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.

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.

Squeaky Wheel

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Last week, in the run-up to the city council election, I posted of the ongoing problem of the crackhead encampment blocking the Bear Mural on Roscoe Blvd.

Two days later, the crackheads were gone.

Whisked away, as though by some kind of municipal rapture.  Only tagging and little heaps of discarded clothing remained.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

To have a cranky blog post turn the gears of the City machinery in a helpful direction is…satisfying on the one hand.  On the other….really? Really? This has been going on for over a year. I tag Nury Martinez’s name on election eve and suddenly somebody who matters picks up the phone and calls Street Services?

Okay, I choose to be grateful.  Full props to whoever made the call, whatever the motivation.

I have keyboard, hear me squeak.

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.

Welcome to Cratchit-ville

Home sweet casita

Home sweet casita, only $900/month

Last week I gave a co-worker a ride home.

‘Pull into this alley here. Now turn into this service alley.  Now slow down…stop here. This is it.’

What, this?

I was looking at a pair of hinges embedded in a wooden fence, next to garbage cans.

‘Yup. This is it. Thanks for the ride.”

“Is there a crazed ex-boyfriend lurking around your life?”

“My landlady won’t let me use the front entrance.  She is very adamant about it.”

She reached over the wall, grabbed a string and the wooden slats parted about thirty degrees and she slipped through. The ‘gate’ closed behind her, Bat Cave-like,  then looked like an ordinary fence again.   There was no street address or unit number to mark where she lived.

A few days later, it got cold.

‘There’s no heat in my place,’ she lamented.   Ask the landlady to fix the furnace, we suggested.  It’s Christmastime.

‘There’s no furnace.’

No furnace?  No wall heater? 

‘My apartment is kind of attached to the garage.  I don’t think it’s legal. I wanted to buy a space heater and deduct it from my rent, but she won’t let me.  Arguing with her about it is like trying to grab water.’

The person of whom I am writing is a) white,  b) educated,  c) sober,  d) works two jobs, like everyone else north of Ventura Blvd.   Van Nuys may not be Vladivostok, but a heat-less domicile is her lot this winter and she’s resigned to it. One might consider her at a slight advantage to the other tenant, the one who lives in the garage proper, who also has no heat…plus no insulation. No kitchen, either. $600.

Turning right at the corner, I was back on a street of ordinary mid-century homes in White Van Nuys, otherwise known as Lake Balboa, lined with sweet gums shedding the last of the autumn leaves.   Nothing suggested the parallel world of Bob Cratchit-like cells, small, cold and dismal, concealed just beyond the hedge work, from which certain homeowners profited handsomely.

There is a deep sub-culture of illegal units in Los Angeles.  Historically it has served the needs of the extended immigrant family: second cousins tucked away in converted Home Depot tool sheds.  The City has never taken it on directly because this would mean addressing the larger issue of the vast population of undocumented laborers concealed within its borders, without which the Westside would cease to function.  The Problem which has No Name in Polite Society.  We can’t enforce laws relating to citizenship so we don’t enforce laws relating to those would exploit the legal disadvantage of the undocumented.  Once you carve out a zone of immunity in civil society, it doesn’t stop with Hondurans. We all take a step back in the direction of Dickensian London, toward a Manicheanistic world of the propertied and the un-propertied.

Welcome to Cratchit-ville.

Levi at work

Levi Ponce and Ernie Merlan

Levi Ponce and Ernie Merlan

Saturday, a sublime autumn afternoon. Driving homeward on Whitsett, I happened across a mural crew painting a concrete embankment, near Saticoy. You can see it from the 170, a cheerful and unexpected pastoral trapezoid of green and yellow popping from the industrial landscape.  I got out of the car to take a look. Who do I find hand-mixing a bucket of paint, but Levi Ponce, master muralist.

Me: ‘Hey, you’re Levi, aren’t you?

Levi: “Yeah, I am.’

Told him I was an admirer of his work, and was flattered to hear him say he reads this blog.  His hand was covered in paint so he offered his forearm for some kind of man-on-man elbow bump, but I clutched it like a groupie and asked him why I see his murals in Pacoima and Reseda and North Hollywood, but never in Van Nuys.  Ask Nury Martinez, he replied.  When he began the mural project several years ago, it was his intention to start in Pacoima and work his way down Van Nuys Blvd, all the way to Ventura.   The word from Nury’s office is there is no money to pay muralists in her district.

I can think of a great number of things on which we spend public funds in District 6 which could take a back seat to neighborhood beautification.

All civic improvement dies in Van Nuys.   Apparently it’s a commandment from the Old Testament, like the plagues of Egypt.

Working alongside Levi was a very nice guy named Ernie, a studio animator, who founded the Exceptional Minds Studio, a center for autistic young adults to learn multimedia and animation skills. He had some of them working the embankment project.  Councilman Paul Krekorian and the North Hollywood Neighborhood Council put up the money.

‘Paul wants to be the mural guy,’ said Ernie.

The city has tens of millions squirreled away in CRA accounts. It pays a small fortune for landscape designers to make minor decisions about foliage placement few people notice. But in Van Nuys, it won’t pay artists.

Here’s the way it’s supposed to work in the civilized world: You pay the artist for his work.

They did it in Ancient Rome, they did it during the Renaissance, the Restoration of Charles the II, the Spanish Conquest, the Russian Revolution, even the hermit kingdom of North Korea today ‘pays’ its artists, in a manner of speaking. Somehow, even in North Hollywood they manage to pay the artist.  With public funds, no less.

Think of that next time you’re stuck in traffic staring at a dreary tableau of sidewalk banners, mismatched signage and tagging.  It may be a colony we are living in, but it doesn’t have to be.

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