• Rep. Nanette Barragan, Torrance Refinery Action Alliance

    Hundreds March on Torrance Refinery for Community, Worker Safety and Jobs

    By Mark Friedman, RLn Contributor

    Hundreds of community residents, students and labor activists marked the the third anniversary of the Torrance Refinery explosion by protesting its continued use of modified hydrofluoric acid (MHF) in their refinery process.  The Feb. 17 demonstrations followed recent reporting in the Daily Breeze which previously exposed that the Environmental Protection Agency failed to enforce fines and cleanup first against Exxon Mobil and now against the new refinery owners, PBF Energy.

    Local elected officials, scientists, teachers and residents spoke on the dangers posed by the continued use of MHF at the refinery. Some alluded to the worst chemical plant accident in Bhopal, India in 1984, when more than 500,000 people were injured and 8,000 died within two weeks.

    The PBF Energy refinery in Torrance and the Valero refinery in Wilmington are notorious for their history of accidents, lack of restorative cleanup and fines mandated by the EPA and continued violations that make them unsafe to refinery workers and the community.

    Teacher and South Bay resident, Sandra Viera, told the crowd, “The refineries have vast resources to cover up the truth, and push their message out. They pay lobbyists that can influence the EPA to ignore their own reports of toxic waste and safety violations at the refinery; it seems the refineries can even pay people to attend AQMD hearings.” 

    Pedora Keoo, representing the National Nurses United union, said, “Air pollution is a public health crisis in Los Angeles.  This is due to the ports, highways and refineries. What frightens me as a nurse is that we have this refinery here that contains hydrofluoric acid on site, a chemical that causes burn[s] and tissue damage on contact. This refinery still has problems: causing shutdowns, flares, and fires in 2015, 2016, and 2017. It is a ticking time bomb. I don’t even know if our surrounding hospitals can accommodate all the injuries if another [explosion] should happen that could be a catastrophe.”

    Keynote speaker and scientist Sally Hayati led off by emphasizing, “Safe refineries save lives! That’s a great United Steelworkers slogan. An MHF replacement will create jobs, not eliminate them.”  

    “Our refineries claim to have all but eliminated HF dangers by adopting Modified HF, with its vapor suppressant additive,” Hayati explained.  “But Torrance Refinery Action Alliance’s investigation after the 2015 explosion revealed that MHF is the refining industry’s equivalent of ‘ultra light’ cigarettes, giving the illusion of safety without delivering it.  MHF is just concentrated HF, with so little additive it makes no difference.”

    Hayati noted that  this past August, AQMD Air Quality Management District Rule 1410 staff had concluded that the refinery couldn’t prove MHF safety claims and that an MHF phase out within approximately five years was necessary to prevent health risks to a significant number of persons.

    “Even modest levels of effort from a large number of people can win this battle,” Hayati said.

    A significant new addition to the rally were high school and college students from Torrance, Wilmington, San Pedro, Lawndale and Northridge, along with teachers from an even broader list of cities.

    By the end of the march and rally, the alliance collected hundreds of signatures of new supporters, organized the distribution of 150 lawn signs and sent hundreds of postcards to the AQMD to continue opposition to MHF from the community.


    Mark Friedman is a veteran trade unionist. TRAA leaders Sally Hayati, Sandra Viera contributed to this article.

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  • Conversation with a Curator: Ron Linden Discusses 7 Painters

    • 02/26/2018
    • Andrea Serna
    • Art, Culture
    • Comments are off

    By Andrea Serna, Arts & Culture Writer

    Artist and curator Ron Linden believes in challenging an audience. In his current exhibition, 7 Painters, on display at Gallery 478, he challenges the intellect while stimulating the visual senses.  7 Painters  features works by Katy Crowe, Ron Linden, William Mahan, Jay McCafferty, Marie Thibeault, Ted Twine, and HK Zamani.

    “As a curator, and as a teacher, I will never play down to an audience, because that’s not what you’re there for,” said Linden. “Give them something to chew on, both perceptually and intellectually. That’s what I try to do.”

    As inspiration, Linden points to an essay by art historian, Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, in which he discusses the relevance of painting with the German visual artist Gerhard Richter. The conversation brings an intellectual and a world-renowned artist to a discussion on the contradictions in art.

    “It’s the contradiction of knowing full well that the means you are using won’t achieve what you aim for, and at the same time not being prepared to change those means,” Buchloh explained.

    “That’s not a contradiction, it’s a perfectly normal state of affairs, the normal mess if you like,” replied Richter.

    Richter concludes that all means are adequate, “The question is, what are my means? And what can I achieve with them?” Linden’s goal is to illustrate the means: painting.

    RLn: Does painting remain relevant in today’s world of abstraction and conceptual installations?

    Ron Linden: Painting has never really gone away. In the ‘70s, Les Levine, a conceptual artist declared painting dead, but it wasn’t so. Painting reinvents itself continuously. The British sculptor Anthony Caro once said, “We’re all Paleolithic, we all smear stuff, or we’re Neolithic, we pile stones on top of each other.”

    So the idea of this show is smearing around that greasy substance that Caro talks about with Paleolithic man. I thought that this is the perfect time to show off this medium for its variety. So, you have everything from the casual, almost de-skilled look of HK Zamani to Bill Mahan, whose work is traditionally crafted and the physicality is undeniable. Bill’s work references the whole history of painting as far as I am concerned. At the same time, Jay McCafferty’s delicate solar burn is completely different from Ted Twine, whose work is completely different than Bill’s. That was the idea. Any place you look in this gallery there’s something different going on, but it’s all going on with paint.

    RLn: Through your many years of curating in the Harbor Area, do you find it difficult to draw an audience to this part of Los Angeles?

    RL: People come from Venice, Santa Monica, downtown LA, Pasadena, etc. Ray Carofano has been running this gallery for 30 years and I have been curating here for more than 20 years. The opening of this exhibit was the most highly attended reception we have had. It is a wrong perception that people won’t come to San Pedro. We have been attracting people from outside of town for a long time. Many of the artists in this exhibit have shown across the United States, Europe and Asia. These are all recognized artists, and I think you have to have a quality offering if you expect to become a cultural destination.

    RLn: A few of your own minimalist pieces are included in this show. Can you explain your minimalist style for visitors to this exhibit?

    RL: Some people paint with emotions and feelings. My painting stems more from thoughts than emotions. I try to manifest that in a way that you can get a sense of my intentions. The paintings are not unfeeling, but that is not the engine that drives it. Often I am more inspired by what I read than what I see. I try to avoid styles or trends.

    Gallery 478 is open every month during the San Pedro First Thursday Art Walk. 7 Painters runs through March 31

    Venue: Gallery 478, 478 W. 7th St., San Pedro

    Hours: 11a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment

    Cost: Free

    Details: (310) 732-2150 or (310) 600-4873

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  • Love, Kindness and Dried Meat

    By Richard Foss, Food & Cuisine Writer

    If you have driven past an unassuming office park on the north end of Gaffey Street you might have wondered about the sign for a company called B.U.L.K. Beef Jerky. Some people who drive by assume they sell only dried beef with various seasonings — probably wholesale since they have the word bulk in their name.

    That’s logical but wrong, as founder Pete Garbowski is happy to explain. Look carefully at the sign and you’ll notice the dots after each letter that indicate that we’re dealing with an acronym here. Before you read on to the next paragraph where Pete explains it, see if you can guess what those letters stand for.

