Windmills of Poo


We give them free phones.

We give them EBT cards.

We give them free health care.  Also the ability to use 911 as a hotel and car service.

We allow them unlimited shoplifting privileges up to $950 per incident. We provide them with pro bono legal representation.

We exempt them from civic laws relating to public safety and sanitation.

We allow them to pitch tents ten feet from people paying $3000 a month in mortgage, and we wonder why they stay.  Cyclically, we tell them to vacate a given location, but never to leave the City. Nor to assume self-responsibility and sobriety. There’s no grant money to be prized from that. What will Do-Gooders do for work?   So, the Favela rotates within neighborhoods like a seasonal crop. From the freeway to the Narrows, to the Wash, to Raymer Street and back again.

It is impermissible in the Los Angeles Times, or City Hall, to speak of human nature. Or moral hazard.  We subsidize the Favela endlessly, while nimbly managing to escape the inclusivity we preach. The people who staff the Caring Organizations, courtesy of the Los Angeles taxpayer, are unusually allergic to living here.   They live in South Pasadena. They live in Sierra Madre. Or Redondo. Or Moorpark, or any of the other small, orderly cities of 100,000 people that surround LA,  cities directly accountable to the voters and consequently intolerant of the Favela metastasizing within their borders.

Los Angeles has spent over a billion dollars in the last 30 years directly “combating” homelessness.   In that time, it has spread from Skid Row to Van Nuys and staked a claim to every weedy mite of ground in between.

Mayor Photo-Op intends to spend $1.87 billion (that’s billion with a B) in the next decade to cut the homeless population by …half.

The beauty of ten years from now accounting is Garcetti will no longer be Mayor when the ledgers are squared.  He intends to be President. The City Council will be termed out as well. The money will be burned in great hay bales in Grand Park. They will throw it on the pyre with pitchforks and dance around it, singing, like the Whos in Whoville. When the smoke clears, half of the 34,189 people on the street at last count will be re-housed.   The Mexican border will remain wide open if the City has anything to say about it, but the tents will diminish be replaced by pod villages in parking lots. Or something which squares personal self-destruction with virtue-signaling photo ops rounded out by civic baby talk. Public policy in LA is nothing if not a cargo cult.

In this most optimistic scenario we pay $109,548 for every Larry we remove from the streets, in addition to all the other freebies we already provide.  That’s a whole lot of kitchen remodeling in South Pas.

Alternately, we could purchase a house somewhere in the U.S. for every blue tarp refugee, then hand them the deed. Like this one, in Marlin, TX. Two bedrooms, $24,000.  Congratulations, you are now homeowners.  Here’s your bus ticket. Your sins have been cleansed from the books.

Too rural?  How about this 4-bedroom storybook traditional in Detroit? I found it in five seconds on Zillow. $37,000.  That’s less than ten grand a head for permanent housing.

One tenth what Garcetti proposes to spend on Guiding Principles™ and Liasons to Committees of Concerned Frowning, with some pods and motel rooms thrown in.

But but but but but….that’s crazy talk, Mr. UpintheValley.   You want to argue moral hazard? Anybody could just show up in LA, pitch a tent in the street and be given the deed to a house.  Where does it end?

To which I reply, what are we doing now?  We are about to spend ten times this amount to not house people, to provide them most of the necessities of life and some of the pleasures, plus a caseworker and a lawyer, but put no lasting roof over their head. We demand nothing in exchange and they return the favor.

Behind this Ikea shelf is a “bedroom” in North Hollywood.   The man who lives here is a Temple graduate. He has two day jobs. He also takes on side gigs in the Industry when opportunities arise.

In June his life upscales for the better, when a roommate shuffle will create a vacancy in one of the bedrooms.   He gets to move out from behind the TV set. This is the guy who pays the $1.87 billion to keep the Mayor in photo-ops and the salaries paid for Homeless Advocacy, Inc.

This is how we live in LA now.

When Hansen Dam Meant Boats and Bikinis

Wait. There was an actual lake there?  There was waterskiing? I can’t find it on Google Maps. When did that go away?

There were bathing beauties?  And trout fishing? Who took that way from us?

Nature.

Hansen Dam was erected in 1949 as a flood control mechanism.  By flood, it was intended to retain not only water, but sediment, giant boulders, chunks of trees, automobiles, houses, and everything else that came tumbling out of the mountains after a storm.

In layman terms it was built to be a giant garbage pail.  Slowly, inexorably, over the decades the pail filled in until the “lake” was reduced to a depth of several feet.

