We Need to Talk about Water


Recently I posted on Mayor Garcetti’s call for Angelenos to reduce water consumption by twenty percent. As a follow up, I’d like to draw your attention to an article posted by Jack Humphreville on CityWatch. The thrust of the article is that the Mayor’s creation of a Water Cabinet is an attempt to create policy without input from citizens.

Humphreville makes some excellent points. Certainly, given Garcetti’s record, we should be concerned about whether the City will shape its water policy in an open and transparent manner. There’s no question that the DWP will be raising rates significantly in coming years. To some degree this is necessary. Our water infrastructure needs to be upgraded, and we also need to invest in groundwater clean-up. But citizens must be involved in this discussion. A link to Humphreville’s article is below. It’s well worth reading.

Can We Afford the Mayor’s Mandate?

And here’s the link to the Mayor’s Executive Directive 5, which lays out all the measures he wants Angelenos to take to address the water shortage. Many of these steps are reasonable and necessary. It’s the creation of the Water Cabinet that’s worrisome. In LA, too many decisions are already made by insiders, behind closed doors. The Mayor often talks about how we all need to be involved in shaping the city’s future. I wish I could believe he really meant it.

Executive Directive 5

Transit Trauma


I don’t own a car. I take public transit everywhere. Generally it works out pretty well, but I wanted to share a few experiences I had recently….

Last week I spent an afternoon Downtown. I had an important meeting that night, and I figured I’d get on the subway at five, which would leave me an hour to make it back to Hollywood. Should’ve been plenty of time. The Red Line arrived just after five and I got on board. But apparently the brakes on that train had locked up, and after ten minutes the conductor still hadn’t been able to resolve the problem.

I had to make it back to Hollywood by six. Now I had forty five minutes, and it seemed unlikely that a bus travelling at rush hour would get me home in time. So I ended up taking a cab, which cost me twenty five bucks, plus tip.

Monday morning I was heading out to the Panorama City, a trip that takes three busses. Unfortunately, at one of my connecting points, I saw the bus I needed speeding past when I was still a block from the stop. It was five minutes early. I had to wait for the next one, which made me fifteen minutes late.

And then there was Wednesday morning. I got to the Red Line station at Hollywood and Highland. I was waiting on the platform when a voice came over the PA saying that there was no service to the North Hollywood station. Due to a power outage, the trains were only running to Universal City. Immediately I tried to think of other options, but there’s only one bus that goes to North Hollywood and it doesn’t run often. I glanced at the monitor above me to check the time. But the monitor wasn’t working.

I ended up getting on the train to Universal City. Once we arrived, it turned out the escalator to street level was out of order. Actually, it’s pretty common for escalators and elevators serving the subways to be out of commission. This morning it meant that the mass of people climbing the stairs had to contend with the people going down the stairs at the same time.

At Universal I had to get on the 224, which was packed to capacity, to get to North Hollywood. I felt like I was riding in a cattle car. At North Hollywood I got on the Orange Line, which was also packed to capacity, to make the trip out to Van Nuys. Amazingly, I was only fifteen minutes late.

Now I’m not bringing all this up because I want to slag public transit. I like public transit. I definitely prefer it to driving. It’s way cheaper and way less stressful. And most of the time it gets me where I want to go more or less reliably. But I have some serious questions about the direction the MTA is taking things.

In September the MTA raised fares. A day pass went from $5 to $7, and a monthly pass went from $75 to $100, a 40% increase and a 33% increase respectively. I realize that this is the first fare hike in four years, and that the MTA is running a substantial deficit. I also realize that tickets only cover about 28% of operating costs, and that anything less than 33% can jeopardize federal funding. But these are still huge hikes. And the while the MTA has postponed further fare increases for the moment, you can be sure they’re coming. On top of that, the Daily News reports that the MTA is considering further service cuts, even though they’ve already cut hundreds of thousands of service hours in the last few years. Here’s the article.

Fare Hikes Won’t Fix Agency’s Deficit

So here’s what worries me. The MTA seems determined to continue raising fares and cutting service as it struggles to resolve its financial difficulties. I have to ask if this is really going to encourage Angelenos to ride busses and trains. I hear a lot of talk about how people have to abandon cars and embrace public transit, but this course of action seems guaranteed to drive people away. That’s already happened with Metrolink. For the last few years Metrolink ridership has been declining, and customers have cited rising costs and declining service as the reason they’ve gone back to using their cars.

The Mayor and the MTA Board have put Los Angeles on the fast track when it comes to building new transit projects, which sounds good in theory. But these hugely expensive projects are years away from completion, and the MTA seems unable to even maintain current levels of service.

There’s something really wrong here. If the MTA wants us to believe that they’re going to be able to manage a vastly expanded transit system, they need to do a better job of managing the system we’ve got now. Otherwise, instead of attracting new riders, they’re going to lose the ones they’ve got.

