The River After the Rain

We had a lot of rain in February. Not long after the storms passed I took some photos of the LA River along the Glendale Narrows. While it was nothing like the raging torrent it had been a few days before, the runoff from the rains was still flowing freely. It was a great day to take a walk along the river.

Music in the Air

DSC06157

A cold December night. Or cold for LA, anyway. Probably around sixty degrees. I got off the subway at Hollywood and Vine. When I reached the second level of the station I heard this delicate music somewhere nearby. As I got closer to the next escalator, I realized that someone behind me was playing an instrument that sounded like a harp. They seemed to be walking just a few feet behind me. I didn’t recognize a melody. Just these lovely, short, phrases that sounded something like snow falling.

As I got to the last escalator leading up to Hollywood Blvd., I caught the scent of the incense from the vendor who’s usually selling his wares there. It was so cool. This lovely music following me up to the street, and this sweet perfume hanging in the air. I decided I had to say something to whoever it was, so I turned around. It was a guy who might have been in his twenties holding a very small guitar. I said something like….,

“That’s very cool. Thanks.”

I think he said,

“Thanks. Have a good day.”

“You too.”

Then I was at street level, so I turned around and walked off into the December night.

Why Do We Keep Building in Areas with High Fire Risk?

Last week was a brutal one for California. Fires have been blazing up and down the State. In Southern California the Woolsey Fire hit Los Angeles and Ventura counties, forcing evacuations in Malibu, Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks. Lives have been lost. Homes have been burned.

In recent years these blazes have become more frequent and more destructive. And while climate change is certainly a factor, there’s another issue that doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves.

We keep building in fire-prone areas. On November 14 the LA Times ran a piece by Bettina Boxall highlighting the fact that cities continue to approve projects in places that are at high risk for fires. Boxall quotes Char Miller, Director of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College.

“Why is it that at the county, city, town level, we have repeatedly green-lit development in areas that we know are fire zones?”

Good question.

Earlier this week, when everyone was wondering how long the fires would burn and what communities were at risk, I recalled a hearing I attended a couple years ago. In 2016 the City Planning Commission greenlighted a project called The Vineyards in Porter Ranch which was comprised of a shopping center, a hotel, office space and over 200 residential units. I wondered what had happened since, and did a search on the net. I found this story on Curbed saying that they’d broken ground in June 2017.

Huge Development Under Way in Porter Ranch

It seemed to me I’d heard about blazes threatening the Porter Ranch area. I wondered if the project site was at risk for fire, so I went to ZIMAS, the City’s zoning information site. Clicking on the parcel, I found that the City of LA recognizes it as a “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone”.

PR Vineyard SCREENSHOT from ZIMAS CROPPED

So what does this actually mean? Does it mean development is prohibited? No. When you click on the words “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone”, a text box pops up containing this paragraph.

Lands designated by the City of Los Angeles Fire Department pursuant to Government Code 51178 that were identified and recommended to local agencies by the Director of Forestry and Fire Protection based on criteria that includes fuel loading, slope, fire weather, and other relevant factors. These areas must comply with the Brush Clearance Requirements of the Fire Code. The Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone (VHFHSZ) was first established in the City of Los Angeles in 1999 and replaced the older “Mountain Fire District” and “Buffer Zone.”

In other words, the only requirement is compliance with LAFC regulations regarding brush clearance. So is there really any danger from fires in Porter Ranch?

Actually, yeah, there is.

A search using the words “Porter Ranch Fire” turned up a lot of results. In August of this year there was a small fire that the LAFD quickly snuffed out.

PR Fire Brush from LAFD 180809 CROPPED

Porter Ranch Brush Fire Quickly Stopped from LAFD, August 9, 2018

Another small blaze broke out last December.

PR Fire Image from Patch 171205

Porter Ranch Blaze Knocked Down from Patch, December 5, 2017

NBC reported that 15 acres burned in 2016.

PR Fire from NBC 161018 CROPPED

Brush Fire Burns in Porter Ranch

And back in 2008 the Sesnon Fire, AKA the Porter Ranch Fire, burned over 22 square miles.

Sesnon Fire from Wikipedia

As the Woolsey Fire burned this last week, ABC reported that area residents were worried about their safety.

