An Invasive Species

Mr. UpintheValley was weeding the yard this week … his exertions caused him to free-associate…and he was reminded of the strident opposition anti-gentrifiers have to art washing.  In Van Nuys, weeds are weeds, but if you’re defending Boyle Heights, art is weeds. Art on the walls begets pop-up stores, which in turn beget poke bowls, which beget Lime scooters, leading, inevitably, to the dreaded/welcomed Bento box apartment block and people posting to IG while crossing the intersection on scooters on their way to have dreaded/welcomed poke, all but daring the locals to tap their brakes a moment too late.  Abstract this, sidewall beardo guy…

It’s an invasive species, proclaim the nativists, this malediction/bloom of white hipsters. Murals are a semaphore for an invading force which should be resisted at all costs, by direct action if necessary… all are on a continuum…and a good example of how one can be correct on the facts but still get the politics wrong. Urban neighborhoods are nimble in their mutability, everchanging,  and in Los Angeles more than anywhere else we circle back to the origin along a genogram that often reads: Smith->Jefferson->Lopez->Chen->Smith.

After weeding,  I made my way to the Sepulveda Basin, where I frolicked in sheaves of wild mustard, shoulder high…such joy among the wild bunnies and predatory birds…only to read later at home I had been celebrating a pernicious weed siphoning resources away from native plants, encroaching on the habitat of local fauna.   Officials have a list of such plants..they call it The Evil 25.  And there I was…dancing like the demented villagers in The Wicker Man, exhausting synonyms for yellow, welcoming the invaders, abetting evil. Also, I like both gourmet coffee and pretentious ramen, making me trebly bad.

Invasive species can be defined as alien to the local ecosystem and whose introduction causes economic or environmental harm to human health.  They compete with natives for limited resources. They alter the habitat they enter.  They are difficult to eradicate.  Encountering no natural predators or environmental restraints, they multiply rapidly and set up colonies.

We note the obvious in the privacy of our cars on the drive home but speak it aloud at our peril.   If this is okay, why can’t I park on the freeway and take a nap on my way home when I get tired of driving?  Why can’t I throw my trash in the Pacoima Wash? Why can’t I join the Free State of Jones when the whimsy strikes me?  Why don’t we call things by their rightful name? How did we come to surrender so much common sense in the course of a decade?  Why do we genuflect before obvious lies in the hope of dodging condemnation?

In short, shouldn’t we be viewing bad policy decisions as weeds?

Perhaps this fruit of local government should be added to the invasive species list.

Like usury, which makes a gain from money itself, not through the means of exchange it was intended for, but by replicating endlessly through interest, Los Angeles government is self-breeding.   Its offspring is more government.  Rather than being a conduit of public will, it manufactures consent for bad policy through patronage. It funds advocacy groups which petition the city “do something” about the issues from which those same groups stand to profit…in a feedback loop of gluttonous virtue.

2007 advocacy: Stop enforcing the law. Let them camp in the street.
2019 advocacy: Camping in the street is shameful.  This crisis demands a permanent flow of money.  For us.

For $500 million, we could purchase housing in less expensive regions of the country for every street person in LA.  Here’s the deed. Here’s your bus ticket.  Done.  Prop HHH raises $355 million per year. How many are we housing with that, and why are we doing it here?

When everyone in the picture is applauding themselves, without irony,  it’s time for Los Angeles to do what New York did in the ’90s: get back to first principles.

Valley 2.0, YIMBY-ville

Like kudzu, garage houses are going up all over my beloved working-class Brigadoon.   Not your grandmothers granny flat. A casita royale. Numero deux. The deuce. YIMBY-ville.

Something with a separate address, and a ghost in the stucco where the door once was.

Yimby, Yimby, Yimby.  Literally.  Just around back. Through the side gate.   C’mon in.  A house of one’s own.  Yes, right here.  Yes yes yes.

The old arrangement: five cars in the driveway and a door within the door of the garage had all the plausible deniability of a 40oz malt liquor in a paper bag.  This served, for decades, as the ugly-yet-practical affordable workaround in a city which restricted new housing stock to Instagrammable apartment blocks for sugar babies, well beyond the economic reach of the unsubsidized. A few carbon monoxide deaths a year from space heaters may have been the price to be paid, but as long as there was a single electric meter the City looked the other way.

Very quietly,  by allowing garage conversions, Los Angeles has potentially doubled housing stock in certain neighborhoods. The accessory dwelling unit is out of the closet at long last and ready to walk the boulevard in tight pants.  Always thirsty for permits and taxes, it’s the City’s unofficial way of expanding horizontally without sprawl.   The backyard is the new outer ring suburb.

