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.

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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.

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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?

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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.


FOOTNOTE:

[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.

 

 

 

June 24, 1960: Murder at 13944 Valerio St. Van Nuys, CA


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Crime scene photos courtesy of the USC Digital Archives.

Even in 1960, people in Van Nuys were getting gunned down and killed.

As originally reported in the Los Angeles Examiner, on June 24, 1960 police discovered murder victim Shaik Dastagir, 49, dead in front of his home at 13944 Valerio St.

Shaik Dastagir was the owner of a furniture store and two apartment buildings. He often carried large sums of cash.

18-year-old Jim Shields, an employee of Mr. Dastagir’s, later confessed to police that he had tried to rob his boss by gunpoint, but his boss resisted, and in the struggle the killer accidentally shot himself in the arm. Mr. Shields needed money to repair his car and thought he would rob his employer to get the funds. Conscience later caught up and the tearful suspect surrendered.

The dead man, of Indian origin, was also the brother of an actor named Sabu Dastagir.

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Sabu was an actor of some repute. Born in 1924, he was the onetime “Elephant Boy” of the movies, discovered in India by a documentary filmmaker who later brought the boy to Hollywood where he starred in several films, most notably “The Thief of Bagdad (1940) directed by Michael Powell. During WWII, Sabu became an American citizen, joined the Air Force and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery.

Sabu’s career declined after WWII.  He married Marilyn Cooper and had two children, Paul and Jasmine.

Paul Sabu (born January 2, 1960) is a singer, songwriter, producer, and guitarist.

In 1963, Sabu, 39, went for a medical checkup in Chatsworth.

His wife later said that Sabu’s doctor told him, “If all my patients were as healthy as you, I would be out of a job.”

Three days later, on December 2, 1963 Sabu died of a heart attack.

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More Postcard Observations


Budweiser FrontBudweiser Back

 

The Joseph Schlitz Brewery on Roscoe in Van Nuys was an especially popular destination in the 1950s through the 70s.

The adjoining Busch Gardens, with its array of exotic birds and lush waterfalls, was another fantasy environment of natural artifice, like Disneyland or Knotts Berry Farm, a fake beloved world for visitors to Southern California to write home about.

I have scanned many cards (owned by Valley Relics) of the famed gardens, and one in particular caught my eye.

Postmarked March 4, 1960, it was addressed to Miss Donna Friedl, 1921 Maynard Avenue, Cleveland 9, Ohio.

 

It read:

 

Hello Donna,

 

I did not pay for this card they give it to you for visiting the brewery, from Grandpa Friedl.

Something in his wry comment leads me to imagine Grandpa Friedl as a white-haired, humorous, kind man who might have snuck past his wife to offer his granddaughter Donna some candy before dinner.

That was a long time ago.

Nobody has a young daughter named Donna any more.

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Fabulous SFV Front

“The Fabulous San Fernando Valley” is another postcard unintentionally funny.

For here is a view of what looks like Sepulveda Boulevard, somewhere east of the 405, (today’s Galleria) with the dam and mountains in the distance, and thousands of cars packed into the foreground.

Fabulous? The grandiose superlatives of Southern California (best weather, best women, best bodies, best schools, best place to live) were spoken of so often, that the actual truth seemed blasphemous. It was, and is, sometimes very ugly here, boring beyond belief, polluted and blindingly plastic. An early 1960s walk up a Sepulveda, north of Ventura, would lead you past auto junkyards and tacky motels, but you were in a “fabulous” place, didn’t you know it?

 


Saddle and Sirloin Back

 

Sixty or seventy years ago, many restaurants fashioned themselves as Western places, with steaks on the menu and wagon wheels on the wall.

Saddle and Sirloin was a small chain with “steaks aged to tenderness” and at their Palm Springs location, in 1949, Daddy and Mother were sitting down to eat a steak and found time to write to their daughter Florence in Newcastle, Indiana and tell her just that.

“We’re about to eat a steak, it’s balmy outside,” Mom wrote. Her appetite and her temperature lead one to salacious thoughts. Perhaps she looked like Jane Russell, with dark red lipstick. With love and dinner and hot weather….. could the bedroom be far behind?

 


Otto's Pink Pig Restaurant Back

 

Otto’s Pink Pig Restaurant at 4958 Van Nuys Boulevard was another well-known place whose warmhearted postcard promised “Otto’s Famous Baked Ham Sandwich, Best in the US” and “Mike O’Shea’s Special Salad Supreme.”

Their motto: Big Enough to Serve You- Small Enough to Know You.

Eating out, dining in a restaurant, was not done several times a week, as is the case today. People ate at home. They ate what Mom cooked.

So it was a special treat to go to Otto’s and dine on such fare as Filet of Sole Marguery or Roast Long Island Duckling (shipped fresh by refrigerated freight train?).

Hearty, friendly, generous with drink and food, sensibly priced: was it all of those things?

Long gone and obliterated, the neighborhood, an off-ramp of banality, is now home to strips of office buildings, medical offices, and Sherman Oaks Hospital. There is nothing exotic, fun or magical here as there was when Otto’s Pink Pig lived here.

 

 

 

Van Nuys Boulevard in Three Eras.


Van Nuys Blvd. Opening 1911. (DWP)

Van Nuys Blvd. Opening 1911. (DWP)

Van Nuys Boulevard was made in 1910, open for traffic and business in 1911.

It was the heart of the San Fernando Valley, and apparently a quite pleasant and neighborly place to shop.

Van Nuys Blvd. Early 1950s

Van Nuys Blvd. Early 1950s

Cars were parked at a diagonal (like Glendale’s Brand Blvd. today) which effectively and passively narrowed the wideness of the street. It was a more pedestrian friendly boulevard.

Van Nuys circa 1960

Van Nuys circa 1960

But in 1954 Victory and Van Nuys Boulevard were widened. The high intensity lights came later, but the effect was to turn the street into a type of freeway, perfect for cruising, but inhospitable to much else.

Van Nuys at Friar, facing north, September 2014.

Van Nuys at Friar, facing north, September 2014.

The 2014 view is what we see today, a wide street stripped of appeal, whose stores are either vacant or taken up with low rent bail bonds, and cheap crap.

Wide streets are not where people walk and shop. They want trees to shade them. They want to cross the street without walking across six lanes of speeding cars. Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Encino and Tarzana, all the wealthier parts of the San Fernando Valley, have all grasped this basic fact of life and have planted trees and landscaped medians to humanize their business districts.

What accounts for the neglect other than a lingering racism and an inability to formulate a plan financed by government and developers? If a sea of blond-haired people started coming here, would Mayor Garcetti and Councilwoman Nury Martinez suddenly spring into action? Why is Van Nuys different than Highland Park, Encino, North Hollywood or Burbank? Are we somewhere on Mars?

The postcards are (once again) courtesy of Valley Relics. The 2014 photo is taken from Google Street views.

 

12012 Chandler.


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Scanning through some of the postcards loaned to me by Tommy Gelinas at Valley Relics, I came across this 1963 postcard of a new building at  the corner of Chandler and Laurel Canyon in North Hollywood.

12012 Chandler was the home of “the first Honeywell 400 computer service center in the US.”

The Honeywell 400 was a system the size of a room, so nobody who worked with one carried it into this building for servicing. It was an early 1960s workhorse for processing payroll and other functions of business and industry. According to Kraza, Honeywell was part of a second generation of computers that came of age when transistors replaced vacuum tubes.  ” Transistorized computers were more powerful, more reliable, less expensive, and cooler to operate than their vacuum-tubed predecessors.”

The black and white photographs above show the Honeywell 400 in operation. However, they are not from 12012 Chandler.