• Thankful for Good Friends and Strong Voices

    As the discourse in America becomes less civil

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher
    I am thankful this season to be among so many friends and supporters who have spoken up these past few months on the issue of homelessness, from the students at San Pedro High School who wrote letters, to the homeless advocates, service providers and the readers of this newspaper.

    I am thankful for those who believe that this is a nation that can have both a conscience and a purpose that doesn’t vilify the poor or dispossessed. I’m thankful that there are still people out there willing to stand up to political bullies like Donald Trump, who believe that the louder they shout, the more support they have.

    There is a clear political divide in this country that runs deep in some very narrow channels. The public discourse on everything from Planned Parenthood to Syrian refugees to the homeless in Los Angeles has not only become uncivil, it’s become murderous.

    Nonetheless, I am hopeful still that the majority of this country and my community won’t get dragged into the gyre of misplaced responsibilities and reactionary hostility towards those with the least among us. After all, it is the season of giving and the teachings of all the religions with holidays around the winter solstice have something in common: charity, goodwill and peace on earth. Sometimes these values are just too difficult to find amid the noise and haste of Black Fridays and the public on Facebook.

    During this season of both conflict and holiday cheer, I’m remembering Father Art Bartlett, a longtime clergyman at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in San Pedro and the founder of Beacon House, who was also a very good friend of mine. Father Art, as he was commonly known, was more of a brother to me, a companion on this path, who encouraged and inspired me to do more.

    From my perspective, Father Art was not just a “man of God;” he was also a man of his word. He practiced what he preached; he walked with the poor, the addicted and the dispossessed. He deeply believed in the capacity of humans to be redeemed by acts of good work. Because he had experienced such redemption, himself, he strived relentlessly to embody and pass along that faith charity, love and brotherhood in its fullest meaning.

    To describe Father Art as a man of faith provides only half the picture. He acted on this faith, offered his hand to those in need—always true to that profound sense of personal spirituality. In short, he was an inspiration not only to me but to this entire community in one way or another.

    Four years after his death, I still miss Father Art—even though he is still with all who knew him or were touched by him. I remain thankful for his friendship and often ask myself, “Now, just what would Father Art say in this situation?”

    Looking back on the 35 years we’ve covered this community in this newspaper, I realize that where we are today is based upon the good works of many more people like Father Art—those who came before us, who sacrificed to make this a better place and who really cared about the people, all of them, not just some.

    We still have a lot of that spirit here in the Harbor Area, and it is my goal, not only to carry on the public debate so essential to a community, but to spotlight those whose great caring and consideration for others continue Father Art’s mission of goodwill, charity and redemption.

    I know this community and this nation have much bigger hearts and much more important roles to play than what is expressed by those who yell the loudest or who demonize the least among us. The one thing Father Art taught me was to have the courage of my own convictions and to never be afraid to speak that truth clearly.

    Disclaimer—nothing in this editorial or the pages of this newspaper should be taken as the official position of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood council to which I was elected President in 2014, nor does it reflect the opinions of any of its board members. The opinions expressed here are my own.

     

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  • Nikole Cababa:

    Courage, Voice, Power

    Photo by Phillip Cooke
    By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor

    Nikole Cababa comes from a strong line of fierce women, but she had to overcome identity and cultural challenges before she found her own voice as a grassroots organizer.

    Cababa is the child of Filipino immigrants who came to this country seeking economic opportunities and a better life for their families back in the ‘80s. But her father left when she was 9, and Cababa was thereafter reared by her single mother with the help of her grandmother. Cababa remembers her mother working three jobs to support two children on her own. She remembers the many times she cried when her mother, a licensed vocational nurse, had to leave home in the middle of the night to cover a shift.

    “My grandmother and my mom taught me what hard work really meant, what it meant to sacrifice for your family, what it meant to put others before yourself,” said Cababa, now 28. “My family is my inspiration because I had to see a lot of their hardships.”

    The Filipino Experience

    Like other groups of immigrants, Filipinos often come to United States to find work; there are not enough jobs available in the Philippines to sustain the nation’s entire population. Much of this is the lingering impact of dictator President Ferdinand Marcos (1965 to 1986), who created a Labor Export Policy that prioritized Filipino exports without solving the issue of unemployment.

    “It’s really like putting a Band-Aid on a gushing wound,” Cababa said. “You are not really solving the root issues, you are actually just worsening [the problem].”

    To this day, the Filipino government has yet to create any meaningful, long-term solutions to unemployment and migration. The new norm is having a family member abroad.

    Finding Power

    “Here in Southern California we have the largest concentration of Filipinos living outside of the Philippines,” Cababa said. “So it really makes sense that we needed to create a center to really support Filipino migrants, because it’s a hard transition once you get here and you feel really isolated when you arrive.”

    These days the Long Beach resident works for the Filipino Migrant Center, which serves low-income, working-class Filipinos throughout Southern California. She helps organize people who have recently migrated or are facing challenges at work, at home or in their neighborhoods to develop their leadership skills.

    Addressing youth and student mentoring, educational workshops on immigration, labor trafficking, raising the minimum wage and highlighting the issue of wage theft are among some of the campaigns the center takes on in Long Beach. The center does so through door-to-door outreach, tabling, flyers and talking to people about the issue.

    “You would be surprised,” she said. “A lot of people have, at some point in their lives, experienced a form of wage theft like missing their meal breaks or not getting paid on time. It’s a huge issue but I think it’s often overlooked.”

    She also volunteers with an organization called GABRIELA Los Angeles, a Filipina organization which strives to build a strong women’s mass movement. She is working on human rights issues in the Philippines and in Los Angeles. Among those issues are campaigns fighting violence against women, labor trafficking and Justice for Jennifer Laude, a Filipina transgender woman who was murdered on Oct. 11, 2014.

    Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton was recently convicted of killing Laude. He said that he was unaware that Laude was transgender. The issue also highlights the impacts of U.S. militarization in the Philippines. This is the second reported criminal case involving the Visiting Forces Agreement, which gives special privileges to U.S. soldiers who commit crimes in the Philippines by allowing the United States to have control and custody over them. It also allows the United States to do war exercises in the Philippines.

    Through her work with those groups Cababa had the opportunity to do coalition building with LGBT communities, communities of faith and other grassroots organizations by lobbying, providing educational workshops and protesting.

    “It probably is easy to feel immobilized by a lot of the large issues that are happening, but because I was craving more collective spaces, more community spaces, that’s where I felt like I can be more powerful: with groups, coalitions, working on issues that we all care about.”

    There is still a lot of work that needs to be done in the Filipino community but coalitions among groups have helped Filipinos grow stronger through the commonalities.

