There was a “block party” on Sunday, June 26th in the Archwood St./Katherine Ave. neighborhood.
Put together with the support of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council and overseen by longtime member and Katherine Avenue resident Penny Meyer, the ambitious party featured live music, a dunking pool, popcorn, hot dogs, and burgers; free tree adoptions, a petting zoo with a pig, a turtle and a ferret; and many social and law enforcement agencies including: the Red Cross, the LA Dept of Recreation and Parks, the LAPD, their cadets and uniformed officers; members of the SWAT team, Paul Krekorian’s office, LA Dept of Sanitation and Public Works, and the Literacy Club.
Every house and every fence post seemed to sport an American Flag.
In this day of national disunity, cheap political opportunism formenting ethnic divisiveness over what it means to be a “true American” the attendees yesterday expressed that we are still one nation under God, indivisible. The best among us showed up to demonstrate community spirit and unite in our love of country, state, city and Van Nuys.
A few weeks ago, around 7:30 at night, I received a phone call from an upset stranger.
“Paul Dunbar” said he was a neighbor. A woman had given him my number. And told him Andrew, at “Here in Van Nuys”, might be helpful.
Mr. Dunbar explained that he lived with his wife and two children in a home he has owned for the past 16 years. His 1950s ranch has three bedrooms, and a large den facing a backyard pool. It is a classic old Valley house. But it is now under assault.
A few months earlier, the house behind the Dunbar’s was sold and purchased by an LLC. That entity was now constructing two houses, intended for rental use, on an 8,099 sf lot, zoned R1 (single family).
The back house, entirely new, will rise up two stories and contain a two-car garage below, and living spaces upstairs. The renters will enjoy an outdoor balcony whose view will be the Dunbar pool below and the back of the Dunbar House where all activities, indoor and outdoor, will be under the scrutiny of strangers.
A backhoe had dug up all the vegetation, and had deforested the backyard. A naked slat wood fence was all that stood between the neighboring houses. Rising up, like Godzilla over Tokyo, was a new 22.5-foot high house with many windows.
The egregious backyard neighbor’s two houses will be rented out. The renters (whomever they are) will live, and look down, across the entire width and breadth of the formerly private property. At night, the Dunbar Family drama will be a stage show for prying eyes.
Exhaustively, and in detail, Paul Dunbar kept records of the various letters, emails and phone calls he made to many city agencies and offices: Councilwoman Nury Martinez, District 6; Assembly member Adrin Nazarian; LA’s Department of Building and Safety; City Inspectors,the City Attorney’s Office. Senior Lead Officer Erika Kirk, LAPD, even intervened, with no results.
The upshot of the situation is that a speculator can buy a home on a single-family lot and put two houses on one lot with a “variance”.
All the neighbors in the area are aghast. They know anybody can now come in and demolish. And then construct two new, rentable houses on old, one-family 8,000 SF lots. A bad precedent has been set.
“What is the point of investing your life savings and a large portion of your monthly paycheck into a single family neighborhood? The city decides they will change it with no explanation/warning. And NO representation to voice your feedback, unless you spend more money and time for an attorney to fight what is already a done deal?” Mr. Dunbar asked.
Van Nuys, in the aftermath of the recession, has regained most of its pre-2007 property values. But the average house in our neighborhood might be worth $550,000. If a home sells for $500,000 and needs $150,000 worth of work to remodel it, there is little incentive to flip it if the ceiling is only $700,000.
Therefore, the only way to make property profitable in Van Nuys is to carve up the pieces and put some income producing business on it.
Some speculators are trying the LLC route. Others are engaged in various nefarious scams.
There are now businesses that are buying up houses around the area and using single-family houses as sober living halfway houses. The owners bill insurance companies thousands of dollars for each resident, and then cram six or seven un-related adults into a house. The operators can earn $20,000 or $30,000 a month paid for by health insurance, subsidized by Obama Care.
My cousin, who sometimes works in these “sobriety” houses, says they are a profitable business and he knows of people who bought up multiple $1,500,000 houses in Beverlywood and set them up as post-addiction estates. Van Nuys, with lower cost housing, is in the sights of unscrupulous people bilking medical insurance to finance these arrangements.
