No One is Coming

The unintentional cruelty of civility

Correction. These two are coming. The Hack and the Billionaire. The people who have always been here, scratching one another’s back.

With everything that’s befallen Los Angeles in the past two years, local media allotted exactly one hour for a single mayoral debate and it was not entirely edifying.

Rick Caruso: We need to get people inside.
Karen Bass: Get them in.
Caruso: We need an Ethics czar at City Hall.
Bass: He stole my plan.
Caruso: The City is in crisis.
Bass: I agree. Crisis.
Caruso: Leadership starts with setting the tone.
Bass: We need bold and decisive leadership.
Caruso: The LAPD staffing level should be raised to 11,000.
Bass: It should remain at 9,700

Me: If we’re not arresting people for looting, what difference does it make? If there is no bail for felonious assault, what have we gained?

Caruso: I’ll build 30,000 tiny home pods in the first year.
Bass: I believe we need to work together to get people housed.

Me: We have already imposed Tiny Home compounds in neighborhoods and they are at 30% capacity. Encampments bloom unabated and un-policed on the next block.

At this point, the debate panelists might ask: if there is no enforcement mechanism, no restraining principle, of what tangible use are the billions we have allocated to Shantytown, Inc.?  Tis not the nature of L.A. media to ask the obvious, only to curate the boundaries of the narrative, which do not include discomforting those feeding at the giant tit of service provision.

Do I really need to say this? Safety is the first social justice. Los Angeles is coasting on the civilizational assumptions of 2019, and it’s beginning to dawn on us the guardrails we took for granted are no longer in place. A man fires up a meth pipe on the Red Line then assaults a woman and people record it on their phones but no one intervenes.  We are backstopped by police, in theory, but we know better.

You can count on one hand the people in this city with the resources, name recognition and institutional standing to break with the Homeless Industrial Complex and tie policy to some kind of enforcement, any kind of stick to offset the innumerable carrots on offer. Rick Caruso, developer of The Grove, is one of them.

Does he make even a gesture in that direction? He does not.

In a truly surreal moment he criticizes Ron DeSantis for sending 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. Like it was a bad thing. Like this was his ticket to the Latino vote. Does he actually believe this sort of pandering works on people who commute to work on the Red Line, or is he obeying memos from Aisle 518 Strategies, the progressive firm he hired to advise his campaign?

For two years DeSantis stood on principle against vaccine mandates, school closures and Covid lockdowns and was reviled for it. Murderer, they called him. DeathSantis. To say events have vindicated him would be an understatement. He did right by the people of Florida and pulled the politics of the state in his direction.  He’s the most effective politician in America, and beloved of Republican voters, who are 26% of the electorate in L.A.  Which is to say, half the Caruso coalition in any victory scenario.

So Caruso’s plan, if we can call it that, is to denounce the hero of the one group without whom he has no chance of winning. Pro tip: don’t do that.

Want to reach Latinos, Rick?  I mean, really? Do something for Melanie Ramos’ grieving family. Do something for the next 100 unsuspecting young people who are going to do a fentanyl laced bump in the bathroom cause its Saturday night or pop a tainted Percocet handed to them from a classmate who got it from the open air drug market down the street because L.A. is lawless now.  Stop pandering to the people who have an interest in keeping it that way and don’t have daughters in public school.

No one is coming.

Melanie Ramos, 15, DOA at Bernstein High

Ten Days in The Devil’s Asshole

The body dysmorphia of heat

Darling, pour me a whisper…

Every couple years in the Valley we are visited by a fortnight of heat, unrelenting, merciless.  Usually around Labor Day.  A high pressure system rolls in, then sits on you and sits on you and sits on you, burning the leaves off the trees, browning the succulents, killing the grass, yellowing the bamboo, refusing to relent until your spirit breaks.

The kind of heat to quote Raymond Chandler, meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.

There’s a ridiculous saying about the Valley:  Ten degrees warmer here. Nonsense. If the beach is 72° with a marine layer in the morning, Hollywood is 85° and balmy. Van Nuys is 107° and barely cools off at night. The Valley might as well be in Nevada.

The class structure is never more evident than during a heat wave.  The gentry enjoy a different climate entirely. To know that in the abstract is one thing, to have the ugly truth sweated from you like a peasant is another.

Darling, pour me a whisper is Mrs. U’s antidote to class discomforts and I reach for some chilled rose, from Paso Robles, where we briefly stopped earlier in August. Leaving the car was like stepping into an air fryer. Walking two blocks to the tasting room my skin began crisping. Like chickens escaping a rotisserie we collapsed upon air conditioned stools and panted for water.

