• The Chouinard Legacy is Carried Forward

    By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

     
    “Art has always been my passion since I was a child… as I started to get older my love for art increased and I knew that this was going to save me from a difficult life.”
    —Gustavo “Curly” Fernandez

    Anyone with a passing familiarity with cultural history of the arts in Los Angeles has heard the name Chouinard (pronounced shuh-nard).

    The influential art school counts some of the most innovative names — from painter Ed Ruscha, to Academy Award-winning costume designer Edith Head— as its alumnae. The school operated from 1921 to 1972.

    I grew up hearing the name because my father graduated from the Chouinard Art School on the G.I. Bill following World War II. Nonetheless, I had no idea the school single-handedly created the West Coast art scene.

    My father was not a fine artist. He was a lucky man who found his way out of an impoverished life in the southern New Mexico copper mines and into a solid career as an illustrator in the nascent California aerospace industry. His luck and talent led him to create fantastical artistic presentations of the race to the moon. The journey from the copper mines to the Mission Gemini project was amazing.

    Much of this luck was made possible by a kind-hearted woman named Nelbert Murphy Chouinard, who dedicated her life to training artists and bringing life to the barren 20th century Los Angeles cultural landscape.

    My father would have related to Curly Fernandez, a boy looking towards art for salvation.

    Curly is the subject of an award-winning film, Curly, which documents his journey and the story of the iconic art school that changed the Los Angeles culture.

    In 1972, the school closed when it was contentiously consumed in the creation of CalArts and the Disney Corp.

    Through an accident of good fortune, the history of the school was unearthed by artist Dave Tourjé. Tourjé purchased Nelbert Chouinard’s former home and began to research her place in the art world.

    In 1999, Bob Perine and Tourjé created the Chouinard Foundation. From its inception, the Chouinard Foundation’s purpose was to illuminate the legacy of Chouinard and bring it to public consciousness. Through this effort, the seeds of Fernandez’s future were planted.

    From 2006 to 2009 the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks hosted affordable art classes in partnership with Chouinard Art Foundation, where Fernandez received his first training in the arts. Curly Fernandez served as an archetype for thousands of young artists, including my father, who sought salvation through the arts. The Chouinard Foundation carries the torch for them all.

    The film follows the young man as he journeys from tagging street graffiti to life drawing classes. His self-esteem begins to grow as he develops the identity of a talented artist, away from a life in the streets.

    “That’s what art gave me: stability,” Fernandez said in the film. “It’s like a drug to me. Art is my fix.”

    Fernandez carries his portfolio of street art to local businesses and occasionally receives permission to create legal ‘tags’ in his neighborhood of South Los Angeles.

    In the film Fernandez meets with Chaz Bojorquez, a Chouinard graduate and a highly acclaimed Chicano artist. Bojorquez lives in the inner city. He began his career in the 1950s, much like Fernandez, painting graffiti.

    The seasoned artist mentors the young apprentice in the ways of the streets. He provides wisdom that comes with lessons learned from the hood. Chaz was one of the first graffiti writers from Los Angeles with his own style. After more than a decade of tagging in the streets in the 1970s and early 1980s, came a deeper need to understand, why do we do graffiti?

    Many other legendary alumni from Chouinard are included in the film, through rare in-studio interviews.

    South Bay artist, John Van Hamersveld, also a Chouinard alumni and a famed designer of iconic posters and murals, serves on the board directors for the Chouinard Foundation.

    “Bringing children in those neighborhoods into classes and learning how to draw is in a sense pulling them into the idea of ‘drawing the idea,’ and from there they get to relate to a larger culture,” Van Hamersveld said.

    Unfortunately, the foundation no longer has funds to provide classes through the Recreation and Parks Department, but they have found new life through the release of this film.

    “This all started when I bought Nelbert Chouinard’s home by accident,” Tourjé said. “We chose to make this film as a way to communicate our mission to the world. I see it as a public trust.”

    The foundation has created a library documenting the history of the school and the careers of the renowned alumni. The film, which continues to win awards at film festivals around the world, can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/126462248.

     

     

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  • End of the Dream or a New Beginning?

    Los Angeles has changed but will it also embrace a new reality?

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher

    I remember traveling one hot July day in 1955 to the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim. For the “happiest place on earth,” that day was a disaster.

    When Disneyland’s gates opened for the first time, the park unveiling  was plagued with epic traffic jams, counterfeit tickets, broken rides, food shortages and a lack of water on a 100-degree day.

    It was a bold move opening a theme park in the outer-reaches of Orange County—an event that heralded the urban sprawl that has now become epic in Southern California.

    Gone now are the orange groves, vineyards and dairy pastures that once fanned out across the southland from places like Torrance, Lomita, Gardena and even San Pedro. San Pedro locals still remember Lochman Farms Dairy on Western Avenue.

    Los Angeles County was once the largest agricultural region in the state. All of it has been divided and subdivided by freeways and thoroughfares, housing communities and shopping malls except for the last piece of vacant Lochman Farms land that’s to be developed known as Ponte Vista.

    This was part of the “dream” of an ever-expanding future. Disneyland and Hollywood fueled those dreams until they hit the brick wall of the Watts Riots in the summer of 1965. The hard reality set in that some parts of sunny California weren’t a part of the “happiest place on earth.”  I watched the fires burn on TV from the hills of Palos Verdes and wondered.

    There is a lot more to this narrative that leads right up to Los Angeles today being the capital of homelessness that makes me believe that what we are witnessing is the demise of this dream. That all of the anger expressed by the Tea Party and the Donald Trump hostility on one side and the “enough is enough” campaign of Bernie Sanders are part of the same reaction to the squeeze.

