How Do We Help the Homeless?

Notice outside of vacant homes on Roscoe Blvd. in Panorama City.

Notice outside of vacant homes on Roscoe Blvd. in Panorama City.

If you live in LA, by now you’ve gotten used to the fact that homeless people are part of the landscape. No matter where you go, Downtown, Koreatown, Hollywood, Van Nuys, you see people living on the streets. It used to be that homelessness was one of those things you could escape by running to the suburbs, but not any more. Nowadays Burbank, Glendale, Encino, all have their share of people living in tents and cardboard boxes. The homeless are everywhere, and there’s no simple solution.

The homeless population in Panorama City has been growing for a long time. For a while there was a large encampment off of Van Nuys Blvd. over by Smart & Final. Not too long ago the City dismantled it, but of course, that didn’t solve the problem. The residents of the camp were dispersed, but they didn’t go away. They just bundled up their stuff and moved it somewhere else.

Homeless encampment near Roscoe and Lennox.

Homeless encampment near Roscoe and Lennox.

Another shot of the makeshift shelter.

Another shot of the makeshift shelter.

At the corner of Roscoe and Lennox there was a row of houses that were empty. A developer had bought them intending to tear them down, but since work on the project hadn’t started yet, the homes just stood there, vacant. It wasn’t long before a group of homeless people decided to move in. The police chased them out, but instead of leaving the area, they simply created a makeshift shelter on the parkway in front of the houses. As weeks went by the shelter grew larger and longer, until it was difficult to pass on the sidewalk.

Vacant houses near Roscoe and Lennox.

Vacant houses near Roscoe and Lennox.

A view from the alley behind the vacant homes.

A view from the alley behind the vacant homes.

I was curious to find out what was going on with the empty houses, so I contacted Councilmember Nury Martinez’ office. I got a call back from her Communications Director, Adam Bass, who told me that the developer had pulled a demolition permit for the houses, though he wasn’t sure when they’d actually be bulldozed. I asked how Councilmember Martinez was dealing with the homeless situation in her district, and he informed me that earlier this year a new program had been launched in CD 6. The Homeless Outreach and Proactive Engagement (HOPE) initiative brings together the LAPD, the Bureau of Sanitation, and the LA Homeless Services Authority to engage with those living on the streets. While the City still clears away illegal encampments, the idea is to offer assistance to those who want it. Bass told me that since May, the HOPE initiative had helped dozens of homeless people in the Valley, in some cases finding them space in shelters and in others giving a hand to those looking for jobs. Over the summer the program expanded into the LAPD’s Central and West bureaus, and next month it’ll move into South LA.

This is a big improvement over the City’s past efforts. Some of City Hall’s recent attempts to deal with the homeless have been outrageously heavy-handed. Their efforts were so draconian that they were challenged in court three times, and the City lost every time. So the idea of a multi-pronged approach that brings different agencies together to offer assistance is a welcome one, and I’m glad it’s been successful so far. But unfortunately, the problem is so big and so complex that it’s going to take a lot more to bring about real change.

There are no easy answers. I’ve talked to a lot of people about this issue, and everybody’s got ideas, but there’s no consensus. In November there will be a measure on the City ballot to approve a $1.2 billion bond which would pay for construction of permanent supportive housing. At the same time, the County is expected to ask voters to approve a quarter cent sales tax increase which would help provide new services to the homeless. These initiatives could make a big difference, but really they both have to pass in order to make things work. To construct new housing without expanding staff to provide support for the homeless would be a waste of money, and the same goes for offering additional support without getting people off the streets.

And it could be that both of these measures will go down. In this upcoming election, the City, County and State are asking voters to approve billions in taxes and bond measures, and it seems possible that many voters, overwhelmed by the flood of initiatives, won’t be in the mood to approve anything.

As for other ideas on how to help the homeless, some people have suggested that the City use existing vacant housing to provide shelter. My feeling is that without support services, this would be futile. The idea of gathering tens of thousands of homeless together in empty buildings without offering mental health services, help for addicts or counseling seems like a recipe for disaster. Another proposal is to get the state and/or federal government to kick in more money. Garcetti already tried that. It went nowhere.

