Suppose we were to have a civil war in L.A. Suppose the breakaway provinces north of Mulholland Drive declared a sovereign city. Suppose the armies assembled in the Sepulveda Basin for the first pitched battle, Blackwater vs. the Valley Militia. Suppose after sustaining heavy losses to sniper fire Mayor Garcetti called in a napalm strike from the air to give his Hessians cover to retreat.
My question is: would the result look different than what the homeless army has done to the Basin this summer?
If I want to camp in a state park, I have to purchase a space and obey a long list of prudential diktats. Squatting in dry brush with a gas grill and a crack pipe would be at the top of the NO list.
The line between civilization and a state of nature is drawn with butane.
And unlimited EBT cards.
And the right to shit on the pavement forever.
And loot store shelves.
And break windows.
And step off a bus from Ohio with a heroin habit, a bedroll, and an incontestable claim to residency.
All this is de facto legal now.
In fact, it’s a billion-dollar-a-year business.
Want to guess the budget for the Valley Audubon Society?
Enough gloom. Let’s take a peek on the other side of the dam. Something seems to be happening on the spillway. Some kind of roller skating party. A clandestine meetup of photographers and models and dance troupes. That’s not allowed! No one is supposed to be there.
Breaking the rules, all of them. Until the park police chase them away, it’s all spinning girls and illicit smiles and the possibility of the city reclaimed from those who stole it from us.
He was a bottom feeder, a man without talent. He plied the tourists on Hollywood boulevard for tips. When I crossed paths with him five years ago, his costume was visibly grungy, like he’d slept in it for days. He hassled me for money for taking his picture. I hadn’t been. He just happened to walk through the frame as I photographed a mural. He was missing teeth. He looked exactly like what he was, a meth-head impersonating his former self impersonating a comic book hero, badly.
Earlier in his two decades on the boulevard, Christopher Dennis looked the part. He had the length of bone, the jawline, an aquiline nose topped off with dyed black hair to evoke a reasonable facsimile of the DC comics version of the Man of Steel. Padding filled out the suit. By the end, he looked like Superman down to his last 50 T-cells.
During the descent, he managed to wrangle appearances on Late With Jimmy Kimmel and the Morgan Spurlock documentary Confessions of a Superhero.
He claimed to have lost his costume and his front teeth in a mugging. Crowdfunding appeals raised money for him to get his cape back and fund a web series about his life, neither of which materialized. He told different stories to different people to explain his circumstances. Sometimes he would be slumped in the street, in a fugue state, babbling to himself, drawing in his notebook. His decline was covered with uncritical sympathy by local media, heavy on the passive voice, always with appeals for assistance, as though his schtick was worthy of the character he was feeding off. His life became a meta-hustle of the public for the means to return to hustling the tourists for drug money.
Naturally, he ended up in Van Nuys, on Nury Martinez’s Skid Row North™.
Last week his body was discovered in a Goodwill collection bin. He had climbed inside seeking to pilfer donated clothes. This is his last known photograph, from the website People Helping People LA.
If you’re not sensing much sympathy for a dead man, I’ll tell you a story. I picked up a stand-up comic at the Orange Line station not long ago, on his way home from a gig in NoHo. I’ll call him Doug. He’d been working out new material, he said. After much trial and error, he found a way to make it click. He killed his set, and now he was treating himself to an Uber ride home. Not that Doug had been paid anything for his work on stage. Normally he would walk the two miles up Van Nuys Blvd. to his garage apartment off Saticoy. But tonight, on such a high, to navigate Nury’s Living Room for the walking dead, that would be asking too much of himself. It would call into question his entire life in LA.
Doug was avoiding Christopher Dennis, whose superpower was self-indulgence. I turned the app off and gave him a ride the rest of the way home for free. It was the least I could do.
Los Angeles runs on guys like Doug, who keep the cocktails flowing and the cash register ringing to pay the headliner. It takes balls of steel to get onstage and do original material. You can’t hide behind a cape. Even modestly successful road comics end their careers unmourned and little remembered.
That’s Sandy Baron second from left in a still from Broadway Danny Rose, Woody Allen’s sweetest work and a tribute to those on the fringes of show business. Sandy started in the Borscht Belt, and would have faded from pop culture right about here, in a cameo role at the Carnegie Deli, and probably died broke, were it not for this:
His turn as Jack Klompus was so successful Seinfeld brought the character back in five episodes, and Sandy got to spend his final years in notoriety, with some extra money in his pocket. He passed in 2001 in a nursing home in, where else, Van Nuys.
The upper picture was taken in April. The second one I took at the open house last week. That’s framing to Zillow in two months. This ain’t your grandmas accessory dwelling unit. Granny flats will be granny-free in three years. Sooner, perhaps. For this kind of rent money, people will let her sleep on the living room couch.
In its own halting way, Van Nuys is going Sherman Oaks. Sherman Oaks is going West Hollywood, which is going Tokyo.
In a related development, one of my neighbors put new siding on his house.
And the City of Los Angeles chipped up some perfectly good wheelchair ramps and filled them back in again. Because the money has been appropriatedprogress.
Ask the city for basic beautification and neighborhood street lighting and you will be told there is no money at all. The City is broke. Broke! The field deputies rattle their chains of poverty the way my mother used to wail over her $100/month land payment. But when it comes to Keynesian ditch-filling stimulus, the bucket of Monopoly money is bottomless.
Behold the good people of K-town, marching down Wilshire, in protest….
Against climate change? No.
A homeless shelter on Vermont.
This is the point of frustration we have reached in Los Angeles.