Californians in this era of the one-party state have been required to accept conditions that our predecessors would never tolerate.  Every once in a great while, it can get something right. I think this is going to work, though it will have detractors on aesthetic grounds, as one moves upmarket.

Then again, there’s this. Valley 3.0. Vehicles with extension cords.

Hot Fuzz of 1972

TICKLED WITH THE CHOICE–Gaylean Dunn, center, of LAPD’s Van Nuys division, reacting with delight as she is named “Miss Fuzz of 1972” in a beauty contest with 14 other policewomen.

Go-Go boots.
High crotch shorts.
“Miss Fuzz”.
Van Nuys for the trifecta.

The winner was chosen by male members of the Police Commission. No, really.

Lest we judge harshly, this was still two years before Angie Dickinson as Sgt. Pepper Anderson in Police Woman.  In 1972 the LAPD didn’t allow women to serve on street patrol. The department got away with it by establishing a height requirement.

Gaylean appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson as a result of her victory.  There was no “Miss Fuzz of 1973”.

Photo credit: Ben Oleander, LA Times

Ginger Drysdale At Home

November 6, 1961: “These are exciting days for the Valley’s Ginger Drysdale, the beautiful 22-year-old wife of the famous Dodger pitcher. Ginger, a photographer’s model who has done many television commercials, recently was summoned to Warner Bros., placed under 90-day option and given a part in ‘Hawaiian Eye.’…Ginger is going to spend this weekend helping Don paint their comfortable, modern three-bedroom home in Van Nuys.” 

I’m trying to get my head around a major league athlete moving to Van Nuys at the peak of his career, let alone a Hall of Famer, even if he grew up here as Don Drysdale did. But then I would be forgetting this was before free agency.

Drysdale won 25 games in 1962, for which he earned…$36,000, together with Sandy Koufax half of the dominant pitching duo of the decade.

They were paid at the pleasure of owner Walter O’Malley who thought of contract negotiation thusly: “Baseball is an old-fashioned game with old-fashioned traditions.” Translation: you are bound to me by a reserve clause, while I enjoy a congressional exemption from anti-trust laws.  

It was not uncommon for players to take second jobs in the winter.  Stars like Drysdale opened businesses.  The Dugout, on Oxnard St., lasted until 1982.  Today it is the location of La Serenita, a Mexican restaurant.

Koufax owned the Tropicana Motel in West Hollywood,  which would prove both lucrative and historic in the 1970s.

America wasn’t winner-take-all then.  There was a lower ceiling but a higher floor (for white folks). Teachers and Dodger wives shared driveways and did their own house painting.

Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw were paid $62 million this year.   There are people on my block who live in converted tool sheds, then commute to work, in keeping with our New Normal.

On the other hand, I have Moroccan tile in my bathroom now, which no one in Van Nuys had in 1962.   I also probably eat better than the Drysdales did, and so can pretty much anyone who takes the time to shop creatively in the cornucopia of LA. Most of us don’t. We eat with our hands from a salty greasy bag without portional restraint. Right now I’m eating Japanese buckwheat noodles and bok choy, watching an ad for Progressive insurance and here’s Stephanie Courtney as Flo,  TV’s top pitchwoman. I think of the few hundred actors below her who book regular commercial work and below them, the Breughel-like masses, the 100,000 actors who book nothing and try to create mystique on YouTube….and there, in the background, are the picket fences of Orion Street,  Van Nuys’ contribution to Americana porn.

All these things are true simultaneously.  Los Angeles is nothing if not polarity.

Ron Shelton wrote a wonderful speech for Bull Durham neatly summarizing the distance between those who make it to the major leagues (and enjoy million dollar contracts) and those who languish in the bus leagues until they give up hope:

“Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There’s 6 months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week – just one – gorp… you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes… you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week… and you’re in Yankee Stadium.”

In 1969 Ginger filed for divorce and a restraining order against Don, citing 30 separate incidents of assault. Don passed away in 1993, alone in a hotel room.

Drysdale’s second wife sold his memorabilia for over a $1 million in 2016, twice the sum he earned as a player in his entire career, making his memory more lucrative than his performance.  Ginger got nothing.

Photos courtesy of Valley Times Collection

The Twilight of Tolerance?

(Photo credit MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Behold the good people of K-town,  marching down Wilshire, in protest….
Against climate change? No.
Trump? No.
Kim Jong-Un?
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.