The original body of water, not unlike the Salton Sea, was an accident of construction, as burrow pits for obtaining gravel for the retaining wall filled with rainwater.  It was expected to last 50 years.

From the Los Angeles Times: “in 1969, Los Angeles County had some of the worst flooding in its history. Two bridges near the dam at Foothill Boulevard and Wentworth Street collapsed and seven homes in Big Tujunga Canyon were washed away….A forest fire and heavy rain in the winter of 1981 and the spring of 1982 brought 5 million to 10 million tons of sediment into the basin and the lake shrank to less than 30 acres, according to Corps documents. That summer the swimming beach was closed because the water had become stagnant and unhealthy.”

As so much of the post-war Valley, Hansen Lake was disposable, built to last a generation. Now it’s a dense thicket of shrubbery concealing horse trails and homeless encampments. Burrow into the depths and one loses all sense of geography and time, like a secret a passage to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. 

There was an attempt during the seminal year of 1994 to fund a dredging and restoration, but it met with local resistance wary of attracting “outsiders”.

Outsiders = dusky hordes of immigrants who don’t have swimming pools. So, no lake.  Short California history lesson: that didn’t stop the dusky hordes.

Today the picnic areas on Sunday are filled to capacity with competing banda troupes, horse dancing charros, smoking grills of barbacoa, and peasant women wandering through the grass picking wild chard.

The top of the dam itself is a popular jogging trail, which was not its original function, either.

Valley 2.0: all will be re-purposed.

Historical photos courtesy of CSUN archives

The Narrow Margin

If it’s unclaimed ground, no matter how slight or uninviting, the protean Favela will put it to use, as surely as the sun rises in the East.

This feral world and the farmhouse behind it are separated by a mere chain link fence. A silent agreement. They pee on their pavement and not on our hydrangeas and we ignore their degradation. Who thinks twice about these arrangements any more? Mr. UpintheValley wonders how firm the civilizational lines are. Should the wet ass hour descend suddenly, without warning, if say the LAPD withdrew, how soon before we retreated to the armed safety of castle doctrine?

What would the wet ass hour consist of? What would precipitate it? Most Angelenos, myself included, operate so far removed from the maxims of prudence which have historically governed human relations on planet earth, the return to the Hobbesian default would come as a shock, then an affront, then self-chastizing horror as we retreated to safety. How could we have ignored the obvious?

Theft under $950 has been de facto legalized in Los Angeles.  As far as the city government is concerned, there are no borders. We issue free phones, debit cards, and health care to the indigent.  What is well-watered will grow.

What Is It About White Maids?

Because maids always work with their eyebrows done and their lips pursed, sipping through an invisible straw, approaching the dirt layers as through drawing Cupid’s bow. They work in form-fitting tops and look like a younger Sela Ward.

Nobody who cleans in Los Angeles is dark, squat, menopausal, Spanish-speaking or stooped with years of carpal tunnel-eroding labor.  Nobody rides the bus.  Nobody has another life on hold while white people are serviced.

For marketing purposes, maids are forever Anglo and look like yoga instructors.  That’s what cleaning is, right? Just a series of poses that makes the ick go away.

A Google image search for “Maids, Los Angeles” turns up the cast of Devious Maids, the Castillian nose telenovela twist on the sexy white maid template… also sexy Halloween costumes, anime links, and…

…Mildred Baena, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s former housekeeper turned comfort woman baby mama.

I suspect Maria Shriver felt on safe ground with Mildred, who checked all the boxes on the non-threatening-female-under-my-roof matrix, but one: fertility.    Mildred, a name rich with cinematic foreshadowing, might have been another missed clue.

Son of Carnage

There are no boundaries between them. She pushes him around the store in a stroller he’s two years too big for.    He grabs everything he can reach and throws it to the floor and she exclaims theatrically as though he hadn’t unveiled the same delighted gesture the day before.  She basks in the attention while brown-skinned people drop to their knees and attend to his mess.

She deputizes the floor cleaners into her circle of conversation as though they were a paying audience for her one-woman performance art show.  There are no class distinctions acknowledged in Brentwood, just people with nametags who can be pressed into service as loyal family servants but to whom there are no reciprocal obligations.

The boy shrieks and reaches for new things to topple, for levers to yank, for containers to spill.  He has worlds to conquer and a mother who needs drama.

“Look Nikolas, you’ve created an album cover.”

The Theater of Disappearance

Remember, we all must die.

