From the website of Ron Finley:
“FASHION INNOVATOR. MANIC COLLECTOR. RENEGADE GARDENER. VISIONARY. COMMUNITY ACTIVIST.
Raised in South Central Los Angeles, Ron showed an early passion and talent for fashion, and started his innovative clothing company, The DROPDEAD Collexion, in his family garage. The DROPDEAD Collexion featured Ron’s unique design vision expressed through top quality workmanship and materials. The line was a top seller with high-end retailers such as Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. Ron Finley’s design ingenuity attracted the attention of many celebrities, and he was the go-to designer for several NBA and Hollywood stars, including basketball All-Star Robert Horry. The DROPDEAD Collexion set the standard for the fashion forward.
Ron Finley started collecting Black entertainment memorabilia, both for its preservation and also for a connection to his own history, and now owns one of the premiere collections of this genre. The current exhibition of posters from Ron’s collection, Ron Finley’s Travels Through Blackness: International Movie Poster Design 1920′s to 1970′s, depicts the progression of Black experience in the movie industry. It is an exciting show and generating much interest in the work!
When Ron found that it was impossible to buy healthy produce in his neighborhood he started growing his own! This turned into a passion for the art of gardening and the study of permaculture. As one of the founders of LAGREENGROUNDS.ORG, Ron Finley leads the fight to transform neighborhoods currently identified as “Food Deserts” into “Food Forests.” LAGREENGROUNDS installs gardens in homes throughout South Central Los Angeles free of charge, bringing healthy fruits and vegetables to families in need.”
Los Angeles is not, by nature, an introverted, bundled up, snuggly, gray, rainy city.
But this year, the rains came early.
And we have had several weeks of storms, cold nights, blustery evenings.
And sparkling days with intermittent showers and drizzles, puddles and frost.
Nearby, up in the mountains, the nights are much colder and snow has fallen, snow that is visible way down here in the San Fernando Valley.
These few days, between Christmas and New Year’s, transformed and tamed the City of Angels into a Portlandia: wool sweaters, hot green tea in gloved hands, dog walkers and hikers encased in down jackets and flannel shirts, Icelandic wool caps and long scarves.
In Studio City, at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon, Laurel Tavern was filled with down-vested drinkers.
In Van Nuys, there were hardly any barking dogs left outside at night.
Only the occasional swoop of the helicopter…
I went up to the rocky, steep and trampled dirt of Runyon Canyon a few days ago. From that high altitude, I climbed higher to a mountain overlook, a physical cliff, where the streets spread out below in every direction and I could see for miles from downtown to Catalina Island.
This is where you come with your parents when they visit from out of town.
And you can sometimes convince them of this city’s virtues, because they meet its bright views absent its shady people.
And again today I went up into Wilacre Park above Studio City to capture something as brief and beautiful as a child walking for the first time: a sun and smog cursed city magnificently and somberly draped in dark and gray clouds, chilled, sobered and intellectualized by the absence of suffocating heat and blinding light.
A meteorological delusion. This is not Los Angeles. But the camera captured it. It must be real.
Refreshed and purified, swept clean for the New Year, the city and the region, ready to welcome 2013, another year, which will once again dump its toxins of illness, worry, debt, violence, deceit, sadness and broken hearts into our lingering days.
I could live here happily if it just looked sadder a few more months of the year.
Large expanses of asphalt and black tar bake in sun day after day. These are the parking lots behind retail stores, many untenanted, forgotten and forlorn on the west side of Halbrent,north of Erwin, east of Sepulveda.
This area is chiefly known for two businesses: The Barn, a six-decade-old, red-sided furniture store and Star Restaurant Equipment & Supply advertised for 12 hours every weekend on KNX-1070 by radio fillibusteress Melinda Lee.
The Barn uses its parking lot to store trucks. But next door to the north, lot after lot is empty.
I came here this morning with a camera, lens cap off, a provocative act in the bracero’s hood. In the shadows, undocumented workers hide behind doorways and look away when I aim my digital weapon at asphalt. I mean the Mexicans no harm or ill will.
Blithely walking and lightly thinking, daydreaming, I forgot that I have no business here amidst the enormity of emptiness and unproductivity.
I’m looking for a story, for an angle, for a job.
So many are out of work and so much can be done to employ mind and muscle and money.
There is such a wealth and a waste of land in Los Angeles, and America in general. Imagine what Tokyo or Bangkok would do with all these unused acres!