    More symbolic to this end were the recent deaths of both former First Lady Nancy Reagan and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

    With the first being a champion of the “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign and the latter a constitutional “originalist” appointee to the Supreme, both were extensions of President Ronald Reagan’s dubious legacy.

    The worldview of this Reagan triad that started back when he was governor of California and continued with his now discredited “trickle down economics” in the 1980s. This has persisted as a legacy up until President Barack Obama got his signature Affordable Care Act passed.

    The ACA continues to be a thorn in the side of conservative Republicans, Tea Partiers and neo-Trumpites even though it has survived three Supreme Court challenges, massively exceeded expectations, and has covered millions of Americans for whom the “dream” has slipped from their grasp along with their last middle-class job.

    What we are clearly witnessing in this curious presidential campaign year is the end of the Reaganomics era and the beginning of something else. That’s what the real debate is about. What’s the alternative to trickle down economics, free trade and inequitable wage compensation?

    Both Trump and Sanders criticize the free trade deals as a gambit that ships manufacturing jobs overseas, but clearly Sanders has the better grasp of the complexity of the issue and only recently has Hillary Clinton signed on to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

    The TPP treaty is only understood by some 10 percent of the California electorate, but conservatives and liberals alike oppose it once it is explained. It is a curious phenomenon that in a time in which Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on much of anything that voters both left and right oppose the TPP. This probably has something to do with the growing realization that “the dream” is slowing slipping from both hands.

    Back here in the Los Angeles Harbor Area we also have these dreams of waterfront development and of saving San Pedro. Perhaps someone will make a hat that reads “make Pedro great again.” Yet, the issue of a few hundred homeless people camped out on our streets or the slow boating of waterfront development are only a veneer of the true problems that plague many parts of this great metropolis by the sea. Sustainable jobs, lack of faster public transportation to the rest of Los Angeles and better access to capital investment for small business is the cure.

    The one key element that’s missing from the current plan to expand the MTA’s light rail system over the next 20 years is the connection from LAX to the Port of Los Angeles.

    This one change in the transportation plan would solve two of the three causes listed here for poor economics and would improve the lives of millions of county residents who live south of the 405 Freeway, as reported on in the LA Weekly. Read the story at http://tinyurl.com/Suburbs-Fight-MTA-Transit-Plan.  Supervisor Don Knabe and Mayor Eric Garcetti need to hear from you.

    In the end, what’s needed for this new era is a different dream that is not predicated on more freeways, more cars or more urban sprawl as we ship jobs overseas. What is needed is for city governments to connect residents to themselves and to their city both physically and technologically.  What is needed are cities committed to being both economically and environmentally sustainable while ensuring shelter for everyone, even those who have the least.

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  • ILWU Endorses Bernie

    Bernie Gets ILWU Endorsement, Landslide Wins in Three States

    ILWU President Robert McEllrath stands side-by-side with Sen. Bernie Sanders, March 24, after the union’s executive board endorsement of Sanders for president.  Photo courtesy of the ILWU
    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    Leadership followed rank-and-file on March 24, when the International ILWU executive board endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders as their candidate for president in the upcoming election. With an online  ILWU rank-and-file for Bernie Sanders movement, Sanders’ primary wins in Washington, Hawaii and Alaska by wide margins seems to reflect that fact.

    He won at least 71 percent of the vote in each state, including 82 percent in Alaska.

    “Bernie Sanders is the best candidate for America’s working families,” said ILWU International President Robert McEllrath.

    “Bernie is best on the issues that matter most to American workers: better trade agreements, support for unions, fair wages, tuition for students and public colleges, Medicare for all, fighting a corrupt campaign finance system and confronting the power of Wall Street that’s making life harder for most Americans.”

    “The reason we are doing well is because we are talking about the real issues facing America and we’re telling the truth,” said Sanders in a victory speech in Wisconsin.

    The union represents roughly 50,000 workers in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii.

    Craig Merrilees, an ILWU spokesman, noted that the rank-and-file backing for Sanders is clear.

    “The support was significant at the grassroots level,” Merrilees said. “Many local bodies throughout the union had already recommended endorsements.”

    Caney Arnold, one of the administrators of  L.A. South Bay for Bernie and L.A. Harbor for Bernie Facebook pages echoed Merrilees.

    “As opposed to many other labor unions making decisions on their own, the ILWU-local and national are listening to their members and the members know who they can count on. They know they can count on Bernie.”

    Arnold’s Facebook pages has been the face of the local grass roots support for Sander’s campaign and has been on a mission of pushing forward the ideas encapsulated in Sander’s campaign, such as combating income and wealth inequality and getting big money out of politics.

    Ray Cordova of the Communications Workers of America believes Sanders can take California and New York from Clinton.

    “That endorsement was big potatoes,” Cordova said. “A lot of people are talking about Clinton locking up all of the super delegates. In the entire time we’ve had elections, I don’t care what they say, they have never made a difference in an election and I don’t see that happening now. There are two places in play right now: California and New York. She [Clinton] may not get it.”

    Cordova went on to say that Clinton’s connection to the [Bill Clinton] administration’s North American Free Trade Agreement and the jobs it cost as one significant reason labor is siding with Sanders.

    Cordova doesn’t expect too many labor leaders campaigning against Clinton as much as simply campaigning for Sanders.

    Cordova noted that it wasn’t the ILWU that was first to endorse Sanders, but rather the Los Angeles County Federation.

    “We endorsed Sanders a longtime ago,” Cordova said. “I think most of labor will stay on the sidelines. I don’t see them jumping on either side, which I think is fair enough.”

    The ILWU is the fifth major union to endorse Sanders, following the Amalgamated Transit Union, which declared its backing for him the week prior. Sanders’ strong support for single-payer healthcare earned him a strong early endorsement from National Nurses United, whose precursor, the California Nurses Association was central in thwarting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s anti-union agenda a decade ago. More than 20 unions, however, have lined up behind Clinton, including the Teamsters, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Laborers’ International Union of North America.

