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