Question: Could the City of Los Angeles kindly maintain the landscaping alongside Sepulveda Blvd? Not all of it. Just the ugliest part. Just the two blocks beneath the Metrolink tracks on the most heavily-travelled north-south commuter route in the Valley. Oh no. It could not. There’s no money for that. No money at all. There’s none to be had in the $8 billion annual city budget. But we’re welcome to ask the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council for the money. Does the council have the power to turn water on or off? No. Install sprinklers? No. Are they responsible for street services and public works? No. But we should be asking them to help fix the roadway embankments because…..well, because it should be a community project, that’s why. The City of LA? An innocent bystander in this matter. A pauper-ish third party, stripped of all budgetary discretion by the Villaraigosa regime. Thus spake the representatives of Nury Martinez. After a topsy-turvy conversation like that….lager is called for.
Andrew H. sez: ‘What’s with all yer mishegas? She was a nice lady. Some of us have real plumbing problems.’
For the past ten days the eastern San Fernando Valley became, overnight, a swing county in Ohio in a presidential election. Which is to say, we were under the full siege of the Cindy-Nury political telenovela: door knockers, door hangers, mailers, phone calls, yard signs, tweets and texts. Amidst this cacophony of the democratic process I received a knock on the door from my neighbor Walter, a Montanez volunteer. Would I like to meet Cindy? ‘She’s gonna be in the neighborhood’ today. Of course I would. He promised to bring her by ‘sometime after 4pm.’ We put some wine in the fridge to chill, cracked open the hummus, and called my friend Andy Hurvitz, of the HereinVanNuys blog. ‘Cindy Montanez is dropping by. You want to meet her?’ Certainly. At 4pm, there the three of us were, glasses of rose in hand, snack bowls on the credenza, cameras and questions at the ready….
4:30 rolls around, no Cindy. I check in with Walter. ‘It’ll be another hour or so. She’s still at the office.’ The hour goes by, the bottle of wine empties out. We begin to fool around with cameras. I fire up the grill. I call a second time for an ETA. ‘Andy is here’, I offer as an inducement, ‘and he’s ready to blog.’ ‘Let me get back to you.’ Ten minutes later he calls back with regrets. ‘Cindy won’t be able to make it tonight.’ We wander out into the evening air and take snaps along the Metrolink tracks. We happened upon this lovely couple on the Bridge of Sighs, who were happy to pose:
Three days later, returning from yoga, I get another message from Walter. Please call. Cindy will be back in the neighborhood tonight. I’ll bring her by. When? Six to seven-ish. Andy returns. A bottle of gewürztraminer and garlic crackers are laid out. More hummus. Seven o’clock, no Cindy. Eight o’clock, no Cindy. Now, the drill here is pretty simple. The candidate knocks. We exchange pleasantries. She declines the wine, but takes a cracker. Looks us in the eye and lies to us about how she’s going to clean up Sepulveda Blvd. Everyone shakes hands and she goes on her way. Five minutes and it’s done. She gets a promotional photo from Andy and maybe some good copy. Of course we both have fever dreams of beautification schemes we want to pitch, and maybe after a long day, the gewürztraminer might bribe some additional face time with the candidate…..but only if the candidate shows up. On the her hand, if she chooses not to come, for a second time…..by 8:30, we’re in the car, heading to Angel City Brewery for a flight of IPA and then to Wurstkuche for some exotic sausage. Downtown east of Alameda, an area not long ago as run-down as the east Valley is today, was positively en fuego with nightlife, cuisine, commerce. Joyful young and not-so young people out and about, enjoying t-shirt weather after midnight. Quite another city, yet entirely within my own. Up in the valley, we’re still working on the basics, like awnings for bus stops and getting the police to arrest hookers plying the trade in broad daylight in front of schoolchildren:
Driving home to our colonial outpost in the Valley, I was in a bad humor. Mrs. Upinthevalley took a more generous view. It’s the middle of an election. Walter was simply over-promising. Perhaps. But he wasn’t inventing. Cindy knew who we were and she knew we were waiting, and she….made other priorities. An avalanche of mailers and five more canvassers would hit our house in the final days, including three on Tuesday afternoon, in a scrambling panic as the poll watchers reported the grim news: people weren’t showing up to vote. Her margin of defeat would turn out to be smaller than the combined traffic of our two blogs. Enough said.
Cindy spent in excess of $100 a vote. Her signs and foot soldiers were ubiquitous in Van Nuys. Cindy herself was a no-show. Nury Martinez walked Sun Valley and Arleta door-to-door, in person. As Woody Allen put it: ‘90% of life is showing up’. In politics apparently, there’s no substitute for shaking someone’s hand and bullshitting them.