Down at the Geffen Contemporary freezers run 24/7 preserving that which cannot be preserved… meat and driftwood and man’s creation, from birthday cakes to tennis shoes to bicycles, the vanity of earthly life arranged like bouquets…a memento mori for the anthropocene.    There is no heaven nor hell depicted by Adrian Villar Rojas, only the opulence of decay, and man’s fruitless quest for immortality. He is coy on the topic of the soul.  He places fish strategically, though perhaps ironically, throughout the exhibit, which is massive, 100 trucks of earthworks and salvaged pieces from prior exhibitions to form a stuffed timepiece, a man-made fossil. I suspect he doesn’t believe in divine judgment, though he trades on it.

What I really wonder is what Rojas would make of the Defenders of Boyle Heights. If they crossed the river to picket his installation, would he hand them bullhorns and cheer them on,  thereby defanging them?  Envaginating them, to employ a more proper metaphor, within his own work:

“Villar Rojas sees each project as an educational opportunity not only for those who visit the exhibition but equally so for himself. The institutions are given an opportunity, in turn, to reconsider the use of their own architectural assets, filtered or focused through the lens of Villar Rojas’s highly attuned sensitivities..this invasive dynamic allows Villar Rojas to develop an almost—in his own words—“parasitic relationship” with the institution; it is in this radical dialogue and exchange where both the artist-parasite and the institution-host explore the limits of what is possible and what is not, what is acceptable and what is not, what is negotiable and what is not. Ethics and politics, no less than agency and decision-making, are at stake in the project, opening a series of tough questions: When and where does a project actually begin?”

“Artist-parasite”…Adrian and the picketers are already speaking the same language, separated only by a million dollars in funding.

Remember, our disappearance will be theatrical.

O.G. Van Nuys was Rodger Young Village

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Photos courtesy of Housing Authority of Los Angeles
Photos courtesy of Housing Authority of Los Angeles

The original Valley people*, when they were rusticating in quonset huts in Griffith Park, just about where the Autry Museum and the Zoo are today. The Village lasted from 1946 to 1954.  Hat tip, longtime reader Chip Corbin.

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Rodger Young, Medal of Honor recipient, was from Green Springs, Ohio. He stood 5’2 and weighed 125 lbs, was going deaf, and near-sighted.  He slipped past the Army’s 4F screens by signing up for the National Guard in 1940, after dropping out of high school, because he was having difficulty following the lessons due to his hearing difficulty. He was killed in the Solomon Islands storming a Japanese machine gun nest, enabling his platoon to safely withdraw under fire. An ordinary man who became extraordinary in a fearless hour.

His gallantry was memorialized by the lyricist Frank Loesser:

Fellow Ohioan Robert Heinlein was also enamored of Young, baptizing the transport ship in Starship Troopers with his name. He also included his citation for bravery in an appendix to the novel.

*After the Tongva, the Franciscans, the Robber Barons, the Chinese, the Chandlers and Barbara Stanwyck. I refer here to the Valley in its bedroom community incarnation.

Back to the Quonset Hut?

Quonset housing, 1946
Quonset housing, 1947

Nothing like martial virtue to inspire biblical relations between genders. When we slaughtered the Hun and subdued the Japanese Empire in four years and warplanes rolled off the assembly line every ten hours in Long Beach, King Priapus ruled the day.

Wingfoot housing
Victory jizz, plus three years=Wingfoot housing

During the Depression very little housing had been built, and during WWII, none at all, creating entire communities living in temporary housing: trailers, quonsets, Wingfoot huts, and repurposed tugboat cabins.

Tugboat housing
Tugboats

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Our little working class brigadoon in Van Nuys was carved from Carnation creamery cow pasture in 1947 as something called Allied Gardens.  A GI and his brood could have one for $10,400. That’s $119,000 in 2017 dollars. No landscaping. No frills. A three circuit Zinsco electrical panel, no insulation, no AC.   Fittingly, it was developed by Louis Kelton, for whom Kelton Street in Brentwood was named, establishing at conception the master-servant dialectical between the two communities.

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At those prices, who wouldn’t want one?  The stucco box was a pleasure dome after the quonset hut. Colored veterans were excluded by covenant from buying.  Colored people lived where colored people lived and the women tended the homes of rich people on the Westside, like Louis Kelton.   White people manufactured things and saved up for a backyard pool.  Service at the pleasure of others, specifically of a household or agricultural nature, was nigger work. White people didn’t do that.