These empty spaces are within a five-minute walk from public transportation, Costco, LA Fitness, CVS and Staples as well as two grammar schools, three banks and an Asian supermarket.
This is a walkable place.
A well-financed visionary could build a low-rise, dense, green, urban farm upon these entombed soils, plant Oak trees, create a little garden with fresh fruits and vegetables, oranges, lemons, and asparagus.
This is a place of potential.
An architect could design some functional and modern attached houses, artfully shading them with native trees.
But for now, the parking lots suffer in silence; waiting for the day that California fires up its economy, wakes up from its long slumber and pushes progress.
Last year, Money Magazine, in its annual Best Places to Live issue, reported some interesting facts about Beverly Hills, CA, population 33,974.
The median (average) family income was $142,180 and the average home price was $1.5 million.
By reputation, many would imagine that there are far wealthier people living within Beverly Hills’ borders, people who earn in the tens of millions and live in houses worth $5 million or more.
Whatever the case, this wealthy town once allowed children to attend school here even when those children came from outside the town borders. Part of the costs were subsidized by the state of California.
In 2010, when California was in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression, and towns across the state were struggling to pay bills, and others were going bankrupt, Beverly Hills tax revenues surpassed state funding. So California no longer needed to send money to Beverly Hills.
Out of 4,600 students in Beverly Hills, 430 or less than 10% live outside of the city. And the school board is voting to expel the outsiders.
Some part-time city employees in Beverly Hills, people who clean the streets, collect garbage and polish parking meters, these people with children also benefited and sometimes enrolled their kids into Beverly Hills schools.
According to KPCC radio writer Tami Abdollah, Beverly Hills Board member Lisa Korbatov was incensed that as many as eight families of part-time workers were enrolled in the district. She said, “This is not charity. This is a school district. We are dealing with taxpayer money. I don’t feel sorry for you. This is not kids on chemotherapy.”
The MTA has been in a contentious battle with Beverly Hills as well, because a proposed subway tunnel would slice right under the vaunted halls of Beverly Hills High School. Signs all over Beverly Hills express opposition to digging under the school.
The idea that civil engineers, scientists, transportation planners and other experts see no danger in digging beneath the ground to build a subway (as has been done safely for over 150 years) is not satisfying to the protective parents of Beverly Hills. They are much more soothed by having their kids walk across the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevard, which was named as one of the ten most dangerous intersections in the whole United States.
Subway and school sound ominous when paired. As do: pregnant woman/high voltage power lines or dog park/fresh water reservoir.
Imagination and irrationality, selfishness and self-centeredness, provincialism and pompousness, these dark behaviors are parading across the sunny landscape of Beverly Hills these days, a town of humungous vulgarity and high-class criminality, where fake faces and pretend psychoses afflict a large portion of the pharmasized population and danger lurks behind every hoodie.
In terms of a progressive agenda, one that includes educating the lesser privileged, and building infrastructure to move Angelenos across the Southland, Beverly Hills stands blindly and obstinately, blocking the rest of the region from reaching a brighter sunset.
‘After the Party….’ On Black
“Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who served as a missionary in France and recently toured Europe, said Obama is determined to impose a Euro-style welfare state on the U.S. at the expense of free enterprise.”-Washington Post, Jan. 11, 2012
And here are some ominous photos, taken from Google Street Maps, which show the dangers that await America should it adopt a more European system of government, taxation and environmental policy.
A street in Sun Valley, where flooding once occurred, and polluted rain water carried toxic waste, garbage and chemicals down to the Ocean, has been rebuilt to incorporate green landscaping, flood control, and solar power lighting. Courtesy of Tree People, the Metropolitan Water District and the LA County Department of Public Works.
West of the 405, the vista opens up.
The skies are big and the mountains vast.
This is the land of beer and jets, trucks and steel; gasoline, fire and the burning sun.
This is the Van Nuys Airport, the Flyaway, the Anheuser-Busch Plant, many warehouses, and an enormous sod farm.
Here men and women are working, a necessary condition.
And the horizon of the San Fernando Valley, the blue skies and the straight wide streets, the planes taking off, the delivery trucks speeding across Van Nuys, and a commuter train blowing its horn; this is work and we are in need of work and we live and work; and hope that work returns to our nation as it did in times past.
“L.A. County has begun to rewrite the “DNA” of its streets with a new Model Streets Manual that will set guidelines to support improved safety, livability and active transportation options.
