• A Balancing Act Part II:

    Harbor Interfaith Walks a Tightrope Between Large Caseloads, Politics

    By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

    While the city and the county of Los Angeles are taking steps forward to address homelessness, the entities seem to always take a step back. Their pursuits seem to address visibility of homeless people rather than the underlying issues related to their homelessness. Such has been the case with recent confiscations of tiny homes that activist Elvis Summers built in South Los Angeles.

    Advocates for the homeless may have hoped that the threat of El Niño storms in the New Year would force city leaders to take immediate and substantive action in addressing homelessness.

    The Los Angeles City Council has pledged to spend $100 million and the county has committed to working with cities in addressing the problem. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti requested and was denied disaster relief funds from Gov. Jerry Brown ahead of the expected storms.

    In San Pedro and Harbor City, police are conducting regular encampment sweeps, only to find those same locations occupied by the same and more people.

    In response, residents frustrated by the seemingly never-ending cycle push local officials to impose or enforce even more criminal procedures, making it difficult for homeless persons to stay in one place. Yet, they do.

    Underlying these efforts is the thought that if homeless people don’t accept the help, they should be subjected to criminal enforcement procedures. Moreover, anyone helping homeless people, in any capacity, are in effect aiding and abetting criminal activity.

    In this context and in this region, Harbor Interfaith has been pushed forward as the one agency that can best handle this crisis.

    However, there are cases that have raised questions about how quickly people can get off the streets even under the best of circumstances. Denise Vigil is one example. She was a homeless woman, whose story was touted as a success during a September 2015 homeless forum in San Pedro, all while still sleeping outside of Councilman Joe Buscaino’s office with a Section 8 voucher in hand. She didn’t move into permanent housing until this year.

    Another example involved a pregnant mother and two children who were living in a Harbor City encampment known as “The Pit” during this past holiday season. In that instance, local homeless advocates paid out of pocket for a hotel for the family before Harbor Interfaith was able to provide the hotel vouchers.

    Harbor Interfaith is called upon to be the primary response in addressing homelessness in Los Angeles Harbor Area, even as it services a significant part of Southern Los Angeles County.

    Harbor Interfaith’s Outreach Director Shari Weaver recently noted that few people outside of other service providers understand the challenges they face.

    “There are a lot of similarities and very few differences,” Weaver said. “It always seems like no matter where you go in Los Angeles County, when you talk to your partners who are veterans in the same business, we all have the same challenges. Trying to see our way through [has] been frustrating.”

    The challenges come from residents frustrated with the apparent growth and visibility of homelessness in town. Add to that, homeless advocates on the outside looking in either believe Harbor Interfaith is pre-selecting clients on criteria other than need and program requirements or not doing enough to catch clients who fall out of compliance with program requirements.

    In its March 3 edition, Random Lengths recounted Tisha Dolby’s journey from the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row to a place of self-sufficiency at Harbor Interfaith. The challenges that Harbor Interfaith faces are more complicated than is reflected in Dolby’s story since the organization is called upon to help both the chronically homeless and the newly homeless.

    “Generally, people who have been homeless for a year or more, have numerous episodes of homelessness, four or more in a three-year period, have disabling conditions whether it was substance abuse issues, mental health problems or complex health conditions,” Weaver said.

    Weaver explained that Harbor Interfaith recently received funding to help people who have experienced short episodes of homelessness— people who experienced homelessness for less than a year—an attempt to put in place a safety net for people who have not been homeless as long.

    The goal of the new funding is to shorten the number of times a person is homeless and shorten their experiences of being homeless. Both of these models are focused on permanent housing.

    “It used to be when Harbor Interfaith managed its own shelter and it was tied to other resources, it wasn’t as long,” said Harbor Interfaith’s Executive Director Tahia Hayslet. “Now we do everybody that is in the South Bay. It may be even longer than 30 days…. The backlog is ridiculous at this point.”

    Hayslet confronted the critiques she’s heard in the homeless advocate community that Harbor Interfaith is not serving all clients that come to their doors.

    “We can’t control the system that exists,” she said. “The government shifted and said that one agency will serve as the lead. That’s fine. But imagine, everybody that is homeless is now being funneled through this agency. These are people we’ve never seen in the history of this agency…so it makes our job that much tougher. It’s not like we have the extra resources to deal with it. We still have the same staffing. There are 450 [people] that we’re working with.”