     

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  • Court Rejects SCIG EIR

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    In a 200-page ruling, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barry P. Goode voided BNSF’s Southern California International Gateway’s environmental impact report on March 30.

    Further approval by the Los Angeles City Council and the Port of Los Angeles’ subsequent “Site Preparation and Access Agreement and Permit” with BNSF also were voided.

    The details involving the claims of the seven groups of plaintiffs involved in the suit remain to be worked out in the months ahead. A new EIR will have to be drafted in order for the project to move forward.

    “I am elated that our environmental justice communities, which would be significantly impacted by the BNSF SCIG project, have the Port of Los Angeles, the largest container port in the U.S.,” said the founder of Communities for a Safe Environment, Jesse Marquez, in a released statement.

    Marquez was one of the chief litigants in the lawsuit against the project.

    Marquez noted that the new railroad yard intermodal facility would produce more air pollution, noise and truck traffic and would impact Wilmington, Carson and Long Beach residents who would live near the facility and connecting railroad tracks.

    “I am disappointed that Los Angeles Mayor [Eric] Garcetti took no leadership role to meet with his own city residents in the environmental lawsuit and our neighboring cities to help guide the Port of LA to a pre-court settlement,” Marquez said. “We claimed throughout the public hearing process that the environmental impact report was inadequate and failed to contain all required information on the project’s negative environmental and public health impacts and what mitigation measures that were available.”

    Among other thing, the ruling found that “The EIR declines to analyze impacts that may arise with regard to [the maintenance facility] Hobart and Sheila. As a result, it does not adequately apprise either the public or decision-makers of the reasonably foreseeable indirect impacts,” that “The EIR’s analysis of ambient air quality dispersion impacts (AQ-4) is wanting,” that the the EIR’s greenhouse gas analysis “is deficient because it omits to consider Hobart,” and that “The Cumulative Impacts section of the EIR failed to consider (or show it considered) the cumulative impacts on air quality from the operation of SCIG and ICTF combined.”

    Click here to read the courts opinion.

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  • Evolve Creates Change through the Power of Theater

    Jackson Alexander Kelly as Daniel in the stage production of Choosing Us. Photo by Francis Gacad Theatre & Dance Photography, Courtesy of Evolve Theatre

    By Melina Paris, Contributing Writer

    Evolve Theatre Co. is on a mission to create positive social change. Its production, Choosing Us, is a testament to that undertaking.

    The production took place at the Studio Theatre of the Long Beach Playhouse. Choosing Us was a response to Leelah Alcorn’s suicide. Leelah was only 17 years old when she died on Dec. 28, 2014.  The transgender girl’s suicide attracted international attention.

    Leelah, who was assigned to the male gender at birth, had asked her parents for permission to undergo transition treatment but they refused. Instead, her parents forced her to take antidepressant medications and sent her conversion therapists. They withdrew her from school and removed access to social networks.

    After years of unhappiness, Leelah took action. She posted a suicide note to her Tumblr blog, writing about societal standards affecting transgender people and expressing the hope that her death would create a dialogue about discrimination, abuse and lack of support for transgender people.

    On Dec. 28, 2014,  Leelah ended her life by getting in traffic on Interstate 71 in Lebanon, Ohio, where a semi-trailer hit her. She died at the scene.

    Ultimately, Leelah’s voice was heard. By Dec. 31, her suicide note was republished in Tumblr 200,000 times.

    A petition calling for “Leelah’s Law,” a ban on conversion therapy in the Unites States, was created by the Transgender Human Rights Institute to raise awareness on the psychologically harmful effects of such practices. With 330,009 signatures it started a series of events eventually leading to President Barack Obama. In April 2015, the White House gave an official response to the petition stating, “We share your concern about its potentially devastating effects.”

    Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. became the first two cities to outright ban the practice of conversion. California banned the practice in 2012. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear two cases challenging the legalities of the ban and the law took effect.

    But work still needs to be done. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, a study released in 2012 by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force states, transgender people are twice as likely to become homeless or turn to street-based economies, they are 85 percent more likely to become incarcerated, and twice as likely to become infected with HIV.

    According to the Human Rights Campaign,  21 transgender women were murdered in the United States in 2015, more than any other year on record. In fact, on March 23, news outlets reported the murder of Kourtney Yochum in Los Angeles. It was the first transgender murder in 2016.

    Leelah’s death struck a chord with director Ryan Weible. He followed Leelah’s directive that her death mean something. Weible, who used to teach high school, found out that one of his former students had committed suicide a couple years after graduating.

    Leelah’s death occurred at the same time that Weible struggled with the suicide of his former student. Leelah’s suicide was a result of her struggle with gender identity, trying to fit in and trying be accepted by her family. He believes his former student also struggled with those issues.

    “It made it so clear to me in that moment that this was the first piece we needed to take on as a theater company,” Weible said. “Leelah’s last few words in her suicide note was, ‘fix society… please.’ Something about that was a major call to action for me.”

    Weible said that he wants to use the privilege he has as a straight white, cisgender man to open opportunities for underrepresented communities. He wants to give these communities an outlet where their voices can be heard.

    One way he is doing this is by displaying series of watercolor and ink drawings at the theater that Los Angeles queer artist, K. Ryan Henisey, created. Henisey painted a numbered series of each transgender woman who was murdered in 2015 titled, #sayhername. It’s the first thing people see when they come into the lobby.

    Evolve put out a commission to find transgender writers to tell the story of what is happening in the transgender community. Two writers were found: Rain Valdez and Lino Martinez.

