Losing Local News

LAist Graphic

You may have already heard that the local news web site LAist has been shut down. This was actually part of a larger move by the new owner of DNAinfo, which included snuffing out sister sites in New York, Chicago, Washington DC and San Francisco.

The link below is to a piece written by Julia Wick, former editor-in-chief at LAist. I’ll let her give you the gory details. But as sad as it is to see LAist go, there’s a much larger problem here than the loss of a single web site.

We’re losing local news coverage. The LA Times and the Daily News have suffered massive cutbacks, which means they’re doing much less coverage of city and county politics. The few community newspapers left are struggling to stay alive. Radio is increasingly controlled by large corporations who aren’t interested in covering local news. And forget about TV. They’re so caught up in crime videos and celebrity gossip they hardly pay attention to what’s going on at City Hall or in our schools.

This is a serious problem, because we’re less and less aware of what’s going on around us. Voter turnout has been declining for decades, I think in part because people don’t even know what the issues are. Decreasing public awareness of issues that impact our lives makes it easier for politicians and other power brokers to bend and break the law.

And don’t tell me the internet is going to solve the problem. Sure, it’s true we now have access to more news than ever before, but social media allows people to focus only on the news they want to hear. People visit the web sites that feed their appetites, requiring less and less involvement with the world around them. The people at City Hall like that. It means they don’t have to worry about public scrutiny. It leaves them free to serve the interests that fund their campaigns.

I don’t know what the solution is, but if we don’t reverse this trend, we’re going to be in worse trouble than we are now. And we’re already in a lot of trouble.

Everyone Should Fear What Happened to the Gothamist Sites


Use Your Creative Mind

Crenshaw Sign 1

Last night I was walking down Crenshaw at dusk.  As I came up to the onramp for the Santa Monica Freeway I saw some signs fixed to a pole.  I thought the message was cool, so I pulled out my camera and snapped a few photos..

Crenshaw Sign 2

As I was taking the pictures, I wondered who put these signs up.  I didn’t have to wonder long.  He was standing a few feet away.  He came up to me and asked me why people didn’t use their creative mind.  It was a good question, and I didn’t have an answer.  We started talking.  He told me he thought the richest soil in the world was the soil you find in a cemetery, because so many people take their thoughts to the grave.

He told me his name was Lovell.  I told him I did a blog about LA, and asked if I could take his picture.  He said fine.

Crenshaw Lovell 1

We probably talked for about ten minutes.  Then I said goodbye and moved on.  But I was really glad I met Lovell.  He’s interesting guy, and he’s an optimist.  He really believes people can make the world a better place if they just allow themselves to explore their own potential.

It was a message I needed to hear.  The world seems so scary these days.  There’s so much violence and hate.  So much poverty and fear.  At times it feels like there’s no hope at all.  So it was good to talk to someone who does have hope.  Someone who believes we can change things for the better, if only we can just change ourselves.

Crenshaw Sign 3


A Crash Course in Asian American Activism

CAM 01 Ext Sign Stand

A while ago I read in the LA Weekly that the Chinese American Museum was presenting an exhibit about the Asian American activist movement from the 60s through the 80s.  It caught my attention for two reasons.  First, I had no idea that Asian Americans played a significant part in that era’s counterculture.  Second, I didn’t even know we had a Chinese American Museum in LA.  So I figured it was time to learn more about both.

It was well worth taking the trip to Downtown.  The museum is in a historic building just off the plaza at El Pueblo de Los Angeles.  Before I even got to the exhibition about Asian American activism, I spent some time with two smaller shows on the ground floor.  Journeys and Origins deal with Chinese migration to the US and the formation of Chinese communities in LA.  These shows are small, but beautifully put together, with a rich collection of artifacts.

CAM 10 Imm Room

Exhibits on the first floor document Chinese migration to the US.

CAM 12 Imm Page

Documents and photos help tell the story.

CAM 14 Imm Chairs

Furniture, cookery, toys and textiles are featured.

CAM Imm Abacus

Does anyone under 40 even know what an abacus is?

Then I went upstairs to check out the main attraction, Roots, Asian American Movements in Los Angeles, 1968-80s.

CAM 20 Rts Title

This show was a real eye opener.  Like I said before, I had no idea Asian Americans were so much a part of the counterculture in the 60s and 70s.  In one respect what they accomplished is even more impressive than the Black and Latino movements, because the Asian community was so much more diverse.  Activists representing Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Filipino and other cultures made a conscious effort to work together to push for change.  These groups did not have a shared history, and at times had been bitterly divided, but they realized they had a better chance of being heard if they spoke with one voice.

CAM 22 Rts Shirts

Silkscreened T-shirts were one way of spreading the message.

CAM 23 Rts Buttons

Activists worked to address a variety of issues.

CAM 24 Rts Records

Music was another way of reaching out.

CAM 26 Rts Gidra

Gidra published news, commentary and art from 1969 through 1974.

CAM 28 Rts X

Come-Unity promoted cooperation across racial boundaries.