    Seeds of Activism

    Cababa was one the first in her family to attend a public university and there was a lot of pressure. When she became an activist at UCLA, working on immigrant rights and affordable education, she started feeling empowered.

    Her college activism “was somewhat accidental.” She said she wasn’t looking for activism. She wanted to get involved on campus and she got involved in a service-based organization, Samahang Pilipino Advancing Community Empowerment. The group provided academic services and mentorship to high school students in the downtown Los Angeles area.

    “I came in thinking it was just about providing services, but I also was exposed a lot more to the issues that those high school students were facing,” she said, referring to problems like gang violence, lack of school resources, lack of opportunities for undocumented students and poverty.

    She realized that the goal was not just to an academic education.

    “You actually learn a lot more valuable lessons being in the community than you can ever pay for going to a university,” Cababa said. “Both formal education and community education go hand in hand. Once I started to realize how valuable it is to be in the community, I knew activism was for me.”

    That’s when she started getting more politicized and getting more involved on campus. Immigrant rights and affordable education were among some of the issues that spoke to her.

    “Those were the seeds of my activism,” she said. “So, by the time I came back to Long Beach, I knew I really wanted to be a part of something that I was never a part of growing up.”

    Gaining Courage

    She volunteered with Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and other grassroots organizations. She came to LAANE through her work with Anakbayan, a grassroots youth and student organization that worked with the alliance on several issues.

    “I was seeking a space for…social justice and activism,” Cababa said. “I got a taste for it in college, but I really wanted to bring what I learned in college back to Long Beach. And, I still wanted to learn a lot more from what was happening here since I’d been gone.”

    At LAANE she helped advance the living-wage campaign for more than four years, working to improve the lives of hotel workers.

    “My passion started driving me towards economic justice,” she said. “If you look at the economy, that is the root of a lot of pain for a lot of people who can’t pay for rent, who can’t pay for groceries, who can’t pay for health care. A lot of it revolves around the kind of work that families are forced to rely on.”

    The stories of the people like hotel workers, port truck drivers and caregivers, who live in single-parent households or take multiple jobs to provide for their families deeply resonate with Cababa.

    “It’s a powerful experience when I meet workers who remind me of my grandmother, my mom…my family,” she said. “I learned how to be courageous from them…from hotel workers, from port truck drivers, from caregivers who were speaking up about what was happening in their workplace. That’s where I really learned how to be courageous.”

    Words for the future

    For Cababa, activism and organizing is a life-saving and life-changing experience, whether as volunteer or a full-time worker.

    “It’s actually a great privilege to do this kind of work,” she said. “Change is possible and it’s necessary.”

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  • Sowing the Seeds of Compassion

    Community Support of Harbor Interfaith is on the Rise

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    Despite the high-profile divisiveness over how to respond to the growing number of homeless people in San Pedro, Harbor Interfaith Services reports a quiet but significant surge in community support for its 40-year-old mission to empower the homeless and working poor to achieve self-sufficiency.

    This year some 350 families sat down to a Thanksgiving dinner provided by Harbor Interfaith, about the same as the past three years. But the increase in volunteers, donations and logistical support for the 2015 effort was striking.

    This year’s food drive included donations of 215 turkeys from the Palos Verdes Lions Club, 100 complete baskets plus turkey from the ILWU, as well as turkeys from Niko’s Pizzeria, Big Nick’s Pizza, Happy Diner and Saving San Pedro.

    The Omelette & Waffle Shop in San Pedro volunteered freezer space for the overflow of turkeys. Ray Deeter Tire Town in San Pedro also held a collection for Harbor Interfaith in recent weeks.

    Furthermore, local residents and groups have shown they aren’t going to just rely on Harbor Interfaith to make a difference this holiday season.

    From Helping the Homeless in Need to Seeds of Compassion

    Seeds of Compassion, the new name for the group formerly known as Helping the Homeless in Need—San Pedro, hosted an early Thanksgiving for 200 people at Plaza Park. The Nov. 19 feast spread across 15 tables beneath three pop-up tents and featured a medical van that treated the health problems and injuries of people who, in many cases, did not have state issued identification, a Social Security card or health insurance.

    But the new name and the happy Thanksgiving were indications of a general upswing in a variety of areas for Seeds of Compassion. Founders Nora Hilda-Vela and Fernando Escobedo have increased their reach by forming alliances with the likes of Chef Basil Kimbrew, the Love Mission, People Helping People in Pasadena and Feeding the Less Fortunate.

    Hilda-Vela also noted the increase in Seeds of Compassion’s volunteers over the past year—first from three to eight, now up to 45. Private donations to a food pantry that was once personally supplied by Hilda-Vela and Escobedo have increased the number feedings from three or four a week to every day. They also hand out hygiene kits as they connect the indigent to Section 8 referrals and the newly housed with furniture.

    Helping Those in Need,

    By Word and By Deed

    On Nov. 19, 300 more people enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner thanks to Heart of the Harbor Helping Those in Need—Wilmington, along with several other Harbor Area community groups.

    David Gonzalez, one of the founders of the Wilmington group, said the most memorable part about the event for him was taking a young woman struggling with addiction to drug rehabilitation center operated by Victory Outreach ministries.

    “We had been playing phone tag for more than a week,” Gonzalez said. “But on the day of the event she agreed to get some help. She got something to eat and then I drove her to Victory Outreach.”

    Helping Those in Need—Wilmington is teaming up with Calvary Light Christian Center and Harbor City’s Team Aloha, another community group reaching to the Harbor Area’s homeless, are participating in National Jacket Day on Dec. 15 in which they are collecting jackets and other warm clothing to be give to homeless veterans.

    Helping Those in Need—Wilmington is also participating in the Santa’s Letter for Kids campaign in which volunteers respond to children’s letters to Santa Claus and donate unwrapped toys on Dec. 20. The gifts would be delivered at the Dec. 23 luncheon at the Calvary Light Christian Center in Wilmington.

    ILWU Local 13 Gives Thanks

    On Nov. 24, Local 13 of the ILWU hosted its 18th annual Thanksgiving Feed the Community Day. The union gave away hundreds food baskets filled with turkeys, vegetables and other Thanksgiving trimmings.

    Using a list of qualified pre-selected families from nonprofit organizations such as Harbor Interfaith Services and Harbor Area churches and schools, the union was able feed 1,300 families.

    Local elected officials such as Rep. Janice Hahn, Long Beach Councilman Roberto Uranga, and Long Beach college district candidate Vivian Malauulu and her family were also there to lend a hand at the annual event.

    San Pedro/Wilmington NAACP Gives Back

    For almost 20 years, the San Pedro/Wilmington NAACP-1069 was inactive. But San Pedro civic leader Joe Gatlin and motivational speaker Dr. Cheyenne Bryant picked up the gauntlet this past summer and reactivated the local chapter.