Other properties that are zoned for single-family houses are now being redeveloped as denser housing to encourage more intensive use of large parcels of land. Allegedly creating a more walkable city, the new “small-lot” zoning will pour additional cars onto the street day and night.
The LLC situation means that individuals are not the new homeowners. Companies owning many houses will buy up distressed properties and rent them out, and they will also find ways around the zoning laws to carve up lots and cram in homes.
Poor Van Nuys.
Even when properties are rehabilitated they are simultaneously degraded.
Who is in charge of zoning? And who is in charge of handing out permits? Why and how is it allowed that an LLC can throw up two houses on one lot in the midst of our single-family home neighborhood?
Why are we always fighting new forces intent on destroying Van Nuys?
Why are people in power deaf to their constituency?
A few weeks before Artist Josef Silhavy presented his distinguished oil portrait of Thomas Jefferson to the President and Executive Vice President of the Jefferson Savings Bank in Van Nuys, the Red Valentine Liquor Store at 6735 Sepulveda Blvd. was held up and robbed of $25 on Halloween Night 1963.
Goateed and white-shirted Raymond Carpenter was arrested, along with his accomplice Ronald Lee Ellmers. Both men were AWOL from Fort Ord, a US Army post on Monterey Bay, CA, which closed in 1994.
The Red Valentine Liquor Store was also the scene of a shooting on June 11, 1951.
To our modern eyes, accustomed to seeing oversized vaca negras in black, XXL shirts emerge from every televised car chase, these criminals of a half-century ago are lithe, fit and neatly groomed.
If they were young, alive and looked like that today, they might be sitting at Starbucks working on their blog. Or perhaps mixing mash at MacLeod Ale.
The enormous Valentine’s Day conflagration that consumed the former home of prostitutes and drugs called the Voyager Motel brought out hundreds of firefighters.
And hundreds of spectators, photographers, cars and neighbors who eagerly and gleefully watched smoke and flames from safe vantage points near the fire site at Sepulveda and Hamlin Streets.
Children were hoisted atop parental shoulders, laughing bicycles circled streets, black clad Vaca Negras in their Sunday best waddled to box seats near the flames.
It was the greatest entertainment in our area since an elephant stood on a driveway and hosed a car on an episode of Workaholics.
We had been driving from downtown, and on the 101 near Laurel Canyon could see a funnel cloud of dark smoke, somewhere in the NW distance, and then heard on the radio, an announcement, that there was an enormous blaze happening right near our home.
When we drove up Hamlin, the strong winds were blowing the acrid fumes south, away from our street, as if God herself had intervened to produce something dangerous and exciting within hundreds of feet from our house, without endangering any of us.
The life risks were undertaken by 170 firefighters who spent almost three hours dousing the fire, killing it by drowning it until its fearsomeness and ferociousness fled.
For years, the Voyager Motel was a constant blight on the area. Nothing could end that local monster whose clientele paid by the hour, and whose rooms and reputation stained and demoralized everything around it. The sex and drug trade flourished. Nightly sirens and helicopters and cops buzzed the fleabag whorehouse. And then, last year, the motel was shut down, or went out of business.
One problem ended in Van Nuys, as 666 other criminal activities flourished.
Yesterday, Satan returned to finish his business at the Voyager Motel, his personal university in Van Nuys, and did it in his usual surprise way.
Courtesy of a community minded neighbor, we folks gathered tonight in a computer lab inside Casa Loma College on Kester to hear Senior Lead Officer Erica Kirk, Gang Officer DeLeon and a man from the Los Angeles Department of Building Safety speak about property crimes, prostitution and gangs.
The people were mostly older, largely white, and on friendly terms with one another. Before the speakers began, two chatted up about church, “I don’t hear the bells ringing any more!” and on grandchildren, “My granddaughter still works in Woodland Hills for a sod broker!”
Around the building, within spitting distance, ghetto apartments were sprayed with gang signs, prostitutes walked freely, speeding cars plowed through red lights, and old refrigerators and couches were dumped alongside the road.
But inside the room, reassuring voices of authority, festooned with badge and pistol, spoke of laws and arrests, patrols and progress against criminal activity.