This effort was supported through a grant from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, through its RENEW initiative. RENEW stands for “Renewing Environments for Nutrition, Exercise and Wellness.” It’s inspiring to see a health-focused organization embrace a leadership role in Placemaking by broadening the scope of its concern to include planning for the built environment.
There is a growing understanding that streets configured to support an active lifestyle can lead to positive community health outcomes.
As Streetsblog reports, team lead Ryan Snyder of Ryan Snyder Associates has said the manual is like “the DNA of our streets, and it defines everything from where to place bike lanes to how wide a roundabout should be.”
Coming down in sheets, in cycles, ad nauseum.
Sheets of soaking wet weather slicing across the Valley.
I drove down to Studio City.
By the time I got to Whitsett and Magnolia it was dry.
I parked near Fulton and the LA River and shot some photos.
I went to Peet’s Coffee and met some friends.
I ordered a double espresso..
Then the sky darkened and the palms along Ventura blew and the rains came.
The rain abated and I ran to my car and drove home.
At my home computer, I sat and waited for the next cycle of storm to begin.
Then my mother called from the Marina and said she saw a fabulous rainbow.
A statewide bill, authored by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, could make California the first state in the US to ban plastic bags in grocery, drug and many convenience stores.
On this blog, back in February, I took a trip over to Woodley Park and walked along the LA River where I found a sea of plastic bags hanging on trees, floating along the river bank, and covering the ground.
One of the most prominent bag labels belonged to the Ranch Market, an Asian supermarket with a local store on Sepulveda and Victory. On many shopping trips there, I have been shocked at the amount of plastic bags that are used by the store. If a shopper buys six items, the store will often use six bags to package the goods.
Of course, a ban on plastic bags is opposed by oil companies, Republicans and anybody connected to the petroleum and plastic industries. In the San Jose Mercury News, this quote: “The governor has signaled he’s interested in signing a bill like this,” said Tim Shestek of the American Chemistry Council, a coalition of plastic manufacturers and corporations including Chevron, Dow and ExxonMobil. “So our focus right now is on the Senate and hoping common sense prevails and the bill does not reach the governor.”
The council estimates the ban will threaten 1,000 state manufacturing jobs due to decreased demand. And Shestek said grocery costs will grow “because people are going to have to pay for grocery bags they currently receive for free.”
The council’s ad campaign — dubbed “Stop the Bag Police!” — features a baton-wielding officer and warns the bill “is equivalent to an estimated $1 billion tax increase.”“
But any common sense person who sees the environmental damage of plastic bags, would understand that there must be a better and more environmentally safe way to wrap a carton of eggs, a can of deodorant, and a pound of ground beef.
“At a press conference at City Hall this morning Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa introduced Michael LoGrande, his nominee to success Gail Goldberg as the city’s planning director. At some moments the rhetoric of the mayor and fellow speakers — including LoGrande, City Council Member Ed Reyes, and Planning Commissioner Bill Roschen, and affordable housing activist Jackie DuPont Walker — sounded as if they were building the world’s next great city.
Other times, their emphasis on customer service made the city sound more like a Nordstrom store than the writhing metropolis that it is.
The nomination of LoGrande comes a only three weeks following the announcement of Goldberg’s resignation. Goldberg had been the popular planning director in San Diego before arriving in Los Angeles and ushering what many hoped would be an era of smart growth and progressive planning in the original home of sprawl. Though Villaraigosa said that the department conducted a national search the mayor instead dug deep into the department’s existing talent pool to tap LoGrande, a 13-year department veteran who has most recently served as chief zoning administrator.
If confirmed by the Los Angeles City Council, LoGrande will become one of the only — if not the only — planning director in California not to hold AICP certification. Nevertheless, Villaraigosa said that LoGrande’s name came up continually when stakeholders both in and outside of the department were consulted.
It’s worth noting that while LoGrande had clearly braced himself for his introduction to the spotlight, the mayor has rarely looked more relaxed. Villaraigosa recently suffered a nasty bicycle accident that left his right arm in a cast, so he appeared with shirt untucked and partially unbuttoned as if he was the mayor of Key West. He joked about the need to make the city more bicycle-friendly and offered kisses in lieu of handshakes (no one took him up on that one). Hanging loose is, perhaps, a fitting attitude for a mayor who has endured his share of indiscretions and literally taken his lumps, not the least of which is the replacement of a planning director who had, four years ago, embodied his highest hopes for the city.