    This past month, the group has participated in the Harbor Interfaith Services Thanksgiving food basket giveaway, the Gaffey Street Diner event feeding low-income families and partnered with One Hundred and Eighty Degrees and Still Standing and JB With Open Arms in distributing food and clothing in downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

    One Hundred and Eighty Degrees is a nonprofit that aims to empower youth and families to reverse the impacts of malnutrition and homelessness in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, while JB with Open Arms is a pop-up charitable organization that randomly selects a community across the country and provides a helping hand.

    Bryant and Gatlin, along with the chapter’s executive board have set the ambitious goals of joining the San Pedro Homeowners Association in the fight against the Rancho LPG tanks in North San Pedro, registering new voters, and increasing advocacy for job creation and vocational training as a means of addressing the Los Angeles Harbor Area’s quality of life issues.

    In addition to giving thanks by giving of their time and resources, every community group, while not always in complete alignment, are like the fingers of the same hand. This past Thanksgiving was a glimpse of what could happen if those fingers closed into a fist to address homelessness when elected officials can’t.

     

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  • Echoes of China Shipping

    SCIG Railyard Trial Resurrects Old Concerns

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor
     
    Despite more than a decade of welcome environmental progress by local ports, haunting echoes of the China Shipping lawsuit hung in the air on Nov. 16 and 17. Judge Barry P. Goode held a hearing on a lawsuit challenging the Port of Los Angeles and City of Los Angeles and the BNSF railroad over the planned Southern California International Gateway railyard.

    As with the China Shipping case, plaintiffs charge that the SCIG railyard was approved in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act, as well as three other similar, central failings: 1) SCIG was allegedly defined improperly as a replacement for BNSF’s Hobart yards in East Los Angeles, rather than an expansion of BNSF’s processing capacity; 2) SCIG’s impacts allegedly were not properly assessed; 3) The correct public process was not followed. A civil rights violation charge was also included—that the project disproportionately impacts communities of color.

    “The EIR’s most troubling deficiency is that it systematically understates the Project’s environmental impacts.” the plaintiffs argued in their opening brief. “First, it presents an artificially narrow description of the Project by never disclosing that SCIG will create new capacity for Port-related cargo….The EIR defines the Project as a near-dock railyard allowing BNSF to handle 1.5 million containers per year. It then claims that the 1.5 million containers handled at SCIG will simply replace an equal number of containers that would otherwise be handled at BNSF’s existing Hobart/Commerce Railyard (‘Hobart’), which is located 24 miles from the Port. Because SCIG is located four miles from the Port, the EIR claims that Project will actually benefit the environment.”

    “This characterization of the Project is fundamentally inaccurate,” the brief continues. “The record shows that rather than replacing Hobart’s capacity, SCIG will add to it, thereby greatly expanding BNSF’s and the Port’s ability to handle cargo. The record also shows that Hobart will not reduce its rail operations when SCIG commences operation. Indeed, one of the Project’s core purposes is to facilitate cargo growth at the Port so that it will remain competitive with other ports.”

    What’s more, “The EIR also posits a baseline for its evaluation of environmental impacts that allows SCIG to claim credit for improvements in air quality that have nothing to do with the Project,” the brief explains. “Thus, while future NOx emissions from trucks will decrease due to state and federal regulations, the EIR frames its analysis to suggest that the Project is responsible for the improvement. CEQA forbids such a misleading analysis.”

    “We remain very concerned that the Port of Los Angeles hasn’t done nearly enough to reduce the impacts on the local community,” said Joe Lyou, CEO of the Coalition for Clean Air, one of the wide range of plaintiffs, stretching from some of the state’s poorest communities all the way up to the state attorney general. Both the City of Long Beach and its school system joined the suit, as did the Air Quality Management District, the first time it has ever sued a government entity in a CEQA case. This unprecedented range of parties gave the case a much higher profile than China Shipping originally enjoyed.

    “BNSF and the Port of LA took a beating,” said Jesse Marquez, executive director of Communities for a Safe Environment, a plaintiffs represented by the Natural Resources Defense Council. “They were a nervous wreck.”

    “There was a lot of inconsistency in the discussion,” added Jan Victor Andasan, an organizer with East Yards Communities for Environmental Justice, another NRDC plaintiff. “Some of the arguments that the BNSF and the Port of LA lawyers shared, the judge would question it, and it didn’t make sense.”

    Goode, who has taught environmental law, took the unusual step of generating a long list of detailed questions for the attorneys on both sides, rather than letting the back-and-forth arguments of each side structure the hearing. something no one involved had ever seen before.

    “I have never been in another CEQA court case where the judge had a long list of questions he wanted to have answered,” Marquez said. “It was very good, because he was trying to search out the truth in everything.”

    “Of all the many petitioner lawyers working on this case, none of us had ever experienced a judge giving this much time for oral arguments and hearings, and for preparing such detailed questions,” said Morgan Wyenn, an NRDC attorney on the case. “It was very impressive,” she said. “We actually had a call with the judge on Friday before the hearing where he spent the whole hour walking through most of the questions he had.”

    Community members attending the trial got an additional sense of vindication from the process. “The judge’s questions mirrored a lot of some of the concerns the community had,” Andasan said. “Some of the questions community members have been trying to get answered since the inception of the project,” he said. “These are things we talk about with our neighbors. These are things we talk about with other community residents that we’re trying to engage.”

    Marquez cited the transportation analysis as a key example of this. “When they did the port transportation analysis, basically, they looked at the truck routes. And the truck routes, the way they present it, goes from the Port of LA to the SCIG project and back.”

    But that ignores all the necessary driving before and after a trucker drives his route, which Marquez had detailed in his public comment—getting the truck from its point of origin, fueling up, getting a chassis, picking up the container, going through inspection, perhaps even getting fumigated, before finally dropping off the container. Then, the container has to be picked up and taken to a storage yard. All these “auxiliary services” generate emissions, noise, etc., each with their own health impacts.

    “They saw this as one of the key things to squash as much as possible,” Marquez said. “So what they were arguing was that, ‘Yes the members of the public submitted public comment that had those issues on it, but without the specific addresses of those locations, how can the port possibly go back and update their traffic study without specific data?’ And so the judge was looking at them, like, ‘Wait a minute! It’s impossible for the public to know where all these locations of these services are. The port is in the best position to be able to talk with its clients and tenants to determine what else they are doing.’”

    This was typical of why Marquez said the port “took a beating.” But he also pointed to the noise analysis, in which the port used a method that averages noise levels, rather than measuring peak noise. When it comes to typical night-time noise from trucks and locomotives, “It can wake you up because it’s so loud,” Marquez said. Averaging it out over long stretches of quiet bears no resemblance to the real-life impacts.