    Hayslet explained that if a client is homeless in a city outside of the South Bay, they are supposed to stay in that particular city.

    “If they can show some type of ties to this particular area then we’re supposed to take them,” she said.

    Weaver noted that even when a client meets all of the criteria and do all they’re supposed to do, finding a place for them to live is still difficult.

    “Take for example the HUD-VASH of the Homeless Veterans initiative [a program] for veterans with a dishonorable discharge on their record, where we see the hang up is not the voucher, but finding a unit that would take that voucher,” Weaver said. ”

    Weaver said they have been really good developing strong partnerships with property owners and following up with clients who have gone through their program.

    “Property owners like the fact that they are getting a tenant who is not only doing their part, but now they have somebody that follows up and troubleshoots, provide case management and resources to make sure that the tenant is staying in compliance with the lease,” Weaver said.

    She notes that when Harbor Interfaith succeeds in that area, property owners are more likely to offer available units to clients. She wishes the frequency of that scenario happening was greater, but a rental market with a 2 percent vacancy rate hasn’t been helpful.

    As if the state of affordable housing wasn’t enough of a headache, the actual work of balancing Harbor Interfaith’s relationships with its clients, community advocates and organizational supporters presents its own struggles.

    Hayslet noted that Harbor Interfaith gets the greatest grief over its shelter’s 80 percent savings requirement. During their stay in Harbor Interfaith Services 90-day program, clients are obliged to place 80 percent of their income in an account that the agency holds—a nest-egg of sorts. The money is returned to clients when they leave Interfaith Services and is intended to serve as a foundation to save for future.

    “Our program prior to this new system has always required a saving of 80 percent,” Hayslet said. “A part of it is to teach them how to survive on just 20 percent. That’s because a lot of people end up in a homeless where they are paying 95 percent of their income on rent. So it’s never going to last. We’re saying that in a worst case scenario, if you have to pay 80 percent of your income toward rent… you can’t even touch this money for three months.”

    Hayslet cited another reason why advocates find the strict adherence to the 80 percent savings requirement.

    “There’s an exception to every rule,” she said. “So, if someone comes in and there’s an 80 percent requirement, but if you needed to buy prescription medication, why wouldn’t we allow you to? But you have to communicate with us.

    “What generates the most complaints about the requirement is that advocates don’t understand that all you have to do is communicate with us and tell us why you need the money. If you have to pay your storage. Allow us to do it. This is the first time ever we had the funds to pay for storage.”

    Hayslet noted that they got funding in July 2015 [for paying for storage].

    She went on to say that clients often hide what’s going on with them rather than communicate with their case managers.

    “The purpose of having a case manager is so that they can get you everything you need,” she said. “It is their job to connect you to resources. You have the right to file a grievance and say that you’re not getting the services that you’re supposed to get.” But between being over worked and so many people coming into the system it’s easy to see how the process breaks down.

    Hayslet admits that Harbor Interfaith under the Coordinating Entry System is at a disadvantage. They have two case managers with 60 caseloads each.

    “How does one person case manage 60 people? You can barely keep up.”

    She also noted that the funding exists to provide clients with assistance, but the question is how to provide effective case management with limited resources?

    Harbor Interfaith has one case manager as a housing and retention specialist for families that have received housing. The other handles intake for every family that comes to Harbor Interfaith.

    Weaver and Hayslet agree that the past couple of years have been particularly challenging, noting the community’s involvement can be a help and a hinderance.

    “We want to help educate our communities,” Weaver said. “But when it’s more of, ‘why can’t you do this differently?’ We have guidelines we have to work within. If we don’t work within those guidelines you can seriously hurt the funding that we are getting down here.”

    Random Lengths recounted Dolby’s journey through Coordinated Entry System from Union Rescue Mission to Harbor Interfaith’s Accelerated Learning & Living program.

    No longer under the immediate threat of sleeping in the street with her teenage daughters, Dolby is excelling in school and working toward the life she’s been dreaming of creating for her daughters. What’s undeniably true is that she wouldn’t be in this position without Harbor Interfaith.




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  • Across the Divide

    The 2016 Presidential Race: A Choice of Democratic Socialism vs. Corporate Capitalism

    By James Preston Allen, Publisher

    The 2016 race for president seems to be spinning out in ever more curious and historical proportions without there being clear winners on either the Democratic or Republican sides.

