The MacLeod Incident

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(November 13, 2020) The City of Los Angeles celebrates this week the grand opening of the Valley Riverway, an inter-connected system of landscaped bike and walking paths along the tributaries of the LA River.  The 60-mile network descends from the the Chatsworth reservoir along Browns Creek, from Porter Ranch on the Aliso Canyon Wash, from Granada Hills on Bull Creek, and from Sylmar along the Tujunga and Pacoima washes.  An East-West corridor on the Metrolink right of way connects the northern tier of the Valley, completing what local bicyclists are referring to as “the hyper loop”.

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“It is now possible to pedal continuously from pretty much anywhere to anywhere else in under an hour, without having to stop at a light,” said District 6 Councilperson Andrew Hurvitz, who secured the $100 million project using Measure M funding. “We thought it might be a nice linear park. We didn’t realize the extent to which it would be adopted as an alternative transportation network connecting neighborhoods.”

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Construction of the East Valley light rail line has brought traffic to a standstill during commute hours, adding to the Riverway’s appeal. The troubled addition to the Metro system, originally budgeted at $2.7 billion, is now on its second contractor, with cost overruns expected to reach $4.6 billion when completed in 2024.

“At 2% of the rail budget, the Riverway was considered by the City to be exorbitantly priced. It was an orphan with birth defects.  Until the MacLeod incident, that is,” said Hurvitz, referring to a now infamous cell phone recording of a conversation at a local pub between representatives of Sheila Kuehl’s office and Kiewet/Shea, the first contractor on the rail line: “A hundred million? That’s a rounding error for us. $300 million got misplaced during the Expo Line build no one has been able to find. We know it’s floating around somewhere, but the auditors got bored and stopped looking for it.”

The conversation, punctuated by cackling, went viral on Twitter, inspiring the hashtag campaign #RoundMeUp.   

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In the wake of the MacLeod revelation, the blogger known as UpintheValley staged an insurrection at City Hall “in the spirit of Yukio Mishima”. Taking command of a balcony, he unfurled a banner outlining the Riverway project, and made an impassioned speech to an audience of derelicts and office workers on lunch break, some of whom thought they were watching live theater and left tips for the ‘performer’.   The blogger had repeatedly been ticketed by police for climbing fences into the Pacoima Wash and refused to pay the citations on principle, claiming all of the river watershed as a public right. Liens had been placed against his house by the City, which he also refused to pay, precipitating a personal and legal crisis.

“Let us rise from our stony sleep, brothers and take back the commons!”,  he proclaimed, after a rambling preamble that referenced Beauty, freedom of movement, the Golden Ratio, and the perfidy of hack politicians. Exhortation to occupy the Mayor’s office was met with a bemused reaction from onlookers, who, sensing an absence of irony, returned to their cubicles. 

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He retreated to a hallway and committed a partial hari kari, in which the stomach wall is opened, but not fatally.  He then began a two-day walk back to Van Nuys, holding his gut bag, smearing blood atop each gate denying river access.  

When he reached MacLeod Ale, there are conflicting accounts as to his final words, which were interpreted as either: “the circle is closed”, or “I’ll have that beer, now.”  A special IPA, the Dolorosa, was subsequently brewed in his memory.

The fallout from his martyrdom led to what locals now refer to as the Valley Spring.  Hurvitz wrested control of Nury Martinez’s seat on the City Council in a special election, setting the stage for the Riverway approval. 

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Dear John…

Yeah you, douchebag

Yeah you, douchebag

“Your car has been seen on Sepulveda Blvd, a known area of street prostitution.”

“If you aren’t soliciting, you have no reason to worry about finding one of these letters in your mailbox. But if you are, you and your wife or family will have something to discuss at dinner. This letter will discourage you from returning. Soliciting for sex in our neighborhoods is not okay.”

“Our license plate readers are everywhere.”

Sincerely, Nury Martinez 

Since my car is frequently seen on Sepulveda Blvd., I guess I can look forward to receiving many such notices like this.

Mrs. UpintheValley‘s car is on Sepulveda twice daily. In fact,  she’s in the habit of frequenting the known prostitution hot spot that is the Jon’s supermarket parking lot, the better to prize meat for her husband.  No, really.  You don’t think…?

Gee, and to think we were sharing the same bed all these years.

