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.

A Van Nuys Experimental District.

What if there were a Van Nuys Experimental District for architecture?

I mentioned this to Andreas Samson last night, the idea of building, near the Busway and the Civic Center, a walkable but unique area of designed urbanism.

Integrating old buildings against striking new ones might help bring revitalization to the dead zone.

Looking online at photos at Archello reveals that the rest of the world, from Vietnam to Australia, already does that.

Here are some examples of new urban design–some of which may be applicable to Van Nuys:

Location Belgium Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR - Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine

Location Belgium
Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR – Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine

Location Belgium Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR - Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine

Location Belgium
Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR – Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine

Location Belgium Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR - Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine

Location Belgium
Roeselare/Office building HECTAAR – Photographer: Thomas De Bruyne – Cafeine

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units
by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units
by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units
by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

9 Houses and 24 bioclimatic collective housing units
by Fleury, Benjamin / Photo: Emmanuelle Blanc

RDP-IWMC Ha Tinh Office - Photographer: Nguyen Tien Thanh

RDP-IWMC Ha Tinh Office – Photographer: Nguyen Tien Thanh

RDP-IWMC Ha Tinh Office - Photographer: Nguyen Tien Thanh

RDP-IWMC Ha Tinh Office – Photographer: Nguyen Tien Thanh

Unstable Atmosphere/ Yesterday, a Strange Light

Yesterday, I went downtown. I took my camera. And I drove, in my meandering way, locally, hunting for light and shadow.

I left Van Nuys and went through Griffith Park and picked up Glendale Blvd where it emerges in Silver Lake and runs down into Echo Park.

1461 Alessandro St.

Near Effie Street, I stopped. And I saw dark clouds hover over the silver skyline, glass glistening coldly.

I parked where dozens of people sleep on the sidewalk next to a storage building and the street ends at steep, ugly concrete stairs. Climbing the steps, I stood near the metal rails and looked towards our downtown draped under an impending storm.

Yesterday, Sunday, a strange light and gentle gloom came in and out, an alternating atmosphere of rain and cold windy gray.

Thoughtlessly happy Los Angeles wore an unfamiliar face. The city everyone thinks they know once again confounded me.


Near 4th and Main- View NE

I drove on to my destination at 4th and Main.

Downtown, at the art loft, a show at 2A Gallery was closing. The works were those painted by my friend Tam Warner’s father, Orien Lowell Greenough. He died, poor, in 2008. He was a liberal who hated war. His creations on canvas satirized, in depth, the hypocrisy and brutality of the killers and statesmen who run this world. His time had Stalin, Hitler, and Khrushchev.

We have ISIS and Putin, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram.

The men who put on the show, Clay and Calvin, and their 2A Gallery, had recently come into my friend’s life, nurturing, elevating and sanctifying the late painter and his work. His daughter, after a run of mistreatment by another gallery, was grateful for their care and love.

It seemed as if Orien Lowell Greenough and his work were again going to find recognition in Los Angeles, full validation that had eluded him when he was alive, the story of so many artists, and writers.

And then Calvin and Clay confirmed that they were not only closing the show, but closing out their life in Los Angeles. They would be packing up and moving to McComb, Mississippi to live in a more affordable area. They would leave in 30 days, and drive 4 days across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, eventually arriving in The Magnolia State, where the flag still flies the colors of The Confederacy.

Everyone was sad. But none more so than my friend, who had made a connection with the newly departing angels who had came out of nowhere to champion undervalued Orien Lowell Greenough.

Tomorrow, there may be money in art, but today you need to eat. Like the dead artist, the living gallery was squashed by the bottom line.

The truth is that they could not afford to live in Los Angeles any more. Or perhaps the truth is that they chose not to live in Los Angeles because home was somewhere else. Truth is subjective- so the artist claims.

Their departure is a loss to this city.

And when I left the loft, calmed by two evaporating beers, I drove in the dark rain through dystopian concrete canyons. I lost my way downtown, and found that my usual entrance onto the 101 was closed. I had to make a detour, a rerouting of my way home, that took me down old Temple Street, and over to Rampart, where I found a wet and slow, hidden and unfamiliar way to get onto the freeway and back home.


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

Power For the People’s Own Good.

Once upon a time there was a broken down place where people slept on streets, garbage filled the gutters, the air was foul, streets were unsafe and violent, schools abysmal, prostitutes walked brazenly in daylight, and uneducated, fat, tattooed people smoked marijuana openly purchased from some sixty local dispensaries.