If you looked like this, would you choose Sepulveda Blvd? No? Why not? How long do you suppose this would be tolerated on Ventura? If she were a white girl from Palmdale who met her pimp on Facebook would the City be quite so….accepting? If your name is Cindy Montanez or Nury Martinez what would you say to her? What do you intend to do about the motel owners, the absentee landlords who take their cut of the trade?
Suppose you’re a candidate for city council, and have no real campaign to speak of. No power base. No constituency. Your chief competitors are two lavishly funded hack politicians from rival political clans, who inundate the district with glossy mailers. They hold the minimum two debates required for matching funds and use them to exclude other candidates, then take the money and spend it on more mailers. If you were crafty, and just a little unethical, you might come up with a yard sign which graphically mimics the signs for the leading mayoral candidate: similar font, same color scheme; then place your signs adjacent to his. Like you had his endorsement. Or were running mates of some kind. Since a narrow majority are likely to vote for Eric Garcetti on Tuesday, perhaps a portion will make some limbic brain connection to you, some word association established on the commute home on Roscoe Blvd. Perhaps you might scare up enough votes to move from a third-tier candidate to a second-tier one in a seven person race. Then you might have something to trade in the run-off in June. A patronage appointment. A staff job for an endorsement. Cause you sure aren’t looking to win this thing.
It’s difficult not to like Dan Stroncak. Aggrieved homeowner. Crusader against street prostitution and unlicensed pot shops. On Saturday he brought his kamikaze run for City Council to Fatburger on Roscoe Blvd, for a meet-and-greet. His heart bled for the Valley. He worked himself into outrage at the petty tyrannies and corruption of the city bureaucracy. If elected, he vowed to camp out at the Building Department personally to see to it permits in his district were expedited. He was the earnest, young Willie Stark in All The Kings Men, before he got wised up. The irony being Willie was an unwitting tool of the party establishment, hand-picked to divide the hick vote and keep the incumbent in power, and Dan is quite the other thing. He’s running against a pair of machine-backed Latinas who moved into Los Angeles within the past year, solely to succeed Tony Cardenas in District 6, and who have been biding their time serving on state boards collecting six figure salaries for once-a month meetings. They have campaign money. He does not.
Like I said, it’s hard not to like the guy. He speaks without the platitudes and banal catchphrases one is used to from the mayoral candidates. There’s only one problem. He’s not actually on the ballot. Five hundred signatures are required for ballot placement. Of the 600 he submitted, one hundred and four were rejected by election officials as having signatures not matching addresses on voter records. So he’s four short of qualifying. Make of that what you will. He asks folks to write his name in.
**UPDATE** Dan demurred at my characterization of him as an ‘angry man’:
“I see myself more as a worried father, frustrated homeowner, and when I’m out on neighborhood watch it’s as the “guardian at the gate” if you will because in my area the drug and prostitution traffic is heavy after 2am unless someone is out there with a flashlight and camera getting the license plates numbers, which is what the police dept recommends we do because it deters them, at least until I go back in then it starts again.
“The best case scenario is for the police to have the resources they need to take care of the crime without community help, but right now they are actually reaching out to neighborhoods looking for more people to get involved with neighborhood watch because times are tough when you consider the budget cuts and increased crime due to AB109 (realignment). That said, we all need to be vigilant in our own communities. The perfect example of the out of control crime (and how dangerous it is) is the fact that the Fatburger is across the street from the alley where the security guard was murdered a week ago.
“Finally, the only thing I would ask you to add (if possible) is that while I do truly want people to vote for me via writing in my name on their absentee ballots in the next couple of weeks or in May, I personally consider this a two year campaign. The partial term filled by this special election is over in 2015 so candidates for the 2015 race can file this August and start campaigning. I will most definitely be in the race and ON the ballot in 2015.”
Old school retail politics came to the Home Depot parking lot Saturday in the form of an RV ‘listening tour’. As I happened to be there to pick up concrete blocks, I took full advantage to express a pet peeve: the blighted, weedy embankments of the Sepulveda/Metrolink undercrossing. For the price of a few sprinklers, we c0uld recover the long dormant ivy that once covered it in full, and in doing so remove a public eyesore. For a few dollars more we could chip up the asphault median and landscape it with trees. He listened. Said it was a great idea. Then he offered to ask the Van Nuys council for funds. Granted, he’s running for office, but for those of us who lived through the ‘ we don’t do constituency service’ ethos of the Tony Cardenas era, this was an unexpected and refreshing change.