Cult of Personality

The divinization of Nury has begun

The divinization of Nury has begun

Flattery of politicians through muraling is the hallmark of Third World governance.   Why are we doing it in Los Angeles?

Why are we allowing politicians to put their faces on public service billboards, campaign style, paid for with our tax dollars?

Why are we allowing Councilman Jose Huizar to use the marquee of the historic Los Angeles theater on Broadway as his personal bulletin board?

Why are we allowing Kevin De Leon to throw a party for himself at Disney Hall, complete with mariachi bands and banquet tables, to “celebrate” his selection to the revolving post of Senate Pro Tempore?

Just asking.

Fifteen feet from the 405

*An unfinished version of this post was published accidentally an hour ago. I apologize if it ended up in your inbox.

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The first time I met White Eagle he was emerging from an abandoned warehouse with a shopping cart heaped with electrical wires.  He was wearing leather pants and earrings, and looked like he played guitar in a glam rock band. For a guy living on the street, which he claimed to be doing for 13 years, and down to his last five teeth, he was oddly, unexpectedly attractive.  He was on his way to the recycling center with his plunder, and his rapid-fire tweaker talk was so animated it arced across the space between us and I felt like I just did a bump myself.

From time to time I would see him while I was out walking the dogs,  and there were these little nods of recognition, bum and homeowner.  Usually he was coming or going from Raymer Street, bearing his loads of scrap and offered short, effervescent bursts of conversation which I politely nodded along with but could make no sense of a minute later as I replayed them in my head.

Once I found him in a reflective mood.  I asked how he was doing. He professed loneliness.

“I’m homeless veteran and I’m gay. I’m a one-man leper colony out here.”

Four Mexicans had recently tried to beat him up, he said. For being a faggot.  Even after he did them a solid by pointing pursuing police in the wrong direction.  He put a stop to that quick.  He wasn’t in the Navy Seals for 12 years for nothing.  Or was it the Green Berets? His story evolved with different tellings.  Sometimes he was on the street for 12 years, sometimes in the military. Sometimes both.

Earlier in the summer he was staying in The Narrows,  a concrete channel behind Target.  It was going to be dry down there for awhile, and they were going to make the most of it. They had tarp shade overhead and lights and a cookstove and a generator. The police told them they could stay as long as they didn’t make too much noise or bother the neighbors.  Or so he said.

After the murder in the favela last week, I went looking for White Eagle, to see what I could learn. When I went to the Narrows, they professed no knowledge of him. When I went to the favela, they told he lived up at the 405.

“He never comes down here.  That’s where he belongs.”

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I went to the 405.   Everyone was gone.

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I mean everybody. Normally dozens of people live here.  It was like the Rapture had come.

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Next time you exit the 405 in the Valley and you wonder what’s going on down in the shrubbery, this is it.  Urban hobbits have built a shire.  Where they’ve gone now, and for how long, I don’t know.  Maybe when I see White Eagle again, he’ll tell me.

Light and Dark in the banana republic of Los Angeles

Glendale has streetlights

Glendale has streetlights. How did they manage to do that?

Juan, a nice young man who works for a neighborhood advocacy organization approached me last week with a petition. ‘Sign here, and Nury’s office will ask for streetlights for the neighborhood.”

How wonderful.  Who could say no?  Sure I’ll sign…

Not so fast.  The streetlights are going to cost ‘only’ $6/month, per house. $72 a year, for life.

Juan was having difficulty collecting signatures.

Streetlights fall under the category of Things We Already Pay For.  That is, in the normal run of things in the wealthiest state in the country, from the vast pools of property tax revenue, income tax, sales taxes, utility taxes there are ample funds to light the streets.  Not so in the banana republic of Los Angeles, where we are now being asked to kiss the ring of jefa Nury, and pay a special assessment, to obtain what Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena,  even downmarket working class San Fernando already have by right of citizenship.  How soon before we are issued shovels and asked to fill in our own potholes?

In Van Nuys, $450,000 buys  moonlight

In Van Nuys, $500,000 buys moonlight

Hector Tobar, formerly of the Times, wrote recently the presence of a permanent caste of squatter communities is the signature characteristic of Third World cities. A life-long Angeleno, liberal, and son of Guatemalan immigrants, Tobar sees Los Angeles heading in this direction. This is true, but only half the story.  L.A. has its own twist on the formula: Swedish levels of taxation and Brazilian levels of service.    A two-tiered society with a narrow band of Beautiful People on the other side of the hill living in an urban playground of artisanal pleasures, and a vast workforce paying top dollar to live within commuting distance to serve them, then returning home to unlit streets.

