Our Broken Window

Gene Raymond Townsley — Arrested in Church Theft

“Angry Pacoima Churchmen Nab Suspect – Irate church members armed with baseball bats, garden tools and lead pipes last night captured a former parishioner of the Mary Immaculate Church in Pacoima after the church poor box was robbed of $2.09.”

Two bucks. To the courthouse with the Jonathan Rhys-Meyers doppelganger. Pretty was no panacea.

The 1959 rules were:
Do not steal.
Doubly so from the church.
The poor box? Gimme that shovel.

This is what I saw on the way to Trader Joes yesterday.  Do you think everyone in Northridge decided one day this was going to be the new normal?  But there they are just the same.

When I worked on Lord Bezos’ Farm, in the gourmet department, street people would wander in and calmly load their backpacks with premium wine and liquor and walk out the door with impunity.  They made no attempt to conceal their theft.  If we caught them and the total value was under $950, which it always was (occasionally, daringly, it would kiss up to the prosecutorial red line) the shift manager would turn them loose to return another day.

This is not forgiveness but licentiousness.   No one voted for two sets of books, one for the law abiding and another for the Free State of Jones and its profiteers, but this is the mockery of compassion we now must endure.

If you think this benevolence extends to you, try being $100 in arrears to the city as a commuter and taxpayer.  Count the days before the late penalties turn into bench warrants.

You don’t know my name, said Jean Valjean. I’m a thief.
Of course I do, said the Bishop, your name is Brother.
You forgot your candlesticks. Use this silver to become an honest man.
God has raised you out of darkness, I have saved your soul for God.

The priest’s gesture was effective because he spared Jean from a return to prison for life.   Remove the gendarmerie from the equation and there is no grace, only pointless indulgence.   No redemption, no Marius, no Cosette, no wedding.

I wonder what became of Gene Raymond Townsley?

The Bishop of Digne painting by Darin Ashby

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.

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.

Sherman Oaks vs. Bridge Housing

Last night Notre Dame High School hosted a funhouse mirror version of the dialogue referred to in churches as call and response.

Councilman Ryu: I’m sure you want to hear what I have to say- Booooo! Recall!

I asked the following organizations for advice- They don’t speak for us!

The Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council- You don’t live here! Put it in your backyard!

Let me be clear, no actual decisions have been made- Liar! The Council has already given its recommendation!

If I know Sherman Oaks- No, you don’t! Liar! Go back to Koreatown! Liar!

After five minutes of abuse, the Councilman abandoned the microphone.   LAPD Officer Pitcher took a turn. The mob was not satiated.

Officer Pitcher: Tonight we have to be respectful- Enforce the law! There are only six patrol cars in Sherman Oaks! How are you going to manage once the shelters are built?

As a prelude to Mayor Garcetti’s run for president, we all have to endure his solutions to the encampments of drug addicts, alcoholics and mentally ill who have flocked to Los Angeles to enjoy its services.    The plan: more free stuff.  In this case, trailers set up on public property as bridge housing.

Right here, on Sepulveda, between the fire station and the barracks.  Those who showed up for the open house to hear the pitch were not having it. No one believes the trailers will be temporary, and cynics have history on their side.  Also, Sherman Oaks doesn’t really have a homeless problem. Yet. Van Nuys has a homeless problem.  The Sepulveda Basin has extensive encampments.  The trailers would pull an undesirable population across the 405 freeway into the neighborhood proper.  Over a bridge, literally. Relocating a problem where it doesn’t yet exist.

To his credit, Ryu stuck around for an hour and took the heat.   How did a guy from K-town end up representing the Valley, you might wonder.

This is how. Behold the perfidy of the District 4 map.  The quadrant in the upper left is Sherman Oaks.   Guess where the Bridge trailers are not going? Hancock Park. Silver Lake. The Hollywood Hills.  That’s why they draw maps this way.   So City Hall can impose its schemes with the toss of a dart. Contiguous districts, fully within the Valley proper, would reflect community consensus.

Which explains, partially, the yelling.

Lord of the Devil’s Asshole

Back in the heatwave of June, I told an acquaintance on the nightclub side of the hill where I lived.  Van Nuys is the Devil’s asshole, he announced without hesitation.  He was referring to the heat, but his tone suggested something more.

Every kingdom has its Lord, I replied, half-joking.

If not I, what shape would this lord take?  Who would be the definitive representation of our sun-splashed, slightly noirish Brigadoon? He might have a weapon protruding from underneath him, like a tail. He might have his fist around a bottle of Jack Daniels, crisp jeans and a gold watch. He would be rusticating in the middle of the day, which is how I found him after I dropped $1100 on maintenance for my trusty Honda CRV, which makes me very much an un-Lordly figure.

Ziggy, on the other hand…he knows who’s the boss.

Stoker has no sense of irony, and zero pity. If you want a portrait of dominion, look no further.

Lords, all of them.  I welcome submissions and nominations.