    Give up? Take it away, Pete.

    “The name stands for Building Up Lives with Kindness… It was an acronym that came from a guy I used to work with, and it stuck. It does spell bulk, but we actually haven’t had a problem with people thinking they can only buy large amounts. We do offer large sized packages for those who want them, though.”

    The company started almost as an accident in 2004, when Pete had a great idea about the then-emerging world of e-commerce.

    “We started out with a business plan for selling beef jerky online that I pitched to an established company.  They said no, and I just decided that somebody was going to make this happen, so it might as well be me. I went to some guys I knew and said, hey, let’s build it. The first year we sold $6,000 of beef jerky online, and I was excited. It got bigger and bigger, and now that has grown by 2000 percent. We’ve gone from a one man operation to four people full time, plus all the contractors that we work with.”

    When you stop in at that storefront on Gaffey to grab a bag, you might want to allow some time to decide what you want. They sell more than 50 kinds of jerky from minimally flavored cuts of brisket to teriyaki, honey glazed, barbecue and Habanero chili spiced versions. They also offer jerky made from elk, venison, shark, and more exotic critters like ostrich, kangaroo, snapping turtle, and python.

    So, where does one get the meat for these weird varieties? In the case of pythons, it comes not from Southeast Asia where these reptiles originated, but from Alabama. People who had them as pets turned them loose and the snakes found that it was just like home, but without all the predators that eat pythons. They are now pests that grow up to twenty feet long, and the market for their meat is probably what helps to keep their numbers under control. Pete’s company isn’t driving them extinct since he only sells about a thousand pounds a year, but he’s doing his part.

    Some of the other varieties like tuna, salmon, and shark might sound odd to most Americans, but they have a long history in Asia. In Tokyo’s izakaya taverns, the Japanese traditionally start a session of beer tastings with a plate of sweet and salty squid jerky, and the Chinese have a long tradition of drying and salting shellfish, crab, and other seafood. Pete doesn’t sell those at this time, but he has his eye on the market.

    “In China and Japan they make a lot of seafood-based jerky, and as more people move to a pescetarian diet we have been getting requests for it. We have been talking with some fishermen in Hawaii who have a superior product, and that may be in our future. It all comes down to what the market says…”

    Another demographic that Pete has been eyeing are the vegetarians, but so far there has been an insurmountable problem.

    “We’ve been sampling vegan jerky, which does exist, but we haven’t found anything that we really like. We’re open to trying it out, but we’d have to find a recipe that is really satisfying.”

    BULK’s business is booming, a fact Pete credits to being in touch with both traditional and non-traditional customers.

    “Campers and outdoors people love our stuff. It’s light, high in protein and stores for a long time. The other favorite hiking food is chocolate, but that will melt and jerky won’t. We also have an increasing number of people who try it because they’re looking for a healthy snack. When you’re at the market do you buy the bag of chips, the starbursts, or the beef jerky? The jerky wins hands down from a health standpoint. It fits in with the paleo diet, and we’ve had customers write in and say they went from a size 16 to a size 12 by changing their snacking habits. It’s carb free, all natural, free of sugar, and many of our products are gluten free.”

    Though internet sales still make up the majority of their business, the storefront in San Pedro has benefits.

    “It’s a tasting room, the place we interact with our customers. We build contacts and learn what works. We also treat our customers like family. We know that at ten bucks a bag this isn’t the cheapest product, and if people try a variety and don’t like it we’re ready to deal with them. We’ll take care of you. Everybody that walks out of here has a smile, and we want to keep them as customers for life.”

    A commitment to customer satisfaction is a sentiment that every business claims, but Pete seems to have an unusual commitment to actually following through. The jerky company that enshrined kindness in its name also has a sense of determination that is embodied in their logo – the L in B.U.L.K. is a human arm in the shape of a flexing bodybuilder. This isn’t just a ploy to attract fitness enthusiasts, but another symbol of the company’s intent.

    “It’s the universal symbol of strength. Our brand started when someone said no to my idea, and I decided, I’ll be strong and do it myself. Those are the values we want to portray to our customers. You can do anything, but you have to be good, be kind, and be strong.”

    Details: (424) 536-3050;  www.bulkbeefjerky.com

    Location: 1931 N. Gaffey St., Suite E, San Pedro.

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  • Barragán- Port Advocate While Challenging POTUS’ Agenda

    • 02/23/2018
    • Sara Corcoran
    • Feature, News
    • Comments are off

    Editor’s Note: RLn’s Washington correspondent, Sara Corcoran, interviewed Rep. Nanette Barragán  (D-CA 44) on Feb. 15 in  her Washington, D.C. office.  Barragán discussed issues impacting San Pedro and the rest of her district include homelessness, port security, Trump’s border wall, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, perhaps better known as DACA.

    How does the president’s infrastructure plan impact the ports?

    The president’s infrastructure plan does not make a significant financial investment in any part of our infrastructure, the ports included. The proposed $200 billion in this plan is woefully insufficient to help rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. The American Association of Port Authorities has identified $66 billion in infrastructure needs at our ports alone. This bill is an unserious attempt to deal with the challenges we face.

    How do you feel the ports interact with their communities?

    The ports are essential parts of our communities. San Pedro and Wilmington in particular grew hand-in-hand with the port. I grew up in this district, and I have family who work in the port to this day. The port continues to be a major economic engine for our economy and for the region. I was glad to see that last year the port shattered its record for annual container volume shipped. Part of my mission in Washington is to ensure that the port will continue to provide good-paying jobs for our communities and fuel the national economy. The growth and prosperity of our communities is deeply connected to the future of the port.

    What plans does Congress have for cyber-security?

    As a member of the Homeland Security Committee, I take cyber-security concerns very seriously. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has released 13 new indictments against Russians who meddled in the 2016 election. It is clear their goals were to undermine faith in our democratic institutions, erode support for Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and prop up the campaign of Donald Trump. Playing defense in cyber-security is very difficult and it is going to take a government-wide commitment to prevent further election meddling in 2018. I am committed to support every effort to protect our election systems and integrity from future interference.

    Locally, the Port of Los Angeles experiences almost 20 million cyber-attacks a month. I am focused on ensuring the federal government does its part by providing essential funding and resources for ports to harden cyber defenses. The Ports Security Grant Program is one of the vital tools the ports rely on, and I’ve been working to get the program more funding.

    DACA people in the district

    There are an estimated 8,000 DACA recipients. We have been pretty vocal on this issue. Everything from signing on to bills, speaking on the house floor… I’d like to force a vote on the Dream Act. We have met several times with John Kelly on this issue, originally when he was Secretary of Homeland Security and now that he is the president’s chief of staff. He’s moved on this issue quite a bit, unfortunately, Secretary Kelly now chief of staff Kelly on this issue has moved on this issue quite a bit — unfortunately, and not in a positive direction. Frankly, I have had meetings with the Senate Democratic leadership, conveying that our communities feel the Senate’s Democratic leadership has turned their backs. I have been calling for the Clean Dream Act for a long time. When other bills started coming forward, like the Aguilar-Hurd bill [Reps. Peter Aguilar (D-Calif.) and Will Hurd (R-Texas)] which is a combination of DACA protection and border security. We spoke in favor of it as a way start having a conversation about what we can do to get the protections if there is going to be a compromise [on the president’s wall]. It’s something we have been pushing a lot. It’s been in the media that I have been We the person who has been willing to stand up and be vocal against my own Democratic leadership. We are going to continue to do that. I think it was a mistake…we didn’t use the last spending bill as leverage. We saw that there was real leverage there because the Republicans only had about 168 votes and they needed so many Democratic votes. We had 73 support that bill. I thought that was unfortunate.