All one has do is leave the city limits to see how different it can be.

A House Divided

Caged match

Caged match

As much as I would like an offer an opinion, I don’t have one, other than to report the one time I went to Nury’s office seeking assistance with a neighborhood beautification project, I was flatly rebuffed. I would go so far as to say they were willfully non-cooperative.

Would it be different with Cindy?  I would like to think so, but there’s no way of knowing.

We’re stuck with one of them.

Consider this a gentle prodding to join the 10% of us who will vote today.

District 6 is a Colony

Civic surrender on Roscoe

Nury surrenders the Bears

Once upon a time, along Roscoe Blvd, civic-minded people saw a concrete wall and imagined a mural.  So a mural was summoned forth.

For years afterward, if one stopped beneath the 405, waiting for traffic to clear, one was treated to a tableau of rusticating California golden bears. Bears rubbing their backs against trees. Bears spearing salmon from waterfalls.  Bears in mustard fields grappling one another in terpsichorean ecstasy. Bears watching enigmatically from their shrinking habitat, preparing for hibernation, while you sat in your car revving up for your day, or taking inventory of the ingredients needed for dinner, depending which direction the car was pointing.

It wasn’t Guernica, but it was an engaging piece of public art. A punctuation to your day, a yogic breath before the left turn to the on-ramp, where you could enter the forest for a moment and walk among the grizzlies.  And then the light would change.

Set beside the civic artwork of the other great cities of the world, the Bear Mural is but a widow’s mite. A Valley-esque exercise in middlebrow taste.

Twasn’t much, but it worked. And until this past year, it was ours.

Then the shopping carts began to appear. Then mattress and sleeping bags.

Then the city, in its ever-expanding need to fatten pensions wisdom, silently declared the mural and all its street frontage to be the responsibility of the state of California. Since it was ‘under the freeway’ it need no longer be policed by Los Angeles.

Nury surrenders Parthenia

Nury surrenders Parthenia

In short order, the carts and mattresses gave way to a fortress city of bagged crap which decanted urine in the middle of the day and bore menacing signs.  In keeping with Wilson’s Law of Broken Windows, all the murals under the 405 are disappearing under heavy tagging.

I can think of a place this wouldn’t be allowed to happen: Sherman Oaks.

I can think of another: the City of San Fernando.

When there are 5,000 people per councilperson, calls get returned. When there are 300,000 people per councilperson, she never has to shake your hand. So she doesn’t.

The City of Los Angeles has more tax revenue this year than last, more last year than the year before that. It’s going somewhere, just not to Van Nuys.

More houses have been renovated in my neighborhood, gut-renovated, from the foundation up, in the past four years than in the past 50 combined.  Move twenty feet off any boulevard and you’re standing in an urban Mayberry, self-sustaining, joyful, polite, and without crime.  An embodiment of our finest virtues: hard work, parsimony, kindness to others, faith and family. Virtues which are shared across the many dialects of our neighborhood.  Friends from other areas of LA doubt me on the crime part, but it’s true. I have no need to lock my house.

Step back on the boulevard and you’re looking at a slum mall with a PayDay lender, a dialysis clinic, and a convenience store feeding off EBT cards.  The man who owns the strip mall doesn’t live here, but he extracts a fat dollar from blight.  The city functionaries who dole out the EBT cards and Section 8 vouchers make a nice living doing so, but they don’t live here either.  People in the public sector are paid twice the salary the citizens they serve, but when I went to Nury Martinez’s office her field deputy didn’t know where Sepulveda Gulch was until I showed her on a map.

Blight is the end result of policy choices.  We’re having an election next week in CD 6, but if you do a little homework,  you’ll notice that 98% of the money spent on mailers and signs is coming from sources outside the district. People with business before the council.  People looking for Mayberry’s money.  Mayberry keeps grinding it out, reliably, and the taxation which sustains the City is nothing if not regressive.

The city budget is $8 billion a year, but good luck persuading Nury to install a few sprinklers to revive dead landscaping on the ugliest stretch of Sepulveda Blvd.   Or pay for a Levi Ponce mural.  What would be the point of that?  We’re a colony, after all.   They can just hand us shovels and tell us to fill in our own potholes.

