Lyle Lanley stopped by. He has a monorail to offer us.
It’s official. Two consortiums have been hired to submit plans to LA Metro for the decades-in-discussion Sepulveda Pass Project. Numinous configurations have been proposed over the years but the finalists are:
1) A $6 billion monorail above ground from the Expo Line in West LA to the Van Nuys Amtrak station, splitting the 405, or:
2) A $10 billion heavy rail line (think NYC) running underground from UCLA to Sherman Oaks, coming up for air just south of Valley Vista, then becoming an aerial over Sepulveda Blvd.
Stranded in traffic, we are to weep in envy as it zips over our heads.
Both plans terminate at the yet-to-break ground East Valley Metro line on Van Nuys Blvd. Both hang a hard right at Raymer Street and claim to reach the Bundy Expo Line station in 20 minutes.
All that infrastructure headed right for Mr. UpintheValley’s backyard. Who knew? I would feel like a rather cunning real estate buyer if I didn’t know how long this will take.
It would be the biggest public works project in California since…High-Speed Rail from Bakersfield to Modesto. The 405 in the Sepulveda Pass is the most congested stretch of freeway in the United States. In a reasonable and rational world we would have built this instead, built it 20 years ago, or at least during the four years we spent widening the roadway, but here we are.
The Raymer Street angle fascinates me, having walked through this low rise industrial neighborhood for years: granite yards, supply houses and weed shops. The Favela sprouting at the edges. The two rail lines need to intersect somewhere and the Amtrak/Metrolink station would make it a 3-for-1. But there is no getting around the fact the train would be going to a location which for now lacks housing.
To make it pencil out, the area will have to be rezoned mixed-use residential. What am I saying? Nothing has to pencil out. We are in the uncanny valley of architectural renderings and near-futurism. Wait till the Sherman Oaks and Bel Air Homeowners associations get into the mix.
If we build it, they will come. If we fund it, they will stay. If we tell them there shall be no rules about flammables, there will be five encampment fires a day.
We are four decades into abatement schemes and the more money we throw at the favela, the greater the number of tents we have, the larger the encampments. We have multi-story structures now, cobbled out of scrap wood and plastic, kitted out with big screen TVs and slash pools, generators and barbecue grills. We spend a billion dollars a year now in LA County, not including police and fire, to service the unhoused. Let’s call it what it is: a business, an industry, farming people like a crop.
Ugly metaphor? Perhaps. Inaccurate? You tell me.
Here is the Raymer Street pedestrian bridge, an ADA compliant right-0f-way for students atttending Fulton Middle School. This is what 11-year-olds have to walk through twice a day. At either end people smoke crack openly, within grabbing distance of passerby. This state of nature has been in place, uninterrupted, for over a year.
Would you let you kid walk here? Probably not. This is known as adverse possession. A public conveyance now belongs to the favela, managed by Homeless, Inc., the key participants whom feed off the giant tit known as the City of Los Angeles, then go home to sleep in the neat orderly satellite cities like Glendale, where no one is allowed to camp or park overnight.
Don’t look now, but change might be brewing in Los Angeles. In July the City Council quietly altered Municipal Code 41.18 as follows:
“The ordinance prohibits sitting, sleeping, and keeping belongings within ten feet of a driveway or loading dock, within two feet of a fire hydrant, or in a way that obstruct sidewalks or right-of-ways. It also gives council members the ability to flag encampments near sensitive sites in their districts—daycares, schools, parks, libraries, freeway underpasses and on ramps—without establishing a blanket ban on camping in those places. Enforcement in those locations can’t take place until the City Council has reviewed the location and voted to approve action being taken.”
Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the ordinance, says it gives he and his counterparts the freedom to “take action as deemed appropriate” when a problematic encampment has been identified in a sensitive area.
Yay, fiefdoms! Mr. UpintheValley approves.
There are two interpretations of 41.18: it’s either A) Kabuki theater, unenforceable by design. What is the criteria for “obstruction”? If its statutory, why should each eviction require a vote? I see opportunity for the Council to masquerade as responding to public outrage while pretending their hands are tied by others.
Or B) Leverage. 41.18 has usable teeth and each council member will now have the ability to establish how much chaos will be tolerated in his/her district, and act accordingly. Nury Martinez, in theory, could turn Van Nuys into the Glendale of LA by enforcing anti-camping laws within her district. Mike Bonin can continue to hand over the beaches and parks to temporary™ housing solutions and answer to his voters. Performance discrepancies between districts will no longer be off-loaded to “systemic complexities” of the issue.