In the 60s pop culture was exploding, and members of the movement recognized that mass media was a powerful tool for getting the word out.  The show includes records, magazines, posters and other artifacts from the era.  Staging concerts, printing posters and making T-shirts helped spread awareness beyond the community.  While these activists addressed issues that affected Asian Americans, they also reached out and forged bonds with the wider protest movement.  It was a time when boundaries were being erased, and people of all kinds were coming together to address the problems facing the country.  If only we could revive that spirit these days.

The show runs through June 11, 2017.  If you want more info, here’s the link.

Chinese American Museum

CAM 50 Rts Posts

Post-it notes left by museum visitors.

Mayor Missing in Action


On Wednesday, February 15, eight neighborhood councils sponsored a forum for candidates in the mayoral race. Almost all of them showed up to share their views on the state of the City and to present their vision for the future. Unfortunately, incumbent Eric Garcetti couldn’t make it. Certainly the Mayor is a busy guy, and it might be understandable if he couldn’t appear in person, but his office did tell the organizers that he would be sending a representative to speak in his place. Inexplicably, Garcetti’s representative didn’t make it either. Why is this?

As everybody who lives in LA knows, we’re facing major challenges right now. Nine of the eleven candidates for mayor felt it was important to show up and speak to the community. Apparently the Mayor didn’t feel like it was worth his time.

The neighborhood councils organizing this event spent a lot of time putting it together. Citizens concerned about their communities gave up their Wednesday night to learn where the candidates stood on the issues. But the Mayor couldn’t even send a representative to outline his agenda for a second term. Spokesman Yusef Robb didn’t offer an explanation for Garcetti’s absence, stating only that he was “unavailable”. Anastasia Mann, President of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, said she was told by the Mayor’s office that Garcetti didn’t need to be at the event since the other candidates weren’t doing well in the polls. Mann expressed her disappointment at the Mayor’s decision. I’m disappointed, too.

While we’ve seen improvement in LA’s economy during the last four years, Garcetti seems unable (or unwilling) to deal with a number of problems that have only grown more pronounced during his tenure. Families are struggling to cover spiralling costs for housing. Homelessness has risen dramatically. Some of LA’s communities have seen huge spikes in crime. The City’s budget is awash in red ink, even though revenue is up. And in spite of the Mayor’s insistence that the City is promoting transit-oriented development, transit ridership continues to decline.

If you ask me, it’s clear that Garcetti’s tenure as Mayor has been a disaster for Los Angeles, and maybe this explains why he didn’t show up at the forum. If he had been there, he would have had talk about why the City is in such dire straits. So it’s really not surprising that he didn’t have time to appear at this event.

On the other hand, the Mayor does have time for events where he has a chance to suck up more campaign cash. He apparently flew to Sacramento on Wednesday to meet with state officials and attend a fundraiser. It’s clear he hopes to run for higher office, probably governor or senator, and doesn’t plan on serving the full term if re-elected. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t seem terribly interested in solving LA’s problems. Running a city can suck up a lot of time, and who needs the headaches when your number one priority is funding your political career?

Garcetti’s spokesman was right. He is “unavailable”. Also disinterested and disengaged. Apparently the only thing he’s really passionate about is fulfilling his political ambitions. It shouldn’t be hard to find a candidate who cares more than the Mayor about finding solutions to the City’s problems, because the Mayor doesn’t seem to care at all.

Following Through on Earthquake Safety

Photo of building damaged in earthquake from LADBS web site.

Photo of building damaged in earthquake from LADBS web site.

For a while now I’ve been meaning to follow up on a post I did in 2014 about seismic retrofitting. Back then Mayor Garcetti proposed evaluating buildings based on how they’d weather an earthquake, and to make the information available to the public. This was to be the first step in creating a program to reinforce thousands of soft-story apartment buildings, i.e., older wood-frame structures with parking tucked under the units.

It was a great idea, but I have to admit I was skeptical about the Mayor pulling it off. Everybody agreed that it was important to upgrade these older buildings, but implementing such a program meant that landlords and tenants would have to shell out a lot of money to make it happen. I was afraid that after the initial hype faded away, the initiative would die a quiet death at the hands of some committee at City Hall.

I was wrong. Garcetti brought Lucy Jones on board, and she successfully spearheaded the effort to make this happen. The City Council adopted the ordinance in 2015. Earlier this year the Department of Building and Safety started sending letters to property owners letting them know what they have to do to comply. The program will be rolled out in phases, tackling the most risky buildings first. Landlords will be allowed to pass a portion of the cost along to tenants.

The Mayor deserves credit for making this happen, as does Lucy Jones. It wasn’t easy selling it to anxious landlords and tenants. It’ll take years for the process to be completed, but this ordinance will save lives when the next earthquake hits.

If you’d like more information, follow this link to the page at the Department of Building and Safety.

Soft-Story Retrofit Program at LADBS

How Will Communities Stay Connected?

Rafu Shimpo staff circa 1920.