    Valdez wanted to pursue something lighter.  Martinez wanted to be truthful, gritty, darker and heavier. So, a third playwright, Vanessa Espino, was brought in to help make the disparate stories come together in a cohesive way. Espino is the one playwright who is not transgender. They did not expect to have two transgender writers perform as lead actors. Weible said having the writers play the characters that they had written, based loosely on their own life experiences, makes this production especially meaningful and impactful.

    Choosing Us has two story lines: one told from the perspective of a teenage boy coming to grips with his transgender identity, while the other is from the perspective of a successful artist and photographer who denies her transgender identity.

    Choosing US

    Bryon Scott Adams as Chase, and Rain Valdez as Mia. Photo by Francis Gacad Theatre & Dance Photography, Courtesy of Evolve Theatre

    Valdez said Mia had been living “stealth” for a several years as a successful artist and photographer. Stealth is a term used in the transgender community to describe when someone disassociates from being transgender and just wants to live a normal cisgender identity, or the gender they were born into, Valdez explained.

    “As a co-writer I basically put a lot of my experiences into this character,” Valdez said. “I didn’t know I’d be playing her but I thought, if I was going to write something, I was going to write from my experiences and my truth.”

    At one point in the play, Valdez’s character, Mia, realizes she has done a disservice to her community by denying her transgender identity. In a moment of epiphany, she scraps her originally planned exhibit of black-and-white architecture photographs. Instead, she interviews and photographs subjects from her community as a way to serve them better. One of the most impactful scenes in the play involves Mia’s interview with the siblings of a transgender person who was murdered.

    “It’s one of the interviews that gets very deep into the tragedies that happen in our community,” Valdez said. “Even though it’s timely, with what is happening in the world, it’s still a play that we really haven’t quite seen yet.”

    Weible hopes that the play will be effective. Weible is especially sensitive to issues impacting transgender women of color, in addition to the suicide rates that impact the community as a whole. But he tried to balance these issues with some levity.

    “If you sort of immediately beat them over the head with heavy tragic stuff you almost rob them,” Weible said. “It doesn’t start that way, it’s mostly infused with the opposite and I think because of that, when those intense moments do come, they hit in a significant way.”

    When the Long Beach Playhouse offered Evolve Theatre a spot in the Long Beach Playhouse’s annual collaborative season, Managing Director Kenny Allen jumped at it.

    Evolve has been talking with Housing Long Beach and Latino’s In Action to find out if there can be a potential collaboration project with them. It wants to respond to community needs in all sorts of issues throughout Long Beach.

    It’s been a labor of love for the people who put together this play.  While the writers and designers were paid for their work, Weible, the producers and the publicist are not taking fees for their work. The biggest thing Weible hopes to convey is how important it is for this kind of theater to be supported.

    “It’s incredibly important work that has to be supported or else it will cease to exist,” Weible said. “So I guess my call to action is to come. Entertainment is not the purpose of this work. The purpose is for you to have an experience that makes you more understanding and empathetic and kind to one another. There is so much hate in the world and not to get political [but] it’s time for us to let the pendulum start to swing back the other way and start to find things that we have in common.”

    Details: http://evolvetheater.org

     

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  • Long Beach Got Humped

    By Mike Botica, Editorial Intern

    The 11th annual Hump! Film Festival recently returned to Southern California. On its third international tour, the festival will make a pit stop at the Art Theatre in Long Beach, on March 24, with all other showings in Los Angeles.

    Hosted by Dan Savage, Hump! featured 22 short films by amateurs of all genders, races and sexualities.  Together, the films were a combination of funny, stupid and intimate. While the films may be uncomfortable for some people, they also pushed audiences to explore their own sexuality and to open themselves to things they otherwise would never consider.  There’s also plenty of references to Mike Huckabee’s infamous book, God, Guns, Grits & Gravy, if you’re into that.

    Hysterical Bullshit opened with a woman sitting at a desk, the camera shooting her from the desk up, dressed in a librarian outfit.  Reading passages from God, Guns, Grits & Gravy, she slowly starts breathing heavily, squirming and giggling periodically.  At one point, she clutches the table edges with both hands while reading a passage about The Andy Griffith Show and southerners. She finishes with one last sigh before shutting the book.

    The Collector follows Harold, a “normal 31-year-old American” who collects seamen in jars and containers around his house.  His girlfriend is not amused. Some memorably awkward scenes ensue with plenty of pop culture references to go around.

    Let’s Try to Fuck parodies old ‘50s educational videos shot in black and white. It follows our protagonist through numerous sexual fantasies. He also shouts out Mike Huckabee’s masterpiece.

    2016 HUMP! Teaser from HUMP! Film Festival on Vimeo.

    Porn Star of the Year was another comedic video.  The story is about Fuck Rogers, a man who submits a video for “Porn Star of the Year.” The film shows off a bunch of fictional characters reading cheesy porn lines. His porn mustache and smooth line delivery are sure to woo all the ladies.

    If you’re a fan of penis puppets, then Film Bonoir has everything you need, including gay role playing and unexpected plot twists.  The tagline reads: “Danger! Excitement! Dicks!”  What more needs to be said?

    Orgies Happening Tonight is another comedy short, with a satisfying arc.  It starts with two coworkers talking at the office, when one suggests he get back at his wife by going to an orgy. A cast of strange deviants are met along the way and one character undergoes a serious change of heart.

    Video game fans will have a soft spot for Level Up.  The main protagonist has to fight cat-calling bros, predatory surgeons, and three men called “the patriarchy,” with a surprising ending that will be hard to predict.

    DICK is a song that may not leave your head if you’re a fan of cheesy ‘80s music videos.  It’s loaded with dated synthesizers, bad outfits, comedic lyrics, and of course, dicks.

    Many of the most memorable films this year weren’t comedic.  Some of them were intense portrayals of sexual and self-exploration.

