All the Great Plans…


Yesterday afternoon, we were gathered at MacLeod Ale to celebrate Quirino’s birthday. We sat along a wooden table in the back, near the bags of hops. People were playing darts. The front door was closed, the air conditioning was on, we ate BBQ tri-tip beef (marinated in MacLeod). And we were discussing Van Nuys over warm and cold beer.

A young guy named Daniel sat across from me. He had worked under Former Councilman (Congressman!) Tony Cardenas and is now in the city planning department. Andreas asked him if he thought Van Nuys might be the new Highland Park.

“Not now, maybe not ever,” Daniel said.

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“Highland Park Market” Photo by Lance Leong / Flickr

Daniel was versed, in the somnambulistic and arcane zoning laws of Los Angeles, the kind that mandate how much parking is needed and what height a building can be, if additional units of housing can go up if some rents come down. And how many feet away from a school is permissible for a liquor store? And who can put up a 1200 sf granny flat in their backyard (the answer is you).

His generalized, and probably correct assertion is that Highland Park has an active and engaged group of residents and Van Nuys does not. The same is true of more affluent and contentious areas like Studio City or Woodland Hills. In those places, where planters and trees now line the boulevards, bike lanes are carved out, and revitalized shops, apartments, housing are going in. Much of the credit goes to the people who live there.

Van Nuys complains. But it never unites to fight for its betterment. Much easier to bicker on the Next Door app.

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Construction of the Santa Monica Freeway 1961. (USC)

Also at our table was white-haired, impassioned, articulate Howard who is on the VNNC. He is smart, accomplished, a lifelong resident of Los Angeles who grew up near Venice and Fairfax and watched the demolition of housing during the construction of the Santa Monica Freeway in the early 1960s. At that time, thousands of old houses, many architecturally notable, were bulldozed.

Howard recalled the dirt berm that extended for fifteen miles after the houses came down. “At night you could hear the rats, there were millions of them, and they ran and scurried and made noise.”

The Santa Monica Freeway was part of the big plan for Los Angeles. As was the Van Nuys Civic Center, Dodger Stadium, Bunker Hill, and the Federal Building in Westwood. In all these cases the results were less than stellar. Walkable, vibrant, historic, human scaled places were obliterated. And what remains today are acres of baked asphalt and mute modernism.

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Howard said that the planned redevelopment of Van Nuys Boulevard, to make it a transit hub, to put a light rail down the center, to install bike lanes, to increase the allowable height of apartments, all of these progressive ideas, pushed by everyone from New Urbanists to developers and transit advocates, would be a “disaster for Van Nuys.” Many small businesses would close and the area would turn into something worse than even the hellish condition it currently is in.

So simultaneously, he decried the automobile oriented era of the Santa Monica Freeway and mimicked the impending one of density and pedestrian oriented development.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”- F. Scott Fitzgerald

And yet his views do make sense if you consider that every time big ideas come to Los Angeles, they are somehow, like a good-looking wannabe actor/model from the hinterlands, deflated and defeated by this city.

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Renderings by Gensler Courtesy of Psomas
Renderings by Gensler Courtesy of Psomas

The daily assassination of youthful idealism is the oldest tradition in our city.

In the built environment there is also something here that abhors a unifying concept of planning and harmony. If a building can be built to stick out and look freaky and out-of-place it is deserving of praise.

In architecture, as in politics and entertainment, the bigger the carnival and the louder the wreck, the more applause, the more profits. That’s what we are aiming to create.

When we do get together under some banner like Mayor Villaraigosa’s “Million Trees” or Mayor Garcetti’s “Great Streets” the gods start to laugh at us. We are best at half-hearted, half-completed projects.

And perhaps that negative is a good thing. One must give Los Angeles credit, not only for attempting to build massive public works, but for making sure that once the great works go up, small indignities, like homeless encampments along the Orange Line Bike Path, will sober up dreamers and urban fantasists.

All the Great Plans are like those coffee-house conferences with laptops, planning to produce and cast and finance something, someday….


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The Agence Ter plan. (Pershing Square Renew)

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On the drawing board now is a new park in Pershing Square.

Two years ago, I went with a group of photographers to shoot the city on a Sunday afternoon and was told I could not put my camera on a tripod. This was in the same park where mattresses were laid out and people sprawled down stairs drunk and asleep.

A public park where public photography is regulated by private security.

What you should be able to do in public you cannot, and what you should NOT do, is allowable.


And then there is MacLeod Ale, a private venture, started by two people over 50, using family money and retirement funds to make great beer.