Personally, I think the most important thing is to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place. This probably sounds so obvious you may ask why I’m even mentioning it, but it’s important to keep in mind. One of the leading causes of homelessness is eviction, and thousands of LA tenants have been kicked out of their homes in recent years. In part, this is because the City offers incentives to developers that make it very tempting for them to take advantage of the Ellis Act. If City Hall really wants to make a dent in the homeless problem, our elected officials need to stop rewarding landlords who throw their tenants out. The recent passage of an ordinance to crack down on “cash for keys” scams is a good start, but City Hall needs to do more. If you don’t want people living on the streets, then you need to do everything possible to keep them in their homes.

Demolition of the houses on Roscoe.

Demolition of the houses on Roscoe.

Earlier this month, the homeless encampment on Roscoe was dismantled. Around the same time, the houses that had been standing empty were demolished. But it’s only a matter of time before another makeshift shelter springs up in the neighborhood. This problem isn’t going away any time soon.

pc-a7-flat-alley

The Sky Above, the Traffic Below

a MTA UC 10 Persp

Lately most of the press on the MTA has been about its rail expansions, but there are other, smaller projects that deserve attention, too. Work was recently completed on both the North Hollywood Station Underpass and the Universal City Pedestrian Bridge. There have been some complaints from transit advocates about these projects, but I have to say I think both offer significant benefits.

The smaller and less flashy of the two is the underpass. The construction phase was a huge pain, but now that it’s finished I think it’s a big improvement over the previous set-up. Using the tunnel to transfer from the Red Line to the Orange Line is much faster, and much safer. I remember waiting for the light to change so I could cross Lankershim, and I’d see people dashing across the street, dodging oncoming traffic, just so they could catch an Orange Line bus. So it’s definitely a step up in terms of safety. I also like the bright, playful design of the underpass. It fits in well with vibe of the Red Line Station.

Street level entrance to the North Hollywood Station Underpass.

Street level entrance to the North Hollywood Station Underpass.

A closer view of the entrance.

A closer view of the entrance.

Looking down the stairwell.

Looking down the stairwell.

Looking up the stairwell.

Looking up the stairwell.

The first time I checked out the bridge at Universal City I had some reservations. While it’s an interesting structure, my initial reaction was that it was a little too severe. But while I was taking photos the other day, I was really impressed by the spaces it creates, and also how it exploits the views of the surrounding community. On one side you have the low roll of the Hollywood Hills, on the other side the Valley is stretching out to the horizon. Look up and you see massive high-rises cutting into the sky, look down and you see the traffic swirling on the street below.

A view from the west side of the Universal City Pedestrian Bridge.

A view from the west side of the Universal City Pedestrian Bridge.

Looking across the bridge to Universal City.

Looking across the bridge to Universal City.

Looking down on Lankershim Blvd..

Looking down on Lankershim Blvd..

A view of the Hollywood Hills.

A view of the Hollywood Hills.

A crowd of people leaving the theme park.

A crowd of people leaving the theme park.

Another shot of Lankershim.

Another shot of Lankershim.

Shadows stretching across the bridge as the sun goes down.

Shadows stretching across the bridge as the sun goes down.

The west end of the bridge, with the hills in the distance.

The west end of the bridge, with the hills in the distance.

Transit planning is a large and complicated puzzle. I don’t claim to understand all the intricacies, and I know that some people feel the money spent on these projects could have been used for other purposes. But I see definite advantages in both the bridge and the underpass. I’m glad to have them.

a MTA UC 75 Brdg Silh

Moving Forward in Reseda

The Reseda Theater

The Reseda Theater

A little over a year ago I wrote a post about how people in Reseda were frustrated. For years the business district in the heart of the community has been struggling, and projects that were supposed to revitalize the area somehow never materialized.

Well, there’s been some progress since then. Just recently a deal was struck to reopen the long vacant Reseda Theater as a multiplex, and to create 34 units for senior citizens adjacent to the building. The multiplex will be operated by Laemmle Theatres, which played a part in revitalizing North Hollywood with its complex there.