    Blown will be hard to forget if you’re not expecting its subject matter.  It may be hard to tell what you are watching for the first few minutes. You probably won’t see many other films this year about transgender men stimulating each other’s clitorises for five minutes.

    Some of the films are outrageous.  Cake Boss is a foodie’s fantasy, full of shots of genital egg-beating, chocolate ass-glazing and plenty of fornicating. I Fist a Grrrl is a parody of the Katy Perry smash hit. It’s full of colorful manga costumes and full-on fisting. It also includes an overture about “cunts.”

    Audiences surely had something to talk about among their friends and lovers.

    Visit https://humptour.boldtypetickets.com for more info.

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  • Babouch Moroccan Restaurant Celebrates 38 Years

    By Gina Ruccione, Restaurant and Cuisine Writer

    If you are a true foodie like I am, then you have a running list of restaurants ready to take on at a moment’s notice. My current list is so long, it’s exhausting. I actually slip into a food coma just looking at it. Truth be told, I could eat out every day for the rest of my life and still not cross every “t” and dot every “i” on my list. There’s simply not enough time in one’s lifetime, let alone my own.

    I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, please— spare me. This woman is young. She has plenty of time.”

    Fine. But hear me out. Age argument aside, I’d like to think that I’m pragmatic. I know better than anyone that eating out can be costly and even more time consuming.

    And with regards to beating the clock, well — let’s just say, when it comes to both my relationships with restaurants or me, I don’t fear commitment. I fear wasting time.

    My job as a food writer is to inform, entertain, but I also need to be somewhat discerning. I choose my time out wisely. Taking into account the opportunity cost of every dining experience leads me to this conclusion: every eatery serves a different purpose.

    If you’re looking for a lively evening with plenty of food and entertainment then you need to go to Babouch in San Pedro. I’ve driven past the place on a weekly basis, but hadn’t been inside in more than 25 years.  If you’ve never been, you need to go. If you haven’t been for a while, here’s why you should go back.

    Babouch is the full package—not just dinner, but an experience. The Moroccan eatery resembles a movie set. The low tables and fabulous rugs seem to glow in the dim lighting, under a tent-like canopy. Before dining, rosewater is brought to the tables for guests to wash their hands. And what would dinner be like without the belly dancers and tarot card readings? Well, it probably wouldn’t be as fun.

    April marks Babouch’s 38th anniversary, and time has brought some changes. Don’t worry, your favorites are still on the menu. But that menu now boasts craft beer and wine, interesting cocktails and artisanal bread. Most importantly, the prices are lower.

    Come with group of friends. Come prepared to hang out for awhile. Come hungry. Make reservations and make a night of it. Order several appetizers, especially the spicy “cigars,” which basically consist of sautéed beef, onions and peppers, minced and wrapped in light, flaky filo dough. Have your fill of those, then move on to the prix fixe menu. There are six courses, which allow you to navigate through several options. If you like sweets, the lamb entrée with honey and roasted almonds would most definitely suit your fancy. If you’re like me and tend to veer away from sweets, I recommend the beef tri tip kabobs. Six courses later, driving home felt like a Lamaze class; I ate so much, I had to learn how to breathe again.

    But did I dance with the belly dancer? Abso-fuckin-lutely.

    Details: (310) 831-0246
    Venue: Babouch Restaurant, 810 S. Gaffey St., San Pedro

    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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  • Deke Dickerson Tour Stops at Godmothers

    By Mike Botica, Editorial Intern

    Veteran rockabilly singer, songwriter and guitarist Deke Dickerson will perform at 8 p.m. March 19, at Godmothers in San Pedro.  He will be headlining a bill that includes local band Lazy Lance & The Longhorns. The cover charge $10.

    In a career that reaches back to the 1980s, Dickerson is notable for his work in the eponymous Deke Dickerson and The Ecco-Fonics, which released three studio albums and toured the world.   

    “I moved to California in 1991 and the first gig I did, the band leader handed me $75 at the end of the night, and I told him that if I was gonna pay the other guys out of this, I’d need to get some change,” said Dickerson. “He said, ‘No, this is all for you!’ And I thought I had died and moved to the lost gold city of El Dorado!”

    “California has been really good to me,” Dickerson said. “I’ve lived here 25 years this year and have never wanted to live anywhere else.”

    Dickerson often plays a TNM double-neck guitar embossed with his name. The instrument has become a major part of his sound. He also owns vintage custom amplifiers, including a rare custom Echo-Sonic, which has been used by legendary guitarists, such as Scotty Moore and Chet Atkins.

    “I recently put some new Throbak pickups … on my old Gibson ES-335 [that] I’ve had since I was a teenager,” Dickerson said.  “It’s like a brand new guitar and I’m really enjoying playing it, so I’ll have that with me on Saturday.”

    In addition to his own prolific musical output, Dickerson is a collector of rare and wacky vinyl.  On his website, he lists dozens of albums with ridiculous and hilariously dated covers.

    Dickerson also hosts the annual Guitar Geek Festival Show, which will be in Las Vegas this year. The show is part of the four-day rockabilly festival Viva Las Vegas, which takes place from April 14 through 18, at The Orleans Hotel.  

    “Myself and a few guitar-obsessed friends always found ourselves talking about gear after shows and one of my old girlfriends always talked about how she dreaded the ‘guitar geeks’ who would never let us leave the club after a gig, so the term was born, and I thought ‘Guitar Geek Festival’ had a good ring to it,” Dickerson said. “Turns out, there are a lot of guitar geeks out there. So I wasn’t alone.”

    In past years the event has taken place in Anaheim. It has featured artists as diverse and influential as Duane Eddy, J.D. McPherson, Nokie Edwards of The Ventures, Los Straightjackets, Sandy Nelson, Nick Curran, Brian Lonbeck and Del Casher.