Strong Winds Put Surrounding Communities near Porter Ranch on Edge

I’d be worried, too. In spite of the fact that the City of LA recognizes this as an area at high risk for fires, the Department of City Planning (DCP) doesn’t seem to have had any problem with approving new construction there. In addition to 266 apartments, The Vineyards includes a hotel with 100 rooms and a Kaiser medical office building. And this is one of the last open tracts in an area that has seen rapid growth since the 90s. In 2008 the DCP estimated the population was around 30,000. I wonder how quickly they’ll be able to evacuate all those people if the area is threatened by fire? Might be especially difficult at rush hour. I’ve heard traffic on Rinaldi gets pretty bad.

As California’s changing climate leads to hotter temperatures and drier vegetation, experts predict fires will become more frequent and more destructive. Why do we keep building in areas that are at risk of burning? Why do we keep putting people in harm’s way?


PS

After putting up this post, I ran across an excellent article by Emily Guerin on the same subject. She asks a lot of good questions, and gets some disturbing answers. Check it out.

Why do we keep building houses in places that burn down?

Don’t Let Sacramento Steal Your District. Tell Gov. Brown to Veto SB-1250.

CA Senate Floor

The California Legislature has sunk to a new low. At the end of this year’s legislative session they voted to approve SB-1250, which removes the requirement that California legislators live in the district they represent. Basically the bill says that anyone could be elected to represent a district as long as they maintain a residence there. In other words, a politician could live in Beverly Hills, but run to represent San Joaquin County as long as they rented an apartment there. And according to the text of SB-1250, this applies for both “The domicile of a Member of the Legislature or a Representative in the Congress of the United States….”

The implications of this are staggering. This means that any corporate-backed flunky could represent a California district even if they only flew in to campaign there. This means that stooges with enough PAC money behind them could buy themselves a seat in the legislature. And what’s even more scary is the fact that only a handful of legislators voted against this sleazy scam.

The Governor has not signed this bill yet. We need to flood Brown’s office with calls telling him to veto this assault on democracy.

On Monday, September 10, first thing in the morning, please call Governor Brown and tell him to veto SB-1250.

Phone: (916) 445-2841

If you can’t call, be sure to send an e-mail.

E-Mail Gov. Brown

And the second thing you should do is find out if your reps in the State Senate and Assembly voted for or against. Here’s the voting record.

SB-1250 Voting Record

If you don’t know who your reps are, use this link to find out.

Find Your Rep

If your reps voted to oppose this bill, call them and thank them. If they voted to approve it, don’t be shy about letting them know how you feel.

Here’s an editorial from the San Francisco Chronicle that lays it all out.

We Can Live without Legislators Who Don’t Live in their Districts

 

Garcetti Talks about Sustainability, While City Keeps Cutting Down Trees

CH Cars Trees 1 EDITED

LA’s sidewalks are in really bad shape, and this poses safety risks for anyone who uses them.

LA’s urban forest is shrinking rapidly, and this poses health risks for anyone who relies on air and water to survive.

We need to address both of these problems, but it’s going to be a real challenge.

The City’s sidewalks have been in such bad shape for so long that in 2010 a class action lawsuit was filed, Willits vs. City of Los Angeles.  In 2016 the City finalized a settlement which will require it to spend about $1.37 billion over the next 30 years to remove barriers to access for pedestrians.  One of the items high on the list is repairing sidewalks that have been ruptured by tree roots.

At the same time, LA’s urban forest has been declining for years, and unless things change, it will continue to decline for years to come.  There are a number of reasons for this, including new residential development, a drier climate, and insect infestations. 

The City could also potentially remove thousands of trees in its efforts to repair sidewalks, and this will only hasten the decline of our urban forest.  This is a serious threat, because the tree canopy is crucial to the City’s ecosystems.  Trees clean our air, help capture stormwater, and keep neighborhoods cool.  If you think the heat is intense now, remember that climate scientists project that LA is only going to get hotter over the next few decades.  Our tree canopy will play a major role in keeping the city cool.

As part of the Sidewalk Repair Program (SRP), the City is preparing to cut down 18 mature trees on the 1200 block of North Cherokee.  It could happen any day.  And the problem with this is that the City hasn’t completed the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the SRP.  The EIR will outline alternatives to removal, impose standards for tree replacement if removal is necessary, and define the requirements for maintenance and watering to insure new trees survive.

The City acknowledges that they have to do an EIR, and they’ve already started to work on it.  But now, without even having released a draft version, they’re going ahead and cutting down trees.  In other words, they’re rushing forward with the removal of trees, even though they know full well the damage it will do to our environment.