Not surprisingly, much of Villaraigosa’s rhetoric about the city’s future has remained consistent. The motto of “do real planning” has been around long enough to have gone from inspiration to albatross. Even so, the mayor today once again presented the city’s challenge as that of walking a “tightrope between boundless ambition of the city’s stakeholders to build a new urban paradigm…..brimming with mixed-use, transit-oriented development to create a more dynamic skyline.”
At the same time, Villaraigosa introduced LoGrande as “the person most qualified to reform the department from the bottom up.”
“Michael will be able to hit the ground running on the first day,” said Villaraigosa. “Nobody knows the inner workings of the department, the different neighborhoods of LA, and city bureaucracy better than he does.”
In brief prepared remarks, LoGrande acknowledged the convergence of architecture, urban design, and outreach but otherwise did not lay out a broad vision for planning in the city. Instead, he emphasized, transparency, collaboration, predictability, and completion of the city’s 35 community plans. He praised the department’s staff and expressed optimism that the department’s crushing budget cuts would not impair their ability to streamline case processing and reach out to stakeholders.
“We want to show Los Angeles that we’re open for business,” said LoGrande. “So whether you’re doing an addition to your house and need to come across the counter and talk to a planner or you have an issue with maybe a business that needs to be talked about…we’re here to work with you and the other city departments to make them happen.”
Most notably, he will be expected to implement the city’s “12 to 2″ system, by which Planning will serve as a single point of contact, thus enabling developers to avoid trips to multiple city departments. This had been a goal of Goldberg, whose enthusiasm brought new public attention to the formerly low-key department. LoGrande made it clear that his first priorities would center on in-house reform.
LoGrande briefly responded to criticism that his bureaucratic background did not prepare him well for the political tumult and that his desire to create more certainty for developers would equal hasty approvals.
“People may think because of my past title as chief zoning administrator think that I’m somehow really tied into the entitlement process and the status quo, which is really far from the truth,” said LoGrande. “I’m a consensus builder, I like to reach out to people.”
A rough transcript of LoGrande’s prepared remarks:
“I’m looking forward to collaborating with the city and various communities and stakeholders throughout los Angeles to make sure that we have a really vital planning department that looks at architecture, urban design, quality plans, and make sure that there’s a contract with the community and the development community to ensure that when developers come to neighborhods, they know what to expect. They’ve shaped them and actually worked with the departments and the city family to make sure that we have a credible process but also an engaged process where people are informed, can roll up their sleeves and work in collaboration with the department to make sure that we grow the city for the next century.”
“I’m very excited for this position. One thing I’m really, really proud of is the staff we have in the planning department. We have some of the best staff in the nation. That staff is ready to engage with our neighbors and our diverse group of people we have in Los Angeles to move us forward. We have to have dialogs in various communities to see what they want to see in their neighborhoods and we have the tools inside to bring those forward.”
“We’ve got some very, very tough budget years. A lot of the staff is on furloughs. There’s been early retirement program. But we want to show Los Angeles that we’re open for business. So whether you’re doing an addition to your house and need to come across the counter and talk to a planner or you have an issue with maybe a business that needs to be talked about about some of the conditions they have to operate to coexist well within the community. We’re here to work with you and the other city departments to make them happen.”
– Josh Stephens
Curb-hogging, tacky, distracting and unneeded, these new advertising signboards–painted steel on wheels–are clogging up the streets and taking up valuable parking space. They are also presenting a danger to drivers who now face another obstruction on the road.
This pleasant neighborhood, near Notre Dame High School, has an uninvited and unwanted guest: a psychic’s psychopathic advertisement placed alongside the trees.
Los Angeles must again suffer the two punishments that make life insufferable here: additional traffic obstacles and rampant, unregulated commercial advertising.
DSC_0019 | Flickr – Photo Sharing!.
Prairie Crossing in Illinois: The ‘urban’ farm of the future? | Breaking Through Concrete: Stories from the American urban farm | Grist
A suburban development in Northern Illinois sets aside land for houses that co-exist with native plants and organic agriculture.
Why can’t we do the same in the San Fernando Valley?
The Santa Monica Mountains cross the southern part of the Valley. They are often green, hydrated by Pacific mists, and shielded from sunlight along their northern flank.