    “It’s much smaller and only two hours instead of two days, but it’s still a blast and a good way to carry on the tradition,” Dickerson said.

    Dickerson played at Godmothers back in 2013 with the same openers.  You can find photos of the event on Facebook at: http://tinyurl.com/Dickerson-Godmothers-2013.

    Seatbelt and Lazy Lance & The Longhorns have opened for me every single time I’ve played at Godmothers,” Dickerson said. “They are all great guys.  Looking forward to it!”

    More details about Dickerson, including tour dates, are available on at www.instagram.com/dekedickerson, www.facebook.com/deke.dickerson and www.dekedickerson.com.

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  • Harold Greene Creates

    By Melina Paris, Music Columnist

    Harold Greene’s talents expand beyond creating one-of-a-kind furniture, for which he has been featured over the years in Random Lengths News. Greene also builds and creates music.

    “Unlike furniture making, which is an art that takes a lot of pre-planning, careful technique and execution of a piece of furniture—sometimes over a long period of time—music is performed in the moment,” Greene said. “That’s what I like about it. It’s different than what I normally do. There is room for improvisation and spontaneity.”

    Greene is part of a duo called Switch Off. He plays the cajon, backing Freddie Schreuders on guitar.

    Switch Off has been performing at Sirens in San Pedro for just over a month. The duo’s funky, head bopping grooves and easy vibe, coupled with Sirens whimsical mermaid theme, will set your weekend right. Energetic? Absolutely. You feel Switch Off. It’s a groove thing. The duo brings its own creative touch, adding surprising beats and rhythms to classic rock songs and some rhythm and blues.

    Greene met Schreuders this past year. The guitarist was helping Greene with a big project for the Port of Los Angeles.

    “I had instruments down there in Warehouse 57,” Greene said. “It’s an unbelievable warehouse, 50,000 square feet and the acoustics are like the Sistine Chapel. Freddie heard me playing the cajon there, so just recently he asked me to back him up. He can throw out any beat, Latin, reggae or bossa nova and I can just play it because I know all the beats and rhythms and how they interact.”

    Greene said their show is paired down. Sometimes he has just a cajon, a cymbal or shakers, but it’s energetic. Both players have such a deep level of skill and intuitiveness that as they play, the music inhabits you.

    Greene describes his part in this duo.

    “When I listen to music I really listen to drums and bass and how the player attacks the drums,” Greene said. “There’s a big difference between a digital drum track and an actual live drummer. You can almost feel the drummer breathe and you can feel that each hit is different than the last, so that’s what I try to emulate when I play the cajon.”

    Performing is a time of play for this artist, who works 50-plus hours weekly at his furniture craft. But Greene takes music seriously and speaks attentively about structure and sound. He should, because a few decades ago Greene was a member of the band Magnum with one of his brothers and six other players. They produced a successful, highly collectible album titled Fully Loaded.

    “It was a really big group with a really big sound,” Greene said. “A few years ago I saw the album go in Europe for the equivalent of $800 (U.S.). I even still hear some of its tracks played on the radio.”

    Greene said his recent pairing with Schreuders is different for him because he’s never backed a guitar player with percussion. But he always experimented with different percussion instruments going all the way back to his Magnum days.

    “Freddie is a drummer as well, so he will switch to percussion and I will play guitar, bass or Chapman Stick, or, through the magic of modern electronics, all three at the same time through a loop pedal” Greene said. “Since we are switching roles our group is called Switch Off.

    Growing up in musical family, percussion instruments were around his house. One of six children, all took classical piano lessons plus at least one more instrument. Reared in a small house, they somehow fit a baby grand piano in the living room.

    At 15, Greene’s mother brought home a guitar she intended to learn. He picked it up, liked its sound and began learning.

    “My friend brought an electric guitar and a Jimi Hendrix album over one day, that really blew my mind,” Greene said. “I got into electric guitar and played all through high school with a band called Titanic.”

    He switched from guitar to fretless bass when Magnum formed because there were no bass players around.

    In the early 2000s Greene also took percussion ensemble class at Los Angeles Harbor College. He said it was an almost academic approach to percussion.

    “We had to read charts and learn parts on lots of different percussion instruments,” Greene said. “That was a challenge. We learned African, Latin, Indian percussion – or at least the spoken rhythms of Indian music. Percussion included marimbas, xylophone, all of the struck toned instruments and orchestra bells. I also sometimes filled in on electric bass.”

    Greene has recorded different instruments, either bongos, wood blocks or instruments similar to tavlas. He’s also been building musical instruments, primarily basses, for almost 40 years.

    Greene made his cajon from wood scraps in his shop. The inside is strung with guitar strings to get that snare sound. He is a long time player of the Chapman Stick, a 10-or-12 string instrument, designed by Emmet Chapman, which is played by tapping. It has five treble and five bass strings and a six octave range. Greene learned to play the stick on his own, wanting to develop his own musical style on it.

    “It’s great because you can play it like a piano,” Greene said. “You can play the bass lines and cords with your left hand and chords and melodies with your right hand. It’s more similar to piano than it is to guitar or bass. It goes much deeper than a normal bass.”

    Greene will soon bring his Chapman Stick, electric bass and a guitar to Sirens so they will have a full rig to perform with.

    Greene said he has not had to think commercially with music.

    But when there is money, it’s nice. He stressed one thing he does not do is play for free. That would undercut musicians who do play for a living.

    “If you give music away for free it’s less likely someone will hire a musician and pay them,” Greene said. “It’s hard for bands to make a name for themselves.”

    Switch Off performs at Sirens, from 6 to 8 p.m. on Friday or Saturday. You can walk in and grab a great cup of coffee or tea and relax immediately upon hearing this duo’s groove.

