has been COO since the time of troubles and a veep of Artistic Planning.  As such, he's worked on both the numbers and the artistic side, and has had two years of hard-nosed number crunching under Rountree while keeping superstar General Director Plácido Domingo's reasonably happy.   Koelsch joined LA Opera in 1997.  He also has memories of Peter Hemmings, so he has a strong feel for how and what LA Opera should be.


Hyperion, near Sunset.  Remember when charlatan Frank Gehry would say, "If it is ugly, it is because the city is ugly"? He has since begun servicing billionaires and necessarily stepped away from making ugly things with ugly materials.  But of course, this banal strip of Hyperion is better off with something hasty, somewhat sloppy, and nearly fauve in flavor than a bare utility box, which would only be worse.  The colors are right, anyway.  I could live without the schoolyard murals, however--and without most of the other murals in town, for that matter--especially the ones the city ordains.

Not angry anymore

Johnette Napolitano, who has fronted Concrete Blonde forever. She has a book of lyrics, poems, drawings and war stories out, Rough Mix, now available online and @ La Luz de Jesus (where else?--she did a reading there yesterday). Her reading/performance went over an hour--maybe she read the whole book, stitching in Phil Spector Stan Ross anecdotes &c. Illustrated by the author, and she is selling the original pages too.  She's a Hollywood native, ya know, but now out in Joshua Tree.

Not a job anymore

"That's not a job anymore.  That's a button," new world guy Clay Shirkey famously said of publishing this past month.  In that context, the government's anti-trust suit against Apple, Hachette, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster makes for more interesting reading than you might think.  What becomes obvious after a few pages--the filing is only 36 pages--is that even if only half wedded in fact, the nation's top commercial mills operate as a pure consortium, with all the ruthlessness attendant to the oil and energy business.

I read a few other notable summaries, at the behest of my LinkedIn crowd: here's the Wall Street Journal's, and here's The New York Times.  Everybody's desperately trying to vilify Amazon for out-competing the price-fixers and content-fixers.  That's not in the spirit of a free exchange of ideas--or of free enterprise either.

I think Seattle attorney Steve Berman summed up my own feelings on a PBS segment on the matter: "Number one, there's no evidence that the environment will be less diverse. And, number two, the antitrust laws actually are there to protect consumers of the end product. They're not there to protect competitors. So, if someone can't compete with Amazon, because Amazon has a good device and they offered a low price, then they're just out of luck."

Early on Earth Day

Earth Day is Saturday, and here in Los Feliz we are kicking it off today with an event brought to you by the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council and tireless whole earth advocate Tomas O'Grady.  The stuff they're giving away today is really remarkable; I intend to pick up one of those mini-planters if they remain available.  I even hear some solar garden lighting units will be available.

I ran into O'Grady a couple of weeks ago, on Tracy; he was elbow-deep in a tree hole.  I told him I was taking some file photos; he told me he's not doing it for that.  But I had a flashback to about twenty years ago--when Tom LaBonge was a loveable kook who also got civic stuff done.  I'm sure O'Grady is in a pretty good position to become Los Feliz's next Councilman.  He's built a good base with mommies at local schools and community groups.  One to watch; meantimes, the community does benefit from days like today at Franklin Ave. Elementary.

The Mayor's speech: botched jots, glitch-riddled tittles

I wish I didn't have to write things like this.  But I don't see anyone else writing them, so...

So, I covered the Mayor's State of the City address in a novel way: I actually questioned the facts put forth in it.  And found some whoppers.

My column at CityWatch today is on the errors, distortions, embarrassments, insults to intelligence, and outright lies of His Honor Antonio Villaraigosa as located in his recent speech to the city.  But it's also about Team Tony's out-of-town speech writers, and also on the laziness of local paid print media, and certainly on the lack of courage of our entire local political class in failing to challenge the Mayor's many said errors, distortions, embarrassments, insults to intelligence, and outright lies.

The speech was embargoed--media and mayor alike had plenty of time to fact-check things like "the six days in April" over which the riots took place (they began on April 29, so unless April has 35 days...) or even the spelling of San Francisco writer Anne Lamott's name (rendered "Lamont" in the Mayor's version--and they couldn't find a native Angeleno quote on hopefulness, I guess) and to ask how the Clean Trucks program has contributed a billion dollars to any economy, let alone our city economy, when less than one of five trucks participating is home to an LA firm...

Large and small mistakes may both be honest mistakes.  But a mistake as glaring as "six days in April" indicates to me that the speech was written by an out-of-towner, as does the insouciance in citing a lifelong San Francisco writer, rather than an Angeleno writer, for its money quote...

If you needed any more evidence than our skyline that LA is ruled by out-of-town interests, the Mayor's Wednesday speech was it.  Thank our San Francisco overlords, there's only one more of these left.

I Scream LA

At Bogie's Liquor, Hyperion.

P eye

I don't know, I just like the photo. Hyperion & Rowena, reflection in a storefront window. The image is unmanipulated.  Sort of a self portrait, sort of not.  Taken Friday, in the rain.