Paso Robles is bone dry, perhaps the most inhospitable location in California for viticulture and yet they are overrun with vineyards fed from aquifers.

We’re told to let our yards die and not to flush after we pee while Big Grape has its giant straws in the earth.  Thirty-four gallons of water to produce one glass of wine, don’t you know.

And here we are in Van Nuys, air conditioners rattling, drinking a Paso appellation as a way of coping with nature’s wrath while failing to heed her limitations. It’s the California way.

I spent the week down in the crawlspace under the house wiring in new electrical circuits for my new service panel to create capacity for more square footage, more appliances, including, yes, more powerful air conditioning, in the assumption juice will always be available from the service feed snaking through the elm tree to the house. Normally a safe bet, but this year maybe not so much. What nation is more prudent and technically proficient than Germany? Yet they are facing a looming winter rationing heat.

We carry on as though the old paradigms were still operative, and for now they are. But at 107° you realize you are living at the co-terminus of fragility and misplaced certainty.  Everything works, but only because of the geo-engineering of the last century. The pipes and reservoirs and transmission lines of the Pat Brown era are fruits of a problem solving ethos which has fallen out of favor.

We could have sold in 2021 at the top of the market. We elected to double down on Los Angeles. Am I the ant or the grasshopper? Or to continue the chicken analogy, is it battery cage syndrome that keeps me here?

A new era begins…

Yesterday afternoon, in a severe mercy, clouds rolled in, dropping rain. But the thermometer stayed over 100º, like the tropics. Like Florida. Very un-Mediterranean.

Listen, Mrs. U said, and turned the fan off and scurried to the window like a child, watching the rivulets course down the pane with the wonder one would greet an unexpected snowfall.  The angry spell was breaking. The time before we would once again share a bed was reduced from days to hours.

All over the city last night, young women were out and about in crop tops and mom jeans, skipping on heels across glistening sidewalks, perfectly delighted to bare wet shoulders in the tropical air. Filled with intrigue about elusive young men and treacherous roommates and doubts about the right blend of SSRIs and alcohol, but little worry about pipes and wires and power generation and where food comes from and how this fragile republic hangs together.  It was like Blade Runner meets Instagram.

Their lack of seriousness is a welcome tonic for my middle-aged ruminations.

When they ask me where I’m from I am honest, and so are they.  Van Nuys? Oh God, you live in the Devil’s asshole. Not really. But I understand why someone might think that.

Sorosville, Year Three

From the Summer of 2021 to this…

Through a quirk of fate I once knew Dennis Peron, the man who did more than anyone to legalize marijuana in California. I knew him in San Francisco as a gadfly from the neighborhood, circulating his petitions for a doomed cause. Cannabis was just one of those things destined to be illegal in 1996. Maybe not a felony, but something on the other side of the law, like numbers running.

Suddenly one day Dennis had an office on Market Street and America’s first medical dispensary, operating on a speakeasy basis. He invited me to his office for a chat.  The gadfly persona was no more.  George Soros was backing him, he announced. The future was neatly laid out. HIV, very much a lethal pestilence at the time, demanded medical marijuana on compassionate grounds could not be denied. Once medical cannabis could be cultivated and exchanged there would be simply no way to stop full legalization for recreational purposes. Only a question of when.

We know how this turned out. Today you can buy flower with the ease of a trip to 7-11 or have it delivered to your house by app. All perfectly ordinary, but back in the mid-90s, not even the most starry-eyed optimistic stoner would have predicted it. Nor the iPhone, nor Instagram.

No one saw it coming, but a billionaire made it happen. It had a salutary effect on Soros, who has since made himself the franchisee of urban chaos, through his army of woke prosecutors, installed city by city, one seven figure check at a time.

We are re-learning civilization requires handcuffs.  It’s hard to believe now but Broken Windows policing was once as settled a political issue as we had in America, so completely transformative of the urban landscape you couldn’t campaign against it, even in Los Angeles.

An entire generation came of age with no living memory of street crime. Now that they’ve tasted it, people are ready to take corrective measures.

George Gascon, Soros’ handpicked prima donna, was a dead D.A. walking, next in line after Chesa Boudin for a public auto-da-fe.

The voters of Los Angeles County submitted 715,833 signatures in support of his recall, where 566,857 were required.

Carlos Gonzalez, SF Chronicle

Yet here he is this week, smiling and dapper, having tap-danced his way around his reckoning at the polls.