This deal is just a first step. Members of the community have been struggling for years to revitalize the neighborhood, and many hope that this project signals a turnaround. The Reseda Neighborhood Council and Councilmember Bob Blumenfield have worked hard to engage the community and rustle up the money to make this happen. For more details, see this article from the Daily News.

Reseda Theater to become Laemmle Multiplex

But redevelopment is only part of the equation. Bringing new life to a community requires a lot more than investment. It’s really about people. Creating community means creating a sense that the people who live in the area are connected, that they share something more than a zip code. This piece from the LA Weekly caught my attention.

Reseda Rising Artwalk Proves the Valley Is Cool

The artwalk was put together by 11:11 ACC and the Department of Cultural Affairs. I’d never heard of 11:11 ACC before, so I took a look at their web site and found out that they’re an artists’ collective operating in the San Fernando Valley. Sounds like an interesting group. If you want to check them out, here’s the link.

11:11 ACC

Seems like things are finally happening in Reseda. Hopefully this is just the beginning.

Glendale Municipal Services Building

GCC 01 Crnr Full

LA has a remarkable architectural history. For decades writers and photographers have been documenting our homes and hotels, coffee shops and car washes, but there are still plenty of buildings that haven’t gotten nearly the attention they deserve. A prime example is the Glendale Municipal Services Building. It’s kind of surprising, given that the GMSB sits right out in the open at the corner of Glendale and Broadway, and that one of LA’s best known architectural firms was involved in the design.

The side of the building facing Broadway.

The side of the building facing Broadway.

Northwest corner of the building.

Northwest corner of the building.

Probably part of the reason for its neglect is that it’s in Glendale. When most people think about LA architecture, they think of Downtown or Hollywood or the West Side. Generally speaking, the Valley isn’t seen as a hotbed of innovation in design, though it does have its share of interesting structures. No question, the GMSB is one of them.

The building is lifted above street level by pylons of steel and concrete.

The building is lifted above street level by pylons of steel and concrete.

A close-up of one of the pylons.

A close-up of one of the pylons.

Stairway leading to the first level.

Stairway leading to the first level.

The fountain at the center of the courtyard.

The fountain at the center of the courtyard.

Another shot of the stairway.

Another shot of the stairway.

In surfing the net, I didn’t come up with a lot of information about the GMSB. Every web site I’ve been to mentions both Merrill Baird and the A.C. Martin firm. Baird is pretty obscure. It seems not much is known about him. The only other examples of his work I could uncover were a few homes, all in pretty traditional styles. Based on what I’ve seen, his involvement in a cutting-edge modern structure like the GMSB is pretty surprising.  It seems he had more to offer than his previous work suggests.  The Los Angeles Conservancy’s web site credits Baird with revealing the supporting pylons by removing decorative columns that were originally part of the GMSB’s design. Click on the link below to read more.

Municipal Services Building from LA Conservancy

All offices open onto the central atrium.

All offices open onto the central atrium.

A decorative pattern is worked into the railing.

A decorative pattern is worked into the railing.

There are three stories of offices, but the building is lifted off the ground at its base by concrete supports. To enter the GMSB, you walk down into the central courtyard, and then use the stairs or the elevator to get to the upper floors. All the offices open onto the central atrium, and there are plenty of windows allowing workers to enjoy natural light. Even though traffic is constantly flowing on the surrounding streets, the space at the center of the building is quiet and peaceful.

A shot of the fountain from above.

A shot of the fountain from above.

And a shot of the stairway from above.

And a shot of the stairway from above.

Walkway on the third level.

Walkway on the third level.

GCC 19 Crnr Up a

The Conservancy’s web site describes the building as brutalist. While some of its features connect it to that school, it doesn’t have the heavy, blunt appearance of other brutalist structures. Generally the apartment blocks and office buildings built in that style tend to dominate the landscape. But not this one. It has a totally different vibe. It illuminates the landscape.

GCC 50 Glndl Side

Death by a Thousand Cuts

MTA 4

Not too long ago I was riding the bus and saw a pamphlet on display. The title was Public Hearing on Proposed Service Changes. Even before I picked it up, I more or less knew what it was about. The “service changes” are mostly service cuts, yet another round of reductions by the MTA.