For forty years this arrangement held while white people gradually decamped to Santa Clarita or Thousand Oaks, discarding neglected houses like beater cars.  Black people moved to Riverside, or all the way to the Mississippi Delta. Latino/Asian/Armenian immigrants, stacked up in apartments, busily practicing biblical relations between genders, counted the bedrooms, and said “we’ll take this gone to hell stucco box. Where do we sign?” In they came and out went grumbling white people, trailing blight.

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Along the way, California stopped making things and began designing them. China makes our things now, in vast factory campuses, where workers sleep in stacked bunkbeds like poultry in battery cages.

Nobody uses the phrase nigger work anymore. We’re too enlightened for that. We just have a vast army of surplus labor doubled up in rooms and secreted in trailers behind the hedge, rising at dawn to beat the traffic over the 405 to serve provide for the grasping needs of Brentwood.  People who question these arrangements are bigots.

Walking the dogs yesterday I encountered a new neighbor who crossed the street to pet Trixie but really to introduce himself.  We chatted amiably about Van Nuys.  He worked in a law firm. His wife was a special ed teacher. They had two luxury brand cars in the driveway. He outlined the improvements he had planned for his house and wanted to reassure me the tacky car shed over the driveway was going, and the yard was going to be re-done.

“This is going to be Echo Park in a couple years,”   he pronounced, seeking my affirmation, which I gave, but secretly doubted. Highland Park, maybe, but who am I to prognosticate? When we moved here from Los Feliz in the oughts, I was certain there were 10,000 people hot on my heels. We were going to be trend setters! We were going to plant the flag of gentrification reap the benefits of being first.   Who wouldn’t want to own a nice big yard for the price of rent on a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood?  Yeah, it might have been a little kitschy, a little dated, a little Fast Times at Ridgemont High 20 years after, with bars on the windows, but it was have-able, and fifteen minutes from Town.

Oof. I was only off by a decade.   Now I just subtract a few years from my biography and pretend to be half a genius.

Van Nuys is changing, though, and quickly. The 1200-square foot stucco box is back in vogue, by demographic necessity.   Which raises a question: how long before the quonset hut returns as a housing option? It’s rather spacious when considered next to Tiny Houses.

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It’s already undergoing a revival as repurposed office space for creative types.

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And as an architectural motif for people very far removed from utilitarian necessity. Perhaps the trend lines will converge. Everything old can be new again.

Cratchitville, on Wheels

The Affordable Solution
Affordable Housing, LA-style

As was inevitable, New Urbanism has come to Van Nuys.  The granny flat on a trailer.  Tidy. Well-ordered, aesthetic. Entry off the service alley, away from disapproving neighbors. A parallel Los Angeles blooming behind the ranch houses. An elf kingdom sliding rent checks under the door, and scurrying away, unseen.   It may be small-ish, but there is nothing cold or dismal about it.

When Mrs. UpintheValley decides the end of the hallway is not far enough, she can have this.    On second thought,  I’ll make it my Man Cave.

More Affordable
More Affordable

Such Cratchitville arrangements are not new, and exist de facto all over the city, without rental income involved.  We decry eyesores, but on what legal basis do we deny people the ability to park on an industrial street, set up a hibachi on the sidewalk, pull a lawn chair out of a dumpster and proclaim oneself at home? Provided they are not committing crime or polluting the neighborhood, what’s to argue?  The embrace of backyard trailer houses by city government will make it more difficult, politically and morally, to draw a firm line against the Shabby RV People.  The shrubbery of the San Fernando Valley is already well-watered with the urine of nephews living in the casita (read: HomeDepot toolshed) in the backyard.

Yes, someone fits inside here, nightly.
Yes, someone fits inside here, nightly.

If parking on someone’s property and paying rent is the basis of legitimacy, then the presence of wheels gives the City plausible deniability.  We are not codifying this, Los Angeles tells itself, we are giving the public a workaround from zoning law.   If there are problems, theoretically they can be rolled away.   Of course, this means any pushcart can now be recognized as an ‘housing alternative’.

There are people pushing carts all over the Valley. Or towing non-functioning vehicles from one parking location to another.  There seems to be a stark dividing line within the world of the dispossessed between those with wheeled shelter and those without. A beater car is preferable to a tent by the freeway. It means one retains aspirations of hanging on, however tenuously by his fingernails, to a place in the Social Contract.

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After the wheels are gone, there is the tent. Once the tent goes there is…the makeshift crackhead fort.

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After you are unable to cobble together a crackhead fort, you just roll yourself up like a burrito and imagine the passion of St. Francis under the stars.