But up in Chatsworth, one can still occasionally find a brown, rocky, and barren land where horses, ranches, hay bales, and fences predominate. Here, far from the ocean, there is hardly any fog, and the south-facing mountains bake year round in blistering sun.
Near Canoga Avenue and Chatsworth Street, there is a surviving remnant of equine ruralism. I drove here, quite accidentally, on a search for open land beyond the last cul-de-sac in Los Angeles.
In mid-morning heat, pushing 98 degrees, an old man was walking his white dog near a working horse stable. A Metrolink train passed by. In the distance were those dry, mysterious mountains.
Along Canoga, behind a row of olive trees, stood some old, tired wood-frame shacks; weather-beaten, paint-peeling, weed-covered. Only a satellite dish atop a roof gave some clue of present day life.
click bottom center of photo to STOP.
Two big parcels of land on Van Nuys Blvd., encompassing at least three acres, have come into being now, due to the demolition of the Keyes Mercedes building at Chandler and the emptying of Rydell Chevrolet on the NW corner of Burbank.
To see these lots cleared is to appreciate the enormity of space they once occupied, and offers urban dreamers the chance to imagine how these land areas could be utilized for greener businesses.
According to my friend Dick Carter, a restaurant real estate broker, parking is always a problem. The Keyes and Rydell lots offer possibilities for integrating parking, dining and agriculture.
An organic diner or restaurant could grow herbs, citrus, vegetables, and sustainable plants on these lands, products grown locally and freshly right here in Van Nuys. People would sit outside, in gardens, under trees, and dine on foods grown on Van Nuys Blvd!
Government tax breaks, modifications in zoning, and enlightened planners could transform our environment, our neighborhood and our health.
And Steve Weiss at Capital (818-905-2400) is leasing the Rydell space.
Just NW of downtown Los Angeles, at 100 North Toluca Street Los Angeles, CA 90026, the Vista Hermosa Park is a new, 10 acre park, landscaped with native plants and trees, walking trails, picnic areas and playing fields.
The park also offers unparalleled architectural views: brand new schools, gigantic playing fields, arched concrete bridges, Disney Hall, downtown Los Angeles’ skyline, and historic Victorian houses.
For those who are terrified of downtown and the inner city, I can also attest that the park was one of the most clean, civilized and gracious places I’ve seen in LA. There were no barbecues, graffiti, loud music, litter, mattresses, illegal dumping or the usual markers of urban abuse that infect our city.
I rode the bus and the train to downtown Los Angeles today. And later sat, with feigned enthusiasm, for a job interview inside a concrete-floored, high-ceilinged art gallery.
The subway exit was 7th and Hope. The weather was violently windy, blindingly sunny. White fluffy clouds tore fast across the sky. I walked into a shimmering, sparkling, glassy, washed and Windexed world of brand-new, spotless, sleek, shiny and radiant glass towers.
I was in an area east of Staples Center, south of Olympic. Yet its structural newness and callow glibness felt like jejune, milk-fed, blond-haired, salty-breezed San Diego.
Amidst the asphalt, glass, steel and aluminum, I discovered a fair-sized green-park surrounded by tall, right-angled, balcony faced skyscrapers.
Inside the grassy park: an estrogen feast.
Women students from a nearby fashion college, FIDM, smoked cigarettes as they sat along benches and on top of concrete walls. Brimming with energy and youth. A parade of citrus perfumes, vanilla scented shiny hair, shaved and polished slender legs owned by naïve young faces.
Laughing, running, hurrying.
At an empty retail space, intended for future yoga use, I stopped to talk with a workman, renovating and cleaning. He told me he stood on the sidewalk everyday and watched these gorgeous girls walk by.
“90% of them are hot,” he said.
The strong winds continued as I reached the gusty corner where the art gallery stood. Next door, I discovered a Danish bakery where the smell of butter, fruit pastries, chocolate-topped cookies and hot coffee blew out onto the sidewalk.
I arrived at the appointment an hour early, so I continued walking around the neighborhood and found more newness.
Epic spic and span newness.
It was Noon, here in downtown Los Angeles, and there were few cars and almost nobody on foot.
Buildings reflective, orderly, tidy: landscaped with fabulously colored flowers, prickly succulents, willowy grasses and rows of upright young trees, water fountains, and little pocket parks unpopulated with humans. Amidst this constructed urban paradise were rows of empty benches.
A wine bar, with outdoor seating, was open on a corner. And not a single person occupied any seat.