This isn’t surprising. Last I checked, the MTA was running an operating deficit of over $30 million a year, and that deficit will continue to grow. One solution would be to raise fares, but the last time they did that there was a decline in ridership. Of course, ridership has been going down for a while now. Some argue that the decline may be reversable, and point to the rail extensions that are currently under construction. New rail stops will bring new riders, but they will also increase operating costs. And actually, fares don’t nearly cover what it takes to run the system. I really doubt that increased ridership from these extensions will make a serious difference in the budget picture.

There’s no simple solution here. While I’m not happy about further cutbacks, I know Metro is probably doing the best they can to balance their budget under challenging circumstances. But I’ve gotta say, it’s getting harder and harder to get around LA on public transit. A number of the lines I use regularly run only once an hour. The Rapid busses, which were great to start with, don’t run as often as they used to. I don’t read when I ride the bus, but I’ve started taking a book with me when I’m going somewhere because I never know how long I’ll be waiting to make a connection.

What I’m leading up to here, is that I’m really starting to question the MTA’s long term strategy. For years now we’ve been told that we need to invest in rail to solve our transit problems. Well, we’ve built a lot of rail, and things don’t seem to be getting any better. Looking at the budget issues and the trend in ridership, I don’t believe the rail we’re building now is going to make a huge difference. At some point we have to ask ourselves if this approach is working.

That brings us to Measure R2, the ballot initiative we’ll be voting on in November, which will increase the sales tax to raise billions for transit. About 40% of the projected revenue will go to rail projects, and looking at the results we’ve gotten from rail so far, I’m increasingly skeptical about whether this is the right way to go. Trains are great if you’re travelling in a straight line from point A to point B, but as soon as you get away from that straight line, things start getting complicated. Rail works great in New York, where the system is centered on a very dense urban core. LA is much more spread out, and even though Downtown is attracting more residents and businesses, it doesn’t function as the City’s center the way Manhattan does. There are those who argue we need to build high density hubs along transit lines, which sounds good, but City Hall has been pushing that policy for years and it’s not producing the promised results. Transit ridership is down. If our leaders had pursued a policy of building affordable housing that would make job centers easily accessible by rail, it might be a different story. But renting near rail stops is pretty pricey. A studio at Noho Commons goes for $1,777. Digs at the Jefferson in Hollywood start at $2,238. And I don’t know what they’ll be charging at the Wilshire Grand, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be more than the average transit rider can afford.

MTA 5 a

Measure R2 will deliver other things besides rail, and I don’t want to say I’m opposed to it, but at this point I can’t say I’ll vote yes. It seems like there are others who have doubts as well. This post on StreetsBlog breaks down the MTA’s 2016 budget, and raises some important issues. The comments are worth reading, too.

A Preview of Metro’s $5.6 Billion Fiscal Year 2016 Budget from StreetsBlog LA

I also came across this article in the Daily News that talks about how the Valley has gotten less than its share of transit infrastructure in the past, and how leaders on that side of town are worried about getting shortchanged again with R2. One of the points the author makes is that with big infrastructure projects, the longer they’re delayed, the more expensive they become.

What the Valley Would Get, and Not Get, in New Transportation Tax from Daily News

LA County is promoting R2 in order to fund a massive expansion of our rail network. Basically I’m asking if rail is really worth the money, time and trouble. Busses are much cheaper and much more flexible. Also, investing in busses won’t saddle the MTA with a huge debt load the way these infrastructure projects will. Debt service already accounts for a significant portion of the agency’s budget, and expanding the rail lines will make that burden even heavier.

You’re going to be hearing a lot about R2 in the coming months. City, County and State officials are already making an aggressive push to promote it. Again, I’m not saying I oppose it, but as you listen to our elected officials give their spiel, ask yourself if our public transit policy is taking us in the right direction. And if not, is it time to change course?

MTA 1

Pop Culture Past

VR 10 RR

Pop culture wasn’t meant to last. As the twentieth century kicked into high gear, products made for mass consumption were pumped out as fast as possible, generally with the idea that whatever the masses were dying to have one day would be tossed away the very next day. Permanence was considered passé. Forget about making things that would last forever. The idea was to make stuff that would last long enough to make a profit, and then jump on whatever trend came next. Studios threw out prints of old movies to free up storage space. Comic publishers tossed original art when their filing cabinets got too full. And developers bulldozed old buildings when they were past their prime.