How did this happen?  In secret, courtesy of Dean Logan, Registrar of Voters, who managed to disqualify 195,000, or 27%, of the signatures away from the eyes of Recall Committee observers, who were banned from the building on the grounds it was not an election but a signature verification process.

For perspective, L.A. county rejected 1% of mail-in ballots in the 2020 cycle due to non-matching signatures.

Dean Logan has a history. In 2004 he was the Director of Elections in Seattle during the Dino Rossi-Christine Gregoire gubernatorial race, in which Rossi prevailed by 261 votes, then 46 votes in the recount, and then in a second manual recount Logan “found” 573 votes for Gregoire, previously disqualified due to -wait for it- signature matching issues.

The blowback was so intense Logan was forced to resign. Because we can no longer have nice things, and because one can only fail upward in the administrative state, Los Angeles hired him soon after.

People living in saner American climes watch the clip above and express disbelief.  Why do we allow this to happen?  As though we have been taken over by a charm of beguiling whispered in Aramaic instead of the decidedly unsexy nuts and bolts of an election process where billionaires and bureaucrats call the shots.  If signature matching can be manipulated to elect favored candidates and disqualify recall petitions, the person making those decisions holds inordinate power in the new era of vote by mail.

It’s going to get stranger. We no longer have an Election Day. We have entered the era of E+7 voting.  Activist groups have a full calendar week beyond the election to harvest ballots, bring them to drop boxes without a chain of custody, under a verification process that remains opaque. This is how Eunisses Hernandez, police and prison abolitionist, prevailed in District 1 this summer. It’s how Karen Bass went from five points down on the night of the Mayoral primary on June 7 to a seven point lead over Rick Caruso a month later when the results were certified. Or ‘certified’.

Were they late-arriving ballots or last minute? Even the Times couldn’t decide the correct nomenclature for this new reality.

Who would have predicted San Francisco would red pill before L.A.? Stranger things.

Cat Lady Summer

Nineteen down, half a dozen to go. But who can tell?

“Yes, there was a Cat Zero and yes the man, a former tenant, brought it on property as a gift to his girlfriend who didn’t want it and yes he may have set her free in the yard and maybe another cat came over the fence to hang out but everything after that was like fog rolling down a hillside. What can you do but watch? We don’t feed them or anything, except the woman living in the garage does so maybe that’s on her.”

Zelda appeared in the spring, a spindly black feline residing in the bamboo along the back fence, sneaking into the kitchen to loot unguarded kibble, belly scraping the ground.

We already have four cats.  Additionally, Mrs. UpintheValley has for years fed a feral tribe off the front porch, veterans of the cat colony crisis of 2013, when she trapped, neutered and released 46 neighborhood ferals.

It took a decade for Darwin and Nature to reduce their numbers to a lone snuffling, arthritic, gooey-eyed survivor, who waits quietly in the evening for leftovers.

Things were back to what passes for normal around here, and suddenly this interloper, this furry child of Biafra had entered the garden.

Then Zelda disappeared for awhile. When she returned, the belly was gone, and praise Jesus, no kittens. I toasted the coyote, the raccoon, the neighborhood eating machine which intervened on our behalf. Thank you blessed nature, for your dispassionate cruelties.

One morning a few weeks later, four adorable kittens are cavorting on the back patio, mocking us. They had been living in the pocket of space between the back fence and the neighbors back fence. Ha!

Did I mention Zelda is less than six months old?

Two houses away, we have our own little slice of Appalachia in Van Nuys, a compound of trailers, junked cars and shanties owned by a mentally challenged man who rents spaces to a revolving cast of marginal characters, high functioning druggies, and from whence it must be said, we have heard the late night yowls of estrus.

Two dozen un-neutered cats back there, Mrs. U discovered. Four of them pregnant. Which would put us on the brink of leaving the fourth tier of the flow chart, which is to say Cat Crisis II: This Time It’s Math!

So she set to work, starting with the low hanging fruit, the kittens, who will walk right into a carrier and go to sleep if you leave some treats.

The East Valley Animal Shelter was not pleased to receive them: WHY ARE YOU BRINGING THEM TO US? WE HAVE NO ROOM FOR THEM. THEY’RE NATURAL PREDATORS. LEAVE THEM WHERE THEY ARE!

Things have changed since 2013, and not for the better.  She put out an SOS on a feline trappers website only to be told: “I personally do not take in kittens any more, and the rescue I work with is stuffed full and has to turn away 20-30 requests like this every day. And that’s just the beginning of the bad news. There literally is not a single good option for them. Vet appointments are impossible to come by, spay/neuter clinics are booked out 2-3 months or more ahead. Three or more years ago, this situation could have been solvable. Now it’s not.”  