A great concept, a superb image, a winking nod to richness, that’s what they built around here.
Those great hypes, of 2004 and 2005: the unlimited prosperity, the exploding stock market, the cheap money, the hustle and con of the hucksters who sold America real estate, stocks, derivatives, credit. These empty, fresh, unfilled, immaculate, twinkling edifices of glass, these are tactile creations and hard monuments of a false and corrupt national binge. Blessed by tax breaks and corporate lies. Unpunished by Washington. Unconscionable billions for bail outs.
Now these resplendent, lustrous buildings sit here, underused and unfulfilled, their once loud voices and enthusiastic promises of urban excitement, muted.
This is just one district of downtown Los Angeles: a great glassy area of spacious, broad streets and tall, unspoiled, spotless, reflective vertical condominiums.
Like everything in this city, it starts out young and full-of-promise.
Matt Jalbert writes:
“I recently spent a short time in “NoHo,” aka North Hollywood (around Lankershim and Magnolia) where I was reminded of how utterly hopeless the sprawling project of Los Angeles is. There, in a “neighborhood” marketed to a new round of real estate suckers as an “arts district,” my overriding sense was of endless pavement, aggressive drivers, frightened and forlorn pedestrians, mostly lousy food choices, and a huge oversupply of commercial space. The same holds true for much of the San Fernando Valley.
Whatever promises were made to the American middle class by the developers of such living arrangements have been proven to be outright frauds. The L.A. pattern of car-centric living, especially in the post-WWII San Fernando Valley, is a cancer on society, evident on most of the citizenry, even some of those who profit from this arrangement.
North Hollywood in 2010 is yet another example of the failure of automobile-suburbs to result in healthy communities. Unfortunately, a few pretty buildings do not save this area, like the rest of the San Fernando Valley, from the toxic arrangements of streets designed for one mode only: vast flows of automobiles. That these areas are only a few generations old, yet are well advanced in their decay and social dysfunction, is all the proof any of us should need to recognize that the great experiment has failed and it’s time to make other arrangements now.
My sense is that people are starting to wake up to the lie they’ve been fed through the mass media — the lie that their car would set them free. (Stimulated by endless AM radio advertisements for leased Mercedes that would somehow make driving more bearable?)
Drivers are frustrated and angry, because no matter how rich they are, no matter how fat their asses grow, no matter how black and shiny their car is, no matter how witty the texts they write while negotiating the racecourse that is Lankershim Boulevard — they are imprisoned in a mobile prison cell, living an attenuated existence where every action they take is bludgeoned on both ends by a soul-killing automobile trip.
Better to rip the whole place down and rebuild it in a smaller, denser space. Keep a few of those fine old buildings, but otherwise, start from scratch, because what’s left on the ground for us all at this moment is simply not worth keeping.
God help Los Angeles. 26 years into my California experience and I’m finally understanding just how truly awful that place has been handled by the hands of man — in the service of automobiles. “
Riding my bike around the Sepulveda Basin today, I was startled and sickened to see a river lined with trash.
Plastic bags literally covered every branch, every limb, and every single tree along both sides of the banks; devouring, like some gruesome movie monster, nature.
The amount of garbage is so extreme, so massive, so overpowering, that the camera’s lens is unable to completely capture the visual tragedy. Like Haiti after its quake, a photographer must decide whether to shoot wide angle, thus diminishing the particular atrocity, or to go close-up, possibly denying the vast destruction all around. I shot these images both far and close to record the appalling filth and criminal neglect of the river.
There are other sections of the LA River, formerly encased in concrete, now undergoing naturalization. This area of the river, which meanders gently through the San Fernando Valley acts as a flood basin and wildlife preserve.
The City of Los Angeles has abrogated its moral and legal responsibility by allowing and ignoring this environmental catastrophe.
One weekend of box office receipts, from the theaters showing AVATAR in the nation of Moldavia, would probably be enough to pay for a LA River clean-up. Two weeks of Ellen DeGeneres’ paychecks might finance the annual salary of 20 city workers assigned to protect the river. 1/44th of suspected comedian Conan O’Brien’s $44 million dollar pay out might save the lives of thousands of birds.
The pictures on this page were shot around Balboa Boulevard in Encino.
A few weeks back, I explored some of the LA River as it meanders under concrete overpasses and alongside freeways.