But of course, people started falling in love with this stuff. In some cases it was just a sentimental attachment we felt for things we grew up with. In other cases we’d realize that this object we’d taken for granted was actually the product of careful, thoughtful design. And occasionally we’d come across something really beautiful. Some of this stuff was just too cool to throw away.

VR 55 VdK

You can find a staggering display of artifacts from our pop culture past at Valley Relics Museum. Curator Tommy Gelinas has been scouring the San Fernando Valley for twenty years looking for items that have something to say about the area’s history. The museum was set up as a non-profit in 2012, and in 2013 they opened their doors to the public.

Valley Relics is located in a business park in Chatsworth. It’s a small space, but it’s jam packed with objects ranging from the mundane to the bizarre. It’s kind of like if the Valley had an attic where people would put stuff they couldn’t use any more but couldn’t bear to part with. There are custom cars, video games, movie posters and plenty of neon.

VR 35 Ashtrays

But even though a lot of what they have on display belongs to the world of pop culture, Valley Relics has a broader mission. Here’s what they say on their web site.

Our endeavor is to collect, preserve, interpret, and present the history of The San Fernando Valley and surrounding areas in order to share with residents and visitors alike the stories of those who shaped the region and its role in the nation’s development.

So they’re not just trying to build a funhouse for nostalgia freaks. They’re really trying to tell the story of the Valley, and it’s high time somebody did. The massive plain that spreads toward the north from the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains generally gets short shrift when people talk about LA history, but you can’t really talk about the film or aerospace industries without talking about the Valley.

Of course cars played a huge part in the growth of the Valley. There were a couple of custom cars on display that caught my attention. One is the gaudy convertible driven by the owner of Nudie’s, the tailor that created one-of-a-kind outfits for country western luminaries.

VR 20 Car

The other is a humble VW decorated with a dizzying collage of images by artist Kent Bash. According to the text panel, the inside is supposed to be pretty cool, too, but it was hard to get a good look.

VR 25 VW

Music is a big part of the Valley’s history. It warmed my heart too see the sign from the Palomino glowing softly at the back of the building.

VR 45 Palomino

The club itself has been gone for years, but in its heyday it hosted many of the greatest stars of country music. Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson and many others played there. I only went a few times, but I will always remember catching the Collins Kids at the Palomino. It was one of the best shows I’ve seen in my life.

VR 40 Joni

Valley Relics is a young museum, and they have a lot of work to do. Right now it seems like the idea is to just display as much stuff as possible. The collection could be better organized, and it would help if there were more text to give visitors some background. Their biggest problem is lack of space. The day I was there I spoke to a guy who said they had tons of objects stored in a warehouse, and that they’re looking for a larger building. I hope they find some place a little closer to the center of the Valley. I’m sure plenty of people would dig the collection, but the location makes it kind of a long trip for most Angelenos.

Still, it’s definitely worth the trouble. Right now their hours are limited, only 10 am to 3 pm on Saturdays, but admission is free. If you do make the trip out there, and if you’re as impressed as I was, I’d urge you to put some money in the box for donations. Gelinas and company have gathered some amazing artifacts, and they’re telling a story that even people who live in this city don’t know much about. Right now they’re trying to take it to the next level. Let’s hope they can pull it off.

Here’s the link to the web site. You should check this place out.

Valley Relics

VR 50  Shoe

Money Talks, and the City Council Listens

Hills on the west side of Coldwater Canyon

Hills on the west side of Coldwater Canyon


This post was updated on March 14, 2016.

I saw an article on CityWatch today about Harvard-Westlake School’s continuing efforts to expand their campus on Coldwater Canyon. I’ve posted about this crazy project before, but reading the article made me want to do a follow-up. For those of you who haven’t been following the controversy, here’s a brief summary….

Harvard-Westlake, an elite prep school located in the hills just above Ventura Blvd., wants to build a three story parking lot that would hold 750 cars just across the road from their campus on Coldwater Canyon. But that’s not all. The structure would be capped by an athletic field, with the perimeter ringed by powerful lighting to accommodate night games. And to facilitate access, they want to build a bridge across Coldwater to connect the structure to the campus.