As advertised, it took months to get traps and appointments. This summer has been a long slog of evenings walking over to West Virginia, setting/checking the traps and mornings driving to FixNation under the indifferent gaze of the feckless people who set so much chaos into motion.

White people, raised in California, living rent free in someone else’s house. This detail shouldn’t bother me, but I can’t get past it. Their indifferent selfishness feels metaphoric.

When Mrs. U brought in two pregnant felines at the clinic at one time, there was high-fiving all around.

The last pregnant cat remained elusive, and rather clever about traps. As the days ticked by, her belly spreading like a pig in a python, drama built. A veteran trapper was recruited from Silver Lake. She got the job done with a net.

We whisked her, bones and belly, to FixNation with her litter just about poking from her nether regions, on the last open appointment Mrs. U could get. The grace of small victories.

A cat does not have the ability to alter its thinking.  It eats, and poops, and licks its paws and makes little cats. What does it say about us we are overrun with easily resolvable problems of our own creation?  Who will rescue us from our own disordered belief?

It is magical thinking to believe we can maintain an equitable nation without a border and maintain cities without law enforcement. Yet here we are, coasting on assumptions of the world pre-2020. Arrangements which always worked before will therefore continue to work even though the structural underpinnings they rely on have been removed.

Spoiler alert: No one is coming.  No blue-ribboned panel of government experts is going to descend to set the world right. We have only ourselves.

This morning little Zelda hangs out by the kitchen door, mewling, waiting for Mrs. U to break her resolve not to feed.  It’s a test of wills. I know who is going to win this one.

The $850,000 Street Taco

So, last year I picked up a rider in Venice, Indian-American, worked in finance, newly returned to L.A. after a stint in Miami. He told me something interesting enough to write down:

“I’ve always dug Latino culture. One thing I realized moving to Miami is what I actually dig is Mexican latino culture, not rich South American exiles blowing their ill-gotten gains culture. I lived on the 39th floor, right across from the SLS Hotel and all these high end buildings that are 1/3 full because people are just parking their money there. There’s also only one month a year I can leave the house in the daytime without sweating through my shirt. I’m so glad to be back in L.A. I have no need to rent a Lamborgini for the weekend. Mexicans in America have earned their money the hard way and it shows in how they live. The Mayor of Miami is putting up billboards in San Francisco inviting people to move there because of lower taxes. California is worth the taxes. The climate alone is worth it. Don’t come here people, please don’t come here.”

He was speaking from the top of the economic food chain, ensconced in the ocean cooled Westside, a beneficiary of Latino labor, where California frequently feels worth the taxes. Would he have said the same thing if he lived in the Valley? Perhaps, but he wouldn’t care for the noise.

I thought of him again this week in light of Governor Newsom’s televised pitch to Floridians, on day 857 of his emergency powers, to come here, to the land of “freedom of speech” and abortion maximalism.

A thing of wonder, this campaign ad, considering our Public Square is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Silicon Valley: global engine of censorship, digital surveillance, de-platforming, de-monetization, opposition research, Twitter ratio-ing, brigading, tribal hate with your morning coffee, tattling on your neighbors, algorithmic manipulation of the young and impressionable, the ever leftward ratchet toward perfection, social apps bumping your phone when they know you are weakest.

Arthur Rackham, 1909

Our information casino and the technology supporting it is now California’s chief moneymaker and export. Not Hollywood. Not agriculture. Not manufacturing.  The farming of the human id, corralled in feedlots of narcissism, packaged and sold to corporations and politicians in equal measure.

Like Hansel and Gretel we entered the gingerbread house, filling our bellies. Now here we are, too frightened for our livelihoods to call the Witch a witch.

Florida is flat as pancake and as sweltering as the Congo. In a reasonable world who makes that trade? But it is governed for the time being by people committed to the freedoms California is determined to discard. The U-Hauls are only rolling in one direction, away from here, and it’s not just the price point.

Tellingly, Newsom mentions nothing about climate, which no politician can claim credit.   At a certain point in life, when the mortgage is dealt with, or at least made manageable, Mediterranean weather makes it less desirable to re-boot somewhere else.  It’s our indispensable and under-appreciated home court advantage. One window shops on Zillow, agog at what $850K will buy in Cleveland or the Carolinas (though not Idaho anymore), and then goes out for a street taco, squats on a crate admiring the golden light breaking through the foliage at the end of the day and thinks…I can wait another year.  The center is holding, for now.

https://twitter.com/clownworld_/status/1544505941738999809?s=10&t=sT1ITBB-FA3TLWtzOM9oNw

This woman will not likely see a day in jail in Lord Newsom’s California. If you are the woman who owns the truck, to whom do you appeal for freedom from violence?