    On the Border Wall

    I sit on the Homeland Security Committee, and the experts on the wall tell us it is more a speedbump. It is not going to solve the problem. Unfortunately, it has turned a into a political campaign promise by this president. It has turned a committee that has generally been very bipartisan to being more partisan. I’m for putting more customs and border protection at the ports of entry. Look, I represent the Port of Los Angeles. They have a staffing shortage. More officers will improve security and efficiency in the movement of cargo. It’s going to help the economy and it’s going to help create jobs. So there are much smarter ways for us to use that money.

    Do I think we are going to have to shell out money for the border wall? I don’t know. Everything is so up in the air. The president one day says he’s willing to do something without a wall. The next day he say he wants money for a wall. I think at the end of the day … we are going to see where the politicians fall — where my colleagues will fall on what they are willing to ask for in return for DACA protections. What’s really sad is that [DACA is] such a bipartisan issue across the country [but] they are using these kids as hostages. I think you may see a proposal for a border wall have some funding. It’s not as quick as you think it is. It takes a while.  So there is some political reality that they could get some wall funding.

    On the Housing Crisis

    So the president’s budget is cutting a whole bunch of things from Medicaid to health care funding. In the prior budget they were trying to cut “home funds.” They have tried to cut that in the past. Those are funds that go to organizations that help put up affordable housing … people like Habitat for Community. They (Habitat for Humanity) came in here and said, “Look this is crazy. If they cut funding we are not going to be able to provide as much affordable housing.” Which is an issue in Los Angeles, where we face skyrocketing rents. The past budget also had some cuts to homeless programs. I haven’t seen the new budget to see if that is proposed again,  but there is no doubt this president doesn’t have homelessness as one of his priority issues. It’s more of him trying to make up where he is going to find the money to pay for the big cut he gave to the top one percent. So the homeless problem is a huge issue. Its exploding. I live in San Pedro myself. I’ve seen it explode.

    We have tried several things. Under a program called HUD VASH  [Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing] bill, across the country the federal government gives out housing vouchers. Some areas don’t use them. But Los Angeles, being such a high level of homelessness, uses theirs. My goal is to reallocate some of those HUD VASH vouchers to cities in need of them. It would make priority of veterans. You would think something like that would be easy, but it’s not bipartisan. It becomes an issue of, “Well, I don’t know what that is going to do with my area. I don’t even know if I can get a vote on it because leadership won’t put it up.

    A bill this week would add to the income tax box at the very end [of the form]that says, “Do you want to donate to this cause or that cause?” There will be a new box if somebody wanted to contribute to a homeless fund so that we can invest  more affordable housing and more services for homeless.

    There are a lot of things we can do. We need to focus on homelessness, affordable housing, making sure people have access to mental health services and taking care of our veterans.



    What really caused the shut down?


    Other Stories by Sara Corcoran:


    Corruption code stuck in error mode

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  • Curtain Call: Musical Theatre West Makes “Guys and Dolls” Sing

    Review by Greggory Moore

    The sum total of my childhood exposure to traditional Broadway musicals was the film Grease and my mom’s incessant playing of the original cast recording of A Chorus Line. So, when I get out to Musical Theatre West, I’m usually in the strange position of reviewing a show I’ve barely heard of, but that is likely to be well familiar to the vast majority of people reading my words.

    Guys and Dolls fits the bill in spades. It won the 1951 Tony and Pulitzer Prize, it was a major motion picture in 1955 and this is the second time Musical Theatre West has done it this millennium. Nonetheless, unless you count the Frank Sinatra big band version of Luck Be a Lady Tonight,  it’s all new to me.

    For anyone who might be in my boat, a quick synopsis. In the heart of New York City, “the devil’s own city on the devil’s own street,” sin (more venial than venal) is everywhere, but the Save-A-Soul Mission outpost led by Sarah Brown (Madison Claire Parks) does not seem to be snatching anyone out of the jaws of perdition. That certainly includes Nathan Detroit (Matthew Henerson), longtime proprietor of “the oldest established floating crap game in New York.” Nathan’s got a problem of his own: crime boss Big Jule (Phil Nieto) is in town from Chicago expressly to “shoot crap,” and the only venue Nathan can lock down requires a $1,000 deposit that Nathan just don’t have. Lucky for him high-roller Sky Masterson (Jeremiah James) is passing through, and Sky likes the action so much that surely Nathan can sucker him into a bet that will produce the dough. But the show’s called “Guys and Dolls,” so it’s romance—the long-term engagement between Nathan and Adelaide (Bree Murphy) and the unexpected thunderbolt striking Sky and Sarah—that creates the twists and turns leading to exactly the place you knew you were going all along. “Call it sad, call it funny, but it’s better than even money,” goes the title song (chock full of droll gambling references), “that the guy’s only doing it for some doll.”

    From the opening scene-setting pantomime, Musical Theatre West produces Guys and Dolls with more than enough hustle and bustle. There’s nothing bad about this production, but nothing better than Mark Martino’s direction and Daniel Smith’s choreography. During the songs there doesn’t seem to be a step or a gesture not tuned to the musical moment, and blocking during dialog is no less fine. A highlight among highlights comes during Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat, where Martino and Smith are able to massage a static set-up of four rows of seated cast members behind soloist Nicely-Nicely Johnson (robustly played by Andrew Metzger) until it bursts with energy.

    Because the show’s movement element is so strong—and because this isn’t the kind of music I’m listening to at home—perhaps my favorite bits were not the songs but instrumental portions featuring the entire ensemble gallivanting all over the stage, such as when Sky and Sarah get to Havana. For me, this is the unique magic of musical theatre, and Musical Theatre West has the mojo.

    But to be sure, they also have the singers they need. Parks’ operatic soprano rings out like the bell Sarah sings about being, Murphy perfectly blends her vocal ability with the cutesy caricature that is Adelaide, and James is so strong that it’s startling to hear his singing voice emerge for the first time from on the heels of Sky’s smoothly charismatic palaver.

    The production’s mise en scène is no less strong. Tamara Becker’s dazzling costumery doesn’t miss a stitch, Paul Black’s lighting captures colors and casts shadows just where it needs to  and Musical Theatre West’s simple yet sweeping backgrounds bring the audience inside this cartoonish universe. A perfect conflation of these elements comes when Nathan’s crap game floats from the streets down into the sewers, where in little more than an eyeblink the neon lights of Broadway give way to a subterranean cavern.

    If the production has a weakness, it’s that occasionally the ensemble vocals don’t fit together perfectly. I don’t know whether that’s the singing itself (there are a helluva lot of harmonies in there) or a technical issue (that’s a helluva lot of lavalier microphones to coordinate), but tweaking the overall equalization (a tad less treble, a bit more midrange) might help mesh the vocals with the music (flawlessly rendered by an orchestra under the direction of Benet Braun).