When the Well Runs Dry

John Ferraro Building (LA Department of Water and Power)

John Ferraro Building (LA Department of Water and Power)

Last week Mayor Garcetti asked Los Angeles residents to cut their water usage by twenty percent. Even though he was basically echoing the governor’s message to all Californians, this was an important step. Angelenos have slowly been climbing on board the conservation bandwagon, but we need to do more.

Over eighty percent of the water we use in Los Angeles comes from outside the city’s boundaries. The only way LA has been able to grow as large as it has is by siphoning water from the Owens Valley and the Colorado River. But due to the current drought, these sources are drying up. In addition, many of the wells in the San Fernando Valley are contaminated, and cleaning them up will be a long, costly endeavor. Here’s a sobering article from the American Society of Civil Engineers web site.

LA to Treat Contaminated Groundwater for City Use

Not only do we need to conserve water in the present, we need to plan for water usage in the future. The City should take a hard look at current requirements for new projects, and ask if there are ways to build structures that are more efficient. In general, we need to look at how future development will impact our water resources. The City needs to consider the cumulative impact of proposed projects on our dwindling supply.

Restaurants in particular should come under special scrutiny, since they consume a great deal of water in their day to day operations. There are a number of ways they can reduce their consumption. Replacing water cooled refrigeration units with air cooled units is a good start. They should also be required to use low volume spray nozzles for washing food. Composting waste instead of using a garbage disposal will also reduce water consumption. I know running a restaurant is difficult, and all these things cost money. Possibly the City could require new restaurants to take these steps, but allow existing restaurants to make the changes over time. And in the long term, adopting these practices will actually save restaurant owners money.

The Department of Water and Power building is a classic modern structure from the sixties, designed by Albert C. Martin & Associates. One of the key elements of the design is the reflecting pool that borders the site. It’s not just beautiful, it’s functional, having been integrated into the system that cools the offices. But it also plays an important symbolic role. Surrounding the Department of Water and Power with an expansive reflecting pool makes a statement about how an area with limited water resources was transformed into a major city, known for its lush green lawns and sparkling swimming pools.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the Los Angeles we’re living in today.



This is the plaza above the Wilshire/Vermont Red Line station.

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And here’s a wider view of the plaza.

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The intersection at Vermont and Wilshire is a busy place. People live here, work here, eat here, shop here.

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This is Koreatown. It’s the most densley populated neighborhood in LA County. While the exact boundaries are hard to nail down, roughly speaking the area is bordered by Beverly, Vermont, Olympic and Crenshaw.

It’s important to remember that even though it’s called Koreatown, the majority of the people who live there are Latino. About half the population is of Latin American descent, compared to about a third who are of Korean descent. The area came to be associated with Koreans because the vast majority of businesses are Korean-owned.

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On the sides of the residential complex that rises above the Wilshire/Vermont plaza, you can see April Greiman’s mural “Hand Holding a Bowl of Rice”.

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You can visit the artist’s web site by clicking on the link below.

April Greiman.

Ktwn 16 Bldg New 3Directly across the street is The Vermont, a recently completed residential development comprised of two high-rise towers. This is the kind of high-end project that developers are pushing for all over LA, since they can be extremely profitable. But, not all Koreatown residents are happy about this trend. One concern is that projects like this will push rents up, making it harder for long-time residents to afford housing. Just to give you an idea, a one-bedroom apartment at The Vermont starts at $2,300 a month. In the near future, this trend will almost certainly continue, since The Vermont was recently sold for $283 million. With that kind of money being thrown around, you can be sure that developers will be knocking each other down in their rush to stake a claim in Koreatown.

Ktwn 17 Wiltern 2There are some beautiful older buildings in Koreatown, such as the Wiltern Theatre, designed by Stiles O. Clements of Morgan, Walls and Clements. This firm was a major player in LA back in the thirties and forties, designing local landmarks like Chapman Plaza, La Fonda Restaurant, and the El Capitan Theatre. The auditorium was designed by G. Albert Lansburgh, who also created interiors for the Palace and the Orpheum in downtown. I saw Tom Waits there years ago, and I can tell you that the inside is just as impressive as the outside. The Wiltern is actually part of a larger structure called the Pelissier Building, which was completed in 1931. It’s an amazing example of art deco architecture, with its blue-green tile cladding worked into elaborate zig-zag moderne designs. They don’t make ’em like this any more.

And on this stretch of Wilshire you can also find a number of bland office towers occupied by banks and financial services.

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Among the oldest buildings in Koreatown are the churches.

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Immanuel Presbyterian Church was constructed in 1928, and for decades was a center for the Anglo community that populated the area up through the middle of the twentieth century. In recent years, many of these older churches have become home to multi-cultural congregations, and have services conducted in multiple languages.