Twitter and YouTube will shortly censor this video and call it content moderation. The account holder will be warned, then suspended, then banned.  Big Tech will pocket the ad revenue anyway, pad its earnings, bump the stock valuation. Executives will cash out, donate generously to Newsom’s presidential campaign and (as a papal indulgence) to criminal justice reform initiatives that insure no one goes to jail.  They will fund organizations that pay activists to harangue officials at public meetings, to charge the stage, to show up at their homes in the middle of the night with a bullhorn and drums.

I love Los Angeles. It’s kind of an amazing time to be here.   We have set in motion the Hobbesian forces of societal collapse at the same time we are upgrading our kitchens, fabulously.   Nothing is too good for The House and no leftist nostrum is too crazy to affirm.  Nouveau riche Highland Park, land of the $1.5 million bungalow makeover, set the bar by voting a police and prison abolitionist to the City Council.

As a Gen Xer I can afford to be philosophical. I watch. I note. I enjoy the ordered nature of my yard.  I live embedded among Latinos unwilling to vote their interests. For now.  And I have no idea how this movie ends.

Wings and Prayers

When None is the answer to One Party rule

Let us consider two observational truths. 1) any practical weaning from fossil fuels must include nuclear power; and 2) Housing First is not getting addicts and mentally ill off the street, nor resolving the damage they inflict on themselves as well as the rest of us.

It shouldn’t be controversial to say so, but in California it is heresy.

Michael Shellenberger, once a man of the environmental left and now a fearless witness for common sense, earns my vote for governor.

There is something else unfolding besides a foregone election.

Institutional America is closing ranks around a successor ideology to democracy as we have known it, with the legacy media leading the way in demanding Big Tech de-platform and demonetize all dissenters.  But beneath that, there is an extraordinary reevaluation of polarity and affiliation taking place in real time. Much open-field running, poetically and politically, from left to right, as well as the other direction, led by facts.

I find it quite thrilling, perhaps the defining intellectual moment in my lifetime. The army of Born Again Realists is advancing, and manages to include Tucker Carlson on the right and Glenn Greenwald on the left and a lot of people in between, like Matt Taibbi, Krystal Ball, Saagar Enjeti, Bari Weiss, Andrew Sullivan, Freddie DeBoer, Aaron Mate and all the people on Substack.

Also comedians like Bill Maher and Jimmy Dore and Russell Brand.  And paleoconservatives like Rod Dreher and, I can’t believe I’m saying this, the no longer quite so lefty Naomi Wolf, who is doing a podcast with, of all people, Steve Bannon.

We are all a little trans now, politically.  Two years of Covid propaganda, married to lethally flawed policy, woke a lot of somnolent Americans.

Trump’s exit from the stage gave certain people permission to come out of the closet.

Out: CNN
In: Joe Rogan
Out: National Review
In: Zerohedge
Out: Lord Fauci
In: Bret Weinstein, Peter McCullough and Robert Malone

We live in the Era of Forever Lying. America needs more bullshit callers. Only one institution needs to flip for the edifice to come crashing down.

Faster, Elon. Close the deal. Land this plane.

The Million Dollar Platypus

Open Houses, Panorama City, 2022.   $950,000
Open Houses, Panorama City, 1948. $10,000.           USC Digital

While shopping at Aldi on Sunday, Mrs. UpintheValley was approached by a realtor lady in Kardashian makeup waving a glossy brochure for an open house.

$950K. In Panorama. In a mixture of morbid fascination and crass self-interest we went.

You can learn a bit about the evolution of the Valley from the above two photos.  When land was cheap and abundant, houses were spaced well apart, bare bones, without luxuries, priced for accessibility to first time home buyers.

Today you put a second floor on the old starter home footprint, then squeeze three of them onto a 7000 square foot lot, tarted up with glue-on crown moldings, quartz countertops, central air and three bathrooms, then gate it off from Others.

A platypus is a cluster of free standing homes that don’t actually touch so they are technically not condos, but you can stick a broom out the window and scratch your neighbor on the shoulder while he’s sitting on the john. The lots extend mere feet beyond their foundations, there are no yards or common areas, the ground floor is a garage door, and the compound is ringed by a wall. Neither fish nor fowl, to quote a prominent New Urbanist.