    That’s about as negative as I can get. Guys and Dolls isn’t the kind of show that’s going to change your life, but if you’re in the mood for the glitzy bubblegum fun that this kind of musical can offer, you can’t do much better than this.


    Time:Thursday and Friday 8 p.m. Sat 2 and 8 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. (and 6 p.m. 2/25)

    Cost: $20–$92 Through March 4

    Details: 562.856-1999 ext. 4, www.musical.org

    Venue: Musical Theater West at The Carpenter performing Arts Center

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  • Gipson’s AB 1795 Garners Powerful Support

    • 02/23/2018
    • Terelle Jerricks
    • News
    • Comments are off

    When encountering a person experiencing a mental health break or some state of insobriety, a typical Los Angeles resident has the option of either calling the emergency line or turning a blind eye. In non-emergency situations, the first option could be about as effective as the second.

    On Jan. 9, Assemblyman Mike Gipson introduced a bill that would make it easier to choose the first option and see real help arrive.

    The bill calls on local emergency medical services agencies to submit plans that would allow specially trained paramedics to transport patients who are inebriated or who are experiencing a mental health crisis in non-emergency situations.

    The bill has received a great deal of support from various corners including powerful co-sponsors such as the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the California Hospital Association.

    Other co-sponsors include American Civil Liberties Union of California, California Ambulance Association, the Los Angeles district attorney’s office, Stanislaus County, Emergency Medical Services Administrators Association of California, and the Emergency Medical Directors Association of California.

    Hospital emergency departments are responsible for providing rapid response care in times of emergency and crisis. These departments, however, are ill-equipped to serve patients that are inebriated or in need of mental health care in non-emergent situations.

    Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn’s office noted the homeless crisis in Los Angeles County continues unabated and that a significant number who experience homelessness also suffer from mental illness and chronic alcoholism.

    Homeless patients who are inebriated or who are experiencing a mental health crisis can be treated more appropriately at a sobering center or a mental health urgent care center where they can receive specialized care and linkage to supportive services.

    With the current influenza epidemic and other emergencies that daily overcrowd hospital emergency departments, it is critical that we direct this targeted population to alternative destinations so they can receive timely access to care and be referred to appropriate supportive services.

    The bill was referred to the legislature’s committee on health Jan. 22 and has been there ever since.

    Gipson’s office and other supporters are looking to build a groundswell of grassroot support, as evidenced by a fill-in-the-blank letter Hahn’s office generated for constituents to power this bill through the legislature and onto the governor’s desk for his signature.

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  • Growing into the Reverend Tall Tree

    • 02/23/2018
    • Melina Paris
    • Music
    • Comments are off

    The dynamic artist and the Blackstrap Brothers to perform at the Grand Annex

    By Melina Paris, Music Columnist

    There may never be another Soul Brother Number One, Mr. Dynamite,The King of Soul or a Godfather of Soul. Mr. James Brown took all of those forever more. But what about “Hardest Working Man in Show Business?”

    RLn spoke to Reverend Tall Tree ahead of his March 3 performance at the Grand Annex and realized just how hard this man and his band have been working. Going back to his younger days he said that music chose him.

    Reverend Tall Tree, whose given name is Chris Pierce, is actually an ordained minister. He was ordained 15 years ago and studied several spiritual paths and religions. Reverend Tall Tree has received international acclaim for his singing, songwriting and harmonica and guitar playing. More importantly, he knows how to stir his audience. He’s a charismatic and emotive singer who grew up listening to his parents’ record collection comprised of soul music and rhythm and blues hits. Pierce’s inspirations are drawn from the likes of Solomon Burke, Bill Withers, Etta James, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone.

    With roots in soul and his expertise in jazz and blues, one could say Pierce has made a religion of musical expression. With his eclectic approach to music he has enjoyed a full roster of worldwide tours as a solo artist and as an opener for many great artists including, B.B. King, Seal, Aaron Neville, Al Green, Toots & the Maytals and Robert Cray.

    “It’s been a journey of basically opening myself up to different experiences, going for things and keeping the love of music in the forefront,” Pierce said.

    Pierce wasn’t just offering up a cliche when he said he opened himself up to different experiences.

    He recounted how he got to open for the multi-Grammy winning international star, Seal, while he was on tour in 2005. The opportunity was the result of a wild chance meeting. A friend suggested he bring his acoustic guitar along to a house party. Pierce did so and in walks Seal. If that isn’t crazy enough, the two chatted during which Seal told him he was going on a scaled down acoustic tour.

    “I kind of jokingly said, ‘Hey, if you ever need an opener, here’s my card,’” Pierce said. “And two weeks later, I was in Germany in front of 10,000 people. With my acoustic guitar, opening for Seal.”

    Pierce said all of these tours kind of “happened that way.”

    Pierce noted that he got on the tours of B.B. King and Aaron Neville by writing letters to their managers. With Al Green, Pierce’s manager at the time reached out to the artist.

    “I just made sure that these folks knew about my love for soul music and R&B music and that was something that I had been a lover of and maker of for many years,” Pierce said. “There’s a lot of power in that. I think a personal touch is always the way to go. Let them know who you are and why you should be there.”

    In addition to his solo records, which include the critically acclaimed albums Chris Pierce Live at the Hotel Café (2009) and When the Hustle Comes to a Stop (2012), Pierce has contributed to full length recordings (in addition to ongoing performances and tours) as a member of War & Pierce (with singer/songwriter Sunny War). He also performs as a featured guest with several orchestras around the United States and abroad.

    Pierce and War, who have recently completed a tour, met through a  mutual friend, Jared Faber. The two met in Prague when Pierce was on that serendipitous tour with Seal.

    “We linked up and fast forward 10 years later he called me and said he just saw this amazing woman play in Venice, ‘her name is Sunny War,’” Pierce said. “The first time we got together we wrote a song and recorded it in one sitting, in two hours. We looked at each other and said let’s just do some more.”

    The duo released an EP (extended play) of six songs and are slowly working on more to release a full LP.

    Pierce’s talents for songwriting and singing have touched mainstream media audiences. Siddhartha Khosla, composer for the NBC family drama This is Us, asked the singer/songwriter to collaborate on a song for a poignant episode called Memphis. The number, We Can Always Come Back To This, was the emotional center of the episode and became a hit single. It charted at number one on the Billboard Blues Chart and in the Top 20 on the rock and R&B charts. They used three different versions of the song. One was a version that Pierce played in the television scene. He was nominated as a co-writer of the song for “Best Song/Recording Created for Television” by The Guild of Music Supervisors.

    For the past four years Pierce has been working on a blues opera and is finally starting to share it in different clubs and theaters. As an added surprise for the Grand Annex performance, he and The Blackstrap Brothers will play a few selections from the opera. He stars in it, acts in it and co-wrote it. Together with television writer Mark Malone they wrote Reverend Tall Tree as a fictional character, a street preacher in the south in the 1930s and ‘40s.

    The tension in the piece is as simple and universal as the human condition itself. Reverend Tall Tree is a man who searches for and yearns for love and a kind of blessedness (a connection with the infinite and the divine) but who is subject to human frailty and human passion (for both good and ill). The opera is a continuation of the stories told in traditional blues.

    “We’re going to have a good time, encourage people to sing along, shout, dance have a good time.” Pierce said.

    Going back to his childhood and previous work in music, when he still only went by his given name, Pierce said he was feeling the music even at a young age.