    Another result of the detailed questioning was that a second phase of the trial, dealing with questions of due process, which was held over to Jan. 28. Key concerns here involved the Los Angeles City Council review process, including Councilman Joe Buscaino’s high-profile advocacy for the SCIG, which should have required him to recuse himself from the vote. There were broader procedural failings as well, to be taken up in January. The judge has promised to rule within 90 days, but it’s unclear when that clock starts ticking. The civil rights claim will only be considered after that.

    The port sought to put a positive spin on things, saying in a statement, “The City of Los Angeles, Port of Los Angeles and BNSF Railway were pleased to have the opportunity to address and refute the legal challenges by petitioners to the final Environmental Impact Report for the proposed SCIG intermodal railyard project at trial.” However, further comment in response to questions was refused.

    In another parallel with China Shipping, the case appears to mark a potential policy watershed.

    “This case sets the tone for environmental analysis for the ports in the future,” Wyenn said. “We’re really at an interesting crossroads in terms of advanced technology, awareness of the severe health impacts, leadership by the governor, and state of California, and the California Air Resources Board, and many other agencies to really transform the freight industry in California. This case is right in the middle of all that, and plays a huge role in what we can hope to see from that transformation in the future.”

    As an example of how the port was out of step, the brief notes, “the EIR summarily dismisses all effective mitigation for the Project’s admittedly significant air quality impacts, including the Project’s exceedance of the nitrogen dioxide (‘NO2’) standard. The Air District implored the Port to adopt mitigation requiring the use of cleaner, ‘zero emission’ trucks and more ‘Tier 4’ locomotives by 2020—measures identified as essential in the Port’s own Strategic Plan and Clean Air Action Plan—but the agency refused.”

    This points to one of the most perplexing aspects of the case. As mentioned at the beginning, both local ports have come a long way since the China Shipping settlement in 2003. They’ve made dramatic environmental improvements which have received national, even international recognition. And yet…

    “I don’t understand why they’ve chosen to adhere to old ways of thinking in terms of EIR analysis and their relationship with the community and the state. I really don’t know,” Wyenn said. “There’s people at the port who really do want the Port of LA to be more of a leader, and yet it seems that there’s still a lot of foot-dragging.”

    Given the past progress, “I really don’t know why they took the positions that they did on the SCIG, and why they haven’t just stopped the fight,” she said. “We’ve been fighting over the project for many years, and at any point the City of LA, the Port of LA could have just hit the pause button and say that they were wrong, and that they want to do better, and that they’re changing what they want to do with SCIG. But they haven’t done that. They’ve continued to fight it…. It honestly doesn’t make any sense to me.”

    It seems like everyone from local residents to the AQMD to the Attorney General is equally as puzzled.

     

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  • Does Long Beach Development Entail Loss of Amenities?

    Nothing lasts forever. If you don’t believe me, keep your eye on the former Will J. Reid Boy Scout Camp, as 11.5 acres of nature in the middle North Long Beach are about to go poof, transformed into a gated community of 131 houses, with the “removal of all remaining vegetation [and] trees.”

    Now the vacant lot on Pine Avenue at 7th Street—which has played host to the Long Beach Folk Revival Festival, Summer And Music’s first Bicycle Drive-In, the Green Prix, 1st District Councilmember Lena Gonzalez’s Dia de los Muertos celebrations, and numerous other community events over the last few years—is slated to meet a similar end. Recently sold to Global Premier Development, plans are to erect 23 storeys of market-rate housing on the lot and two adjoining parcels, with no preservation of the open space that’s been a unique amenity on Pine Ave.

    Although perhaps you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone, 10 months ago several of the area’s major stakeholders and placemakers expressed appreciation for the lot’s value. City Fabrick‘s Brian Ulaszewski labeled the lot “a perfect space for placemaking.” Millworks’ Michelle Molina, who has helped put on several events there, said it created energy in the neighborhood. Even now-former owner Nima Nami spoke of what a “very unique and very attractive” asset the lot is to downtown, and how pop-ups and events were “an ideal use” of the site. Downtown Long Beach Associates’ Kraig Kojian echoed Nami’s enthusiasm for pop-ups popping up there, noting that numerous “concerned stakeholders” had conversed with Nami about the lot’s future, saying, “If they want to sell it, let’s find the right buyer to do something with it.”

    So what happened? And was it inevitable? It depends who you ask. Mike Wylie, vice-president of Park Bixby Tower, Inc., which owns numerous North Pine properties, says that a little over two years ago he offered Nami $1.5 million for the property, on which Wylie intended to facilitate the development of a restaurant/catering space for Chef Paul Buchanan’s Primal Alchemy, a project that would have preserved at least some of the open space. But Wylie says that at the time Nami declined to sell at any price; and that when Nami eventually became interested in selling, he did not let Wylie know and was already deep in negotiations with Global Premier by the time Wylie found out.

    Nami, who confirms that he sold the parcels to Global Premier for $1.4 million, disputes Wylie’s version of events.

    “We talked about joining our properties together,” Nami says. “What I’ve been telling Mike for a couple of years is, ‘Let’s put our property together and bring in a developer and develop the entire block. But it didn’t go anywhere. […] Think about it. If anyone offered me $1.5 [million], I would have sold it for $1.5 [million], rather than $1.4 [million].”

    While Wylie doesn’t oppose a residential development there on principle, as a neighborhood resident he is less than enthusiastic about “living in the shadow of a 23-storey building with 150 cars parked in my front yard” (Global Premier says the project calls for 199 parking spaces, all of which will be underground), and he laments the loss of the lot and the corresponding loss of opportunity.

    “While I understand the need for density downtown,” he says, “having open space and having enjoyed the opportunity to get to know so many of my neighbors, it would be really great if we had that open space and combined it with the MADhaus to create a venue that can accommodate cultural activities and the gathering of neighbors and the community at large.”

    While Kojian says the DLBA advocates high-density, market-rate housing projects such as Global Premier’s, he was hopeful that any development on the site would preserve the open space.

    “There was more than one group looking at utilizing that space and creating an area where cargo containers could serve as pop-up retail, [while still preserving] outdoor space to be able to provide performances,” he says. “Quartyard in San Diego is a good example of that, and that’s similar to what we’re looking at doing—on a temporary basis, anyway—on the southeast corner of Ocean and Pine. I was hopeful at the time that those types of developments could come to some level of fruition and still maintain open space to be able to provide performances. I think that would have been the best of both worlds. Now, obviously, 156 full-time residents [i.e., the number of units in Global Premier’s planned project] is an attribute to our downtown as well; it’s just a matter of how we want to prioritize metro development. [… A project like Global Premier’s] is what the market is bearing, and it’s what the property owner can do based on the Downtown Plan. You know, you get torn between what you feel you should approve and allow versus how long you can maintain that amenity. Because an amenity is just that: it’s an add-on. But that [forthcoming] development, that’s permanent. So I think what we have to do is find and take advantage of [amenities like the lot] as long as they last, knowing that an amenity may not last as long as a development will. That’s why we’re looking at the southeast corner of Ocean and Pine as that next opportunity—for the next few years, anyway.”

