This Was Never Almost Us, After All

In 1988 the LA Times published a futurist edition in which we would travel to work in 2013 in smart cars.    Robot maids with arms would clean houses.  There would be robo-pets mimicking the charm of canines.   Efficiency would rule the day. The city would mandate staggered shifts for businesses to ease traffic!

You could say it was a tad theoretical.

Among the things it didn’t predict:
Three million feral cats.
Sidewalk homeless encampments.
A vast brown service class.
Any service class at all.
The wealth effect.
A glorious reclamation of every pre-war building in the city.
Craptastic cheap Chinese consumer goods.
The million dollar bungalow teardown.
Cultural civil war.
Middle-class diaspora to Texas.
Maximalist landscaping.
Pharmacopeia.
Social media influencers.
Open borders.
Doggie daycare.
The rich calling the little people bigots.

The Times got much of the technology right: fiber optics, wallet-sized computers, streaming video; and placed it in the hands of a presumed to be a white middle-class family living in a ranch house in Granada Hills. What it failed to imagine is how technology would reshape the culture to a point where middle-class families no longer obtain purchase in Los Angeles. The Times guessed at coming of the iPhone. It didn’t imagine how the design and implementation of the iPhone and its applications would generate such vast wealth as to explode the class structure to the point where Granada Hills, like the rest of the Valley, became irrelevant to the grand design. The Times didn’t imagine the paper itself would be obsolete here, with but one reporter, commuting in.

The Timesian future of two hundred-story buildings and pneumatic tubes turns out to be Bento Box apartments peering down on ranch houses, with a light frosting of tagging.

Blade Runner was also going to be our 2019.
Air taxis? Clearly, no.
Massive electronic billboards, yes.
Clutter and cacophony. Check.
Ubiquitous street food.
Old buildings.
Asian influence.
The revival of 1940’s aesthetics.
Sexbots, almost here.
Corporations achieving power by providing a simulacrum of human companionship?
Most definitely.

It’s worth noting Syd Mead provided the original sketches for the set design as well as for the Times piece.   Blade Runner feels truer to where we are today downtown, even if it got ahead of itself with the technology and the apocalyptic weather.

Adding a layer of irony, Philp K. Dick toiled in semi-obscurity living in a tract home near sunny Disneyland, a neighborhood steadfastly untransformed by his prognostications to this day.

What was designed to be enclaves of detached homes with broad yards, fed by arterials, -the Valley 1.0- remains exactly mostly that.  Once built, the world is not easily re-engineered.   You can install a fancy kitchen and an accessory dwelling unit behind the garage. You can squeeze ten people in a house built for four.     You can make cars more gas efficient, you can structure ridesharing arrangements, but you can’t get people out of their cars.  That’s not what we built.

Regression to the mean trumps master planning. Human nature resists perfection, thank goodness.

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