    “In kindergarten we had choir in our school and I immediately gravitated towards that. I was the kid in the back of the choir rocking out.”

    Those emotions are what inspires Pierce on his musical journey for his entire life. As he grew older he listened to the artists who he called, “folk’s I could relate to, (who) were doing stuff a little different,” such as Prince and Terence Trent D’Arby. His favorite jazz artists are Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum.

    “As far as singers go, the late Jon Hendrick’s who just passed last year is, I think, my favorite all-time favorite jazz vocalists, next to Billie [Holiday], of course, and Ella [Fitzgerald],” he said. “I loved John because he did all the vocalese stuff and basically transcribed horn solos and different solos and put words to them. I thought that was always a unique way to present jazz.”

    For Pierce, the most fulfilling part of performing is the energy of connection.

    “The synergy,” he said. “It’s a way of plugging in to me, as far as life goes. Being able to put things out there and exchange energy with people on a regular basis and share a perspective in hopes that it can move through some of the static and isolated feelings of everyday life with people. I just hope to make a difference through art.”

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  • Information Warfare-Thirteen Russians indicted, but is social media also implicated?

    • 02/23/2018
    • James Preston Allen
    • At Length
    • Comments are off

    Austin Beutner, the one-time candidate for Los Angeles mayor and former publisher of the Los Angeles Times, recalled a funny story during a talk he gave at a breakfast meeting hosted by the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce at Ports O’ Call Restaurant. It was about the time Beutner was delivering a speech on how to make a profit in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Beutner was there as part of a Clinton administration team led by Secretary of State Warren Christopher to help Russia transition from communism to a free-market economy. But suddenly, Beutner realized he’d lost his audience. Bewildered, he turned to his interpreter and asked, “What is it that they don’t understand?”

    The translator turned to him and said, “the term ‘making a profit’ literally translates in Russian to ‘illegal taking,’ and here you are speaking about doing something illegal as a way of doing business.”

    Beutner majored in economics at Dartmouth College and went on to become the youngest partner of Blackstone private equity firm before he moved to Los Angeles. He knew a lot about making a profit, but not much about communism.

    In the decades since, the Russians have learned a great deal about taking a profit and minted a whole new class of billionaires known as “oligarchs.”

    One of the 13 named in special counsel Robert Mueller’s recent indictments, Yevgeny Prigozhin, dubbed by the Russian press as President Vladimir Putin’s “chef” is one of these oligarchs. The indictment alleges that Prigozhin controlled Concord Catering, a company that funded the Internet Research Agency.

    The monthly budget for the Internet Research Agency, which included funding for interference in the US elections, exceeded 73 million Russian rubles, or more than $1.25 million. Isn’t capitalism great when it comes back to bite us?

    It is quite curious how the promise of digital communications created in this country to bring people together all over the world has now been weaponized to do great harm to our own democracy.

    This growing investigation won’t stop here. In fact, the NSA and Congress have previously implicated that social media networks that were used to spawn the Arab Spring uprisings. Now it appears the Kremlin, via its surrogates, has been using these very same social media networks to disrupt our elections by using the same techniques and “algorithms” that savvy marketing and advertising firms use to spread commercial advertising.

    Contrary to what Trump calls a “witch hunt,” we are now confronted with a Frankenstein monster of our own making. This has been coming for a very long time, ever since some politicians and others have started using social media as a platform to disseminate sanitized, self-promotional eNews to control their public image.  Think Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino’s weekly emailed newsletter or a plethora of other chamber of commerce promotions that, while informative, only provide one-sided members-only promotions — and nothing controversial.  Have you ever wondered, while reading Buscaino’s selfie-laced eNews, what actually took place at the City Council that week that affects your neighborhood or how he voted on the latest homeless issue? Or what’s coming up at next week’s council meeting that you might need to know about before the vote is taken?

    The same could be said of the Port of Los Angeles’ incessantly positive news releases. One might call them positive propaganda since there is hardly ever any skepticism or bad news. There are no doubts or even much worry that anything has gone wrong.

    Even when something does get revealed, there’s always the “positive spin” intended to cover their collective departmental ass. Unfortunately, we have all become accustomed to this tidal wave of self promotional propaganda, and when a publication like this one dares to challenge the “positive spin,”  we are accused of “being too negative” or worse, peddling in fake news — a falsehood the port, the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce president and a minority of local Trump supporters have slandered me with recently.

    Perpetually producing self-promotional propaganda is a step short of intentionally creating disinformation, creating confusion and disruption in an open society to throw elections. But these producers of positive propaganda and the social media networks who carry them must bear some responsibility like a real publisher does. Considerable care should be given to reporting the good with the bad. Opinion articles are labeled as such because they are opinions and not broadcast as news. And paid-for content needs to labeled as such.

    It was reported in the New York Times this past January that an obscure American company named Devumi collected millions of dollars by selling Twitter followers and retweets for anyone who wants to “appear” more popular than they actually are. The New York Times found that this one company drew upon an estimated stock of 3.5 million “automated accounts” and provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers. So, the phony news is spun by commercial propagandists, but the analytic reports generated to prove audience followers can also be false.

    Going back to the Mueller indictments, what we now see is how vulnerable we as a nation are to foreign hackers who are not afraid to launch attacks in cyberspace — attacks they would never dare risk in a real theater of war.

    The Rand Corporation concluded in a recent blog posting that the U.S. already has an extensive set of tools and capabilities for deterrence in cyberspace.

    “However, these tools are shrouded in a fog of confusion and doubt that prevents the U.S. from using them to the greatest possible effect.”

    Our very own smart social media has been used against us and used as a tool to spread conflict and discord to make us dumber. It may have ultimately thrown the election to the man who lost the popular vote.

    It is my speculation that Putin knows he can control Trump through the Russian money laundering and that Hillary Clinton was seen as a real threat. But only time will tell if the Mueller investigation opens another one of Pandora’s Boxes to expose all of our very own demons.

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  • Feed Frenzy

    • 02/23/2018
    • Reporters Desk
    • News
    • Comments are off

    For years, media outlets (and small businesses) desperately chased the clicks promised by Facebook; now the social media giant threatens to destroy them

    By Daniel Walters

    As with any toxic relationship, the possibility that the news media’s love affair with Facebook may be headed for a breakup is sparking feelings of terror — and maybe a little relief.

    This past month, the social media behemoth announced it would once again alter its News Feed algorithm, showing users even more posts from their friends and family, and a lot fewer from media outlets.

    The move isn’t all that surprising. Since the 2016 election, Facebook’s been under siege for creating a habitat where fake news stories flourished. Company executives were dragged before Congress this past year to testify about how they sold ads to Russians who wanted to influence the U.S. election. In some ways, it’s simply easier for Facebook to get out of the news business altogether.

    But many news outlets that have come to rely on the readers that Facebook has been funneling to their sites. To them, the impact of a separation sounds catastrophic.

    “The End of the Social News Era?” asked a recent headline in the New York Times.

    “Facebook is breaking up with news,” proclaimed an ad for the new BuzzFeed app..

    When a giant like Facebook takes a step — until recently, the social media site had been sending more traffic to news outlets than Google — the resulting quake can cause an entire industry to crumble.

    Serious consumers, meanwhile, have grimaced as their favorite media outlets have stooped to sensational headlines to lure Facebook’s web traffic. They’ve become disillusioned by the site’s  flood of hoaxes and conspiracy theories.