    While Brian Ulaszewski, one of Long Beach’s strongest facilitators of creative placemaking, sees the value of increased density downtown, he advocates a mindfulness of the history of Long Beach development, which is rife with projects that, pace Kojian, were decidedly impermanent, coming and going at a net loss for the community.

    “New apartment complexes and office buildings supported by ground-level retail [which Global Premier says may or may not be part of the project] and community amenities will support the living conditions that existing and new residents are looking for in downtown Long Beach,” he says. “[… But] it is important to be mindful of retaining the existing residents, small businesses, and cultural assets that make Long Beach special. Most of those vacant lots were once buildings, and their destructions decades ago displaced residents and businesses. The new buildings developed on those lots should consider that history of displacement by helping to address the emerging pressures. […] With this growth, we do need to be mindful of how infrastructure adapts the expanding population of residents, workers, and visitors. This includes new park space, community amenities, and expanding transportation options, among other accommodations.”

    One developer who questions the overall wisdom of Global Premier’s site plan is Scott K. Choppin, founder and CEO of Urban Pacific Group of Companies, which recently acquired a parcel at 7th Street and Pacific Avenue, on which Urban Pacific plans to build a boutique housing community of 30 to 50 units. Choppin regards the loss of the lot as a loss for the community—including his future residents and 7th/Pacific.

    “From what I know, the lot has been a public benefit,” he says. “As a developer, I support that kind of amenity in areas we develop. One of the things we do when we go into a market is look at what I call the underlying social fabric or amenity fabric. We’re looking for things that give us a signal that there’s the kind of people and the kind of economic activity that we want to see, that indicates to us that that’s the kind of place we want to invest capital and build housing. We look for things like what was happening on that lot, [such as] events that are able to attract people to downtown. […] From our perspective, what was happening on that lot was an important signal.”

    Choppin, who approached Nami years ago about acquiring the 7th/Pine property, also questions whether Global Premier’s site plan is economically viable.

    “To me, I ask the question whether the economics makes sense to build a rental high-rise property at 7th and Pine,” he says. “Now, I love 7th and Pine. I think that location can support really great housing, as evidenced by our interest in the 7th/Pacific site. But the economics of a 23-storey tower, which means they’re probably going to go four storeys underground [for parking], you can only imagine the expense for that.”

    (Choppin proved at least somewhat prescient regarding the expense. Between my interview with him and the publication of this article, Global Premier Vice-President of Operations Gina McKaskill confirmed that, in an effort to reduce the expense of the project, Global Premier submitted an alternate site plan that placed parking off-site, but the City rejected this version.)

    It seems city officials may be reluctant to weigh in on whether Global Premier’s planned development comports with their vision for downtown, as Councilmember Gonzalez, Mayor Robert Garcia, and the Department of Development Services all declined to reply to questions for this article. Michelle Molina, who has helped put on the Green Prix and several other events on the site, also declined to comment on the project.

    For his part, DLBA President Kraig Kojian focuses on the influence that can be brought to bear on the development of public property.

    “You can’t tell a private owner he can’t develop it, right?” Kojian says. “You can tell him, ‘Here’s what you can do under the Downtown Plan.’ […] But [city-owned] spaces are different, and I think we should be more diligent to activate and utilize public-owned spaces in a very unique manner. That’s why we’re trying to push different concepts, concepts that the City might not be 100% comfortable with, especially when it comes to a commercial element of public space. I’m talking pop-ups and maybe a beer garden on public space. That’s really unique, at least in this city, unless you look at the beaches. […] I’d like to see more public space be activated and utilized as incubator space […] with performances as a drawing mechanism to downtown. […] We can do some really unique things with art and performances and other uses of public space. That’s where I think we have a lot of leverage.”

    But there is no doubt the City has influence over private developments. For example, it took a change of zoning—which the city council recently approved by a unanimous vote—to allow Integral Communities to move forward with its plans to turn the former Will J. Reid Boy Scout Camp into a housing community. And while a zoning change is not required for a project like Global Premier’s, presumably the City could disincentivize development that fails to preserve existing amenities (whether or not the lot deserves that designation).

    Of course, what do I know? I’m just a writer. But I’m also a resident, and as such, I would love to see Long Beach grow without killing off its most unique amenities in the process.

    (Image: Taylor Crawford performs on the lot during the inaugural Long Beach Folk Revival Festival, November 2013.)

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  • Aggrieved Residents Have Their Say About Homeless People

    Photos and Article by Kevin Walker, Neon Tommy, Annenberg Digital News

    Community activists from San Pedro left City Hall satisfied on Nov. 17, after the City Council approved new measures to deal with the Los Angeles’ 26,000 homeless people.

    The activists are members of the group Saving San Pedro, which was formed on Facebook earlier this year in response to the neighborhood’s increasingly visible homeless population.

    They made the trek from the Waterfront to the Downtown Civic Center to support 15th District Councilman Joe Buscaino, a San Pedro native who now represents the Harbor Area, Watts and Harbor Gateway.

    The amendment, which was passed by a 14-0 vote, will add language to municipal code 56.11, giving the Los Angeles Police Department explicit authority to confiscate tents and shelters erected in public spaces between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. if the owner refuses to remove them. The city council also passed three other motions to provide emergency shelter and off street parking for the growing homeless population.

    “It’s going to uncuff the police and allow them to do the job we want them to do,” said George Palaziol after the meeting.

    Palaziol, a founding member of the social media group Saving San Pedro, maintained that while homelessness is not a crime, it is not a legal protection either.

    “Drinking in public is not a homeless problem, doing drugs in public is not a homeless problem,” he said. “That’s just behavior from someone who doesn’t care about their community.”

    Some people, like Eric Ares of the Los Angeles Community Action Network disagree. He sees Buscaino’s approach as too reliant on the LAPD and said it does nothing to address the underlying reasons for the city’s homelessness crisis.

    “You need services,” he said. “Outreach, drug rehab, things like that. Not just officers to arrest people and push people out of the community.”

    Ares said that the amendment will have the practical effect of leaving the city’s most vulnerable out in the rain during an El Niño year.

    His group, Los Angeles Community Action Network, is based on skid row, the traditional homeland for Los Angeles’ homeless. He believes that people in outlying neighborhoods like San Pedro are having a hard time adjusting to the citywide reality of a growing homelessness population in Los Angeles.