    Clearly the Trumpers’ revolt on the conservative side is causing real teeth-gnashing amongst the Republican Party leadership. But even with his collection of primary “wins”, he still hasn’t garnered more than half the delegates he needs to win at the convention.

    Similarly, Hillary Clinton, the odds-on-presumptive candidate, is in the same position of not having broken the halfway mark to the goal of 2,383 delegates. What this means is that the downstream primaries of California and New York, where the bulk of voters reside, may still hold sway in both parties late in the season. That means that both the insurgent campaigns of Bernie Sanders and that of Ted Cruz could win enough votes to force a brokered convention in the two parties.

    Upsetting as this disruption is for the party elites and the Washington establishment, it does make for an entertaining political process that does have historical precedent and is embedded in the DNA of American political culture.

    Think about the very birth of the Republican Party and the demise of its conservative predecessor the Whig Party—founded in 1833 and dissolved in 1854. Political parties rise and fall based upon the politics of the day, but the democratic process continues. The only question is whether the Republican Party can survive Donald Trump’s candidacy?

    The fear of his nomination has to do with whether the republic could endure his presidency. This, I believe, would be America “making a great mistake.” Trump’s use of widespread fear mongering and race baiting would so drastically divide this nation, that his elevation to the Oval Office would make the current dysfunction in Congress appear slight by comparison. And, he wouldn’t even have the full backing of the Republican Party that nominated him. The July convention in Ohio should really be something to witness.

    What is really curious is how the Sanders campaign is serving as the counterpoint to Trump’s. It is a political uprising of the like we haven’t seen since presidential races of Sens. Eugene McCarthy in 1968 or George McGovern in 1972.

    The Sanders revolt is addressing the very core issues of inequality to which Trump supporters are reacting. The difference is that Sanders’ supporters are more educated and that Sanders’ attacks are specifically directed at the Wall Street banks, the big pharmaceutical corporations and the resulting decline of the American middle class.

    Sanders does this without demonizing Mexican immigrants and everybody else Trump has accused of making this nation less than great.

    Sadly, this is not the first time this country has faced off with its own nativist form of fascism. The American author Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) wrote It Can’t Happen Here in 1935, a novel about the election of a fascist to the American presidency. This was a controversial book at the time of its printing and was a cautionary tale in light of what was rising up in Germany and Italy at the time. It was a thinly veiled critique of American politics of the Depression era. Its hould be used today by history and English professors to explain Trump’s rise as a populist.

    Sanders’ win in Michigan comes as no surprise. His fortunes in Wisconsin on April 5 could go the same way considering the strong Robert LaFollette progressive tradition there.

    However, if the California primary still holds sway come June 7, one might want to revisit the campaign of the other Sinclair—Upton Sinclair, whose End Poverty In California campaign set the historical precedent in 1934. Like Sanders, Sinclair was also a socialist turned Democrat and he ran on a platform that is almost uncanny in similarity to this one.

    The battle lines have been drawn. The best contest would be one that gives the American people the choice of Democratic Socialism or national Corporate Capitalism.

    I fear that Clinton, with all of her baggage, will pull off the Democratic nomination and take the middle path, leaving loyal Republicans with the choice of voting for their party and a candidate who would do more harm than good or voting for the one person (Clinton) they’d rather indict in lieu of not voting at all.

    In the end the battle between Sanders and Trump would most clearly define the issues and the sides of the current political debate. That would be one debate worth watching.

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  • FALLUJAH — world premiere @ Long Beach Opera

    We all know the broad strokes. After 9/11, the George W. Bush administration misled Congress into authorizing the Iraq War, one of the most ruinous missteps in American history, costing the U.S. over $2 trillion and claiming the lives of over 4,000 American troops. That’s nothing, of course, compared to what has befallen Iraq itself, where over 150,000 civilians died for little more than swapping Saddam Hussein’s rule for civil war and an opening for ISIL.

    Operatic stuff, to be sure, far too sweeping to be told in any single story. So Tobin Stokes and Heather Raffo do well to take on “Operation Iraqi Freedom” (America, fuck yeah, here to save the motherfucking day) by focusing on a narrow slice of life in the eponymous city and how it reverberates for a young U.S. Marine and a younger Iraqi.