    View Greene’s handmade furniture at www.instagram.com/contemporarycraftsmarket and antiquesofthefuture.net

     

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  • Polluters’ Coup Takes Over Air Control Agency

    Multi-Front Response Begins

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    Polluting industries and their allies pulled off a coup at the nation’s top regional air quality agency on March 4, firing the long-time executive officer in a closed door session.

    Barry Wallerstein had served as executive officer at the South Coast Air Quality Management District since 1997. He was fired without explanation, and with just four days notice, when the closed door action item appeared on the AQMD board’s online agenda. The 7-6 vote reflected a new Republican majority on the board.

    The incident prompted public shock and outrage, and a promise of state legislative action to restore majority representation to protect the region’s public health.

    Clean air advocates at the meeting denounced the firing as “radical,” especially ill-timed and politically motivated. State Senate leader Kevin de León immediately denounced the firing as a “shameful action” that “is only the latest in a disturbing trend of dirty energy interests dismantling clean air rules that the public overwhelmingly supports.”

    De León commended Wallerstein “for his outstanding leadership and commitment to protecting public health,” and pledged to “work to ensure the board returns to its core mission of improving and protecting air quality, rather than catering to oil industry needs.”

    The following Tuesday, March 7, de León announced his intention to pass a law adding three more members to the board, a public health expert appointed by the governor and two environmental justice members appointed by state Senate and Assembly leaders.

    The leadership coup—engineered in secret—follows a controversial vote this past December to reject a staff-proposed revision of the district’s nitrogen oxide reduction program (NOx RECLAIM) to meet clean air goals. The program had been three years in the making. The proposal would replace the program with a last-minute industry alternative, another back-room, business-backed plan.

    But as has long been the case in California, the polluter’s influence has crossed party lines. This is reflected in the NOx RECLAIM vote, when San Pedro Councilman Joe Buscaino (a Republican-turned-Democrat) and Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, also a Democrat, both voted to approve the industry plan.

    “I thought that Barry was doing a very good job at what he was trying to get accomplished on the major issues that were confronting AQMD,” Board member Joe Lyou told Random Lengths. “We finally have the technology we need to get to clean air now. And, it was thanks in part to his work and support for the development of that technology, and that he had, at least, a willingness to try to get the agency there.”

    “As soon as we learned that this was something being considered by the board, we were absolutely outraged,” Sylvia Betancourt, of the Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma, told the board in her testimony.

    Betancourt praised Wallerstein especially for his leadership in regulating the freight transport industry.

    “When we were calling on the California Air Resource Board and on the EPA to address rail and their negative impact on our communities who were on the front lines, it was AQMD and through Dr. Wallerstein’s leadership that we were able to challenge industries who were not doing anything to protect our communities,” Betancourt said. “When you make that decision… your name will be etched on the lungs of our community members.”

    “When Barry was dismissed from his position, it raised a lot of questions, doubt, uncertainty, and certainly, anger, a lot of anger,” Betancourt told Random Lengths afterwards. “A lot of work has been going into this over many years, and they got rid of that in one meeting.”

    There is a great deal they were ignoring, Betancourt said.

    “There is a definite link between the kinds of decisions they make and the impact it has on communities in Long Beach, Wilmington, San Pedro, along the 710 corridor, and out through the inland valley,” she said. “They make these decisions, but don’t have to live with or experience the consequences directly.”

    Andrea Hricko, professor of preventive medicine at USC, presented comments on behalf of 19 scientists from USC, UCLA, UC Irvine and Cal Tech.

    “We have always respected Dr. Barry Wallerstein’s commitment to promoting the health and welfare of Southern California,” Hricko said. “For decades, his leadership and vision have helped to improve air quality and health for millions, but we still do not have healthy air to breathe in the Southland, and the job is not done.”

    “We are very upset, we have worked closely with Dr. Gary Wallerstein and his staff for decades,” said James Provenzano, president of Clean Air Now, in his testimony. “A strong economy is not mutually exclusive of strong regulation. Quite the contrary, we have the lowest per-capita energy use in the country, and our economy is the sixth largest in the world. Stop using this specious argument that strong environmental policy hurts business. It is the exact opposite.”

    Indeed, the AQMD has repeatedly analyzed the costs and benefits of its regulations using an extensive, sophisticated model covering every sector of the local economy—94 occupations in 19 sub-regions in 2007. It has always found that the benefits far exceed the costs. Reporting on the 2007 Air Quality Management Plan, AQMP, Socio-Economic Report, Random Lengths noted:

    While industry costs for new pollution control measures will range from $2.0 to $2.7 billion per year, benefits will top $14 billion, according to the AQMP’s socioeconomic report prepared under the supervision of Dr. Elaine Chang, deputy executive officer for Planning, Rule Development and Area Sources.

    “It’s always easy to quantify [industry] costs. We’re trying to quantify the benefits as well,” Chang explained. “We can see the ratio [of benefits to costs] is 7 to 1, so society is bearing the costs of not internalizing the economic costs of polluting.”

    Of course, businesses will pass on most increased costs to customers. But these costs will more accurately reflect the true costs of production, transportation and distribution. And they will be far less than the costs born by the public today.

    This is the fundamental reality of the economics of clean air regulation—a reality that the worst-polluting industries have done everything in their power to distort and deny. Above all, they’ve repeatedly sought to mis-portray the costs of clean air as resulting in job loss, when the most polluting industries, such as oil refineries, have high profits and relatively small workforces.

    They haven’t convinced the economists, scientists, public health experts or those suffering from dirty air’s health impacts. But they have convinced the business community leadership, as reflected in the parade of testimony against reconsidering the December RECLAIM vote, the AQMD agenda item immediately preceding Wallerstein’s dismissal. This included representatives from the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, Southern California Business Coalition, and others, along with Chevron, Western States Petroleum Association, and Independent Petroleum Association.