    “They’re not saying ‘end homelessness,’” said Ares. “They’re saying ‘get these people out of San Pedro.’”

    San Pedro’s homeless population stands at less than 400, less than 1 percent of Los Angeles’ total. Yet, the issue looms large in the portside community.

    At a recent neighborhood council meeting, the president of the Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council, James Preston Allen, was suspended after Thomas Soong of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment issued a last minute notice of non- compliance for having not finished required ethics training. This action is rarely if ever taken by DONE and was ordered by Grayce Liu the director after having communication with Dennis Gleason, Councilman Buscaino’s director of policy.

    Allen, who returned to the meeting after completing the online course, says he was not aware of DONE ever excluding a council member because of an incomplete ethics training. And that the bylaws are particularly vague in regard to the grace period allowed for members who were just renewing their ethics training.

    “Everybody was basically ambushed by this thing,” he said after the meeting. “My mistake was not slowing the meeting down and going ‘let’s take a look at this.’” He continued, “the CSPNC bylaws can be read in two ways and we obviously have a disagreement with DONE on their interpretation”.

    He has become public enemy No. 1 to Saving San Pedro for his positions on defending the rights of the homelessness and is regularly slammed on their Facebook page with calls for his resignation from the neighborhood council.

    unnamed

    Joanne Rallo and George Palaziol converse during the Nov. 10 Central San Pedro Neighborhood Council meeting (Kevin Walker/ Annenberg Media)

    During the meeting, Joanne Rallo, another founding member of the Saving San Pedro, read a message to the remaining council members.

    “For those board members who continue to support James not only will you make the entire board look bad,” she said, “those members will be putting a target on their own backs that will make the remaining time on this board an unpleasant one.”

    Allen later described Rallo’s comments a threat directed at the board.

    “Her comments only made it more clear that the Saving San Pedro group had made this a personal attack that was not supported by the community at large or the majority of the CSPNC board,” Allen said.

    This past summer, Allen and the neighborhood council came out in favor of the “tiny houses,” small shelters that were given out by local homeless advocates to four homeless individuals living in San Pedro. Saving San Pedro members took the decision as a sign that Allen, who didn’t vote as the chairman of the meeting, and that the majority of the members of the council didn’t have the neighborhood’s best interest at heart. The vote was unanimous.

    The arrival of the houses on city streets provoked a backlash on social media from residents worried they would create a skid row-like situation, with entrenched encampments dominating sidewalks and parks. Although they were eventually removed, the controversy has lingered and has only been aggravated by the lack of solutions coming from the City Council office.

    Nora Hilda, founder of the group Helping the Homeless in Need San Pedro, was also at the meeting and who has supported Allen. Her group spearheaded the Tiny House initiative and still regularly gives out food and basic toiletries to the neighborhood’s homeless.

    “I don’t know how the hell you guys can sit here in the meeting and think that it’s OK for human beings to sleep on the ground,” she said.

    Hilda believes that the construction of a long-term shelter in San Pedro would solve the neighborhood’s homeless problem.

    Ares with LACAN doesn’t think that scenario is very likely.

    “It’s a ‘not in my backyard problem,’” he said. “Everyone wants it, but they don’t want it in their homes.”

     

     

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  • Beyond Terror

    Paris attacks reflect failure to learn

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    In The Art of War, Sun Tzu writes, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

    In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, two things are obvious: First, we do not know our enemy—neither the youth being recruited, nor the higher-ups, nor the organizations, nor, most importantly of all, the process that produces them all. Second, many of the voices being raised the loudest want us to become even more ignorant of ourselves. On one hand, forgetting the best of ourselves—our values, our principles, our civilization and humanity. And on the other hand, ignoring and denying our mistakes of the past, which we must know in order to stop repeating them and start correcting them.

    Since 9/11, ignorance of our enemies and of ourselves has only made matters much worse. To reverse that process, here is a brief overview of what we need to know:

    Let’s begin with the process that’s generating terrorism. In an article in The Nation magazine, policy analyst Yousef Munayyer suggested “the best way to think about comprehensive counter-terror strategy is the boiling-pot analogy. Imagine that you’re presented with a large pot of scalding water and your task is to prevent any bubbles from reaching the surface. You could attack each bubble on its way up.” Or you could “turn down, or off, the flame beneath the pot; to address the conditions that help generate terrorism.”

    To date, we’ve focused on the bubbles, not the flame of terrorism, ignoring the underlying conditions, if not making them worse. “In the case of ISIS, no event did more to create the conditions for its emergence than the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the subsequent dissolution of the Iraqi state,” Munayyer wrote. One of the key big lies used to sell the Iraq War put forth the claim that Saddam Hussein was collaborating with al Qaeda, which he actually despised. Only after the invasion and several years of insurgent resistance did a core group of former Baathist leaders join key elements of al Qaeda in Iraq to form what became ISIS.

    Given those conditions, ISIS and its allies intend to make things worse. As anthropologist Scott Atran explained in The Guardian, “The greater the reaction against Muslims in Europe and the deeper the west becomes involved in military action in the Middle East, the happier ISIS leaders will be. Because this is about the organisation’s key strategy: finding, creating and managing chaos.”

    Atran went on to note that “There is a recruitment framework. The Grey Zone, a 10-page editorial in ISIS’ online magazine Dabiq in early 2015, describes the twilight area occupied by most Muslims between good and evil, the caliphate and the infidel, which the ‘blessed operations of Sept. 11 ‘brought into relief.’” Their aim is to do everything possible to eliminate that grey zone, to force Muslims to choose sides. Although the vast majority of Muslims have chosen sides against terror, rejecting the notion that it has anything to do with Islam, responding to terror in kind can erode the position of moderate Muslims, especially the young.

    Lydia Wilson, a research fellow at the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict at Oxford, interviewed ISIS prisoners in Iraq. In The Nation, she wrote about what she learned. They were not the textbook religious fanatics you might expect:

    These boys came of age under the disastrous American occupation after 2003, in the chaotic and violent Arab part of Iraq, ruled by the viciously sectarian Shia government of Nouri al-Maliki. Growing up Sunni Arab was no fun. A later interviewee described his life growing up under American occupation: He couldn’t go out, he didn’t have a life, and he specifically mentioned that he didn’t have girlfriends. An Islamic State fighter’s biggest resentment was the lack of an adolescence.

    This is not to say that all ISIS recruits are like these. Conditions in Iraq then, and in Syria today, are much more brutal than in Europe, for example. But it does underscore how much the growth of terrorism comes out of the breakdown of a healthy social order. It reinforces the importance of nourishing a positive environment—not imposing our own version of what that means, but supporting what different people choose for themselves.