That one small incubator of beer seems to produce more ideas for the betterment of Van Nuys than any political slogan coming out of City Hall.

Throw out all the great plans for Van Nuys.

Start small, dream big, pursue your own venture. Maybe that is the key to change.

 

 

The Lost Art of Selling Auto Parts.


Back when Los Angeles was younger, at the dawn of the automobile age after World War I, tires, gasoline and cars were sold in buildings and displayed in a manner befitting a jewelry store.

Among the rich archives of the USC Digital Library, are photographs of local businesses, who put extraordinary artistry into their signage and architecture to draw in customers, while projecting an image of modernity attractive to the growing city.

Many of these photos come from the Dick Whittington Studio.

We Put Up With A Lot in Van Nuys


 

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6224 Cedros Avenue
Van Nuys, CA 90401 Built: 1929 Owners: Shraga Agam, Shulamit Agam

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Last year, there was a large estate for sale on a very nice block of Orion St. north of Victory. The house was on half an acre. It had a pool, a guest house, gates, a security system, c.c cameras, a new kitchen, four bedrooms, three bathrooms and about 4,500 s.f. of space. The asking price was about $1.2 million.

I went to an open house and met the realtor. He told me the owner had bought the place only 9 months earlier, but had decided to sell after he realized his street was in a prostitution area.

The home stayed on the market for some six months and then was taken off. I don’t believe it was ever sold.

There are conditions all around Van Nuys right now that we are asked to be compassionate about.

Our beautiful and verdant Orange Line bike path, built and landscaped in 2005, is now home to some 20-30 homeless people who set up tents and temporary housing in the bushes, under the trees, between Sepulveda and Kester.  Nury Martinez’s office summoned cleaners, trucks, men and machines last Friday morning at 10:30am to clean up the mess. And by 1pm the stragglers were back setting up their encampment.

The same situation exists in Woodley Park where the bird sanctuary, the hiking trails and the thick woods are now carved out with garbage, make shift trailers, old cars, tents and debris.

Why is this allowed! Why?

There once was a lovely, large, gorgeous park where you went to hike, bike, walk, run, fly model airplanes and play golf. Now you are trespassing on a halfway house for people between beds, whose bad luck and bad life you must make exception for. You once picked flowers here. Now you pick up needles.

Illegal dumping. Grass uncut for five years. Sober living opening next door. Prostitution in broad daylight. Cars running red lights. Burglaries, robberies, kids drinking beer in the car and throwing their cans on the street. Kids getting high and dropping their marijuana containers on the curb. Sticky condoms on the street.

You ask why a homeless man can move into an empty house on Kittridge and Columbus and live there for a year, using the entire property as his outdoor storage unit, with household debris covering the back and front yards and up and down the driveway. And it takes a year to get him out. 50 emails were needed. Countless letters, phone calls.

And across the street, an unsold property on Columbus is now used as a storage lot for old dilapidated cars. There are some 40-50 sitting in the backyard, their oil leaking into the ground, their gasoline tanks ready to be ignited so that an explosion might happen any day in the heat and the wind.

Another property owner buys a single family house zoned for one house and builds another, rents them both out, and even has two addresses on one single family lot. And he gets away with it.

All the aforementioned were told to Nury, told to the LAPD, discussed on Next Door, written about on this blog, Tweated, Facebooked and officially complained of by residents here.


We put up with a lot in Van Nuys.

And sometimes we are told that calling out what we see- by what it is- makes us insensitive or callous.

On Next Door, I was told that I used a “vile word” when I described whores walking on Sepulveda. The most searched term on this blog is “whores on Sepulveda” and has been for eleven years. There is some connection between Van Nuys, Sepulveda, and prostitution. The entire city knows it. Why deny it? Why is “whore” suddenly a forbidden word? Didn’t Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds star in a movie musical called “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas?”

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And now we are told to have a heart for the new euphemism, “Human Trafficking.”

But who has the heart for the homeowner stuck with a white elephant house he cannot sell because he lives in the Paid Pleasure Person’s district?

Who cares about hundreds of thousands of dollars shaved off home values for people in Van Nuys, always pushed into compassion for every life except their own?

And who makes the law and who enforces it and why is it that the law nowadays is interpreted so gently, so liberally, so ridiculously against common sense and the common good that it has the strength of a wet Kleenex held up to deflect a nuclear missile?

We put up with a lot in Van Nuys.