    “It’s taken three years to adopt these amendments,” said Elizabeth Warren of Future Ports in defending the December decision, “The board was dutiful and reasoned in its authority and responsibility to make a decision on this policy.”

    Those two false claims were echoed repeatedly by other business groups.

    “The plan that was ultimately adopted by the board was not the result of a three-year process, it was something that was introduced the day of the board vote,” Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer Morgan Wyenn pointed out.

    Earthjustice lawyer Adrian Martinez agreed.

    “The AQMD at the last minute adopted a Western States Petroleum Association plan for their pollution program, which was not supported by the extensive record before the agency,” he told Random Lengths.

    On March 9, Earthjustice and NRDC filed suit to block the plan, representing three other groups as well.

    “This suit challenges the failure of the air district to deliver on the most important smog fighting regulation in the agency’s jurisdiction in the last decade,” Martinez said.

    The suit’s claims involve the plan’s substantive shortcomings, in violation of state law, as well as the flawed procedure, calling for a declaration that “the approval of the industry proposal was arbitrary and capricious.”

    The suit was only filed after the reconsideration vote failed. That vote, in turn, reflected pressure from the State Senate, as well as the California Air Resources Board, which underscored the inadequacy of the Western States Petroleum Association plan.

    On January 7, Air Resources Board’s Executive Officer Richard Corey wrote the AQMD to inform them that “ARB’s preliminary staff assessment is that the amendments would result in an air quality management plan (AQMP) we cannot approve,” and he went on cite several different provisions of California state law which the plan appears to violate.

    The RECLAIM program began in 1993, replacing specific existing and planned regulations with a “cap-and-trade” system that allowed polluters to choose their methods of compliance — including the purchase of credits from others to offset their own pollution. In theory, it’s supposed to produce the most economically efficient means of reducing pollution. By law it’s supposed to produce the same amount of reductions as would be achieved by requiring the use of the “best available retrofit control technology” [BACRT]. However, the program has been plagued by an excess of credits, making them far too cheap, crippling the incentive to cut pollution.

    “Certain industries have just hoarded or bought a lot of credits rather than installing pollution control equipment,” Martinez said. “The best example of that is the refineries where they’ve saved hundreds of millions of dollars since 2007 by not installing equipment on their stacks and the various things they own and operate, and what the end result is they’re still responsible for a lot of emissions.”

    Adjustments have been made before, but they’ve fallen far short. The recent 3-year process resulted in a plan to “shave” the outstanding credits by 14 tons per day (tpd) from 2016 through 2022, starting with 4 tpd in 2016. The staff plan also called for removing credits from the market when the facility holding those credits shuts down. The Western States Petroleum Association plan called for 12 tpd reduction, starting very slowly, only reaching its first 4 tons cut by 2019, and deferring the shutdown credit proposal for further study. But the Earthjustice/NRDC lawsuit points out that the BARCT-based standard should have required an even sharper cut—17 tpd—in order to comply with California law.

    As things stand now, there’s deep uncertainty about what lies ahead. The secretive moves of the past few months portend even more to come.

    “All these things are connected, and they’re all happening behind closed doors, and were just getting glimpses of them as things are coming to the public,” like Wallerstein’s firing, Wyenn said. “It really just feels like a major foreshadowing of what’s to come, given that we know that right around the corner in the summer is the AQMP for ozone, so it’s kind of like this ominous foreshadowing situation.”

    The RECLAIM decision will directly impact the ozone AQMP—just one of the reasons guiding AQMD staff, which the board chose to ignore.

    At the same time, community environmental justice activists are more knowledgeable than ever in fighting back. Jesse Marquez, founder of Communities for a Safe Environment, epitomizes this development. In his comments before the vote to fire Wallerstein, he spoke directly to new board members regarding “violations of environmental, public health, safety and welfare laws.” Communities for a Safe Environment did some legal research into the different laws that the board seemed to have ignored in its RECLAIM vote.

    “The protection and care of the environment, public health safety and welfare are rights granted and regulated under state and federal law,” Marquez said.

    But “private business and industry have no rights under any state or federal law to violate the protection and care of the environment public health and safety and welfare,” and the board has no authority to violate those laws.

    “The board has no authority under any state or federal law to use employment, the economy, or cost as the sole basis for rejecting limiting, canceling, or denying existing air pollution rules and regulations, or new proposed stricter rules and regulations and programs,” he noted.

    Afterwards, Marquez explained his intent to Random Lengths. Board members are often appointed with no background in the body of laws and regulations governing the realm of responsibilities they’ve been given. And, there’s no special training they’re given to get up to speed.

    “So, I wanted to remind them that they’re under certain legal mandates,” he said.

    Also, that the public knows about those mandates, and has the capacity to do its own research, and/or to gain expert advice, when needed.

    “I may not have a PhD physicist on staff, but I know several PhDs I can call to give advice, and that’s what we do,” he said. “Something has changed over the years, so 15 to 20 years ago, we, the public, my parents, grandparents were not very knowledgeable about applicable rules and regulations that are out there, under various California laws and regulatory agencies. But my generation, and my sons have grown up with me knowing that there are specific laws, rules and regulations, that we are familiar with, and that when we give an opinion, or we present information, or facts, we are fully capable of doing excellent research.”

    So, on the one side, there’s a phalanx of business interests repeating a well-manicured set of talking points that just don’t square with the public record, with public health research, with economic analysis, or with the body of existing law. Acting in the shadows, they’ve temporarily managed to gain control of the AQMD, but they’re fighting an increasingly aroused public, as well as the laws of nature, California and the United States.

    The coup may be over. But the battle has only just begun.

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