Tough call

Vin Scully, admittedly a few steps slower, comes back and has to call the most confusing triple play in 130 years (left). Vinny did not mention "triple play" in a minute and a half, but Padres announcers call "triple play" before it's completed (right). Scully also calls the umpire a good one, though his gestures made the play confusing for the baserunners. Also, Scully says, "It looked as if the ball landed behind home plate"--which is accurate but irrelevant, as where a ball lands does not determine if a ball is fair or foul--if the ball comes back into fair territory, it's fair.

The Western Canon

A little nonchalant as this week I was finishing up just beyond flash segments I'll be recording Wednesday for The Western Canon, a project so unknown I barely know anything about it myself--though I do know a few of the bands participating.  This year, some Silver Lake and Echo Park &c bands have been getting together each month and writing songs around a theme--this month the theme is LA intersections, and I've been asked to provide interludes between the good stuff.  So on Thursday I was poking around Santa Monica & Western, one of five localities featured in the song cycle this month, to reclaim what the decades have given me toward understanding the vibe of this place I have known well but sporadically for at least thirty years, years I have otherwise spent hurling through time and space proximate to all the coordinates the songwriters will feature.  Above is a usual hellhole on Western, a few blocks north of Santa Monica--maybe the cross-street is Virginia, I forget.  Jazzed to do this--it's something different, it keeps you busy--and everyone's talented, very much so.  And how would you know anything was canonical if it didn't have a Facebook page to like?


It is so rare and so mysterious and so blessed in a writing life that you take a poem of yours you love, maybe even a little more than many many other poems--and I always love the poems I give to people on their birthdays, more than the others, and this is one--and then dedicate it to someone, and that someone first gasps and then says, "Why don't you try to put it in this publication?" and you submit it to that publication, and that publication after many months publishes it right there, right in the very place your dedicatee wanted it published, and you simply have a chance to take it in as though it were not only a product of your own quiet mind, but a meditation belonging to the whole world's mystery. That has happened to me--to us--with my poem--her poem--"Becoming a California", for which the dedicatee had Zócalo in mind as soon as it was presented to her on her birthday a couple years back. And, longtime friends now, we both love this poem--it is neither of ours any longer, it is something all its own, out there on its own.

Contempt for space

The Wall Street Journal published a piece this past week on California's war on its own suburbs, and I have used that piece as the starting point for a column at CityWatch entitled "The Mayor's Kill Shot on Suburban Los Angeles."  Both the WSJ's column and my own discuss what "smart growth" and its proponents have made of City and State over the past decade--a decade in which LA scarcely grew at all but still became far more congested than ever.

Not magical

Phil Jennerjahn takes a shot of the stands in the first inning of home game two and it does not look pretty.

UPDATE: Paid attendance - 29,279.  Boston Herald: "Dodgers beat Pirates in front of half-empty ballpark."

Sunset & Hyperion

And no other comment.


"I like to dream big," the Mayor said at the beginning of his first term.  How much of this map has been built out by dreaming big?

See the dotted gold line spur and the pale blue line below.  That's how much.  And construction on both those lines was already underway when he took office.

But we are supposed to be consoled by CicLAvia, which clears 10 miles of surface streets for bicycles twice a year.

CicLAvia is not a symptom of transit hope, but of transit hopelessness.  The Mayor had to deliver something; he chose not a lasting monument, but a transitory event.

UCLA, dashing dreams

My embarrassment for one of my old alma maters continues to grow.  When will the UC regents finally recognize that Chancellor Block has been an unmitigated disaster?  Does his wife still have that cushy job on campus?  UCLA sends mistaken congrats to 894 applicants and then apologizes.

UC tuition price points

Education at UC schools should be free, Michael Hiltzik says at the former fishwrap of record.  He notes it would cost the UCs $3 billion a year to make it free.

He is making an ideal argument, not an economic one.  (And predictably, he quotes Robert Reich, a man whose c.v. does not include any economic credentials that I can locate).

I think fees should be lower, but I don't think free is the perfect price point.

I think somewhere related to a poor student's prospective ability to pay and a poor family's prospective ability to support might be a better one.  The present fees run about $13,000 a year--a little thousand dollars a month.  That's not out of reach of a student averaging fifteen hours of work a week over the year with a family also contributing $500 a month.  But it is still punitive to the poorest families.
 If the fees were cut in roughly half, to $6,500 a year, I doubt that anyone at all could reasonably make the claim that they are being shut out of an education because of cost.

I think free provides the wrong kind of incentive to a student and creates the wrong kind of understanding of the way the world works.  College is not a birthright and should indeed remain a privilege, a privilege earned through a combination of achievement and work effort in cases in which families are unable to provide carte blanche support.

Media read shift

Yesterday, as you already know, Facebook bought Instagram for a price exceeding the valuation of the New York Times.

But to-day's indicator is even more of a wake-up for those who want to master the "act locally" end of "think globally, act locally."