    USMC Lance Corporal Philip “Houston” (LaMarcus Miller) is already confused about whether Iraqi civilians should be regarded with compassion or fear, when four U.S. contractors are brutally killed, setting the stage for a major incursion by U.S. forces. While on patrol Philip encounters Wissam (Jonathan Lacayo), a boy more interested in gaining some understanding of why his family is being chased out of their ancestral home than in fighting. Months later Philip is stateside and suicidal, shattered by the death of fellow Marine Taylor (Todd Strange) and his own murdering of Wissam’s mother, Shatha (Ani Maldjian).

    Why Philip kills Shatha—or even exactly how it happens—is a mystery to me. If I’d seen Fallujah on DVD, I’d be going back over this part to see whether I missed something, but all I can tell you right now is that, as staged here, Philip’s killing Shatha seemed like a part of the plot to be fleshed out at a later date. Fallujah is not especially plot-driven, though, so this lack of clarity is more puzzling than fatal (no pun intended).

    What drives Fallujah is the trauma of war. The center of Fallujah is the hospital room where Philip is on 72-hour watch after his suicide attempt, while just outside the door his mother (Suzan Hanson) waits to see him, struggling to grasp how he has been changed by his wartime experience. Fallujah is a world away now, but its effects are lasting, both at here home and back where the now motherless, homeless Wissam will come of age.

    On the emotional front, Fallujah is effective enough. Musically there is probably too much recitative (my least favorite thing in opera), and much of Act One’s music seems unfocused. But Fallujah gets stronger as it goes, largely due to the increased focus on the roles of the two mothers. Stokes’s strongest compositional turns are his evocations of tenderness, and so as the mothers get more involved, Fallujah takes flight. The pinnacle is reached after Shatha’s murder, when she wonders from beyond the grave how she can possibly leave her son, while months later Philip’s mother wonders how she can help put hers back together. Both Maldjian and Hanson excel, and Fallujah is never better when they’re singing together.

    Raffa’s libretto is awkward in places. No doubt most Marines say “fuck” plenty, but in Fallujah singing it sometimes sounds like old folk trying to emulate how kids talk today, an impression augmented by lines like Philip’s singing, “My mother was a whore,” which feels like it’s coming out of mouth of a character in 19th-century lit than a 21st-century Marine. Raffa has come up with a compelling frame for discussing the tragedy of the Iraq War; she just hasn’t quite found the perfect words for it.

    Structurally, Stokes employs abruptness—something you don’t typically get in opera—to great effect in two scenes. The first is Taylor’s death. Although to this point Taylor has been a minor and unsympathetic character, his sole solo comes as over a picture of his 1-year-old daughter he laments that does not know him at all. Suddenly, he is dead, his face blown off by a sniper shot. We get nothing graphic here, but the sudden shift of emotional focus has its way with us. A similar effect is achieved by Fallujah‘s finale, when a short, simple melody is ended almost as soon as it’s begun, leaving an ambiguous apropos of the story and general subject.

    Fittingly staged in the U.S. National Guard building (commonly referred to around town as “the Armory”) at 7th and MLK, Fallujah is the latest entry on the list of Long Beach Opera’s site-specific operas. Hana S. Kim’s video design usually works—especially nice are the projections that more or less envelop the audience on three sides—although on occasion jaggedly rotating images (to indicate distress) are a bit obvious. Equally obvious is how good the stage direction during the one scene when Andreas Mitisek has members of Philip’s platoon move up the aisles to vocalize within and behind the audience, creating a bit of surround sound. It’s curious why Mitisek didn’t exploit this possibility more often.

    There’s an important idea at the heart of Fallujah, and Act Two features some particularly strong music. If Stokes and Raffo use their world premiere as a launching point, don’t be surprised if in 10 years Fallujah is stronger overall than it is today. Unfortunately, Fallujah will be as deadly relevant a decade from now as it is today, because the traumatic effects of the Iraq War will be with us for generations.


    (Photo credit:  Keith Ian Polakoff)

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  • DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY @ Little Fish Theatre

    Like so many 1950s suburbanites, Herbert, Ethel, and their daughter Cindy like Ike, and—on the surface, at least—they revel in the predictable, button-down ethos is the rule in Orchard Grove. But three escaped convicts upset their domestic tranquility, raising questions about whether home is really where the heart is.

    If that description entices you into thinking you may get dark explorations of the suburban soul, forget about it. Rich Orloff’s Domestic Tranquility screwball slapstick à la Mel Brooks, though without pushing any envelopes.