    At our best, this is what we do, what we stand for. It’s why America has the most diverse population on Earth, especially in cities like Los Angeles, where becoming an American doesn’t mean abandoning your cultural heritage, but sharing it with others. If anything, our collective experience makes us ideally able to support others around the world in finding similar ways of living together in peace.

    But there’s another side to our history as well—and not ours alone.

    In an excerpt from his book, Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate, published in Salon, Abdel Bari Atwan noted that “for centuries Western countries have sought to harness the power of radical Islam to serve the interests of their own foreign policy.” It began with the British, long before us. Wrote Atwan, “From the sixteenth century onwards, Britain not only championed the Ottoman Empire but also supported and endorsed the institution of the caliphate and the Sultan’s claim to be the caliph and leader of the ummah (the Muslim world).”

    Throughout this long era there was no “tradition” of religious terrorism, or violent jihad. It was changing geopolitics, nothing spiritual or religious, which brought that about. During World War I, the Ottoman Empire allied itself with Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At that point, the British decided it was time for an Arab caliphate, instead, someone they could trust—Hussein bin Ali Hussein, the sherif of Mecca, who Atwan noted was claimed to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. “It is a strange thought that, just 100 years ago, the prosecutors of today’s War on Terror were promising to restore the Islamic caliphate to the Arab world and defend it militarily,” he noted.

    What happened next was popularized in the 1960s movie, Lawrence of Arabia. A good deal more happened in the shadows—including the carving up of Arab lands into spheres of French and British influence. A unified Arab replacement for the Ottoman Empire had never been part of the plan. To the contrary, British policy everywhere was “divide and rule,” keep naturally unified cultures divided locally by warring political powers, in order to secure what Britain really cared about in the grand scheme of things.

    Manipulating religious identity was merely a means to this end—and it has persisted in different variations ever since, particularly when oil entered the equation, but there was another major concern Atwan noted:

    “The United States, UK, and European powers were also deeply troubled by the cohesive potential of Arab Nationalism, a hugely popular movement led by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser and his (at that time) mighty allies in Iraq and Syria. The idea of these three huge, left-leaning regional powers becoming politically and militarily united was unacceptable in the Cold War context and remained so after the fall of the Soviet Empire because of the regional threat to Israel. To counteract the rise of pan-Arabism, the West began to support Islamist tendencies within each country—mostly branches of the Muslim Brotherhood—and also worked hard in the diplomatic field to create strong and binding relationships with Islamic, pro-Western monarchies in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Jordan.”

    This was the geopolitical context which eventually hatched, the brilliant idea to give the Soviet Union “its own Vietnam” in Afghanistan. After decades of nurturing Islamic extremists to undermine leftist secular governments throughout the Arab world, it was a virtual no-brainer. And so we partnered up with bin Laden, and the rest, as they say is history.

    It’s up to us to stop repeating it.

    “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” That’s in The Art of War, as well.

     

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  • Rancho San Pedro Won’t Be Redeveloped in Near Future

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    On Nov. 18, a consortium of Los Angeles public officials and their team of consultants told an audience of almost 200 community members that redevelopment of Rancho San Pedro is infeasible in the near future. The infeasibility is largely due to scarce public monies. A market environment that will be less than ideal until redevelopment of Port O’Call Village and realignment of Sampson Way, which is at least two years from now is another reason.

    The committee consisted of officials from the Los Angeles Housing Authority, City Councilman Joe Buscaino’s District 15 office and the consulting team selected this past spring—Economic & Planning Systems, CSG Advisors and Quatro Design Group. The consulting team actually put the feasibility study together. Bottom line, the committee said, Rancho San Pedro needs more assets to be more attractive to private developers.

    Housing Authority community liaison John King applauded Buscaino for prioritizing affordable housing in Watts and San Pedro. King also noted that the process was done under the watchful eye of the Rancho San Pedro’s resident advisory committee.

    But King and Buscaino’s economic development advisor, David Robertson, repeatedly noted that even if there were enough public monies to fund Rancho San Pedro, at least two other projects—including Jordan Downs and Rose Hills—are higher priorities

    Former Housing Authority board member Dianne Middleton called the meeting a “dog and pony show” designed to placate Rancho residents and affordable housing advocates.

    The feasibility study produced four scenarios in which Rancho San Pedro could be redeveloped in the next decade or more.

    The scenarios ranged from simply rehabilitating all 479 units to increasing the density of the Rancho San Pedro property by demolishing some units and replacing them with a larger mix of affordable and market rate town houses. One alternative called for demolishing 110 units, rehabilitating 369 units and building 128 affordable townhome units and 44 market rate townhome units on-site. Yet another calls for higher density and the building of off-site affordable housing units at some undetermined location.

    Councilman Buscaino restated his desire to improve Rancho San Pedro and that “no one should have to live in World War II housing.” Buscaino and others said that the units should at least have modern appliances.

    Both the council office and the Housing Authority officials noted that federal law requires that affordable housing is replaced on a one-to-one basis.

    Still, Middleton’s skepticism was common among the meeting’s community attendees. Though King noted that the Housing Authority has adopted right of return rules and other reforms to protect low-income housing tenants, audience members continued to ask for assurances that they would have a right to return in the event of any rehabilitation of Rancho San Pedro.

    Neither the council office nor the Housing Authority ever quite explained what they meant by “affordable housing.”

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  • Special Report from the 11th arrondissement

    On the Street at Place de La République, Paris

    William Below, Jr., Paris Bureau
     
    It’s hard to describe the feelings of just one week ago, because so many emotions have since piled up, one upon the other. You can’t peel it back. Unlike the rest of the world, and even most of Paris, this was happening in our neighborhood—a feeling too similar to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January. The murderers chose the Boulevard Voltaire, surely not because such buffoonish and nihilistic individuals had any grasp of the symbolism; more likely, because the broad boulevard (where a million people marched in united outrage after Charlie Hebdo just 10 months ago), would not be congested on a Friday night. Unlike many of the arteries of the city, Boulevard Voltaire would be conducive to moving rapidly from place to place. A car could get in from the east or north “doors” to city and get about relatively freely.

    There are signs that something is wrong—that second of doubt you look back at and recognize as the moment things changed, as the dividing line between before and after. These days that moment comes via Facebook or Twitter. For me, it was an online post on my phone, from one friend to another, with the deceptively mundane words, “We’re okay.” Seconds later, my youngest daughter was calling. She was at her mom’s house that night, 15 minutes by foot from our flat. Because we live right off the boulevard that the terrorists chose as their murderous axis, we were in the middle of the horror.

    My daughter had left the house on foot an hour previously, just as I, returning from work on Line 9 Métro, had passed directly under the Bataclan concert hall. The Bataclan is two blocks west of us. The Belle Equipe café, where another massacre took place, is visible up the street. Further west down the Boulevard Voltaire is the restaurant and bar where the first hail of bullets was unleashed, where the first deaths set horror into motion.

