Jakarta Twilight

Still life, with PTSD
Still life, with PTSD

I work the closing shift, which means I get to drive over the 405 in the middle of the afternoon, and return to the Valley at 10:30 pm. On a good day, Brentwood to Van Nuys in under 12 minutes, if I hit all the lights. I’m one of the few people in LA who loves his commute.  Like an idiot, I’ve tempted fate by saying this aloud.

Yesterday, I had to go to work early, which means I left early, which means I joined the tail end of the normal commuter flow, with everybody else.  How bad could it be?

Lets put it this way: at seven thirty, I was on Barrington,  four cars away from Sunset Blvd, looking out the window at this beautiful vintage gas station framed in milky twilight, and in a very civil mood. Off early! I could go to the gym!  Perhaps Mrs. UpintheValley was still awake and could be had for the price of a foot rub!  No tired lion, me. All possibilities were on the table.

At eight o’clock, darkness had fallen, and I was still next to the same gas station, on the Sunset side, and I was plotting revenge against everyone who ever wronged me.

The stoplight would cycle through, and nobody would move.  This didn’t dissuade anyone entering from side streets inserting the nose of their car into the scrum.  Unhappy honkings all around…random, pointless, like steer lowing in a slaughterhouse pen.

I thought of Joe Gillis evading the repo men in the opening sequence of Sunset Boulevard, and how comically unrealistic that would play now.  When much of LA was laid out, traffic signals looked like this:



Gas stations looked like movie palaces and Westwood Village looked like this.


K-Town looked like this. That’s Oasis Church on the right.  It is now one of the shorter buildings on Wilshire Blvd.  Add three million people to this picture and take away the Pacific Electric Red Car.  That’s where we find ourselves today, scurrying to rebuild the public transportation we once had.    A bus and rail line for the working poor, slumped over in their seats, ear buds on, locked into their own podcasts, dreaming of the day they’ll be able to afford a car of their own.  And a house in Van Nuys.

It took me an hour to reach the freeway. That’s .25 mph.  Point two-five! The full Jakarta…


When I entered Macleod, they were playing traditional Irish songs and ballads.  iPads were used in place of sheet music,  I couldn’t help noticing. Here, two centuries were working to shared advantage.  I ordered a Better Days ale. Beer has rarely tasted so good.

“Free” Landscaping

Our utility bills at work
The law of incentives at work

In the interest of conservation, the Department of Water and Power is offering cash rebates to homeowners willing to replace their beloved lawns with drought tolerant landscaping.  If this calls to mind some of the lovelier succulent and native plant gardens one sees in the swankier parts of town, that would be an understandable assumption.   The Valley being the Valley, it’s a little different in practice.

An outfit called Turf Terminators is pocketing $3.75 per square foot for scraping turf, backing up a dump truck of gravel, dropping it without a weed barrier and planting a one gallon pot every six feet and calling it “landscaping”.  This plague of ugliness is sweeping north from Oxnard Blvd., the unofficial demarcation line between good taste and tastelessness in the Valley.

Noah Cross slept here


Valley Circle Road. Four square miles of rolling pasture land, rock outcroppings and valley oaks.  Totally off limits to the public.  No biking. No hiking. No horseback riding. No climbing. No picnicking.  No dogs. No kids. No swimming. No music. No trespassing. No frowns.   This would be entirely within the borders of the second largest city in America.

In case you were wondering who’s really running things, in case you have lost track of which end is up,  in case you’ve forgotten where babies come from….the entity which has withdrawn this splendid resource from the public domain and fenced it off from its owners, the public…is the same entity which is paying for glossy mailers in every race in our upcoming election and every ad you see on TV.  God save Los Angeles.

The Passion of Dan Stroncak




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.”

Dept. of WTF


Los Angeles is ‘broke’. Meaning, despite an annual revenue stream well into the billions, it has managed to spend well beyond these billions and is, like the state of California, perpetually in deficit.  One asks for a bike path to be built, or a particularly blighted median or embankment to be landscaped, and one is told these are extravagances. There is no money for anything beyond essential services.  Downscaling expectations, one asks for nuisance crimes to be enforced, for tagging to be removed in a timely manner and the request goes unanswered.  The pothole on your block deepens with each rainstorm, till the day you go to Home Depot, buy bags of asphault patch and fill it in yourself.

And yet….somehow there is always money for a) salaries and pensions found nowhere in the private sector; b) luxury junkets to various locales by public officials; c) an endless slush fund for shakedown settlements to city employees suing the city; and d) vanity projects.    For example, the Woodman Avenue Multi-Beneficial Stormwater Capture Pilot Project.  And what might this be?

For several blocks,  cisterns will be embedded beneath the median to absorb the rain run-off,  letting it percolate back into the water table beneath the valley floor, rather than sluice past, all the way to Long Beach.  Duly captured, this .0001% of the valley’s rainwater would then be available, theoretically, for pumping to some unbuilt reservoir, at some unnamed future date our water needs require. And when was the last time we pumped water out of the valley floor?  1913.  A century ago.  The Sierra snowmelt and William Mulholland’s great swindle have served the Valley in good stead ever since.

As a bonus, there will be benches and trees placed atop the median, in case one might have an idle hour with a book and wish to spend it stranded between six lanes of commuter and two lanes of residential traffic, or engage in shouted conversation with a neighbor.  Hence, the ‘multi’ in beneficial.

Total price tag: $3.39 million.

No member of the public asked for this. Nobody.  How did this particular Potemkin village come to be?   In the usual fashion: one government agency (DWP) petitioned another (State Water Board) for the money, and they passed the costs along to the rest of us. In 2009.  The depths of the recession. In what would prove to be five straight years of double-digit unemployment. A period so fiscally dire, Sacramento imposed the largest sales/gas/car tax package in state history,  $1100 per family, employed or not.  Simply had to, you understand. Services cut to the bone.  Bond rating in danger.  Anything less would be irresponsible.

Now you know where your money went.