    That’s the only thing you need to take away from this review in deciding whether to see Domestic Tranquility, because Little Fish does an apt job with the material. With energy that never flags, the cast is silly and over the top, which is probably the only way to do a play like this. You want Jerry Lewis, not Robert De Niro.

    Orloff’s 1950s suburbia is something like Pleasantville. But unlike Gary Ross’s cinematic masterpiece (sidenote: Ross must have made a deal with the devil on that one, because nothing else he’s done is remotely close), there’s no cultural explanation in Domestic Tranquility. Its mid-’50s culture is just the setting, there for little more than yuks and throwaway period references (Edward G. Robinson, On the Waterfront).

    As for the humor, for the most part you see every punchline coming from a mile away, and the blows Orloff lands are pretty soft. On the rare occasions he goes for more he gets mixed results. The prime example is a pair of flashback scenes. The first, which involves two of the escaped cons in Catholic school as kids, not only falls flat in its satire of priestly lust for young boys, but it gets quite creepy as one of the boys wants to give his bare bottom to the lusty father. But moments later we’re into the second flashback, which involves Ethel (Shirley Hatton) getting electroconvulsive therapy from a doctor and nurse (Daniel Tennant and Bill Wolski, doubling from their primary roles as two of the convicts). This is pure slapstick, and it works to perfection, making for the play’s funniest scene. Orloff follows these up with a disclaimer of an aside that makes for his most clever moment.

    Director Holly Baker-Kreiswirth gets about as much as she can get out of the material. She has her actors covering the entire depth of the stage (the audience at the Little Fish Theatre is seated in a long L configuration that abuts the ground-level stage area, giving the cast a lot of room to roam), so the proceedings never feel physically static. Even the scene changes keep the audience engaged, as in the half-light the actors pantomime various exchanges between the characters during the “offstage” passage of time.

    But Domestic Tranquility is what it is. If Mel Brooks lite is appealing to you, you’re home. If not….


    (Photo credit: Mickey Elliot)

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  • Brouwerij West Celebrates Its Grand Opening

    By Gina Ruccione, Restaurant and Cuisine Writer

    Most were of the mindset, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” but it has finally happened. After years of delays and construction, the highly anticipated Brouwerij West opened its doors Feb. 27. The grand opening was nothing short of a party.

    For most of the day, at any one time, the Brouwerij West and Crafted warehouse lots were filled with about 1,500 people. At the end of the day, the number of attendees tallied up to 4,500.

    I’m still recovering from the copious amount of beer and snack intake that occurred Saturday. Here’s what you missed and here’s what to expect going forward.

    The brewery, which you all know by now, is in one of the coolest buildings of all time— a massive World War II-era warehouse in the Port of Los Angeles, boasts a five-tank brew house, bottle shop, tasting room and Belgian-style beer on tap.

    I personally don’t know everything there is to know about beer, but I can tell you that I had little to no problem enjoying the first of the batches that rolled out.

    Brian Mercer and David Holop, the magical duo behind the full-production craft brewery, have had tons of visitors in recent weeks for pre-tastings, but Saturday was really meant to be a celebration.

    Four food trucks and several local bands including Bombón, Crow Baby and The Underground Railroad to Candyland fed and entertained the crowds of people.

    Construction challenges proved to be the main culprit behind the lengthy grand opening delay.

    What started as a 16-week project went on for 42 weeks, and while it is not registered as a historic building, it is very old. Parts of the building aren’t level— and that proved to be more than a challenge, but obviously well worth the wait.

    The inside is gorgeous and the space is expansive. The glowing strings of bistro lights illuminate the stunning space, giving it a rather charming ambiance.

    Oh, did I mention that this almost didn’t even happen in San Pedro?

    As it turns out, the brewery was originally intended to be in Long Beach, but Mercer and Holop saw the potential and ran with it.

    As a native to the area, I can say that we’ve certainly been waiting for something like this to hit San Pedro—it deserves to be a destination spot and this brewery will only add to the appeal.

    OK, so what about the beer, right?

    Forgive me, but I don’t know a ton about beer or the whole process, so this called for a bit of research, which basically means I had to read a lot about beer and then drink a whole bunch of different beers (for research, of course). As it turns out, I tend to gravitate towards sour beers. So imagine my surprise to find that Brouwerij West has a sour beer called Super Orange.