In this land, oil storage tanks were built next to people’s homes, and large land masses were devoted to the needs of cars: parking them, driving them, selling them, refueling them.

All the garbage dumps of the city were located here. All the halfway houses and rehab houses and drug and alcohol houses were located here and the people were told it was for their own good that they lived amongst it all.

Though shabby and ugly, in disrepair and full of small illegalities, people stayed here, by choice or by necessity, and they eked out low paying jobs hauling trash, or pushing shopping carts full of cans down the road, or they worked at minimum wage stores selling liquor, candy or cigarettes.

And last night, in Van Nuys, two Latinas in their early 40s, products of this real place called the Northeast San Fernando Valley, spoke about problems and how they would solve them, and promised higher wage jobs, fighting for you whoever you are, and selling themselves as the saviors who would push back the demonic forces destroying life, liberty and property.

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Set up in a room at the Marvin Braude Center, the ever growing 19 (!) member Van Nuys Community Council arranged a debate between City Council District 6 incumbent Nury Martinez and her challenger, Cindy Montanez.

The room was packed but badly arranged. The seating favored the 19 council members who had box seats. But the candidates were pushed off to the side, forcing the audience to rotate their necks at a 45-degree angle to hear the heavily accented ESL women debate how they would fight to better the district.

If the VNCC cannot design a room for debate how can they design Van Nuys at large?

Cindy Montañez, who once held high paying positions for the DWP, proffered herself as a poor girl from a family with values, six children sharing one bathroom and eating healthy food prepared by a church going mom.

She promised to fight against “overdevelopment” meaning any apartments opposed by anybody. She railed against the high-speed rail. She promised to upgrade Van Nuys Boulevard but to do so by opposing “mixed-use” development which creates walk able areas of retail, housing and commercial uses.

Councilwoman Nury Martinez, elected only 18 months ago, by defeating the woman at her side, defended her record of hard work, the mattresses and couches retrieved by El Trabajador en La Camioneta.

She wore a passion fruit colored dress.

Ms. Martinez has evolved into a fierce housecleaner who wants to clean the streets of discarded refuse and disdained prostitutes.

But Ms. Montañez had murder on her mind last night, with a strange remark that she would rather have a couch on her curb than a dead body. She accused Ms. Martinez, who lords over 100,000 illegal aliens, of neglecting public safety.

Candidates discussed Obesity, which garbs modern Van Nuys as white gloves and hats did in the 1940s, by offering bananas, water and apples at 7-Eleven checkouts. Later on, the council would adjourn to devour cake, 2 liter sized drinks and 12-inch long, mayonnaise-laden sandwiches.

The two hour debate, moderated by a gavel pounding council, was then handed over to the smock garbed loud lady with the white hair and big gulp drink who got up and danced in front of the room screaming loudly about video conferencing in an insane demonstration of free speech and performance art.

The evening had closed.

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The future of the Northeast San Fernando Valley would be planted from these seeds. Here was dystopia in action, inertia and myopia, small minds and large people living in a teeming slum, which once grew oranges and dreams.

2015 is Different.

2015 is a different year.

Not only is it the first year I have ever entered without my mother, but around me, on the roads, in the skies, Los Angeles is changed.

The economy, we are told, is back. There are more cars on the road. The air is acrid, and brown, and smelly.

Gas is cheaper. Undocumented Californians can now drive legally with license.

The white-flowered Magnolia trees are blooming on Magnolia Boulevard.

Coughing, sneezing, wheezing, nose blowing all around.

Everywhere there are trucks of painters, tile setters, electricians, window installers, gardeners, pest controllers. It takes 20 minutes just to drive to the next stoplight.

The parking lots are packed with new SUVs.

Every other car ignores the rule against hand-held devices.

30 year olds and younger drive the slowest.

The Waze App is slicing speeding drivers, evading jams, down residential streets. Cars go 50 mph on 25 mph roads.

There is a boom going on, but it is a boom with low-paying jobs.

Houses cost a fortune. Apartments rent for ridiculous prices. Old people who own property subsidize their children who cannot afford to live.

Studio City is getting torn down, the little houses are replaced by massive two million dollar “Cape Cods”.

The people are without direction, but looking for somewhere to go. They get in their cars to go somewhere, to get to a place that none  really want to get to. But foot on the pedal, they move on.

2015 is a different year.

The recession is vanquished.

The go, go, go times are in the air.

Which brings us back to 2007.