Such developments are frequently abutted by other platypi, eroding the meaning of private property, or at least privacy, as the decades speak to each other over the fence. Feeling a little smug about how much sleeker, more modern your digs are than the 90s monstrosity next door is part of the pleasure principle.

Also, I’ll say this: the rooms were absurdly spacious. Made us feel like we still living in a dorm, or an early apartment, which is the idea. High ceilings, cool air flows, a giant flat screen are a nice distraction from the fact you will be indoors all day long. No yard, a hot patio and Nordhoff street,  a stroad really, inhospitable to pedestrian traffic, offering few nearby amenities. You enter the platypus on wheels, drive all the way inside the house, press a button and the door rolls down behind you. Like you’re living in Rancho Cucamonga, only with a shorter commute.

Foundation and Slabs, Lakewood, 1950.       William Garnett

Then there is that $950,000 price tag. For perspective…the $10K Kaiser Houses of 1948 would be $119,000 today, perfectly priced for a young couple in their 20s.  Nothing is priced for first time buyers anymore, nor for savers and strivers. Starter homes are priced for multi-generational households, five earners under one roof, or for the offspring of the wealthy who are gifted six figure down payments.

But this is where we are now.

A single family ranch house, among the neighborhood’s last, stood where these nine houses are. In 2010 it was purchased for $265,000, then sold for $1.65 million in 2020, merely for the dirt underneath. That profit is baked into the sales price, $155K per unit, paid to the guy who invested cash at the bottom of the mortgage meltdown and waited a decade.

Unjust? Yes. More unjust than one family sitting on that much land in a city in dire need of higher density? That’s a delicate question.

Walking upstairs in one of the unfinished units we noticed the floor sagging several inches in one corner. Back outside one could see the support pillar had been knocked off its foundation at some point, and then a supplemental pier had been placed underneath it, with mixed results.

Los Angeles is poised between greed and precarity, just slightly off its foundation.

Crime Scene on Sepulveda

Look at her. In her defense, she was fated on the drafting table to be one of the Valley’s Ten Ugliest. 7101 Sepulveda, a brutalist concrete filing cabinet, a Robert Moses-esque excretion dropped in 1962, no quarter given to public taste. Someone may have endeavored to pass it off as in the then-voguish International style, but certain buildings just say No. This one says it with gun placement window slots. Your eyeballs, like the Pharisees, shall not cross.

This is the building to which the Stasi brought people for questioning who were never heard from again.

As foreshadowing it sat too close to the curb, shrinking the sidewalk to less than three feet at the corner and around the utility pole to allow more room for parking in the back.

The early sixties were a time of Great Progress in California. The freeway system, the Universities, the aqueduct. Pat Brown. Clark Kerr. Buildings, even churches, were stripped to their utilitarian essentials. Gone were cornices and patterned brickwork and decorative overhangs and bas relief.  In the name of modernity crap like this was erected all over the state, particularly college campuses. Modernity was defined by two words: air conditioning.  But also parking.  Parking has preordained most civic decisions since.

Tax Protestors, 1964. Valley Times Collection

For the first five years of its life 7101 Sepulveda served as a branch office of the Internal Revenue Service, an example of form matching function.

From 1967 to 1995 it housed Merit College, an early for-profit school training court reporters and paralegals.

In 1995 Merit College closed its doors without notice, leaving 900 students in the lurch.

Since 1995 it has been vacant, defying the economic laws of scarcity, immune to adaptive re-use. A monument to bad planning, but also a certain species of absentee landlordism.  The kind who waits for others to develop the neighborhood while they collect royalties off the cell phone towers on the roof.

Inevitably it was occupied as a crackhead Delta House and in 2019 gutted by fire.

You would think the City would make this eyesore a municipal issue. Twenty-eight years of public blight should be enough. You would be wrong. Government may have grown glandularly since 1962, it has not become wiser or more responsive, nor more effective in countering monetary interests. Arguably, less so.

Ed Ruscha

There’s an aesthetic sidebar to this. In 1967 the artist Ed Ruscha rented a plane and took a series of aerial photographs of Van Nuys parking lots, several of which hang in the Tate Gallery London. A signed print of 7101 Sepulveda was offered at auction for $8500.

I have mixed feeling about this. Normally I begrudge no man his hustle, but Lazy Art is annoying, more so if it’s making serious bank off my neighborhood without engaging it. Suffice to say this conceptual perspective now hangs un-ironically in the homes of people who couldn’t find Van Nuys on a map.