There are a lot of reasons to oppose this. The fact that the project would mean the removal of over 100 protected trees and 100,000 cubic yards of soil from the hillside is scary enough. Plus the loss of habitat for wildlife that lives in the hills. But we should also ask why, at a time when the City of LA is constantly telling us we need to reduce our carbon footprint, is Harvard-Westlake building a parking lot that will make it easier for people to drive to their campus?

But the CityWatch article focusses on efforts by people associated with Harvard-Westlake to push this project through. According to the author, a number of these people have given generously to Councilmember Paul Krekorian’s campaign committee. Now, there’s no law against giving money to a candidate, and for anybody living in LA, it’s certainly no surprise to hear about rich power players throwing money at the City Council. But it’s important to remember that the school is a 501C3, and there are strict rules about non-profit groups engaging in political activities. Here’s a quote from the IRS Compliance Guide for 501C3 Public Charities.

Political Campaign Intervention

Public charities are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) a candidate for public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violation of this prohibition may result in revocation of tax-exempt status and/or imposition of certain excise taxes.

I took a look at the LA Ethics Commission web site, and found 14 people associated with Harvard-Westlake who all decided to throw something in Krekorian’s campaign coffers around the same time, from late October through late November 2014. That does seem a little suspicious. Especially since 9 of the 14 contributions are listed under the same date, November 3, 2014. Sure sounds like a coordinated effort to me. If that’s true, it would certainly be a violation of the law. The language in the IRS Compliance Guide is pretty clear. “Public charities are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) a candidate for public office.”

Sounds to me like these people broke the law. Does Krekorian care? I guess not, since he kept the money.

If you want to learn more about the situation, here’s a link to Save Coldwater Canyon, a group that opposes the project.

Save Coldwater Canyon

Waking Up in the Park

NH 05 Pk Tree Shad

I’ve been going past North Hollywood Park since I was a kid, but I’ve hardly ever set foot in it. Lately, though, every time I’ve gone by I’ve felt like I needed to check it out. So I finally decided to take the time.

NH 07 Pk Tent

God knows what possessed me to go over there at seven in the morning. I’m barely awake at that hour. But it was cool because I had the park mostly to myself. The sun was just coming up and the only other people around were the dog walkers and the joggers. Not that the park was quiet. It’s bounded on all sides by major roadways, occupying the triangle made by Chandler, Tujunga and the Hollywood Freeway.

NH 14 Pk Church

You can see the traffic backed up on Tujunga. And you can also see St. Paul’s First Lutheran Church in the background. I looked on the net for a history of the church, but didn’t find much. Their web site said the congregation has been active in the area since the twenties, but didn’t offer too many details. I was curious about the campus, because it’s an interesting mix of old and new styles.

Also across the street from the park is Masonic Lodge #542.

NH 15 Pk Mason

Freemasonry has pretty much disappeared these days, but it played a large part in European and American history for hundreds of years. Ben Franklin, W. A. Mozart, Simón Bolívar, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie were all Masons. The history of Freemasonry is long and complex, and because it was a secret society there’s much that will never be known. Some people see it as an important fraternal organization that helped shaped democracy, others see it as a band of power mad imperialists who wanted to rule the world. If you’re into conspiracy theories, you can’t go wrong with the Masons. There are all sorts of crazy stories out there. But to get back to Lodge #542, in its heyday its members included many Hollywood luminaries like Clark Gable, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy and Audie Murphy. The Los Angeles Conservancy has a nice write-up about the building’s design.

Masonic Lodge #542 at The Los Angeles Conservancy

Inside the park itself is the North Hollywood Amelia Earhart Library. This beautiful little Mission style building was originally constructed in 1929, and it was designed by architects Lewis Eugene Weston and Lewis Eugene Weston, Jr..

The front of the Amelia Earhart Library.

The front of the Amelia Earhart Library.

A side view of the library's entrance.

A side view of the library’s entrance.

The back of the library.

The back of the library.

In the decades since it was built, the library has undergone a number of transformations. Like so many buildings, it’s been adapted over and over again as the community around it changed. To learn more, follow the link below.

