Month: April 2019
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.
Rock Bottom, Meet Basement
Aldi, the estranged cousin of Trader Joe’s, just opened on Roscoe Blvd. It’s about the size of TJs, but with a bigger parking lot. The most successful grocery chain in the world with 8000 locations, and expanding aggressively into southern Cal, this is their first store in the Los Angeles proper, and but a mile from Chez UpintheValley. Let’s check it out.
The product mix consists of a lot of private label brands I’ve never heard of, containing items I’ve seen before in different wrapping. Or at least think I have. Is this not a Kind Bar, with a new label?
Isn’t this Duncan-Hines? That’s what ze Germans want us to think. For all I know it is Duncan-Hines. Is this important? Probably not, in the case of cake mix.
But what about organic? The Whole Foods version is on the right, a dollar fifty more. So is Aldi buying from Horizon and undercutting on price, or are both Horizon and Aldi buying from third-party vendors? Or is the Aldi version deficient in some way? Are they getting the chaff from the first cut of quality control and passing the savings on to you?
The nutritional information is identical. Aldi is opaque in the provenance of their products. Reading the label tells you nothing. Everything is “distributed” from Aldi. Inc., Batavia, Illinois. One can see how semi-familiar packaging flattens the branding distinction, bringing the price point forward in the decision process.
Do I really want to go below 50 cents a pound for pig meat? Five more days of Lent….think it will keep? Tempting…
Here’s where the store goes sideways for me: a surprising quantity of non-food items clogging the aisles. With limited shelf space and a deficit of certain products I was hoping for -better beer selection, more vegan ice cream, Trader Joes-like stuff- why so many steering wheel covers, fire extinguishers, carbon monoxide alarms, gun safes, dog crates, bookshelves and garden furniture? Do you really want to sell shovels and bagged soil three blocks from Home Depot? How about a two-ton car jack? Why these products? Were they remaindered? The margins on a square foot basis can’t possibly work. Unless they can.
China is 43 miles from Van Nuys, disgorging craptastic product lines at the Port of Long Beach like the Normandy invasion. Every single day. In that environment, nothing should surprise us.
Aldi has the warehouse feel of Costco but without the scale. Priced to compete with TJ’s, but grey, institutional and cheerless, and lacking the unique gourmet items. I was hoping for Fresh and Easy, which I loved, and this is not it. Fresh and Easy is dead as last weeks mackerel and Aldi is expanding, so what do I know? Then again, so is Harbor Freight.
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.