    I told my daughter we were fine. She was shaken. My wife, Amy, understood something awful was happening from the tone of my daughter’s voice. Her call was a clue that fell into place: the sound of sirens were already filling the night, nothing surprising in itself, the side street next to our house, a famous but narrow north-south axis, is a preferred route of ambulances going from the Place de la Bastille to hospitals along the less congested east-west boulevards to the north, of which Voltaire is one.

    I was experiencing, but was not quite processing, the narrative of the evening. I looked at the street downstairs. All the shops and cafés were closed up. No one was on the street.

    Ironically, the broad Parisian boulevards were designed in the 1850s by Baron Haussmann, in part so that the police and the army could move quickly through the city to put down insurrections—memories of the revolution of 1848 were still fresh. But Boulevard Voltaire also connects a number of popular neighborhoods—Oberkampf, Canal Saint-Martin, Charonne—that are teeming with mostly young people on any Friday night.The Bataclan is on the same broad boulevard, three blocks to the west of Place Léon Blum, just to the south of Père Lachaise cemetery.

    One of the persistent but false media reports was of an attack on the Boulevard Beaumarchais, where my daughter lives when she is with her mother. Eventually, that bit of misinformation faded away. My daughter’s reports were more accurate than any network. But it was on that boulevard, a wide east-west avenue stretching from Place de La République to Place de La Bastille, that the emergency crews set up their staging area, dispatching the various vehicles carrying the wounded to hospitals on both sides of the Seine.

    As we watched along with the whole world, news reports focused on the Bataclan, first announcing a hostage situation and then a massacre. As we heard the totals, as we watched the reports, how could we fathom any of the numbers, any of the images—any of what was happening, or even that it was happening right down the street? How could I get my head around the horror that was being inflicted upon people with whom I had no doubt crossed paths an hour before? Or people who taken Line 9 with me, traveled in the same car—perhaps in the next seat—but had gotten off the train one station before my stop?

    We stayed inside most of the next day. The neighborhood was quiet, almost normal. In the late afternoon, I convinced Amy to come out with me. We walked down the street and lit candles in front of the Bataclan. Just as with the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the world press was camped in front of the site, their reporters, lights, satellite dishes and generators launching their accounts of events all over the world. There was a bizarre, almost festive atmosphere among them. Just another day at work, I suppose.

    As Amy and I lit candles, a Los Angeles Times photographer snapped a picture of us, documenting our small, somber walk to get fresh air and somehow get our heads around what had happened. The next day our photo was on the front page of the Sunday paper.

    We were safe. Our family was safe. One of my colleagues lost his wife. While he was in China on a photo shoot, she made the fatal choice to have dinner with friends at a local café.

    Tonight, exactly one week later, Amy and I had dinner at La Robe de la Girafe, a favorite neighborhood bistro of ours. The owner wasn’t there. He was staying away after losing three friends last Friday. We knew we were among those spared direct tragedy.

    Halfway through dinner, TV cameras appeared outside the restaurant window, their lights peering through the curtains like burglars. They were surely doing a one-week-later piece on the neighborhood, documenting the packed restaurant and the peculiar spirit of Parisians. At precisely 9:20 p.m., the lights dimmed and the music went up. Spontaneously, we all stood and took each other’s hands, forming an unbroken chain throughout the restaurant. When the music was over and the lights returned we all applauded, then returned to what Parisians do so well, enjoying life, food, wine, conversation, unafraid, unapologetic, indomitable.

    William Below Jr. is a Los Angeles native with family ties to the San Pedro Harbor Area, who lives in Paris.

     

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  • Michael’s on Naples Hosts Antinori Wine Dinner

    Photo and Article by Gina Ruccione, Restaurant and Cuisine Writer

    The Nov. 11 Antinori wine and dinner pairing at Michael’s on Naples Ristorante was a mind blowing culinary experience. This should come as no surprise, as Michael’s on Naples just came in 10th on the Zagat Top 50 Best Restaurants in Los Angeles for 2016.

    Sometimes food is only as good as the company and wine it is paired with, but when the food, wine and company are actually outstanding together, the trifecta is a game changer.

    Maybe the impact of the evening had something to do with a heaping mound of freshly grated white truffles on a small serving of risotto that was paired with my very first sip of Amarone wine. Whatever it was, something clicked in that moment. It was exactly like the scene from the movie, Ratatoullie, when the food critic, Anton Ego, takes a bite of ratatoullie and is immediately transported back to his childhood, a nostalgic moment that melts his hard exterior and all of a sudden, he’s changed forever.

    That night was my Ratatoullie moment. And, while moments are fleeting, this was one of those instances that seemed to linger for a while. It was a reminder to slow down, appreciate simple things in life, like a great food or excellent wine, and just be thankful.

    Enough of that. Let’s talk food shop.

    The wine dinner consisted of five courses, each paired with a wine. But this is much more than, “Oh, red meat goes with red wine.”

    Just to give a bit of perspective, the Antinori family has been making wine in Italy since the late 1100s.

    There’s are reasons certain dishes are paired with particular wines.

    There were a couple of dishes on the menu that really stood out, in part because they were paired with exceptional wine.

    Gambero alla Griglia:  A grilled Kaui prawn with Meyer lemon marmalade and watercress that was paired with a 2013 Orvieto Superiore “San Giovanni” Castello Della Sala. Isn’t that a mouthful? What I particularly enjoyed about this dish was the sensation of different flavors that were so apparent with each sip of wine and bite of prawn, ranging from peppery to sweet orange. It was outstanding!

    Orecchiette con Coniglio: Pasta with devil’s gulch ranch rabbit sausage, Tuscan chard, chestnuts and sage paired with a 2009 Chianti Classico “Gran Selezione” Badia di Passignano. Orecchiette in Italian means ear, so picture little ear-shaped pasta. The Tuscan chard was a nice change of pace from the traditional pasta dish, which is typically dressed with a bitter green-like broccoli rabe or rapini. The wine lent velvety components to the dish and brought out the nuttiness from the chestnuts. Again, it was just well-executed in so many ways.

    So, when is the next wine dinner? That I don’t know, but what I can tell you is that I will be attending their next Meatball Monday, which is a monthly event, that features special cocktails and meatballs. There’s even live music, so basically it’s a party. For more information check out their website.

    Details:  (562) 439 – 7080; www.michaelsonnaples.com
    Venue: Michael’s on Naples Ristorante, 5620 E. 2nd St., Long Beach

    Gina Ruccione has traveled all over Europe and Asia and has lived in almost every nook of Los Angeles County. You can visit her website at www.foodfashionfoolishfornication.com.

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