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The media has given a lot of attention to Koreatown in recent years, but mostly the stories tend to focus on the night life. Sure, there are plenty of good restaurants, and tons of bars and clubs. But Koreatown is more than just a place where you can scarf kalbi and guzzle soju til you pass out. Like any community, it has many different sides. It’s a place where art, business, technology and politics mingle and collide on a daily basis. Aside from the Korean American population, there are Central Americans, African Americans, Latinos and Anglos. Really it’s impossible to define in terms of a single ethnicity or culture.

Koreatown is relatively young, even by LA standards. The number of Koreans in the city was pretty small until the sixties. It wasn’t until 1965, when the US rewrote its immigration policies, that Koreans started arriving in large numbers. The area we now call Koreatown didn’t really come together until the seventies. Since then it has continued to grow, in terms of both population and area.

The Korean Consulate is located on Wilshire not too far from Vermont. As I was walking by one day, I saw that community members had created a memorial to the victims of the Sewol ferry disaster.

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Here in the US, the coverage of the Sewol incident was pretty limited and faded from the scene quickly. In Korea, it sparked a huge scandal, as a growing body of evidence suggested it could have been prevented. A series of protests were held in Seoul, with many people accusing the government of a cover-up and demanding that President Park Geun Hye resign. Here’s an article from the Washington Post that gives further details.

Grieving Families Want Independent Probe

Not too far off Wilshire is the Pío Pico Koreatown branch of the LA Public Library. Pico was the last Mexican governor of California before it was annexed by the United States. For many years he was one of the wealthiest and most influential people in the state, but by the time he died he was living in poverty.

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I love libraries. Maybe it’s the quiet. Maybe it’s being surrounded by people reading.

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Something about this billboard caught my eye. K-Pop isn’t just huge in Asia. It’s got a significant following in the US, too. EXO is built around an unusual concept. The band actually consists of two groups. EXO-K performs their songs in Korean, and EXO-M performs the same songs in Mandarin.

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With groups like this, obviously the music is not the focus. Some promoter has gathered a bunch of cute guys that will look good in music videos. People have been doing this for decades, but to me it’s interesting that the Korean media have managed to turn K-Pop into such a cultural phenomenon.

Also on Sixth Street, I dropped in on Red Engine Studios. Actually, that was because of a misunderstanding. I thought the place was a gallery. Turns out it’s a school. The guy at the door seemed uncertain about letting me in, but I guess he finally decided I looked harmless enough. They do have some cool art on the walls, and you can view it by visiting their site.

Red Engine Studios

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There are lots of skateboarders in Koreatown. I saw guys riding up and down the sidewalks everywhere, and there was this vacant lot on Sixth where a bunch of kids were practicing their moves.

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When I think of Koreatown, I think of malls. As I said earlier, Koreatown got its name because Korean entrepreneurs have been spectacularly successful in creating a vibrant community for businesses to thrive.

There are newer malls, that were built to house dozens of small shops.

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And there are older malls, where a bunch of businesses are crowded around a tiny parking lot.

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This one looks like it dates back to the sixties. I’m kind of fascinated by how spaces like this change over time, evolving as the neighborhood changes around them.

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Of course there are also massive indoor malls. Like Koreatown Plaza.

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I went into Music Plaza looking for traditional Korean Music. They didn’t have much of a selection. But if you’re looking for the latest K-Pop releases, this is the place to be. It may not look too busy in this photo, but I had to stand in line to make my purchase. And I feel pretty certain that they make way more on the merchandise than they do on the music.

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I’m not sure why this bookstore seems quintessentially Korean to me, but it has something to do with the colors.

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Like every other mall, Koreatown Plaza has a sizeable food court.

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Walking around the area you see that health and beauty are definitely marketable commodities. There are lots of spas and beauty parlors.

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It was the stacks of firewood that made me want to take a picture of Pollo a la Brasa.

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As large swaths of LA get gentrified and prettified, it’s cool to see an old school restaurant that isn’t too worried about its appearance. And in addition to keeping the grills going…

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…the logs also serve as benches while people wait for the bus.

Yeah, LA’s sidewalks are a mess, but I have to say I have an affection for the huge, overgrown trees that are breaking up the concrete. The thick branches spreading over this stretch of Eighth Street made it seem like a small forest.

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Ktwn 70 KIWAAnd right here on Eighth Street is the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance. KIWA has worked for years to defend the rights of workers, and is currently engaged in a campaign to fight wage theft, which is rampant in LA. One of their notable victories was helping Heriberto Zamora recover wages that had been denied him by Urasawa, a posh restaurant in Beverly Hills. Even after being cited by the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement for multiple violations related to wage theft, Urasawa resisted paying Zamora what he was owed until just before their final hearing before the DLSE. To find out more about KIWA’s work, click on the link below.


Koreatown is changing rapidly, but pieces of the past still remain. I hadn’t been to Dong Il Jang for decades, and I’d been thinking about stopping by for a while.

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The waitresses were friendly. The food was good. Even though I hadn’t been there for years, it felt familiar. And it was just reassuring to know that it was still there.

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