 

Filling in the Blanks


As everyone doesn’t know, the Second Largest City in the United States, Los Angeles (pop. 3,972,000) has a lack of housing. Even people who own homes admit, privately, that not everyone should be forced to live on bus benches and sleep alongside the Orange Line Busway.

So at last night’s Planning and Land Use Meeting of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, several apartment projects were presented, which will, collectively, add some 250 apartments to an area, now occupied by 180,000 people, renting for an average of $2,000 a month.

Housing is coming to Van Nuys, again.

And the board was saying yes, every time.

For the millions starved for housing, some crumbs are being dropped from the sky.

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Giant apartment builder IMT plans to erect a 6-story-apartment at 6500 N. Sepulveda Bl. north of Victory Bl. 160-units will have 275 parking spaces on site. The building, architecturally, has a pleasing look of rhythmic, stripped down modernism. Renderings, of course, show it with spotlights, at sundown, without whores, discarded mattresses and homeless people pushing carts on the sidewalk.

On Thursday, April 27th, at 6pm there will be a community meeting with 6500 Sepulveda developer reps at the Van Nuys Library. So far, 3 people (out of 2,000) in our neighborhood, adjacent to the proposed apartment, have replied that they will attend.

At 14530 Erwin Street, west of Van Nuys Blvd, a 48-unit, 5-story apartment building is planned on the site of some auto repair shops. Again the proposed structure is attractive, with a modern look.

My first reaction was to applaud the addition of upgraded housing within walking distance of the Van Nuys government buildings. One could imagine future residents biking, walking, taking the bus, shopping for groceries. The effect of having new housing on a street now occupied by empty parking lots and gruesome auto shops was uplifting.

However, one of the board members (whom I like a lot) asked, “why would you build on such a crappy street?” I wanted to bang my head against the table. Self-sabotage is such a running theme within the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council. Yes, why bring good development into a bad area? For that matter, why bring a shelter dog into a loving family?

The presenter, politely, replied that land is cheaper in Van Nuys than other areas of Los Angeles. That makes its development more feasible. Sometimes the economics lessons spoken here seem self-evident.

Other projects presented last night included AYCE Gogi, a Korean BBQ restaurant at 7128 Van Nuys Bl. They want to add 20 pinball machines to serve with the garlic beef, bulgogi, pork belly and brisket and beer.

At 14831 Burbank Bl. just east of Kester, a new “Brother’s Pizza” is proposed where Napoli Pizza Kitchen used to be. This strip building will have Crème Caramel LA, Brother’s Pizza, My Fish Stop and The Oaks Express Laundry, a very fine laundromat.

Finally, 7745 Sepulveda, (near Western Bagel) where AVIO Coach Craft asked for permission to add six spray painting booths expressly for Tesla automobiles. The fine automaker, and rigorously environmental company, will oversee the process of applying paint to its vehicles. And AVIO has the exclusive contract under Tesla, a business that will paint 300-400 cars a month.

Apartments, pinball machines and auto body painting. Van Nuys is making progress into the future.

Molasses Truck V. Car: 9/18/51


 

9 18 51 Truck Car Accident Sepulveda at Burbank

From the USC Digital Archives comes this sharp photograph of the aftermath of an accident near Burbank and Sepulveda in Van Nuys. The date is 9/18/1951.

The San Diego Freeway had not been built and would not arrive here in Van Nuys for another ten years.

Cars back then had no air bags or seat belts.

But drivers also had no texting distractions.

The Festival of Garbage


For anyone who lives in Van Nuys, and has not lately visited Raymer St. between Kester and Van Nuys Bl., the Festival of Garbage is now in full display.

Dumped along the median from the bridge to the boulevard are tons of trash. It is perhaps the filthiest, most appalling and most wretched scene of degradation in the entire city of Los Angeles.

Calcutta looks like Beverly Hills compared to this.

Across from the sanitation crisis is a large recycling center, an irony that one might analogize to having an indifferent fire department next door to a burning building. If you are in the business of collecting refuse, how can you refuse to clean up the area around your business?

Adding to the criminality of the area, dozens of unhitched trucking trailers are parked along the road, taking up space, and attached to no moving vehicles.

The bridge over the railroad tracks has been, naturally, taken over by the homeless who live under, in and on top of the structure. They cross on foot over the tracks where Metrolink speeds by a few times an hour.

Does Los Angeles have any measure of pride? How does the city allow this tsunami of trash?

Who is responsible for this mess?

I vote for Councilwoman Nury Martinez and Mayor Eric Garcetti.