    A Knight Foundation-Gallup poll released this past month revealed that only one third of Americans had a positive view of the media. About 57 percent said that websites or apps using algorithms to determine which news stories readers see was a major problem for democracy. Two-thirds believed the media being “dramatic or too sensational in order to attract more readers or viewers” was a major problem.

    Now, sites that rely on Facebook’s algorithm have watched the floor drop from under them when the algorithm is changed — all while Facebook has gobbled up chunks of print advertising revenue.

    It’s all landed media outlets in a hell of a quandary: It sure seems like Facebook is killing journalism.

    “Traffic is such a drug right now,” said Sean Robinson, a 53-year-old investigative reporter at the Tacoma News Tribune. “The industry is hurting so bad that it’s really hard to detox.”

    you won’t believe what happens next

    It’s perhaps the perfect summation of the internet age: a website that started because a college kid wanted to rank which co-eds were hotter became a global goliath powerful enough to influence the fate of the news industry itself.

    When Facebook first launched its News Feed in 2006, it ironically didn’t have anything to do with news. At least, not how we think of it. This was the website that still posted a little broken-heart icon when you changed your status from “In a Relationship” to “Single.”

    The News Feed was intended to be a list of personalized updates from your friends. When Facebook was talking about “news stories,” it meant, in the words of Facebook’s announcement, like “when Mark adds Britney Spears to his Favorites or when your crush is single again.”

    But in 2009, Facebook introduced its iconic “like” button. Soon, instead of showing posts in chronological order, the News Feed began showing you the popular posts first.

    And that made all the difference.

    Facebook didn’t invent going viral — grandmas with America Online accounts were forwarding funny emails and chain letters when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was still in grade school — but its algorithm amplified it. Well-liked posts soared. Unpopular posts simply went unseen.

    Google had an algorithm too. So did YouTube.

    Journalists were given a new directive: If you wanted readers to see your stories, you had to play by the algorithm’s rules. Faceless, mystery formulas had replaced the stodgy newspaper editor as the gatekeeper of information.

    So when the McClatchy Co. — a chain that owns 31 daily papers including the Tacoma News Tribune and the Bellingham Herald — launched its reinvention strategy last year, knowing how to get Facebook traffic was central.

    “Facebook has allowed us to get our journalism out to hundreds of millions more people than it would have otherwise,” said McClatchy’s vice president of news Tim Grieve, a fast-talking former Politico editor. “It has forced us, and all publishers, to sharpen our game to make sure we’re writing stories that connect with people.”

    With digital ad rates tied to web traffic, the incentives in the modern media landscape could be especially perverse: Write short, write lots. Pluck heartstrings or stoke fury.

    In short, be more like Upworthy. A site filled with multi-sentence emotion-baiting headlines, Upworthy begged you to click by promising that you would be shocked, outraged or inspired — but not telling you why. (One example: “His first 4 sentences are interesting. The 5th blew my mind and made me a little sick.”)

    By November of 2013, Upworthy was pulling in 88 million unique visitors a month. With Facebook’s help, the formula spread.

    Even magazines like Time and Newsweek — storied publications that sent photojournalists to war zones — began pumping out articles like, Does Reese Witherspoon Have 3 Legs on Vanity Fair’s Cover? and Trump’s Hair Loss Drug Causes Erectile Dysfunction.

    Newsweek’s publisher went beyond clickbait; the magazine was actually buying traffic through pirated video sites, allegedly engaging in ad fraud.

    Newsweek senior writer Matthew Cooper eventually resigned in disgust after several Newsweek editors and reporters who’d written about the publisher’s series of scandals were fired. He heaped contempt on an organization that had installed editors who “recklessly sought clicks at the expense of accuracy, retweets over fairness” and left him “despondent not only for Newsweek but for the other publications that don’t heed the lessons of this publication’s fall.”

    Mathew Ingram, who covers digital media for Columbia Journalism Review, said such tactics might increase traffic for a while. But readers hate it. Sleazy tabloid shortcuts gives you a sleazy tabloid reputation.

    “Short-term you can make a certain amount of money,” Ingram said. “Long-term you’re basically setting fire to your brand.”


    Plenty of media outlets have tried to build their business on the foundation of the News Feed algorithm. But they quickly got a nasty surprise: That foundation can collapse in an instant.

    As Facebook’s News Feed became choked with links to Upworthy and its horde of imitators, the social network declared war on clickbait. It tweaked its algorithms, which proved catastrophic for Upworthy.

    “It keeps changing,” Ingram said, “Even if the algorithm was bad in some way, at least if it’s predictable, you could adapt.”

    A 2014 Time magazine story estimated that two to three global algorithm tweaks on Facebook were happening every week.

    Much of the time, Facebook and Google don’t announce their shifts up front. Media outlets often have had to reverse-engineer the changes, before issuing new commands to their troops in the field.

    A pattern emerged:

    Step 1: Media outlets reinvent themselves for Facebook

    Step 2: Facebook makes that reinvention obsolete

    Big publishers leaped at the chance to publish “Instant Articles” directly on Facebook, only to find that the algorithm soon charged, rewarding videos more than posts and rendering Instant Articles largely obsolete. So publishers like Mic.com, Mashable and Vice News “pivoted to video,” laying off dozens of journalists in the process.

    “Then Facebook said they weren’t as interested in video anymore,” Ingram said. “Classic bait and switch.”

    Which brings us to the latest string of announcements: The News Feed, Zuckerberg announced last month, had skewed too far in the direction of social video posts from national media pages and too far away from personal posts from friends and family.

    They were getting back to their roots.

    It might be easy to mock those who chased the algorithm from one trend to another with little to show for it. But the reality is that many of them didn’t really have a choice, Ingram said.

    “You pretty much have to do something with Facebook,” Ingram said. “You have to. It’s like gravity. You can’t avoid it.”

    Zuckerberg’s comments that stories that sparked “meaningful social interactions” would do the best on Facebook caused some to scoff.

    “For Facebook, it’s bad if you read or watch content without reacting to it on Facebook,” wrote tech journalist Joshua Topolsky at The Outline. “Let that sink in for a moment. This notion is so corrupt it’s almost comical.”

    “It just, more and more, seems like Facebook and news are not super compatible,” said Shan Wang, staff writer at Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Laboratory.

    At least not for real news. For fake news, Facebook’s been a perfect match.

    faking it

    Not long ago Facebook was positively smug about its impact on the world. During the Arab Spring its  platform fanned the flames of popular uprisings in places like Tunisia, Iran and Egypt.

    “By giving people the power to share, we are starting to see people make their voices heard on a different scale from what has historically been possible,”  Zuckerberg bragged in a 2012 letter to investors under the header, We hope to change how people relate to their governments and social institutions.

    And Facebook certainly has — though not the way it intended.

    A BuzzFeed investigation before the 2016 presidential election found that “fake news” stories on Facebook, hoaxes or hyperpartisan falsehoods actually performed better on Facebook than stories from major trusted outlets like the New York Times.

    That, experts speculated, is another reason why Facebook, despite its massive profits, might be pulling back from its focus on news.

    “As unprecedented numbers of people channel their political energy through this medium, it’s being used in unforeseen ways with societal repercussions that were never anticipated,” wrote Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook’s product manager for civic engagement, in a recent blog post.