On Tuesday, a few hundred people are going to spend an obscene sum of Mayberry’s money to persuade a few thousand people to give a 12-year sinecure and million-dollar pension to a woman who couldn’t say, when asked, what the City’s unfunded liability is.

How were 80,000 British soldiers able to maintain dominion over 200 million Hindus? By persuading them to internalize their own inferiority.  Burn all foreign dress, Gandhi advised. Don’t wear the white man’s colonial suit.  Your mind will follow.

Cindy vs. Nury, Part Deux

Matching lipstick and dress? Wedding ring on display? Check.

My lipstick matches my dress? Check. Wedding ring on display? Check.

Nury Martinez has Good Hair.  Even by lofty Latina standards,  Latinas being naturally advantaged in all matters coiffure, Nury has gorgeous, telenovela quality hair.  That’s my takeaway from last night’s ‘debate’ between her and repeat challenger for la jefa of Council District Seis, Cindy Montanez.

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Cindy’s no slouch in the hair department herself, though.  She’s abandoned the pantsuits of 2013 and adopted a kind of I-shop-at-Costco-just-like-the-rest-of-you-Van Nuysians look. And I can prove it, see? I just toss it carelessly over my shoulder along with my sensible bag and push my own grocery cart across the lot to my minivan. 

If I didn’t know she pocketed over a million dollars in taxpayer money from a pair of political patronage appointments while waiting for the party machine to clear a seat for her, I’d almost believe it.

Now wait a minute, you might be thinking. What kind of misogynistic nonsense is this?  These women are professionals. One of them is your councilperson. How dare you dissect their appearance. For shame.

Well, they didn’t leave us much choice in the matter. Because there wasn’t a whole lot of substantive distinction between the two.

They’re both Opposed to Street Prostitution. Opposed! Asked what they do in the way of interdiction both women emotively delineated the state of play on Sepulveda Blvd and left it at that.  This re-describing the problem in lieu of answering the question would prove to be the operative template of the evening in all questions relating to Van Nuys.  Budget shortfall?  Tough decisions need to be made. Raising the minimum wage to $15/hour?  It’s hard living on $10/hour.  It requires further study. Developing Van Nuys Blvd?  It used to be nicer when we were growing up, now it’s blighted. We should work with the business community to improve it.

In matters pertaining to the Great Wide Realm Over Which the Council Has No Authority, they offered opinions freely.  Alternative energy?  Yea. Fracking? Nay. GMO foods? Double Nay. Free trade? We should be very concerned, but…yes. Er, unless it takes away American jobs.  Then no. Sort of the way they both favor alternative energy mandates, as long as they don’t raise electricity rates, which of course they do and which have already locked in a 30% surcharge on every DWP bill for life.

These were not helpful questions for undecided voters, frankly, and the moderator would have done better to skip them.

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Which brings us back to…presentation.

Cindy, I have to say, came off well in that respect.  She grew on me as the meeting wore on.  My ears pricked up at the mention of the civic impact of aesthetic improvements in San Fernando.  It made me wish she showed up at my house as promised 18 months ago.

You can file this under condescending remarks from a white guy, but she’s articulate.  Nury….I’m not sure what’s going on there. She’s hanging on to a rather baroque accent for a college graduate raised in the United States.  This may be an entirely political calculation for all I know. In the absence of policy differences, each side appeared to be utilizing semaphores to hint at who they were and whose votes they were seeking.

As a side note, Nury packed the room with shills who punctuated her pablum with orchestrated clapping and cheering. This was off-putting, and toward the end of the meeting skirted the edge of outright intimidation. Not an attractive look for an incumbent.  She would be well-advised not to repeat this if there’s to be a return match.

**Andrew Hurvitz was in attendance as well and, as always, has his own amusing take: Power For the People’s Own Good.

Ho, what a web we weave

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Sepulveda Blvd. has a hooker problem.  This is not news to people in Van Nuys. But if you are clicking here from another part of the world, take my word for it, there’s been one for some time. From the Voyager and the Hyland motels, from the Ridge and the Palm Tree Inn they promenade forth in pairs in the late afternoon, Molly-rolling through the night. Again under the unforgiving dawn they work the morning commute, a sullen cluster of the living dead in front of Jon’s supermarket. Without fear of interference from the municipal government, pimps wield a dark, alchemical power. Their chattel, formerly citizens of the United States, toil up and down the boulevard alongside backpack-toting middle schoolers. They block shoppers turning into the parking lot at Fresh and Easy. They take up benches at bus stops and threaten all manner of whup-ass at passerby who stare, frown disapproval, or worse, take pictures.  All this dreary pageantry playing out within a frisbee toss of the urban Mayberry of tree-lined streets that is the Real Van Nuys. The Van Nuys of the 60-hour workweek. The Van Nuys of Sunday barbacoa, birthday parties and mass.