Faced with the abnormal being made permanent, the city is in rebellion.
There’s just one catch. With one city councilperson per 300,000 residents, rebellions can be safely ignored. The Koreatown shelter, mightily resisted in May, is quietly being moved downmarket to working-class linguistically divided Macarthur Park.
What are the odds Latinx Armenian Filipino Thai Middle Eastern White Hipster Van Nuys is going to escape a similar fate?
Lets put it this way, we are unable to get the palm weeds pulled in front of the Valley Government Center. The weeds don’t pay anybody. They don’t have a lobby. But in The Nuys they own the sidewalk. One can obtain Bitcoin at an ATM on Oxnard Blvd, then cross the street into a state of nature. Such are the contradictions we enjoy now.
Every time you see one of these guys understand there are people who do not live in your neighborhood making money off them. Your blight is another person’s meal ticket, shuffling about in rags. He has a power structure behind him. You do not.
Service providers with a stake in the outcome infiltrate public meetings with shills holding signs and nary a peep of contradiction do we hear from the Times. The lobbying by interested parties and the coverage of same by local media has become a feedback loop of assumed agreement.
Among the unexamined assumptions are these: Is there a right to hop a bus to LA, squat on the sidewalk and declare residency?
Are such people entitled to free housing and health care?
Can Angelenos demand sobriety and labor in return for public assistance?
Housing is cheap and abundant across the U.S. Why is LA the solution?
Mr. UpintheValley votes No, No, Yes and Good Question to the above. My neighbors would as well. Which is why we do not hear the Issue of Issues debated in the city government. We get warnings instead. They will educate us about our misconceptions.
Who among us practices the inclusivity he preaches? Very few. If there is a person in the power structure downtown who has opened his home to a crack addict he has been awfully discreet about it.
Our ability to live Christ’s example is daily impeded by the dark river of social ills policymakers have created. The current is too strong to cast our nets as fishers of men, even in those off moments when we wish to. City Hall is breaking the bonds of fellowship between citizens. It has made us all a little harder, something we’re beginning to recognize in ourselves and resent.
Almost everything about Van Nuys has changed dramatically for the better in the past decade. Except for Shantytown, Inc.
As my friend Wise Andrew put it, we may be looking at the twilight of tolerance.
“If you aren’t soliciting, you have no reason to worry about finding one of these letters in your mailbox. But if you are, you and your wife or family will have something to discuss at dinner. This letter will discourage you from returning. Soliciting for sex in our neighborhoods is not okay.”
Since my car is frequently seen on Sepulveda Blvd., I guess I can look forward to receiving many such notices like this.
Mrs. UpintheValley‘s car is on Sepulveda twice daily. In fact, she’s in the habit of frequenting the known prostitution hot spot that is the Jon’s supermarket parking lot, the better to prize meat for her husband. No, really. You don’t think…?
Gee, and to think we were sharing the same bed all these years.
Flattery of politicians through muraling is the hallmark of Third World governance. Why are we doing it in Los Angeles?
Why are we allowing politicians to put their faces on public service billboards, campaign style, paid for with our tax dollars?
Why are we allowing Councilman Jose Huizar to use the marquee of the historic Los Angeles theater on Broadway as his personal bulletin board?
Why are we allowing Kevin De Leon to throw a party for himself at Disney Hall, complete with mariachi bands and banquet tables, to “celebrate” his selection to the revolving post of Senate Pro Tempore?
Juan, a nice young man who works for a neighborhood advocacy organization approached me last week with a petition. ‘Sign here, and Nury’s office will ask for streetlights for the neighborhood.”
How wonderful. Who could say no? Sure I’ll sign…
Not so fast. The streetlights are going to cost ‘only’ $6/month, per house. $72 a year, for life.
Juan was having difficulty collecting signatures.
Streetlights fall under the category of Things We Already Pay For. That is, in the normal run of things in the wealthiest state in the country, from the vast pools of property tax revenue, income tax, sales taxes, utility taxes there are ample funds to light the streets. Not so in the banana republic of Los Angeles, where we are now being asked to kiss the ring of jefa Nury, and pay a special assessment, to obtain what Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena, even downmarket working class San Fernando already have by right of citizenship. How soon before we are issued shovels and asked to fill in our own potholes?
Hector Tobar, formerly of the Times, wrote recently the presence of a permanent caste of squatter communities is the signature characteristic of Third World cities. A life-long Angeleno, liberal, and son of Guatemalan immigrants, Tobar sees Los Angeles heading in this direction. This is true, but only half the story. L.A. has its own twist on the formula: Swedish levels of taxation and Brazilian levels of service. A two-tiered society with a narrow band of Beautiful People on the other side of the hill living in an urban playground of artisanal pleasures, and a vast workforce paying top dollar to live within commuting distance to serve them, then returning home to unlit streets.
All one has do is leave the city limits to see how different it can be.
Last week, in the run-up to the city council election, I posted of the ongoing problem of the crackhead encampment blocking the Bear Mural on Roscoe Blvd.
Two days later, the crackheads were gone.
Whisked away, as though by some kind of municipal rapture. Only tagging and little heaps of discarded clothing remained.
I’m not sure how I feel about this.
To have a cranky blog post turn the gears of the City machinery in a helpful direction is…satisfying on the one hand. On the other….really? Really? This has been going on for over a year. I tag Nury Martinez’s name on election eve and suddenly somebody who matters picks up the phone and calls Street Services?
Okay, I choose to be grateful. Full props to whoever made the call, whatever the motivation.
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.