Free State of Jones

The Tenderloin, San Francisco, last week.

The Valley, yesterday.

You’re looking at two cities moving in opposing directions in dealing with derelicts.

I include the top photo in the name of thoroughness. It’s misleading.  There are few people pitching tents on the street in San Francisco.  Very few.  This I can report after a thorough walking tour of the problem areas of the City.  I didn’t see encampments. Nor blue tarp pallet houses, surrounded by whirlpools of plastic garbage.    No wagon trains of ramshackle vehicles converted to housing lining the streets.   There is nothing like Skid Row, not even under the freeway.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: the City has a stumbling army of drug addicts in the Tenderloin/Mid-Market Street area, a smaller battalion in the inner Mission, and this is a highly visible problem, at times loud and threatening. But it is localized.   Walk five blocks and you’re well out of it. I lived in and around SF for a decade, and the Tenderloin has always been like this.

Spending a few days up north was a shock to the system. San Francisco in my memory was the gold standard of street craziness and civic permissiveness.  Compared to the shitstorm Los Angeles has inflicted on itself in the past decade it might as well be Canada.

There are structural reasons why things are the way they are and at the top of the list is the Jones agreement between Los Angeles and the ACLU permitting sidewalk camping in the wake of a 9th Circuit Court ruling in 2007.

We give them free phones.
We give them EBT cards.
We provide gold-plated healthcare, unavailable to rate-paying citizens.
We allow the 911 system to be used as a taxi service.
We allow shoplifting under $950.
We have issued a hall pass for all infractions from jaywalking to defecation.

But the granddaddy of broken windows, the original sin, is camping on the street. Offer up Los Angeles at a cost basis of zero, pay them to stay, place no limit to their number, then watch the Law of Incentives go to work.

William Bratton, then Chief of Police, wanted to appeal the Jones decision and had law and precedence in his favor. The Ninth Circuit held that addiction/alcoholism was an involuntary status, like cancer, and could not be criminalized. Sleeping on the street was involuntary conduct, protected by the eighth amendment. To say either of these floodgate opening premises would be viewed differently by a higher court would be an understatement. The City of LA was happy to take the opening the lower court offered to do what it wanted in the first place: pretend its hands were tied and create a sanctuary. Bratton was replaced with Charlie Beck, a careerist eager to parrot fashionable schemes.

The original injunction was limited in scope to Skid Row, and only to times when shelter beds were unavailable. In practice, it was applied citywide without discretion.  Now it’s a billion dollar business, protected by a militia of interested parties. Since the passing of Props. H, and HHH, Los Angeles has hired over 1,000 additional employees at every level of homeless services.

Just try pulling the plug on those jobs and service grants. Why would you? The quarter-cent sales tax is with us now and the money will find a pocket to land in, and that pocket will go home to South Pasadena, where they have “No camping” signs at the city limits.

No other municipality in the Southland does this, not even Santa Monica anymore.

We have two populations sharing the same real estate: one based in civic responsibility and bound by the obligations of paying bills, living at the mercy of City Hall…the other feral, Free State of Jones.

When The Valley Was Resistance

Court-ordered school busing lasted two years in Los Angeles, 1978-80.  Like all busing schemes, it ended, for practical purposes, the moment the first white kid was ordered to get on a bus to a black neighborhood.    

As the repository of white students in Los Angeles, the Valley was at ground zero of resistance.  Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys) wrote Proposition 1, a state constitutional amendment prohibiting court-ordered desegregation based on residential patterns.  It passed in 1979 with 70% of the vote,  a greater showing than even Prop. 13.

That was a different Van Nuys, California.

In fairness to the parents, this macrame of red lines, each representing a bus caravan of kids driven over the hill and back, starting in kindergarten, was LA Unified’s fever dream for achieving racial integration.

Today the argument is academic. There are few white kids left to bus in LA. They live in Santa Clarita now. Or Portland. If they’re here, they’re in private schools.

1978 California was bland food and free-range kids and no seat belts and no China and no Google and cheap neglected starter homes and tacky retail to the horizon.

1978 California also had a broad middle class culturally homogenous enough to forge a consensus against the edict of a judge from Laguna Beach.

*Historical photos courtesy of Los Angeles Herald-Examiner Collection

On Billionaire Beach

Come to Malibu, said Johnny, we have a house this weekend. 
By house, he meant an AirBnB on Carbon Beach.
As a friend of friends, I was able to slipstream past the access point at Geffen’s house and park in a driveway.
Being a peasant from the Valley, I arrived overdressed.

