This is Norm’s, at 13640 Sherman Way near Woodman, on an ominous day when the dark clouds made the orange and red architectural details stand out even more.
Van Nuys is sometimes and often justifiably known as a cruddy place.
It presents its public face, along Kester, Victory and Vanowen, as one of disorder: discarded mattresses and couches, tagged walls, empty storefronts, littered parking lots; and gelatinous, black spandex covered illegals pushing shopping carts and dragging water bottles to the corner market. Prostitutes walk day and night along Sepulveda. Gang graffiti is sprayed on white walls and then erased by angry property owners.
And then there are sections that seem out of another time, neighborhoods where commercials are filmed in front of picket fence houses, storybook cottages, lovely and well-tended.
At night the sirens and the helicopters come out often, waking up the sleeping residents.
And when day breaks, the streets are again quiet, but often sprinkled with discarded condoms, broken bottles and last night’s McDonalds wrappers.
West of Kester, north of Victory, we inhabit one of those “pockets” where there are mostly single family homes. Some of these houses are empty. Their owners have died, but their children do not choose to sell. Other houses are rentals. And many are owned by a variety of people: rich, poor, young, old, gay, straight, Mexican, Guatemalan, Armenian, Black; renters and homeowners, disabled and elderly, infants and young families.
The overriding theme of the area in which I have lived for 16 years is fear of blight and crime. We want our houses to stay well-tended, to keep up property values, to put up a wall against the overwhelming power of social forces beyond our control.
When news spread that The Village Family Services had purchased a single-family home at 14926 Kittridge, to house 6-10 “at risk” young people aged 18-24, something got the community galvanized.
Who would supervise, residents asked, half a dozen or more kids when everyone knows supervising even ONE teenager is often impossible. Answers from Village Family Services were after the fact, as if purchasing and setting up a bad business in a nice neighborhood, even a non-profit one, is OK as long as you have the bucks to put it in. No questions asked.
What business is it of yours, VFS seemed to say, asking how a non-profit drug and alcohol halfway house might not be a good addition next door.
Public records show that 4 bedroom, 3 bath 14926 Kittridge was in foreclosure in June 2014. It was owned by Jose A and Maria G. Mojica.
It sold to The Village Family Services for $540,000.00 in October 2014.
A raucous and badly run Wednesday, November 19th meeting of the Van Nuys City Council, where members ate pizza as others in the audience yelled and screamed, and disorder predominated, was what some of our neighbors encountered when they attended . Officials pronounced that the deed of purchasing the home, and the plan to move in the kids, was a done deal. The only variance would be allowing even more to move in, possibly 10.
A friend of mine, who knows how these facilities are run, says it’s about profit. You can charge perhaps $900 a month to house each tenant, which multiplied by 7 or 9 might bring in as much as $8,000 a month, more than enough to pay a mortgage on a $540,000.00 house.The house itself is nice looking. I drove past it the other day and shot these photos.
A community meeting and petition drive will be held at this house this Saturday, November 22, 2014 from 8:30-11:30AM. All concerned community members should attend.
(Postcard courtesy of Valley Relics)
Assisting Tommy Gelinas of Valley Relics in his cataloging of unique and historic items related to the San Fernando Valley, I came across this June 1974 postcard sent from Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys to a family in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
“My Dearest Ones,
Sorry I haven’t wrote sooner but so worried and upset over Mother. Almost lost her. Her pulse was dropping down to 15 from time to time. Then a week ago last Sunday she had a heart attack in the hospital. A week ago today they did surgery and put a pace maker in. She looks great and feeling so much better. If all goes well she will go to my place a week from today.
Edie and Jim”
The medical center, still standing but greatly enlarged at 15107 Vanowen St., is described as a “unique circular medical center, located in the San Fernando Valley.”
Last night, one of our periodic public safety meetings was held at the Columbus Avenue School.
For once, the walking prostitute was not Topic A.
Instead, a sitting house represented the newest threat.
Seems 14926 Kittridge, a pleasant and recently remodeled single-family home, west of Kester, was sold to a group (The Village Family Services) that intends to turn it into a residence for young, troubled people.
Nobody in the community was informed. There were no hearings, no forum to stop the project. And now the neighbors were angry.