In 2020, CBRE sent up a drone and took this photo to lure potential buyers. Unlike the Ruscha print, it is available for download without charge.

The exoskeleton and parking lot can now be yours for $8.7 million.

So, if you’re keeping score, 7101 Sepulveda has been vacant and unproductive for nearly as many years as it was occupied, despite occupying prime frontage in the hottest real estate market in the country.  How hot? There are two ranch houses for sale in the neighborhood, a 3Br for $1.35 million and a 2BR for $900K.

$900K also happens to be the 1998 assessed value of 7101 Sepulveda, which means the person who buys this house on LeMay will have the same property tax liability. This might explain, in part, why the owners have managed to leave it vacant for so long.  It’s an argument for a split roll adjustment to Prop. 13.  Also for a mandatory development clause on commercial property located on a transit corridor. Three years to file a building permit or you must sell. Can’t believe I’m writing this but here my baseline free market libertarianism collides with civic pride.

Mr. UpintheValley’s prevailing Cancer Theory of Los Angeles posits not overdevelopment but its opposite: deep pocketed speculators who sit on strategic corners for decades waiting for others to buy them out.

Up on Roscoe Blvd the owners of the old Montgomery Wards site have been teasing redevelopment plans since…1995, while leasing the massive asphalt lake that surrounds it to film companies and for Covid testing.

In 2018 a mock-up of The Icon at Panorama, a long promised 600 unit mixed-use retail island, was draped over the old Wards sign, offering the promise of an imminent Culver City-ization.  As the months and years ticked away without breaking ground the mock up slowly disintegrated in the sun, nature declaring a verdict on the unrealized transition from 1964 Asphalt Heaven to Los Angeles 2.0.

Where’s Rick Caruso when you need him? Running for Mayor, promising to expedite the building of homeless shelters. More. Bigger. Faster.

The Valley needs it own Caruso. A street fighter-on-a-budget Armenian Caruso. Mr. UpintheValley is feeling politically homeless about now.

Carusovilles and Keith

“I will build 30,000 temporary housing units in the first year. If anyone knows how to build I know how to build. If I don’t get it done vote me out.  I know I can get that done. I’ve talked to the manufacturer.”

So said mayoral candidate Rick Caruso last week, walking through Skid Row for the benefit of local TV news. If you don’t know, Caruso is on the right, displaying the Hand Gesture of Progress.

“The minute we have good, warm, clean bed and food, then people need to move off the streets. No more encampments. You have to enforce the law. We may offer a bed once, we may offer a bed twice. But the third time we are going to have to say I’m sorry but you’ve broken the law.”

I agree with him but this is wishful thinking as policy.

After the third refusal to self-house, then what? Jail? Imagine the headlines. Billionaire Puts Paupers Behind Bars. It’s a moot point. In 2020 Los Angeles County voted to close the Twin Towers facility to felons.

Fines? They’ll never pay. Penalties will accrue. Years hence, upon a hypothetical sobriety, the chains of Dickensian debt will prevent them from re-integrating and we can’t have that.

The pillory?  If this were colonial Virginia we could parade them in Shrews Fiddles through downtown with signs saying Sloth. If only!

“Sorry, but you have broken the law and we have no place to put you” is not exactly a deterrence.

To distill to a sentence our cognitive dissonance around the army of dispossessed who squat and hunker among us, if would be difficult to improve upon a good, warm, clean bed and food.  A solution few have asked for, and when offered, fewer takers.

In a contest between civic good intentions and the unrestrained id, human nature wins in a blowout.

Man is first a social animal. Hunter gatherers roam the urban landscape, forming street families and alliances. From the detritus of the city all can be foraged:  plywood and tarps and cast off tents, couches, old rugs and bikes. Electricity can be purloined from any light pole. Run a cable across the sidewalk, fire up the flat screen and the hibachi and smoke what needs to be smoked with the satisfaction hunter-gatherers have enjoyed at sundown since we first left the caves.

There is a raison d’être to be found in this, even pride, irritating though that might be for the rest of us.

Add EBT, free phones, free health care, pro bono legal representation and the crucial license to steal™ and most of Maslow’s Needs are well met. The weather is glorious.

Sitting in a clean, Boise decision-approved Tiny Home, with a bookshelf and a lock and showers and rules about drugs and smoking? This appeals to taxpayers.  This is what we would do if we were in their shoes, between filling out job applications, and learning to code.

If you were hoping Caruso would do for the armies of dereliction in L.A. what Elon Musk is poised to do for free speech by purchasing Twitter, you may be disappointed.  He accepts the operative premise of Shantytown, Inc., the massively funded bureaucracy of service providers:  we can build our way out of this.