It’s hard to think of Malibu and not think of James Mason walking into the sea.  Or Joan Didion composing despair on her balcony with a scarf around her head, or this painting by Alex Colville:

Which you might recognize in cinematic form, from the movie Heat.

There’s something about an empty house, the horizon line and eternity.  Self-destruction must be near at hand.

Malibu did not always reference glass box ostentation and social isolation.  It once meant simple cottages by the sea.  Single story. Wood shingle.  Mid-market.

Roddy McDowall maintained an open house policy at his bungalow in 1965 and the weekends were filled with Hollywood royalty eating hot dogs and drinking beer like, well, like people would in Van Nuys.  His home movies of the stars rusticating on his veranda are a window not only into timeless Pucci dress Marlboro-on-the-fingertips glamour but an era when the social contract worked for more people.  No maids.  No people living in cars. No lavish landscaping.  No security systems. No “coastal access points”.  Hollywood people may have been prettier than everyone else but were not appropriating public spaces for themselves.

To walk the beach Saturday was to stare at a row of uninhabited fortresses, propped up on stilts, in defiance of nature. Look at me! they demand, but don’t touch.  I am a show horse, here to signify the social pecking order. My utility is my expense.

The bigger the house, the less people use them.   (A corollary: the fancier the kitchen, the less people cook.)  Larry Ellison of Oracle owns ten, right here, within a mile of each other.  I don’t think he has a mistress stashed away in each one.  He’s hoarding, not from the little people, but from other mega-wealthy.

When you peek underneath the decks, things get a bit interesting.  The ravages of nature are everywhere.  In rough weather, the surf splashes up against the pilings, and into the wood framing and all things metallic.

If you believe in sea level rise due to anthropogenic global warming, why would you ever sink money into these structures?

Yet the prices only keep going up.  The AirBnB, which was only three bedrooms, sold this year for $18 million.  Despite their prolific funding of environmental causes, I suspect they don’t really believe in AGW on Carbon Beach.  Or maybe they half-do but are to content to rent the sand from Mother Nature for a few years before flipping it to the person who sells the tungsten rights to Uzbekistan under the table and needs a place to park the cash.

They decry the idea of a Mexican border wall, but they love their gates and cameras.  Just like they oppose all development west of La Cienega but expect crisply folded linens.  They love regulating plastic straws but there is never a limit on the carbon footprint of donors to the DNC.

As we had cocktails at sunset, living as billionaires for an afternoon, a dozen people lounging on the deck…clever, pretty and kind we may have been but not a child we had between us.

Two thoughts arose: If it’s good to be rich, perhaps it’s better to be a friend to the wealthy.

We may need a new vocabulary for what we are doing in California. Someone needs to translate for future historians of our Instagram feeds how we blew through so many civilizational stop signs.   How we committed suicide by other names.

Take the Copper, Leave the Drywall

Tweaker…picking the remains, Van Nuys.

The timbers, I notice, are well-preserved, straight-grained and true.  Old growth, probably. You can’t get it anymore, at any price.

Anything hockable has been stripped, hauled off in shopping carts and bartered at the scrapyard, then converted to crack cocaine and exhaled,  unsatiated, in a fit of tachycardia in a tent by the Orange Line.  The metals will journey onward via container to Long Beach, then China, which will melt it down and sell it back to us as a consumer good.

In a couple days, perhaps tomorrow, the carcass will be demolished along with the other homes and taken to the landfill, save the fireplace masonry, with will be salvaged by the specialist, and retailed for a buck a piece at Balboa Brick.


Bamboo flooring! Oh, the hopes someone once had for the place.

…and a swimming pool, even though the backyard abutted the 405. The concrete will be broken down into aggregate and live again, as some sort of structural underlayment, perhaps as a breakwater.

In six months the lots will be consolidated and a six story Bento Box apartment building will sprout in their place.

I think of the Moroccan tile we installed over the summer.    How satisfying it felt as the back butter grabbed the floor and the corners met precisely, within 1/32 an inch of tolerance.  How permanent.

The Town Los Angeles Forgot

To walk the sidestreets of downtown Van Nuys on a weekend afternoon is to not understand what decade one is living in.

Part noirish, part Western, part mid-century time capsule, part zombie movie. I don’t understand why it hasn’t been put to cinematic service more often.

We don’t deal with weeds, but we’ll damn well tow your car. We don’t care what decade it is.