Three Versions of Storage

One man’s refuse is another man’s treasure, never more so than in the backyard, where the hoarder goblin is allowed to run off leash.

Here’s Van Nuys in a single frame. On the right side, 6537 Columbus Avenue, every inch of lot given over to vehicle storage.  Whose cars? For what purpose? Why boats? Mysteries. It’s been going on for years.  On the left, the footprint for 6530 Sepulveda, formerly the brothel known as the Voyager Inn, now known as SkyLA Tower, with 2 bedroom apartments leasing at $2750.

Two hundred people utilizing a lot proportional to the one next door housing dozens of used cars, while people are camping on the same street.  Perhaps a pretty good argument for eminent domain?

Unfortunately, this wouldn’t resolve the storage issue. In all three cases, someone is making a lot of money off things as they are.  Servicing the indigent is literally a billion dollar business now, in Los Angeles alone.  You could seize the car house,  put up a shelter over the anguished wailing of the KesterRidge Neighborhood Association and it wouldn’t make a dent in the tents on the street.  We pay them to be here. Until we stop doing so, the Laws of Entropy prevail.

The Runnymede Poultry Colony

Driving through the Valley using the Uber navigation app, I’ve noticed something called the Runnymede Poultry Colony popping up in the street grid of Reseda….in the middle of a subdivision.

Places that haven’t existed for decades, places with evocative names like Wingfoot, Broadmoor, Mission Acres, Wahoo…can be found on old maps, particularly those of the Pacific Electric streetcar lines.  Intriguingly, Google Maps utilizes a historical overlay, so when you zoom in, these unfamiliar names pop up in familiar places.  The White Favela, for example, sits atop a forgotten neighborhood called “Raymer”.  The navigation apps, including Uber, ride atop the Google platform and that brings us to the utopian community of Runnymede.

“Intensive little farms”, in the phrasing of its founder Charles Weeks, “bringing peace of mind, health of body and an abundant living to thousands bound in slavery by wage-earning and too much business.” It was located in the Winnetka neighborhood, not Reseda, named for the city in Illinois from which Weeks originated.

For $1500 in 1925,  pilgrims got a modest bungalow set back from the road on a deep narrow lot,  a poultry shed with 2000 hens, a vegetable garden, fruit trees, a bee box and a grape arbor. You’d leave the eggs by the road for the morning pickup. You’d wash your own clothes and make your own ice cream.  You’d do it all on one acre, as a family,  living self-sufficiently in the city of Los Angeles.  In case you thought you were still living somewhere in Iowa,  you could ride the Red Car down Sherman Way and over the hill into town and watch Rudolph Valentino.  But you didn’t do that because you were pious.  You also had 2000 chickens to attend to, and kids running around in burlap underwear.  You were keeping Gomorrah well-omletted.

It wasn’t a collective farm, exactly, because you owned your own land, but there was a trade association, a community center for weekly functions and a beach house in Santa Monica the 500 Runnymede families could avail for picnicking in the summer.

If the Valley had developed along the one-acre per family Weeks model, there could have been potentially 150,000 such farm/orchard/home businesses today.  Assuming the necessity of middle children (several, ideally) we would have a population under a million, but big enough to sustain a city, with trolley lines and bike paths everywhere.  Counterfactually speaking, this was possible.

But it foundered, as did so many things, during the Depression. Falling egg prices,  the inability to make loan payments. Weeks himself went bankrupt self-financing loans to the families.  By 1934 it was over.

Instead, the Valley developed as the owners of the land wished it to. Remarkably, there remains to this day intact solitary lots … stubborn holdouts against the street grid,  crazy spinster aunts clinging to life after all the relatives have passed on.

You can see how much they’ve done with the place. That’s the problem with cheap land. Seldom do we make good use of it.

Which reminded me of the house we almost bought before we came to Van Nuys.  This one right here. It wasn’t part of the Colony, but the lot was as long as a football field. The structure was worthless.. teardown condition, but oh, the two week fever dream I had!   Not that I had any experience in this regard, my rather vague, very rudimentary, very what the hell anyone can do this plan was to grow organic spices and produce specifically for local restaurants.  I would be Mr. Local Source. The land would pay for the house. Gentleman Farmer, me. Purveyor to the stars of cuisine.

Just like this mini-farm tucked behind The French Laundry, in Napa.  When you dine there, you’re grazing right off the yard.

One of the peculiarities of our present Downton Abbey on the Pacific is working class people double bunking in apartments, fattening up on caloric take-out, while the gentry drop half a year’s salary on authentic peasant food grown on the most expensive ground in California.

As it happened, the house with the ginormous lot was already in escrow, sparing me the inevitable folly of a Branch Davidian-like standoff with City officials over unpermitted agricultural output.

I would have made my bride a widow defending the soil like an Ulsterman.  I would not have lived to hear the wise counsel of my friend Johnny: we’re only leasing it from God. The crust of the earth can shake us off like fleas at any moment.

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.