There is a paucity of decent parkland in Los Angeles, as anyone who lives here can attest. Looking at an overhead map of the San Fernando Valley, one sees blocks and blocks of development, only sometimes interrupted by a small park.
The great freeway builders of the 1950s rammed their roads through the parks because it was easier and cheaper to do than buying up private property. As a result, North Hollywood, with its river and public green spaces, now plays host to an eternal hellish drone of smoke, noise, litter, violent driving and environmental catastrophe.
In Van Nuys, the 405 slices through parks, a wildlife sanctuary, past the Sepulveda Dam and through the Woodley Park area.
There are forces now, benevolent ones, like the Friends of the LA River, who are trying to reverse the damage done by the entombing of the river in the early 1940s, and the paving over by traffic engineers in the 1950s and 60s. They are planting trees, promoting walking and nature, and building bike trails. The most affluent area of the San Fernando Valley, Studio City, has seen the most upgrades along the LA River.
But mostly the river and water and wash is ignored, standing mute, alongside the vehicles and the onslaught of cars and trucks, whose main goal is getting somewhere faster.
Finally, some positive news…..
We had driven, swiftly, across Highway 10, after a brief diversion through downtown Los Angeles that accidentally deposited us onto the 5 North. We eventually found the 210, the 57, and shot across those mall-covered lands that stretch from the ocean to the desert.
This was a family holiday, a Thanksgiving out in La Quinta, a 1920s golfing, tennis playing, horseback riding, swimming-pool sprinkled property surrounded by purple mountains.
We went with those relatives who swing from spa-to-spa the way monkeys navigate the trees. In another 10 days, they will be flying to the Caribbean, and next year, may be spending months in Spain, England and France. A few days in a luxury resort is as natural to them as stopping off at Trader Joes for milk and eggs.
La Quinta welcomed us with freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, plucked from those hundreds of citrus trees that are planted here. “Sir, may we take your bags?” a bellhop asked. I did not take him up, preferring to load my own into our little casita.
A fireplace roared inside a vaulted lobby furnished with large leather sofas, iron chandeliers and polished ceramic tiles. Guests drove up, valets parked their cars, and I glimpsed many of those fine women who smile with their lips closed, and those haggard husbands, who leave behind, for a few days, lucrative days at Chicago’s Board of Trade and make their way out west to play golf or sit by the pool sipping champagne.
Much of La Quinta seemed like old Southern California filtered and cleansed for Middle Westerners. There were almost no black, Asian or Latino guests, and what passed for Jewish was blonde or riding a scooter in board shorts, just like Brentwood. There were many families here, many kids, and if anybody had a gay thought or a tattoo on their leg, it was well hidden.
On the first day, I swam in the pool and went for a long run around a wide golf course. LaQuinta is behind walls and gates, and it adjoins a 1980s era, beige community of garage doors and affluent deadly silence.
There are a few restaurants where they serve Mexican or coffee house foods, and they are quite good if you don’t mind spending $20 for two tamales. In case you forget your golf shorts, there is a handy Polo Ralph Lauren store on the premises.
On the third day, of beautiful weather in perfect surroundings, my eyes started to tear up. I got a horrendous allergy attack. I took an Alavert and crawled into bed. I had never experienced a worse case of temporary blindness, one that forced me to shut my door, close my eyes, and pull the blankets over my head.
The watery, itchy, parched eyes lasted for much of the last day, until relief finally came with another dose of Zyrtec pills and eye drops. Whatever atmospheric element had attacked me was now diminished.
At twilight, still in a drug induced haze, I grabbed my camera, ventured outside, and walked around La Quinta in the orange-tinted light of sunset. The sun drops behind the mountain, dim electric garden lights turn on, women with wet hair change from bathing suits to bathrobes, cocktails are poured and children disappear. This is a haunting and fleeting hour, a temporary time between the activity of day and the promise of evening, when hope is hungry and our appetites turn to wine and fragrance and love and food.
On the last night, we drove off the property and into the windy town of La Quinta and ate pizza at an outdoor restaurant under the heat lamps. We met the other relatives and their friends, who were drinking near an open-air fireplace. One woman I saw, hair tied back, covered in a cashmere wrap, drank red wine.
Inside the resort of La Quinta, they have erected a plaque near a tile bench. It says that Greta Garbo and John Gilbert sat there, “basking in the sun and watching the Santa Rosa Mountains.” I don’t know if this is entirely true or not, but if you visit here you might be tempted to do the same.