We can’t. This is the fatal flaw of his candidacy: I’m a developer. I will deliver more units per year. 

Too bad, because he’s wealthy enough not to need the local machine to fund his campaign. He doesn’t owe anybody.

For those who think Housing First policy is working, I would remind readers we are running a real-time experiment in the efficacy of Tiny Home villages in Venice and Van Nuys and North Hollywood, and not only are they utilized at about one-third capacity they continue to be surrounded by encampments, thriving uncontested.

The stars come out for Housing Now! 1989

Take a good look at this picture. Lakers coach Pat Riley. Jon Voight. Bea Arthur. Edith Bunker. Casey Kassem.  The great and good coming together to address the terrible blight of Skid Row. They mean well. They’ve opened their checkbooks. In 1989 camping on the sidewalk in Los Angeles was confined to fifty square blocks downtown. To deal with this, the City had a line item in the budget totaling…millions.

For 2022, the City will spend $1 Billion on Homeless, Inc. The County spent half a billion, the State $7.2 billion, 40% of which came here. I have no idea what the Federal government sends us, but it ain’t zero.  Like a well watered garden, the army of addicts and freeloaders have grown ten-fold, from San Pedro to Granada Hills.

Let us not despair, there remains a fourth alternative…smiling at us from the branches like the Cheshire Cat, villainous and coy.

Stop subsidizing it. All of it. Lean into human nature.

Wait, what? Are you serious? Yes. But, but…we can’t! It’s monstrous! Think of the case workers! The administrators and lobbyists! How will they eat? How will those checks make it home to Pasadena?

While we’re at it, re-criminalize theft. I know of no civilization which has survived the abolition of a principle as basic as this.

Here’s Keith from Pennsylvania to explain it.

*btw, this video is eleven years old and this guy was still here as of 2020.

Mrs. U’s Victory Garden

About 20 years ago I was at a wedding, talking with an old guy who grew up in L.A. in the 1930s. He graduated from Manual Arts High School. I told him how envious I was he got to live in the city before freeways and strip malls and straight pipe mufflers and tagging and homeless encampments.

He looked at me like I was stupid. “1934 was horrible. I was hungry.”

Yeah, yeah. But one third the population. The Red Car. Craftsman bungalows everywhere. No smog. Jake Gittes.

Like a putz, I began embellishing with film references. The man grew noticeably upset. Indignant.

“You don’t understand. I was hungry. Understand? I waited in line with my mother for flour to make bread.”

We have not had shortages of basic goods since the 1970s. We haven’t had hunger since the Great Depression.

Ours has been a world of ever cheaper calories, of YouTube testimonials of retail ‘hauls’ –look at everything I got at Aldi for $100!- of gout-ridden families waddling through Target, their carts piled with pizzas and cereal and impulse buys. Long supply chains and just-in-time inventory work really well until there is a bump in fertilizer costs. Or a lost shipping corridor. Or the price of fuel per tractor/day goes from $68 to $128. Or the price of barley feed from $295 to $470/ton.  That’s just in America.

Potash and urea have quadrupled on the international markets. The Ukraine spring planting (25% of the global wheat) has been curtailed for obvious reasons.

Cheap food, like cheap fuel, may no longer be possible for the foreseeable future.  Some of us may have to relearn the lived experience of our great grandparents, the people who saved their bacon grease and kept their money in mattresses.

Fortuitously and wholly unrelated to global events,  Mrs.UpintheValley decided this was the year she would garden in earnest. Back in January we put together some containers, thinking it might be pleasant, not realizing it was like buying BitCoin in 2017.

I built four of these for her. Each four feet by eight, 18 inches deep. Materials were about $100 per. Half the lumber was recycled. She filled the bottom with free chips, followed by one third compost, free from the city, about half bagged soil, and then a layer of mulch on top, also free. Looking left to right you can see the stages of filling, and the string line grid.

If you’re a salad freak like us, it’s a bowl of Eden every day, courtesy of Mother Earth.

If you plot it correctly, you can pack a lot of food in a small space. The fourth box is strictly for tomatoes, though they are all babies now.

New York Times

With government mandated food rationing in effect during WW II, gardens flourished across Los Angeles. In 1942, roughly 15 million families planted home crops; by 1944, an estimated 20 million victory gardens produced roughly 8 million tons of food—40 percent of all the fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States.

Believe it or not, she used it all

Good times make for weak men. Weak men make for hard times. Hard times make for stronger women. Strong women bring back tolerable times.