Abandoned houses, trashy front yards, barking dogs at 3am, explosions, gunfire, helicopters, stolen cars, discarded marijuana containers, dumping, ubiquitous sex trade, stinky winds that blow sewage smells into the bedroom, none of these facts of life in Van Nuys would soon disappear, but some attendees were damn angry and determined to speak up and put a stop to the madness.
“Why don’t you arrest these prostitutes and ship them up to Nevada where it’s legal!” one man yelled. “They’ve been at it for forty years on Sepulveda.” And I pictured a sad whore, walking in the sun since 1975, wrinkled, abused and hated by local homeowners.
Another new arrival to Orion came with his pretty wife and spoke about his accounting of the used condoms found on streets around his beautiful estate.
“Since August 1st I’ve counted 33 condoms on Blucher, 44 on Langdon, 53 on Peach Avenue and 27 on Blucher!” he announced. My mind, always visual, imagined a sticky, gooey condom near a peach. For his wife, inviting the grandchildren into the front yard while a sex act was going on in front of the roses and white picket fence was quite appalling.
Some gentle people seemed innocent as to the fact that they lived amongst violence and anarchy. “The Mexican Mafia? What’s that?” a woman asked.
Another older woman spoke of her son coming home at 3am and passing three young men tagging a stop sign near Valley Presbyterian Hospital. “He stopped his car and rolled down his window and asked them why they were doing that,” she said. Officer DeLeon advised that it was, perhaps suggestible, not to confront three taggers at 3am in Van Nuys.
If Donna Reed and her family were transported to tonight’s meeting they would fit right in. That old time Angeleno, who came of age after WWII, whose life was formed in a sea of childish televised wonderment , made an appearance tonight, as delightful and improbable as Walt Disney meeting the Devil.
The local sweeties who came for this meeting were the nice ones who make up the silent and invisible and powerless backbone of Van Nuys. They cannot compare, in numbers or influence, these citizens, to the 180,000 who are in Van Nuys illegally, and whose presence regularly is spoken of in terms reverential and pandering, as when immigration reform comes up, as if we as a nation are commanded to do something to break the system further and destroy national sovereignty in the name of political correctness.
These people who gathered here tonight are regularly told there is not enough money for law and order, but when I spoke up and asked the crowd if they would pay fifty cents a gallon tax on gasoline to double the size of the (13,000) LAPD and bolster it, nobody raised their hand. “Why don’t you tax cigarettes?” a female cancer patient asked.
There will no doubt be more community meetings in the future, but the prospect for improvement in Van Nuys is dim. Without leadership, even the best intentioned community group, even the best cops on the beat, cannot hope to overcome the nonsensical and insane carnival of crime that dances all around us day and night.
Under dark, glassy, reflective, translucent, stormy, gray, inky blue clouds Van Nuys awoke today.
The hot sun and its aggression were held back. And the light came up slowly. The workers sat in their cars along Victory waiting for the red light to turn green.
Humidity, and the hint of rain, the blessed promise of water, hung in the air.
Bulldozers carried pieces of broken-up pavement in the Wendy’s parking lot as mechanical jackhammers tore into old asphalt. Construction workers attacked the building, skillfully peeling and nailing glossy, modern effects.
West down Erwin, old cars and overgrown bushes flank houses where age and decay cannot hide. The past and its four-wheeled rusty remainders sit on driveways.
Victory, where quiet houses sit next to six lanes of traffic.
Back on the corner of Sepulveda and Victory, right where the police shot a man to death after he broke their window with a beer bottle, the empty parking lots and bank buildings are mute, without feeling, marooned in a landscape of cheap indifference.
There is no civic center, no park, no church, no place to sit. The frenzy of cars and donut shops, office supplies and Jiffy Lube, this is one of the many centers of Van Nuys. But the center cannot hold. The consensus of American life is scattered here, as it is all over the land. Somewhere in the shadows, thousands of homeless are waking up in alleys, in their cars, behind buildings. The normality of life seems normal but things are awry.
When the traffic eases, people will speed past here, and some will run across the intersection to board buses, and the day and its distractions will obliterate the early morning calm.