    The exposure was widespread. A Dartmouth study found about a fourth of Americans visited at least one fake-news website — and Facebook was the primary vector of misinformation. While researchers didn’t find fake news swung the election — though about 80,000 votes in three states is a pretty small margin to swing — the effect has endured.

    Donald Trump has played a role. He snatched away the term used to describe hoax websites and wielded it as a blunderbuss against the press, blasting away at any negative reporting as “fake news.”

    By last May, a Harvard-Harris poll found that almost two-thirds of voters believed that mainstream news outlets were full of fake news stories.

    The danger of fake news, after all, wasn’t just that we’d be tricked with bogus claims. It was that we’d be pummeled with so many different contradictory stories, with so many different angles, the task of trying to sort truth from fiction just becomes exhausting.

    So, you choose your own truth or, Facebook’s algorithm chooses it for you.

    Every time you like a comment, chat, or click on Facebook, the site uses that to figure out what you actually want to see: It inflates your own bubble, protecting you from facts or opinions you might disagree with.

    And when it does expose you to views from the other side, it’s most likely going to be the worst examples, the trolls eager to make people mad online, or the infuriating op-ed that all your friends are sharing.

    That’s partly why many of the 3,000 Facebook ads that Russian trolls bought to influence the election weren’t aimed at promoting Trump directly. They were aimed at inflaming division in American life by focusing on such issues as race and religion.

    Facebook has tried to address the fake news problem — hiring fact checkers to examine stories, slapping “disputed” tags on suspect claims, putting counterpoints in related article boxes — but with mixed results.

    The recent Knight Foundation-Gallup poll, meanwhile, found that those surveyed believed that the broader array of news sources actually made it harder to stay well-informed.

    And those who grew up soaking in the brine of social media aren’t necessarily better at sorting truth from fiction. Far from it.

    “Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word: bleak,” concluded Stanford researchers in a 2016 study of more than 7,800 students. More than 80 percent of middle schoolers surveyed didn’t know the difference between sponsored content and a news article.

    It’s why like groups like Media Literacy Now have successfully pushed legislatures in states like Washington to put media literacy programs in schools.

    That includes teaching students how information was being manipulated behind the scenes, said the organization’s president, Erin McNeill.

    “With Facebook, for example, why am I seeing this story on the top of the page?” she asked. “Is it because it’s the most important story, or is it because of another reason?”

    But Facebook’s new algorithm threatens to make existing fake news problems even worse, Ingram said. By focusing on friends and family, it could strengthen the filter bubble even further. Rewarding “engagement” can just as easily incentivize the worst aspects of the internet.

    Hoaxes, conspiracy theories, idiots who start fights in comments sections are really good at getting engagement. Nuance doesn’t get engagement. Outrage does.

    feast and famine

    It’s not fair, exactly, to say that Facebook killed the alt-weekly in Knoxville, Tenn. But it probably landed the final blow.

    The internet, obviously, has been killing newspapers for a very long time. Why, say, would you pay a monthly subscription to the Daily Cow, when you can get the milk online for free?

    It killed other revenue sources as well. Craigslist cut out classified sections. Online dating killed personal ads. Amazon put many local mom-and-pop advertisers out of business.

    Yet the Metro Pulse, Knoxville’s longtime alt-weekly, was still turning a slight profit in 2014 when the E.W. Scripps Co. shut it down. So editor Coury Turczyn and a few other staffers set out to start their own paper.

    But in the six months it took to get the Knoxville Mercury off the ground, the market had changed.

    “We lost a lot more small-business advertisers than we expected,” Turczyn said.

    Facebook had captured them.

    At one time, alt-weeklies could rake in advertising money by selling cheaper rates and guaranteeing advertisers to hit a younger, hipper, edgier audience. But then, Facebook came along. The site let businesses micro-target their advertisements at incredibly specific audiences.

    Like Google, Facebook tracks you across the web, digging deep into your private messages to figure out whether to sell you wedding dresses, running shoes or baby formula.

    “You go to Facebook, you can try to pick your audience based on their geographic location, their interests,” Turczyn said.

    It’s cheaper; it’s easier; and it comes with a report chock-full of stats on who the ad reached.

    “Even if it doesn’t result in any sales and foot traffic, it at least has this report,” Turczyn said.

    Mercury advertising representatives would cite examples of businesses who advertised in print and saw their foot traffic double the next day — but the small businesses wouldn’t bite. Attempts to rally reader donations weren’t enough. The Mercury shut down in July.

    “It’s just more of the same sad story,” Turczyn said. “It’s a slaughter, there’s no doubt about it.”

    Turczyn said two decades of journalism experience hasn’t helped much with the job search. Journalists aren’t what outlets are looking for.

    “The single biggest job opening I see consistently is social media manager or ‘digital brand manager,’” Turczyn said. “Those are the jobs on the marketplace right now.’

    It’s not that nobody’s making massive amounts of money on advertising online. It’s just that only two are: Facebook and Google — and they’re both destroying print advertising.

    The decline in print advertising has ravaged the world of alt-weeklies, killing icons like the Boston Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the Philadelphia City Paper and the Baltimore City Paper.

    Dailies keep suffering, too, no matter how prestigious or internet-savvy.

    The West Virginia Gazette-Mail won a Pulitzer Prize last year for reporting on the opioid crisis. It filed for bankruptcy last month. Eleven staffers were cut from the Oregonian on Jan. 31, the same day Silicon Valley’s San Jose Mercury News slashed staff.McClatchy’s made a lot of cuts in the past year, too, though Grieve declined to say exactly how many positions have been eliminated. He, for one, doesn’t blame Facebook.

    “Our newsrooms are smaller than they once were, but because we’re so focused on serving the needs of our communities, we’re actually reaching more readers than we ever have before,”  Grieve wrote in an email.

    Yet, the convergence of layoffs with the pressure to get web traffic has influenced coverage, Robinson said. Stories about schools don’t get many clicks. Weird crime stories do.

    But as a long-time reporter, Robinson knows that bombshell scoops can sometimes begin with mundane reporting.

    “The media companies want the traffic, the traffic, the traffic,” Robinson said. “The stuff [readers] need to know — but don’t know they need to know — disappears.”

    If you’re not a behemoth like BuzzFeed your best bet is to be small enough to be supported by die-hard readers, Ingram, at the Columbia Journalism Review, said.

    “If you’re really, really hyper-focused — geographically or on a topic — then you have a chance,” Ingram said. “Your readership will be passionate enough to support you in some way.”

    That’s one reason some actually welcome the prospect of less Facebook traffic. Maybe, the thinking goes, without a reliance on Facebook clicks, newspapers would once again be able to build trust with their readers. Maybe, the hope goes, readers would start seeking out newspapers directly again.

    But even if Facebook suddenly ceased to exist, there are other sites with other algorithms that can drive traffic and shape coverage. As traffic referred by Facebook falls, the focus at McClatchy is already shifting. You can optimize your news coverage to appear high in the Facebook News Feed — but you can also optimize it to appear higher in the Google search results.

    “We’re all about Google, again,” Robinson said. “Google, Google, Google!”


    A reporter for Inlander.com, Daniel Walters reports on a wide swath of topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County. Walters also occasionally dabbles in TV criticism, where his writing has been linked by TV showrunners and national pop culture sites

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  • Ports O’ Call Replacement Plans Readied–but has Port Planning Lost Its Way?