Rafu Shimpo staff circa 1920.

Recently a friend sent me a link to a story about the Rafu Shimpo, a Los Angeles-based newspaper that serves the Japanese-American community. Publisher Michael Komai released an open letter explaining that the paper has been losing money for years and is in danger of closing. Not a big surprise, but still sad news. Newspapers everywhere have been struggling to survive in a world awash in new media options. Technology offers more ways for people to get their news than over before, although I’m often surprised at what folks call “news” these days.

Newspapers may not disappear altogether, but they’re going to occupy much less space in our culture than they did thirty years ago. LA’s major English-language papers, the Times and the Daily News, have seen their circulation and their staff shrink drastically. Our Spanish-language daily, La Opinión, is a shadow of what it used to be. Many of the smaller publications that serve specific communities or cultures have gone on-line or gone away.

The disappearance of these small community papers is troubling. It seems to me we’re losing something important here. These little, independent publications came into being to give a voice to people who didn’t have one. They covered events and issues that were often underreported or completely ignored by the mainstream media. And even with stories that got lots of play in the media, these papers sometimes offered perspectives that weren’t being heard anywhere else.

No question, the internet also gives people a chance to make their voice heard, sometimes far beyond the boundaries of their community. But even though you can reach a huge audience through social media, sometimes it’s hard to figure out who you’re talking to. Two of the key factors that used to bind groups together were place and race. The internet can render both of those things meaningless, or at least effectively obscure their meaning. Is this a good thing? Nowadays people can create their own cyber communities based on the music they like, their sexual orientation, or TV shows they watched as children. You can make friends with people on the other side of the planet, and you don’t even need to speak the same language.

All of that’s great, but every once in a while we have to drag ourselves away from the net and get back to our lives in the physical world. Even if we’re not crazy about the place we live or the people we live with, we still need to deal with that reality. You may be able to fly in cyberspace, but if the sidewalks on your block are buckling, you could fall flat on your face when you go for a stroll. There are a zillion amazing musicians to be found on the net, but the musician who plays at the local bar, who may even be your neighbor, would probably really appreciate your support. And if your community is threatened by neglect or crime or overdevelopment, your only hope of turning the tide is by connecting with the people next door.

The internet can help with that. It’s one more tool we can use to create connections. But small papers like the Rafu Shimpo exist to keep people connected to what’s happening in their own community. Their whole purpose is to bring people together. It may be that advances in technology and market dynamics will slowly bury them. But we will be losing an important resource. Don’t kid yourself that social media is going to fill the void. Sharing kitty videos with a million strangers may be loads of fun, but in the long run you’ll be better off if you take the time to learn what’s happening in your own neighborhood.

Here’s a link to the letter from Michael Komai.

Open Letter from the Publisher of the Rafu Shimpo

Who Are the Real Criminals?

East Los Angeles Courthouse

East Los Angeles Courthouse

Last week the trial of a group of Black Lives Matter activists ended in a hung jury. The seven defendants had participated in an act of civil disobedience that involved stopping traffic on the Hollywood Freeway. They were charged with two misdemeanors, obstructing a thoroughfare and refusal to comply with a police order. The protest was one of many that occurred nationwide after a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict a police officer in connection with the shooting death of Michael Brown.

The question I’m asking is, Why the hell did the City bother with this? Why did they waste the court’s time and the taxpayers’ money in an attempt to convict non-violent protesters of two misdemeanors? Does City Attorney Mike Feuer have nothing better to do with his time?

Before I go any further, I should mention that I know one of the defendants, so you can certainly question my objectivity.  But did this trial serve any real purpose?    I know that the Black Lives Matter movement is controversial. You may not agree with their statements. You may not approve of their actions. That’s fine. But by engaging in a non-violent act of civil disobedience, these people were continuing a tradition that goes back to this country’s origins. In arguing the case, prosecutor Jennifer Wexler is reported to have said, “Voice your opinion, but do it legally.” That’s interesting. Would she have given the same advice to Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez?

But I suspect the justification for this idiotic waste of time and money has nothing to do with upholding the law. A friend told me that the defendants were offered a plea deal in advance of the trial, and one of the conditions was that they’d refrain from protesting for two years. Sounds to me like the City’s real goal was to quash dissent.

Was this trial really necessary? There are so many other people that deserve to be prosecuted for acts that have done real damage. We could start with Mayor Eric Garcetti, who took thousands of dollars in campaign cash from a lawn replacement company and gave them a plug in his State of the City speech. The company went on to suck up millions in rebates from the MWD, even though it did substandard work which may have actually done mare harm than good. Or maybe we could go after Ex-Councilmember Tom LaBonge, who attempted to destroy pretty much every document contained in his offices before stepping down. Among the thousands of records destroyed were files pertaining to major development projects and the disbursement of discretionary funds.

Instead the City Attorney goes after seven people who engaged in a non-violent protest, trying to convict them of two misdemeanors. I will be keeping this in mind when Mike Feuer is up for re-election.