Speaking at the Van Nuys Planning Summit

On March 26, 2015, I was invited to address the opening of a new Van Nuys Planning Summit held at the Marvin Braude Center. The event was created and sponsored by Quirino De La Cuesta and the Van Nuys Community Council.

Here I am in the beginning of the tape, delivering remarks.

Yesterday was CicLAvia

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Yesterday, Sunday, March 22nd, was CicLAvia in the San Fernando Valley.

Lankershim Boulevard, from Chandler to Ventura, and Ventura to Coldwater Canyon, was closed to cars.

I rode from my house near Sepulveda and Victory to the starting line at North Hollywood Station.

It was foggy.

Mayor Eric Garcetti: articulate, young and progressive, spoke before the opening.

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It was a perfect San Francisco day to ride bikes in Los Angeles.

Cool, overcast, gentle.

And the sometimes indifferent people were seemingly transformed into better ones.

A cop saw me inflating my bike tire before the race and said, “Let me walk you down to where they have a bike repair station.”


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Shopkeepers along the route waved and handed out chapstick, water, and energy bars.

In Studio City, I stopped and ate a Belgian waffle at Waffles DeLiege food truck.

Fortified and energized I turned around and rode the route back to the starting point in North Hollywood. And continued down Chandler.  Making my way home, under trees and cloudy skies, along deserted streets .



Alma Imogene Payne Waters (1922 – 2014) at 14336 Gilmore St., 1952

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Don Waters (b. 1954), who grew up in Van Nuys and now lives in Missouri, has been a longtime reader of this blog.

After seeing my recent photos of Gilmore Street, he recognized one particular bungalow court at 14336.

His parents, Donald (1929-2007) and Alma (1922-2014) had lived there in the early 1950s.

A 2007 obituary provides some family biography.

Don, very considerately, sent me a 1952 photograph of his mother, standing in the courtyard of the complex.

It must have been a quite pleasant neighborhood to live in: schools, government offices, stores, and churches, within walking distance.

In 1952, the San Fernando Valley was on the precipice of speeding into the future full throttle.

And now, in 2015, we look back and wonder what went so very wrong.

Nobody wears skirts in Van Nuys anymore.


Gilmore St.- Diptychs

Here are six diptychs I created from yesterday’s walk down Gilmore St. between Kester and Tyrone.

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“You write a blog to improve Van Nuys? That’s good cause this place needs a lot of improvement.”-Man at Central Lutheran Church


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Gilmore St. Between Kester and Tyrone

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I walked along Gilmore this morning, a varied street one block north of Victory, and found old bungalows, church gardens, crappy apartments and neatly tended ones; along with a shoe repair shop, new Chinese food and a Mid-Century pharmacy.

Gilmore is an old street. A sidewalk was paved in 1929, but the road goes back further than that.

It was part of old Van Nuys, near town, school and church.

In the obliterating 1950s-70s, many old houses were torn down and replaced with rentable apartments, way before the revived fashion for “Mission.” If Gilmore had been preserved as only homes, it might look like today like a neighborhood of Pasadena.


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Guns, gangs, crime.

One might understand a small shopkeeper viewing the aforementioned with fear or suspicion.

A Photographer?

Yes it is the photographer, with a camera slung around his neck, who gets the nasty stares and the unwanted questions.

At the colorful Kovacs Pharmacy, a pharmacist came out, confronted me and wanted to know why I was shooting photos.

She asked for my card. I had none. I told her I was a photographer.

She went back inside.

Does one need to have an answer for taking a photo? Would you ever dream of walking up to a stranger- talking on the phone- and asking who they were calling? Would you walk up to a driver stopped at a light and ask, “Why are you driving?”



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At 14417, next door to Kovacs, time stands still as faded light illuminates a garage set way back in the yard, the kind of house and garden that once dotted this street.

At Sylmar Avenue, the Van Nuys Elementary School is still handsome and historic, roofed in red tiles and painted in warm tan.

The infamous spray marker of the Barrio Van Nuys (BVN) marks a fence outside of a bungalow court across from the school.

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The Central Lutheran Church, whose white and red brick façade on Victory at Tyrone seems sad and neglected, has a surprisingly vigorous and lush group of edible gardens spreading over at least a half acre or more of land. Very well-tended and green, the vegetables and plants propagate magnificently in fertile soil alongside wooden stakes and raised beds. It looks like a future bumper crop. Its gentle greenery stands in stark contrast to next door car repair and vacant parking lots.

When people talk about the revival of Van Nuys, of making the community better, they might start by visiting a street like Gilmore. Narrow and walkable, tree-shaded and neighborly, it has a variety of both individuals and institutions who are already contributing positive change to this district. They are feeding the homeless, educating the children, planting organic gardens and making Van Nuys come to life in the most unexpected and surprising places.