Until now.  Our City Council person, Nury Martinez, has decided to get tough with these guys.  Seriously.  She’s done with being concerned. She’s taking a stand.  She’s going to….

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…’target liquor stores and strip clubs’.  That’ll do it!  No new licenses or permits will be issued for the next….45 days.  ‘It seems like the vice activities feed on each other,” Martinez was quoted in the Times, adding: “We don’t want these types of businesses to lure the pimps.”  There hasn’t been a new strip club or liquor store on Sepulveda in the past decade I have lived here, and probably a decade longer before that, but the council was undeterred. The measure passed unanimously.  Against the accusation of silliness, the proposal was amended to include motels.  For the next 45 days…..no more motel permits!   This will be sure to strike fear in the last motel builder in Van Nuys, who shed this mortal coil somewhere around the Carter administration.

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Just this afternoon, walking Giles, I watched two teen-aged black girls hook a passing car, and direct him into the Travel Inn.  ‘Just pull right on in there. We working there.’  In, he pulled.  They walked right past the motel office window. There appeared to be brisk activity in the parking lot and on the balconies. Not a cop or politician in sight.   They’ve got it figured out, though. No more Travel Inns!  No Travel Inn annex!  They’ve put their foot down! Nothing more to see here. Just a 15-year-old taking if five times a night from strangers, on prom weekend, a thousand miles from home. Daddy wants his money.

Hope is not a plan

No kidding

No kidding

Just as a thought experiment, substitute the word neighbors for in-laws as you consider this bus shelter PSA which sprouted across the Valley this week. For it is a peculiar moment in which we have placed ourselves, as a nation.  There are now fewer people working and paying into the system than not. Next year, there will be fewer still. Fully one third of able-bodied working age Americans are unemployed and living to a large degree a life subsidized by the state. Or to put it another way, by their neighbors.  Except we usually don’t think of it in those terms. No one really says ‘I’m gonna walk across the street and ask John if I can borrow a cup of sugar and this month’s rent. I’m gonna go next door to Alice and ask her for groceries and this month’s 401K deposit.’  And yet….what are we doing, but precisely that?  In a rational policy marketplace we could have come to a reckoning with our obligations and adjusted accordingly.  Instead, we keep borrowing 40 cents on the dollar to postpone the inevitable for another year. Which is to say, we print money, i.e., sell Treasury bonds. And who has to pay the bonds off?  Maybe us, maybe our neighbor’s children. Maybe his children’s children, not yet born.   We have passed agreements paying out to retirees in public pensions far in excess of what was paid in. We know this, yet we cannot summon the political will to make even modest curtailments of benefits for the survival of the system.  Even in the face of municipal bankruptcy we don’t do it, at least not in California. There’s a phrase for this. It’s called eating the seed corn.

This is not the Chinese way. The Chinese are working. They are saving. They are buying the bonds our grandchildren will be working to pay off.  They are coming to our schools and dominating our STEM programs. Then they are taking what they learn and selling it back to us at a profit. Meanwhile, an unhealthy percentage of Americans are sitting at home watching TV and listening to appeals from personal injury lawyers and sucker bait payday/car title lenders, the subtext being you can painlessly obtain something for nothing.  The conventional wisdom, particularly here in California, is deficits don’t matter. They can be rolled over indefinitely, or failing that, if push comes to shove and we really, really need to get serious, we can always reach deeper into the Magic Money Bucket that is Apple, Google and Facebook, and grab even more than we already are.  As though these companies were a permanent extractable resource, like coal. Fifteen years ago, Apple was staving off liquidation. Google was not even a listed stock. Mark Zuckerberg was in high school.  Microsoft and AOL were the dominant players, and look where they are now.  No one in a world of Deep Think tome-wielders and stock pickers predicted what happened.  Literally, no one.   To hang the future of California on three new media companies when no one knows what the next 15 years will bring, is to cleave to hope. And hope is not a plan.