Amelia Earhart Regional Branch History at LAPL

If you’re wondering why this branch library is named after Amelia Earhart, it’s because she was living in nearby Toluca Lake at the time she took off on her final flight. There’s also a statue of Earhart in the park at the corner of Tujunga and Magnolia.

NH 30 Pk Amelia

Honestly, until yesterday the only thing I knew about this early aviator was that she died trying to fly around the world. After doing a little reading, I found out that she racked up a number of impressive accomplishments in her short life. You might want to do a little reading about her yourself.

Amelia Earhart Bio

Even though there wasn’t a lot happening at seven a.m., the park is often crowded when I go by in the afternoon. Activities are offered for people of all ages, and there are plenty of folks who go there just to hang out. In spite of the cars rushing along the park’s perimeter, once you get away from the traffic it’s easy to forget about the city buzzing around you. The paths wend their way through large expanses of grass. There are fabulous old trees rising up above you.

NH 33 Pk Flowers

For years I’ve been rushing past this beautiful park, convinced I didn’t have the time to stop and linger. We get so caught up in being busy that we tell ourselves we can’t take a break. We’re plugged into so many different things that we’re bombarded with stimulus all day long, and we convince ourselves it has to be that way. It doesn’t. We need to step away from the traffic, phones, TV, etc., and let ourselves walk on the grass, feel the breeze, lose ourselves in the blue of the sky.

We need to take the time for a walk in the park.

NH 50 Pk Wide

Pros and Cons of Expanding Transit

It’s hard to even keep track of all the different projects that the MTA is working on throughout the county. New rail lines are being constructed, old ones are being expanded, and improvements are being made to increase safety and ease of use. The photos below represent just some of the projects that are currently under construction.

In Little Tokyo, work is beginning on the Regional Connector. This will be a 1.9-mile underground light-rail system that connects the Gold Line to the 7th Street/Metro Station. It will also make it easier for passengers to transfer to the Red, Purple, Blue and Expo Lines.

First and Central, future site of a stop for the Regional Connector

First and Central, future site of a stop for the Regional Connector

Material and equipment stored on the site at First and Central

Material and equipment stored on the site at First and Central

Construction on the Crenshaw/LAX Line started last year. This will be 8.5 miles of light rail running from the Expo Line to the Green Line, with below-grade, at-grade and elevated segments.

Crenshaw/LAX Line construction site at Crenshaw and Exposition

Crenshaw/LAX Line construction site at Crenshaw and Exposition

Another shot of the site from Crenshaw and Rodeo

Another shot of the site from Crenshaw and Rodeo

This project could provide a huge boost to businesses along the line, although there are already signs that it could encourage gentrification which may drive long-time residents and business owners out of the area. Click on the link below to see what may be in store for the community once the line is finished.

Plan to Turn BHCP into a 24-Hour Community

There are smaller projects going forward, too. In North Hollywood, a subterranean tunnel will connect the Red Line station to the Orange Line station just across the street. This is a great idea, and hopefully will reduce the number of riders dashing across Lankershim against red lights in order to make a connection.

Construction of subterranean tunnel in North Hollywood

Construction of subterranean tunnel in North Hollywood

Another shot of construction at the North Hollywood site

Another shot of construction at the North Hollywood site

The photos below are a few months old, but they show MTA crews working on the Purple Line expansion at Wilshire and Fairfax. By day, traffic flowed through the intersection as usual. But at night, construction crews would show up with barricades, heavy machinery and blinding lights. This project highlights the problems of constructing a major transit line in a dense urban area.

Crews working through the night at Wilshire and Fairfax

Crews working through the night at Wilshire and Fairfax

Another shot of construction at Wilshire and Fairfax

Another shot of construction at Wilshire and Fairfax

All this sounds great in theory, but this kind of rapid expansion brings plenty of problems with it. I don’t have a car, so I use public transit almost every day. If you ask a simple question like, “Are you glad that the MTA is expanding its transit network?”, I can give you a simple answer like, “Yes.” But if you ask, “What long-term impacts will this expansion have on the City of LA?”, the answers are much more complicated.