Why is Eric Garcetti allowing this?  How many times has the Mayor claimed that he’s championing sustainability?  How many times has he talked about the importance of expanding our urban forest?  Now the City is ready to start cutting down trees under the SRP, without even completing the EIR, and the Mayor’s Office is dead silent on the issue.

We can repair our sidewalks and we can grow our urban forest, but we need to plan to make sure we do the job right.  We need to finish the EIR.  We need to protect our tree canopy.  The stakes are high.  We can’t afford to blow it.

Does the Mayor really care about creating a sustainable LA?  Or are his promises just more empty words?  Maybe we should ask his Chief Sustainability Officer, Lauren Faber O’ Connor?  Why not give Ms. Faber O’ Connor a call and ask why the City is cutting down trees for sidewalk repair without even completing the EIR.

Lauren Faber O’ Connor, Chief Sustainability Officer

213 473-7078

And you can show your support for LA’s urban forest by attending a vigil/protest on Wednesday night.  Here are the details….

1200 Block of North Cherokee, Hollywood

Three blocks east of Highland, between Fountain and Lexington

Wednesday, August 1 at 8:00 pm

CH Cars Trees 3

 

Patricia Morison, 1915 – 2018

Morison Dressed to Kill

Edmund Breon and Patricia Morison in Dressed to Kill, 1946

I grew up watching the Sherlock Holmes films made in the 40s with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. A few months ago I found out a number of them were on YouTube, and one night I took a look at Dressed to Kill. I don’t know how many times I’d seen it before, but this time I was really struck by the woman who played the heavy, Hilda Courtney. Somehow I’d never noticed how good this actress was, and I stopped the movie to look her up on IMDB.

I didn’t start the movie again for quite a while. I spent a long time reading about Patricia Morison, an actress who spent years in Hollywood and never attracted any serious attention. She made films at Paramount, Universal, and Fox, but never got the parts that might have made her a star. Like so many talented actors, nobody knew what to do with her. In 1948, frustrated by her lack of success, she quit Hollywood and went back to the New York stage, and that’s when she became a star.

I won’t spend a lot of time reciting the details of her career, because you can read the Wikipedia entry for yourself. But just briefly, Cole Porter chose her for the lead in his production of Kiss Me Kate, and she was a hit. Her ability as an actress and her singing voice made her a favorite with audiences on Broadway. She later appeared in The King and I, and was active for the rest of her life on stage, in film, and on television.

So tonight I got off the subway at the Hollywood/Vine station. As I walked up to street level, I looked at the Pantages and saw this.

Morison 3

Morison actually passed away a few weeks ago. She had lived in LA from the 60s up to the time she died, and obviously made an impression on many people. In 2012 she had appeared at the Pantages in an evening titled Ladies of an Indeterminate Age. In 2015 she celebrated her 100th birthday at the Pasadena Playhouse with an event that included her singing selections from Kiss Me Kate. And throughout her later years she spent a good deal of time supporting a number of organizations including The LGBT Community Center, The Actors Fund and The Hollywood Museum.

As I write this, a few different things are going through my mind. First, I can’t say I’m sad to see her go, because it sounds like she had a long and full life and was loved by many people. Second, the fact that I discovered her so late is a reminder of how often we don’t recognize talent when it’s right in front of us. I’d seen Dressed to Kill many times, and her performance never made any impression on me until a few months ago. I can’t blame the Hollywood producers for ignoring her, because I did, too. And what’s really maddening is that I think the reason I didn’t notice her was that she was so good. I just now took a quick look at a scene from Dressed to Kill. It’s a very smart, very assured performance, and most important, she doesn’t do anything to call attention to her performance. This is the mark of a true actor, and it’s also one of the biggest dangers for someone who wants to make a living on stage or in film. If you’re really good, you disappear into the role. People don’t notice you. There are plenty of “actors” who make a name for themselves by grabbing your attention. We tend to overlook the ones who play the part without making a scene.

Third, I think about how random life is. Because I happened to watch Dressed to Kill a few months ago, when I stood across from the Pantages earlier tonight, I recognized the name Patricia Morison and it meant something to me. I’m glad I knew who she was, and in some small way I could appreciate the tribute. If I had postponed watching Dressed to Kill until later this year, I would have walked past the Pantages without thinking twice.

Life is funny that way.

If you want to find out more about Patricia Morison, here’s the obit from the New York Times. She’s definitely somebody worth knowing.

Patricia Morison, Broadway’s First Kate to Be Kissed

Morison Pasadena Playhouse 2014