Self-responsibility is not a burden I see the council taking on willingly. So I suspect the answer was going to be A. Or would have until recently.
Now there is a wrinkle. A big one. The recall elections in District 4 and 11. Don’t know about Nithya Raman, but Bonin might be toast. I work his district every weekend and hear the loud talk of people determined to speak freely and to cast ballots in anger.
There are lots of angry homeowners in the Valley as well, but we are too busy subdividing amongst ourselves over Trump or BLM or personal grievances to organize. Besides, who would listen to us? Venice eats up all the good press.
Tellingly, the last non-machine candidate elected to the City Council was also from Venice, Ruth Galanter in 1987. Since then, the uniparty has gone approximately 120-0 in local races. With dominance comes disregard. The recalls might alter that calculus.
About thirty years ago a revolution took place in urban policing, beginning in New York. Precinct captains were required to stand in full dress before their peers and answer for the crime stats in the neighborhoods under their watch. No longer could one shrug: don’t blame me. It’s Snake Plissken country out there.
It’s time for each Councilmember to be made the sheriff of his district.
The most impactful structural changes come in under the radar. Has anything done more to increase housing supply within the zoning footprint of LA without distorting residential neighborhoods than the ADU law? It has added to the tax base, put additional equity onto homeowners balance sheets and didn’t cost the taxpayers a dime.
If successful, the Recalls + 41.18 might, might, set in motion an era of accountability. What a delicious irony it would be if the first blow against the machine occurred as an expression of tribal solidarity by upscale white liberals.
*Historical photos courtesy of LA Herald-Examiner Collection
Last week I happened upon the personal effects of another man’s life…spilling from burst garbage bags, tossed at the Narrows…at the crossroads of three tent encampments…a window into the past, when packs of young white men swaggered across Los Angeles in boots and ripped jeans, hair bouncing in expectation of near fame, failing that, admiring glances from the ladies, failing that, self-affirmation in the mirror.
The first thing I noticed in the pile was this framed graduation photograph from Bonds-Wilson High School, Charleston, South Carolina, class of 1978. This is quite an artifact to turn up in the Favela 40 years later. Did he live in the neighborhood all this time? Why else would it be here?
He joined an 80s hair band called Warhead. That’s him, second from the right. Encylopaedia Mettalum lists two songs in their oeuvre: “Explosive Rock”, and “Tonight, We Rock”.
A few years later, the band left South Carolina in a bid for the big time, re-constituted in LA as Bad Influence. Westar Promotions, the promoter/manager, lists a Van Nuys phone number. This may be as far as they got. I asked a wise veteran of the metal scene of that period if he had ever heard of them. He hadn’t, “but there were a literally a thousand bands.”
He wasn’t kidding. Also among the effects, a yellowed copy of Rock City News, the Sunset Strip free weekly ….pages and pages of bands remarkable only in their astounding similarity. A phone book of douche faces (and I say that with affection) attached to forgettable monickers: Terriff. Tarrga. Thieves & Lovers. One is reminded of Mick Mars’ dictum: if the band has a shitty name, it’s certain to be a shitty band. That’s probably unfair to the people we see here whose skill level ranged from classically trained to hack, but there can only be one Motley Crue and a whole lot of earnest young men handing out flyers. It’s the unforgiving animal we all ride.
There was a point in life when your hair was the most valuable thing you owned. Or to express it differently, there was a point when you had hair. You cared for it, the fulcrum upon which tilted your destiny.
Then there is this. Who is she? A girlfriend? A beloved sister? Was she the keeper of his memories? Did she mourn him or tire of him? Is he alive? If so, is he in Los Angeles, still working a day job? Why would you keep this all these years, only to toss it on Raymer St, behind Target?
Why do so many dingbat apartments look like minimum security facilities?
What do you do in your confinement but lay on your stained mattress in your airless sweatbox at the Casa Royale and wishcast on Craigslist a whole other life for yourself?
You scroll listings you can’t afford, like young Lucas, my protege at Lord Bezos Farm. You fantasize a rent-controlled studio for $900, three blocks from the beach, with no need for air conditioning. No commute over the hill to work. You, and thousands of others living off the 405, sharing an opium dream of fog slipping through the open window while you sleep.