Hart Street, Firmament Avenue, Sherman Way and Sepulveda.


Yesterday, between the rains, after the air had been washed, the skies were radiant. And enormous cumulus clouds towered above, bottoms gray, tops white. The sun came and went. Streets of dark shadows ended in blinding light.

I walked in the wind up Sepulveda, north of Vanowen, and went left along Hart Street.

This is a neat neighborhood of mostly well-kept houses on generous lots. It is not rich here, but the general feeling seems contented. There are no sidewalks but lots of walkers.


Near Sepulveda, at 15322 Hart, there is a burned-out house with a lovely second floor balcony and no trespassing signs on a gate; secluded and romantic, it awaits rebirth from ruin.

At 15439 Hart, someone is selling a 1970 (?) Yellow Ford pickup truck.

15521 Hart (built 1952) is a white house with blue awnings. Though it faces south, into the hot sun, there are no shades trees in front.



Firmament Avenue is the last street in this neighborhood east of the 405 freeway. Large houses and empty lots, well kept estates, battered weed infested places, townhouses and bungalows, all are found on the block between Hart and Sherman Way.

These are the kind of typically Californian streets that make people from other states uneasy. They mix danger with intoxicating beauty, ruin next to richness. Is this a good or a bad place? In this area an old lady might come outside and offer you apple pie… or aim a gun at your head.


7110 Firmament could be a location in a 1940s Van Nuys movie with its roadside mailbox, cyclone fence, picket gate and wood houses set way back behind mature trees and overgrown ivy.

Next door, at 7128 Firmament, a brown stucco house with a red tile roof and white balustrade bedecked wall is carefree and liberal with its architectural elements. They are seemingly picked out of air and dropped onto a large lot hidden behind black screened fences and decorative lanterns. A Nury Martinez election placard is planted near the driveway.

Up at 15549 Sherman Way, Helen Towers (built 1972) is a large, 93-unit apartment building with a pool and lots of parking set on an acre and a half property right next to the on-ramp for the Northbound 405. Strangely bucolic, it seems well kept, if a bit dated.



At the Starbucks (15355 Sherman Way) a man ignited himself in burning flames last week and later died. I stopped off there for iced green tea. There were no signs of death, only life, and frozen faces glued to phone and screen.

My walk back home took me past the Royal [6920] Sepulveda Apartments, a “K” shaped, two-story complex frivolous in design, far from royal. Built in 1961, the 92-unit complex seems sex-soaked and secretive, untethered from anything around it, a floating, decadent motel of licentious and libidinous acts. Surrounded by parking, for quick escapes and quick arrivals, behind its closed drapes lie transient guests.


The Devil Dressed Like an Angel.

On October 8, 2014,  the County of Los Angeles officially agreed to give $551,250 to the Village Family Serices “for acquisition of a real property to serve as an emergency shelter to house homeless transitional age youth”.

That property is 14926 Kittridge Street, Van Nuys. It is a single family home on a single-family street, surrounded by other well-kept and solid ranch houses. It will now house young men who will rotate in and out of the house, for six months at a time.


In and of itself, this is not necessarily a bad thing. There are many thousands of homeless young people, on the streets, living under bridges, sleeping in cars, suffering from starvation, sickness and indifference.


Last week, I toured Village Family Services, a large health facility in North Hollywood, where Charles Robbins, CFRE – Vice President, Communications & Development, showed me how young people could drop in, get mental health counseling, meet with guidance advisors, receive job placement help, wash their clothes, clean up in shower rooms, and find help on everything from domestic violence to treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Literature provided by Mr. Robbins to me explained programs offering foster care, adoption services for neglected youth, and a “wraparound program” providing counseling services directly to families in their homes.

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20% of youth in Los Angeles live in poverty, and there are an estimated 10,000 young people without a place to live. Many of these are gay children thrown out of less tolerant homes in small towns. Other children are victims of drug and alcohol addicted parents, and the whole situation of drugs, poverty and hopelessness has been multiplied since 2008.

The dire state of life for many people, especially young people in Los Angeles, is indisputable.

The Village Family Services, with its $13,000,000 budget, has received donations of $100,000 each from Supervisor Zev Yarislovsky and the WM Keck Foundation.[1]

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Johnny W. Carson Foundation, Wells Fargo, and the Hollywood Charity Horse Show have all donated between $10,000-$99,000.

More than 2,500 children and families have been helped by VFS.

With all these good things, why would anyone care to stop this well-funded march of kindness from opening up a house next door?