In my mind, the biggest thing to worry about is whether or not we can afford all these projects. The MTA is facing a long-term budget shortfall, which could seriously impact its ability to function. Last year they raised the cost of the day pass and the monthly pass by 40% and 30% respectively. But there are almost certainly more increases to come, and it’s uncertain whether riders will pay the higher prices. Here’s an article that LA Streetsblog published in January of this year. It explains that while last year’s fare increase brought revenue up, it may have brought ridership down. If that trend continues, we’re in deep trouble.

MTA Revenue Up, Ridership Down

The MTA is receiving tons of federal funding for these projects, but those funds depend not just on increasing ridership, but also on increasing the share of operating costs covered by fares. If we see a decrease in ridership and/or revenue, we may not be able to count on the money from the feds.

Some people will point to the fact that the LA City Council just voted for a huge increase in the minimum wage, saying that this will enable low-income riders to afford future fare hikes. I don’t buy it. First, the cost of living in LA is increasing at a phenomenal rate. The amount we spend on housing is skyrocketing, DWP rates could easily double or triple, and food is getting more expensive as the impacts of the drought become more pronounced. A significant rise in the cost of public transit will be just one more blow to the bank accounts of minimum wage workers. And there are thousands of MTA riders who don’t even earn minimum wage. LA is the wage theft capitol of the country. Lots of people who work in the restaurant and garment industries are already being paid below the minimum, not to mention the undocumented workers who will take whatever they can get. Many of these people need public transit to get around, and none of them will earn a nickel more after the minimum wage rises.

I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t extend the reach of public transit, but I do question whether this massive expansion is sustainable. I guess all we can do is wait and see.

Blocking Progress

The Reseda Theater

The Reseda Theater

The Reseda Theater has been sitting vacant for over 25 years. Built it 1948, it was part of a small business district clustered around the intersection of Reseda Blvd. and Sherman Way. As the suburbs grew in the years after WWII, neighborhood theatres like this popped up all over the Valley, showing inexpensive double features and drawing crowds of kids on weekends with matinees.

Those days are long gone. The Reseda closed in 1988, and suffered damage in the 1994 Northridge quake. Community members spent years trying to make something happen at the site, and in 2008 it looked like their efforts might pay off. The Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) announced a public-private partnership with developer CIM, and each of them purchased additional parcels near the theatre. The idea was that The Reseda would be reopened as a dinner theatre, hosting different kinds of entertainment. The additional parcels would be used to further revitalize the neighborhood.

A row of shops directly opposite the theater

A row of shops directly opposite the theater

But that never happened. In an article that appeared in CityWatch last week, former LA City Councilmember Dennis Zine laid the blame squarely on CIM. Zine claims that after raising the community’s hopes, the developer never followed through. Instead, CIM has been sitting on their parcels for years, with no intention of developing them. According to Zine, their plan is to sell the parcels to the City at a profit.

Vacant lot directly behind the theater

Vacant lot directly behind the theater

After reading Zine’s piece, I wanted to get more details, so I contacted Revitalize Reseda, a non-profit formed by community members who hope to inject some life into the area. The response I got from Walt Sweeney pretty much echoed what Zine had to say. “CIM was not a good business partner in Reseda,” he writes. “By stalling the project, CIM eventually ran into funding problems. The recession was the final nail in the coffin.” Sweeney says that CIM has received offers on their parcels that would have allowed them to sell out at a profit, but have decided instead to sit on the properties, to the detriment of the neighborhood. “Even though CIM has the expertise, money, and manpower, I would rather see anyone else develop this project. CIM has shown itself to not be a good community partner.”

Sounds pretty frustrated. And who can blame him? There’s substantial support in the community to bring this neighborhood back, but there’s no hope as long as the developer hangs on to these properties. If CIM doesn’t want to do anything with the parcels, they should sell them off. As it is, they’re just holding the community back.

The marquee of The Reseda Theater

The marquee of The Reseda Theater

If you want to read Dennis Zine’s piece in CityWatch, here’s the link.

Development in LA Is Out of Control

And if you want to connect with Revitalize Reseda, click on the link below.

Revitalize Reseda

Another view of the shops opposite the theater

Another view of the shops opposite the theater