In a mockery of desire, the very life-changing rental you seek crops up…. and just to really make you feel extra bad, it’s $300 less than you’re paying in Van Nuys, and one block from the Promenade. You drag yourself the open house to buy your lottery ticket, but only because you can’t talk yourself out of it. You send unhappy texts to Mr. UpintheValley, anticipating defeat.
Dude, the line for that apartment is huge. Nowhere to park. Think I may bounce.
Me: Stay and fill out the paperwork, at least. There’s going to be hundreds of applicants. God hates me. I won’t get it.
Me: God loves you. Fill out the paperwork.
So Lucas stayed for the paperwork and paid the $60 application fee for the Apartment No One Gets, and went home to the Casa Royale feeling like a sucker. Two days later he gets a text. He, out of the audition line of supplicants has obtained the apartment. Suddenly he is Charlie Bucket, holding the gold foiled Wonka bar.
Which left the small matter of the mattress, and its sweaty, unhappy residual memories, better left in the Valley. Lucas decided to dumprecycle it at the Narrows, at the crossroads of three homeless encampments. Over my objections, ladies and gentleman of the jury, as a homeowner and Mayor-Without-Portfolio of northern Van Nuys.
Dude, it’s going to be gone in an hour. Someone will sleep comfortable tonight.
Later that evening, I walked the dogs up to the Narrows to reassure myself the mattress was …recycled. It had. In its place…amidst the festival of plastic garbage, I found the repository of another man’s history. Someone’s else’s life in LA which closed out in D minor on Raymer Street. A moment of urban symmetry.
Three days later, on my way to the gym, I saw a mattress which looked suspiciously like his on Roscoe Blvd., over by the airport, two miles from where he left it. I sent an accusing text.
“That’s not her. My lady didn’t have those handles….”
And I thought of the dirty futons of my youth and wondered what became of them. I thought of the bed I chopped to pieces and set on fire in an act of marital cleansing and renewal, many years ago. All the escape chutes I wished for that never came to fruition. Suffering has brought me a different kind of happiness.
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 diminishbe 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.
Larry got booted from his mattress fort on the Pacoima Wash yesterday. Official personages from the City gave him 24 hours to vacate. I asked him where he was headed next. He said he didn’t know. He didn’t want to go to Raymer Street with the rest of them. He preferred his isolation. He asked me if I worked at Kaiser hospital. I told him no. He was certain he recognized me from there.
“You look like a doctor I used to know.”
The white favela, I couldn’t help noticing, is becoming less white.
What is the Christian thing to do with someone who walks around with a crack pipe in his hand in the middle of the afternoon but is otherwise harmless and agreeable?
After a summer without a sighting, I found Rebecca tonight in the scrubland behind the 405.
A woman was sitting on the Metrolink tracks, lacing up her shoes, bellowing incoherently into the ailanthus: Whag-gle! Whah-gul! It took me a moment to realize she was trying to say “White Eagle”. I walked through the bushes in the direction the woman was shouting and found Rebecca dragging her cart across the dirt.
She’d lost a little weight since May. It hadn’t been going well. The Valley was pretty well picked for scrap. The battalions of the white favela had seen to that. A weeks work of scrapping net a little over 20 pounds of copper coil. A steady drop in metal prices meant the Raymer street yard was paying $1.60/lb. Her old man was drinking it away in front of the 7-11 at Roscoe and Sepulveda. They had been living on Orion for awhile but had recently gotten bounced by local merchants. Before that, The Narrows. Before that, Saticoy.
Someone had stolen her tent while she was at the recyclers. She had no money for a new one. She was on the move.
For the time being, they were sleeping behind Jack in the Box until they figured it out it.
A smiling purse, a unicorn, a lighthouse in a storm…if you’re living out of your RV, what does it mean? Out of all the detritus of middle-class life one might collect during one’s perambulations through the Valley, why these three items? Why are they facing the outside of the house? Is it a political statement? Are they semaphores for the state of mind of those living within? Are they aspirational?
Perhaps they are offerings left in exchange for generosity to those living in tarp houses nearby.
Like this one.
They’re everywhere. This is the new normal in Van Nuys. This is what Prop. 47 has wrought.
Driving home from Home Depot I saw this guy pushing his cart out of a drainage swale on Raymer Street, huffing with effort. I missed the shot, he’s mostly out of frame, but we can just pretend it was an artistic choice.
These guys are everywhere now. Addiction is a full time job.