A majority of people who read news now get it on handheld devices.

We are experiencing another kind of transformation such as the one when we experienced in 2000-2001, when AOL bought Time Warner--shaking the financial service industry, who didn't really think it possible--and when television began its long painful unravel as the ascendant media of American lives over the preceding fifty years.  The top question for newsmakers and organizations of every stripe has become: do you have an app?  The second top question is: how do people get it?

Easter Monday

Still, and for years, if I take a morning walk, it's generally to Hyperion Street Bridge.  Pre-Depression era, pre-WPA, it was finished in 1928; it remains a monument to World War I vets. It doesn't photograph well because there's a viaduct and now the Golden State Freeway running underneath it. But it is California scale and the streetlights when lit after dawn will remind you of Paris. Unlike so many bridges, this one photographs best, and is experienced best, while right on top of it.  We could never get it built today.

Ocean Park colors

Ocean Park is the name of the community in which Richard Diebenkorn lived for a good portion of his life and the name to which he gave his greatest sequence of works, a series of mostly large canvasses he painted over twenty years, between the mid-sixties and the mid-eighties.  Many of the fabled Ocean Park paintings are on display at the Orange County Museum of Art through May 27.  I recommend seeing this exhibition--the 22 minute film on the artist alone, assembled by LACMA in the mid-seventies, is worth the ticket.  Above left, an old friend: Ocean Park No. 54, on loan from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  In another gallery is another old friend: Ocean Park No. 109.  No other Los Angeles painter caught the kind of light and layered washed-pastel colors of our beach communities better than Diebenkorn.  Critics keep trying to read these as "flattened landscapes"--that is tempting to do, and indeed the artist did some cartography in WWII--but I think after many years of discernment that they are really patches of colors, drawn from beach air and seaside LA streets, and tied together by the urban grid, which includes phone lines, sketch lines, and the geometries of civic life, even civic life just offshore.  My wife said, "I could look at every one of these for an hour--I want to come back," which is as close to raving about an exhibit as she ever comes.  I get cynical about exhibitions in general, but this is one that got to me too--and I left wondering why nobody has put together a representative part of this fabled series before, especially here in LA.

K-town: the trouble was the electeds

JM, Korean consulat, 1.23.08

My column this week at CityWatch is largely in response to Commissioner Helen Kim's contentions that multiple sources were selling me a line or two on the activities of the City of Los Angeles's Redistricting Commission.  I counter that there is far more on which we agree than disagree, that our disagreements were minimal, and that Mayor Villiaraigosa, Controller Greuel and City Council President Herb Wesson did the City a profound disservice by appointing identity-group partisan commissioners, assuring rancor throughout the proceedings and beyond them, rather than commissioners who could represent the interests of the entire city at all times.  Their shortsighted appointments have now brought us to the brink of a costly, contentious lawsuit that, successful or not, will only work to re-organize the City even more deeply along lines of tribe.

Alt Rowena

Above, a Metropolitan in a driveway and a neighborhood lending library on an apartment's front lawn.  Below left, the City hires out to cherry pick fronds off of its tallest palms at Hyperion Reservoir; below right, a glimpse of the current titles available in the lending library across the street.

K-Town contentions

Redistricting Commissioner Helen B. Kim, one of the Korean-American political figures I mentioned in my piece Who Lost K-town? at CityWatch last Friday, has responded to my piece with a long piece of her own.  She disputes a couple of contentions as laid out by some of my sources.  You may like to read her piece, especially if you read my original piece, which had much to say about the prospective placement of Koreatown in a single Council district.  I certainly welcome such challenges to the record of the Commission's proceedings I tried to establish--at last a Commissioner is talking voluminously in public about the proceedings.  Commissioner Kim was Controller Wendy Greuel's nominee to the Redistricting Committee.  I'll have a follow-up at CityWatch late Thursday night.

An other me

There is an interview with me appearing today in the Madrid-based publication Yareah.  Those of you interested in contemporary American literature may like to read it and to lay my own opinions, predilections and biases against everyone else's, and certainly your own.

Macchinetta hoedown

I've been trying to make do without the LA Philharmonic since last Tuesday.  In truth, I've been trying to make do without the Phil for two years now, but especially since last Tuesday.  Good thing this string quintet came to Atwater farmer's market Sunday morning--ever since Dudamel got here, I've been jonesin' for a string section that can keep time and doesn't wander off on its own when the tempo picks up and the hair starts swirlin'.

Swamp hen

The bird for April in my Odd Birds of North America calendar is the Purple Gallinule.  The Odd Birds of North America calendar was produced by krank press here in Silver Lake.  [k]rank press describes its offerings as "Letterpress in the spirit of the die-hard baseball fans of the early 20th century who first inspired the term "krank": obsessive yet good-natured. Taking pleasure in the use of a machine born of the late industrial revolution, much like the sport of baseball itself."  You can find more on the Purple Gallinule at wikipedia.