For an organization that administers to the most vulnerable members of society, the Village Family Services came into the Kester Ridge neighborhood remarkably callously, without informing the community about the insertion and establishment of a new group home.

Secretively, subversively, the funds to buy the home, more than half a million, were meted out and provided to VFS, and then a short escrow, of 18 days, was allocated, to transfer the house quickly, before any community opposition intensified.

Maria Scherzer, community activist, heard of the home and was shocked that notifications were never provided to other residents of the forthcoming facility. She wrote to the County of Los Angeles, inquiring about the funding agreement, and was sent a copy of the agreement providing $551,250 for the Village Family Services to buy a house.

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Monica Alexnko, who lives near the (not open yet) new emergency shelter, set into motion a petition to stop the home from opening. She contacted Councilwoman Nury Martinez’s office, the Van Nuys Community Council, and she attended the LA City Council hearings on 12/5/14 to present her petition opposing the 14926 Kittridge emergency shelter.

While the Van Nuys Community Council might be expected to have sympathy to the concerns of its residents, it also found a place to make a new seat on its board for VFS’ Charles Robbins, who will now oversee issues of homelessness on the exact board who should be overseeing his project! A conflict of interest seems apparent.

Mr. Robbins, is, above all, a rainmaker of money for the Village Family Services.

His biography of professional fundraising explains it:

“Prior to arriving at The Village, Mr. Robbins was the CEO of The Trevor Project, a national organization focused on suicide prevention among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. He was at the helm from 2007 to 2011 and during his four-year tenure, the full-time staff grew from five to 24, the annual budget quadrupled to nearly $4 million, and the organization received acclaimed national visibility. His professional experience also includes serving as development director for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, various senior fundraising roles at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and founding Project Angel Heart, a Denver-based HIV/AIDS nonprofit organization. A Colorado native, Mr. Robbins holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Western Governors University, a certificate in nonprofit administration from the University of Colorado, Denver, and he is a longtime member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) where he achieved accreditation as a Certified Fund Raising Professional (CFRE).”

Here is a hypothetical to ponder:

Is it possible that Mr. Robbins may raise $4 or even $7 Million Dollars for the Village Family Services allowing them to purchase 14 homes in Van Nuys for at risk youth? Why not? If he is successful in his job, he may not only find new properties to purchase, but he will increase the real estate portfolio of Village Family Services, completely paid for by Los Angeles taxpayers, which would be one of the most lucrative and desirable outcomes for the “non-profit”.

The City of Los Angeles Zoning Manual describes exactly the type of home opening up here in a few months:

“Small family home” means any residential facility, in the licensee’s family residence, that provides 24-hour care for six or fewer foster children who have mental disorders or developmental or physical disabilities and who require special care and supervision as a result of their disabilities. A small family home may accept children with special health care needs, pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 17710 of the Welfare and Institutions Code. In addition to placing children with special health care needs, the department may approve placement of children without special health care needs, up to the maximum capacity.”

The definition is defined by code. But with the blessing of the city, there may be no limit to how many new places of this type might open in one neighborhood. Especially one with depressed property values.

If a lone house can go shelter, so can dozens, even hundreds.

So far nobody has come up with a way to answer the fears that this project has engendered.

One of the quandaries of modern Los Angeles is that we live amidst great extremes of wealth and poverty. People with hearts and empathy want to help the down and out.

Non-profits exist partially to ameliorate these tragedies of people without homes, health care and hope.

And churches and synagogues, schools and hospitals, individuals and corporations have stepped up and funded programs providing services for the suffering.

The Village Family Services is one of these.

Because VFS is administering aid to the most fragile, they also have a mandate of behaving with integrity, openness and candor about what they do, how they do it, and how they might come into a neighborhood to transform a formerly private home into a quasi-public shelter.

They have failed in communicating honestly with the residents who will live next door to the shelter. They went about their project in a way that was surreptitious and underhanded and when they were caught they said they were doing something that nobody should object to.

People who live, here in Van Nuys, have a right and even a duty to object to those elements of change that will undermine our neighborhood, and which may adversely affect property values.

Homeowners depend upon their homes for not only shelter, but retirement income. And the addition of yet another public service house into the area degrades and depresses the surroundings, even if the grass is mowed, even if the residents are “monitored”, even if flowers are planted along the curb.

A rotating group of strangers next door, living on the margins, faces and names who will come and stay and then leave forever, imagine this kind of neighborhood, multiplied and duplicated throughout Van Nuys, turning single family streets into quasi motels where all the pathologies that roam Sepulveda Boulevard are just over the wall from your kitchen window.


[1] Village Family Services Annual Report 2013-14