    • 02/23/2018
    • Paul Rosenberg
    • News
    • Comments are off

    A Veteran Planner Voices Concerns for the Community

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    On March 20, the Port of Los Angeles will hold a public meeting at the Warner Grand Theater, where it and the developers will unveil plans for redeveloping the Ports O’ Call Village site. Contrary to popular belief, Ports O’ Call restaurant will remain open for the foreseeable future, but no formal agreement has been announced. However, many deep community concerns remain about the plan — a plan which seem starkly at odds with what the community had been led to expect dating back almost two decades.

    However, sources close to the port indicate that the Ratkovich and Jerico development team are still in negotiations with Ports O’ Call restaurant but the port has not received a Letter of Intent to lease.

    “This idea of coming in and making a clean sweep — take everything out — this is 1970s urban renewal. It was a total failure,” said Rafique Khan, the Community Redevelopment Agency’s deputy director of planning, who worked on projects in San Pedro and Wilmington from 1997 to 2008. “You’ve got to bring in all the assets, on the waterfront, who have survived all this time — the Ports O’ Call, the restaurants—they need to be nurtured. Coming in and telling them for two years you’re going to get a holiday — you’re going to create a desert there.”

    That’s precisely what happened to Beacon Street in the 1970s.

    While Khan professed respect for both the Johnsons’ community investments and Wayne Ratkovich’s development record, he was both puzzled and skeptical of the preliminary plans Random Lengths News obtained through a public records act request from the port.

    For a successful development, Khan said, “You have to understand what people are looking for, and translate that into a program. After the program is done, then you know what your marketing plan is, who your client is, what your needs are, then you come and do the physical structure around it.

    Unfortunately, in most cases, it’s the other way around. We come in and do the physical things first, and then we look around for how were going to market it.”

    So the plans he saw puzzled him.

    “I’m not sure these guys really understand the underlying issue: What is the vision of San Pedro of the future 21st century? In my opinion, the core is you have to get new jobs in the area, and you have to understand how do we connect the community to the waterfront. The present plan is in the middle they build a shopping center, and with the promenade it really is further separating the community from the waterfront.”

    That’s a glaring problem, given that connecting the community with the waterfront — functionally as well as visually — has been a central guiding theme of waterfront development planning since the end of the Richard Riordan mayoral administration.

    “I’m not sure what the thinking behind these plans is,” Khan said. “To give a very gross example, cities are like human beings. Here you have a human being with broken bones, and has not been nourished for generations. You suddenly put a nice suit on the person, and give them a facial and say then, ‘Here we are. Go.”

    Khan had “a classic example” in mind, pointing to “the other side of Harbor Boulevard where the port spent considerable dollars on landscaping the area where cruise ships are berthed,” one of the first waterfront development project, over a decade ago.

    “There is an elaborate water feature and expensive hardscape. It all looks good, but in terms of the economics of San Pedro, has it made any difference?” he asked. “Unless you have a lot of underpinning, unless people have a desire and reason to go to these places, pretty pictures and pretty buildings don’t matter. People don’t go for buildings,” Khan observed. Rather, “You have to understand what are the underlying issues,” and address them first.

    Most significantly, “San Pedro is a waterfront community, and it has lost its connection with the waterfront … losing a connection is difficult. It doesn’t exist anymore,” Khan said. Most of the wide range of jobs residents once had — fishing and processing, shipbuilding and repair — have vanished. “The port is there,” he acknowledged, “But it’s a very big enterprise, and it’s not connected with San Pedro because it’s become too big and the social fabric of the town is torn apart. It was a very small community, a vibrant, small community.”

    But for a long time now that fabric has frayed into competing interests.

    “They all seem to be pulling in different directions and San Pedro does not have a vision,” he said.

    “Unless you craft the vision and know where you’re going, you can’t just start walking. You have to know what your destination is.”

    This is more or less what the community managed to do over the course of a decade of planning, from 1999 to 2009, when the Waterfront Development’s Final environmental impact report was approved in a marathon seven-hour meeting in the wee hours of Sept. 30, with approximately 500 people in attendance overall. Despite recurrent clashes with the port, different community factions came together well enough at that time to get a plan they could live with, even though it fell short of the Community Sustainability Plan, whose supporters were drawn from diverse parts of the community from the Sierra Club to the Chamber of Commerce. But things have deteriorated significantly since then, with vastly diminished public input.

    “My take on San Pedro is that it really needs a remedy on all three fronts, and that’s physical, economic and vision. Unless these are restored, there’s not going to be much improvement in the community,” Khan explained.

    The first one would make a physical connection with the old street grid. That needs to be restored. All the north-south and east-west street must physically connect to the waterfront.

    He qualified slightly, in view of the cliffs south of Seventh Street. “Every street does not have to be motor able,” he said. “Having said that, there are streets in LA with very steep gradient; one in my neighborhood — Silverlake — has a very steep grade. The street has become a tourist attraction.” A lesson worth considering. “The point is to create visual corridors that connect the community with its Waterfront,” he continued.

    “The street pattern on the two sides of Harbor Boulevard should be of the same character. That is the first step for creating the seamless interface,” another concept that dates back to the Riordan administration.

    As for economics, “The land uses in that grid must relate to the community, and must have some bearing which will bring jobs to the community which will bring in new economic base to the community,” Khan said. “Unless these things happen, these new buildings are not going to do anything. Because unless you have the economics in the community, it’s not going to go anywhere.”

    Finally, “The last point is the vision, San Pedro was a thriving mid-20th century small community. That is gone. What is the vision for the 21st century?” Khan asked. “Is it going to be a bedroom community? Is it going to be a repository for social service users? Or is it going to be a community that relates to all these people and creates community in which there’s a place for all people?”

    The last option is clearly preferable, but as Khan observed that, “We’re so truncated and so bifurcated in our thinking that the interest groups only look at their interests … they don’t look at other interests. I spent 10 years in the community. [It is] my sense is there are certain things that could be done which will really make it into the vibrant, best in all of Southern California.”

    The keys are a combination of existing, under-utilized strengths. “Say we’re going to have an art and culture, historic community that will encompass a commercial area, a residential area and the waterfront,” Khan said. “It’s not going to be a typical historical district of LA, but a new district…. We’re not going to just simply live in history, but these are the roots and on the basis of these roots we’re going to plant some new trees, and the new trees could be some new uses, new housing, new commercial activity, which will bring economic activity into the area.”

    The existing restaurant scene could be raised to whole new level with a marketing plan including a unified system of free valet parking, for example. A number of older ideas could be synergized — brining in a law college, creating a Wi-Fi district and expanding the arts district — and combined with an idea he’s had since leaving the area — a land swap between the city and the port that would involve giving the parkland around the Korean Bell to the port to establish a university based on maritime uses and security against terrorism, and give San Pedro’s waterfront property to the city for parkland, possibly an arboretum. It could also accommodate museum concepts, which Random Lengths has suggested in the past—a labor museum, a museum of maritime cultures, joint satellites from Los Angeles’s major museums.

    Sure, it might seem wildly outlandish. But today’s port is wildly outlandish by 1920s standards. The waterfront planning process was always recognized as a multi-decade affair. Perhaps in our hurry to finish things, we’ve lost sight of where we want to go.

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