On hand was Councilwoman Nury Martinez’s Asst. Field Deputy, Guillermo Marquez, a pleasant young man in suit and glasses whose unfortunate job involves fielding complaints from every constituent reporting couch dumping, homeless encampments, abandoned houses, illegal sign posting, gang tagging, and now the addition of a troubled youth house in a quiet neighborhood that has enough trouble with troubled adults.
Also on hand was Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian (D-CA) who represents something called “46th district, encompassing the central-southern San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles.” I never heard of him or knew I lived inside his kingdom, but apparently he is descended from other important Armenian-Americans having worked for Councilman Paul Krekorian.
He represents our district, which includes pushing for the conversion of the Orange Line Busway into the Orange Line Railway. We have a great bus system, with beautiful trees and a beautiful bike path, but it seems it must be turned into a train because not enough cars get hit by buses to make it work.
When I asked him about the wretched condition of the center of the San Fernando Valley, the district of Van Nuys, he was at a loss for words. The redevelopment and revitalization of this lost and neglected downtown does not fall under his power. That belongs to “city leaders” not “state senators”.
This is where I, bad in math, good in geography, become baffled.
Van Nuys is in the state of California. Mr. Nazarian is our state senator.
But only for a section of the San Fernando Valley. Which encompasses Van Nuys.
He is our Assemblymember. He represents a part of the Valley. He is not the mayor, or the councilman, or a representative, nor does he fly to Washington. But apparently he is someone in elected office who works upon our behalf.
Then we heard from one of the best speakers of the night: Senior LAPD Lead Officer Erika Kirk in the Van Nuys Division.
Shiny, smooth, combed dark hair pinned up, about 30, compact and well-spoken, gleaming silver badge and pressed navy uniform, she reviewed all the small bad things going on around us: kids hanging out in cars smoking pot and throwing beer bottles out the window, the empty dark house at 15102 Hamlin owned by Kathy Jo Bauer and a frequent location for crime, a falling down fence at Haynes and Columbus, negligent property owners who tolerate illegal dumping at the Casa Loma College.
Most of these situations have gone on for five or more years. They are intractable and confounding. But she assured us she is working to resolve them.
The problems that have afflicted this neighborhood are often flung at the police or elected officials who are asked to “just do something!”
But what can one say, for example, about a continually littered and neglected mini-mall at 14851 Victory, owned by a wealthy Bel Air man, Ori B. Fogel, who cannot even hire someone to sweep the curb in front of his stores?
Until the day comes when the errant slumlord gets a $10,000 fine, or the woman who refuses to clean up her abandoned houses faces $75,000 in criminal negligence, the property criminals will do what they have always done, milking and neglecting while earning money even as the community of Van Nuys suffers.
From the archives of USC comes these fascinating (Dick Whittington Studio) photos of Vanowen and Laurel Canyon Blvds. in 1931.
What might have become of the vast and verdant emptiness had it been developed with a plan, or a vision, beyond that of buyer and seller and developer?
It would be an intersection harmonious, civilized, aesthetic and humane.
Instead, it is today a monstrous urban carbuncle of cheap, ignorant, lowdown, poisonous ugliness; billboards, traffic, crime, and junk food bake under hot skies and treeless hell.
This lost place wears a name tag provided by the billboard: ignorance.
Mayor Eric Garcetti has announced (as politicians do) a grand plan.
He wants 100,000 new homes (apartments, houses) built in Los Angeles by 2021.
A few years back, Mayor Villaraigosa had a grand plan to plant one million trees in Los Angeles. Yet one still drives down many treeless streets in Los Angeles. Past 60 year old homes.
Were one million trees planted? Or were they just promised?
Political promises need concrete actions. Talk is not enough.
Van Nuys is sitting underutilized and degraded, dead center in the San Fernando Valley, with thousands of acres of asphalt parking lots set behind vacant shops and boarded-up slum buildings.
Van Nuys Boulevard is the heart of the slum, a depressing place without architectural vision or urban imagination.
Why not, Mayor Garcetti, start building your walkable, bikeable, modern housing right here?
The Busway is nearby. The infrastructure of public transport is here.
All that is missing is a viable environment surrounding it.
Mayor Garcetti, come visit Van Nuys.
We are right near the intersection of today and tomorrow.