    It’s made from more than 500 pounds of sour oranges from Northern California.

    At the moment there are six beers featured and most are saisons. For those of you who don’t know (I didn’t either) saison is the French for “season.” They are meant to be refreshing, highly carbonated and tend to be fruity or spicy.

    Originally this pale ale was brewed in farmhouses in Belgium in the cooler months and intended for drinking during the warmer months of summer.

    They have a blackberry saison called Dog Ate My Homework and it is totally refreshing—fruit forward but not sweet and very drinkable. The Bitter Blonde was another one of my favorites—hoppy, bitter with a dry finish.

    Here’s yet another awesome tidbit about the beer: the bottle art is rad. All of the bottles feature different artists and they are awesome. I’m a very visual person and if I don’t know a ton about a product in the beginning, I tend to lean towards whatever is aesthetically pleasing. I think most of us can attest to that. I mean, consider going into any store to buy something. How long do you stare at a shelf and then just end up grabbing something familiar or something that looks cool? If I am experimenting with a new product, I opt for the cool packaging.

    And yes, there was talk about adding a restaurant to the space and yours truly will happily keep you updated, but it looks like we’ll have to wait on that…for the time being.

    For now, the brewery is open from 4 to 8 p.m. on Fridays and noon to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s family, pet and skateboard friendly.

    Venue: Brouwerij West, 110 E. 22nd St., San Pedro
    Details: www.brouwerijwest.com

    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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  • LAHC Architecture Department Chairman Invests in Former Students

    Photo by Phillip Cooke

    Michael Song Purchases EZ Plan Franchise to Help Students Gain Experience

    By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor

    Students who get a credential or degree from an accredited university or trade school are supposed to be able to find jobs. These days, students are caught in a catch-22. Employers require candidates to have work experience in addition to their credentials.

    Michael Song wanted to solve this problem, at least for the students who completed Los Angeles Harbor College’s architectural program.

    Song, who is the chairman of the department, said about half of his students transferred to universities.

    “The other half don’t go for a variety of reasons: family, money, time,” Song said. “There [isn’t] a market for students who do not have a bachelor’s degree or experience. Now, if they have experience, that’s another story. But coming out of junior college, who is going to give them that experience?”

    Song recognized another problem: consumers with small construction projects couldn’t afford to hire professional architects. Most architects design libraries, government buildings and other large scale buildings. But if a consumer just wanted to add a bedroom or a bathroom to his or her homes, most architects won’t take the job because there is just not enough of a profit margin.

    “So, often times, the consumers turn to drafting services or drafters and some of them do not have the experience or expertise of an architect,” Song said.

    After 15 years of teaching at the community college, he decided to do something about it.

    “I thought, ‘What if I could create an entity that would be directed by myself, who is a licensed architect, provide consumers with a licensed architect that could help them through their project and also provide an opportunity for my graduating students to gain work experience?’” he said. “So that becomes a win-win situation.”

    He invested about $120,000 toward equipment and an EZ Plans franchise that he plans to use to give his former students experience. EZ Plans is a professional services business that offers cost-effective architectural services. According to its website, “the company was founded on the belief that many homeowners are being excluded from their home improvement dreams.” The company offers set prices on most projects.

    “The reason why I was interested is because they identified the same needs that I felt was lacking in the market,” Song said. “So, it just happened to be a good fit.”

    The company sells franchises to people who want to run an architectural office. The franchise provides management training, marketing assistance, a home-based business model, a state- of-the-art mobile office design studio and access to three-dimensional models.

    “But for me it is really about getting my students more work experience and…providing the community with a professional level of expertise,” he said.

    The Way It Works

    The business model is simple. Clients call EZ Plans’ corporate office, which fields the call and finds a franchisee who services the client’s area. EZ Plans contacts the franchisee, who in turn, makes an appointment with the client. After an interface, the franchisee assesses the project and determines whether it is a project that can be undertaken.

    “Obviously, we are not looking for huge projects,” Song said.

    Song and his former students would be in charge of drawing the house as is, do research with the city and the zoning department, then provide the client with a design solution before drafting actual blueprints. Once they are submitted to city and a permit is issued, their job stops.

    Song plans to work with students who have graduated from the architectural program at LAHC and supervise the projects.

    “The idea is that they have graduated,” Song explained. “They don’t really have a place to go in an architectural office because they don’t have experience. So, those are the students who I will take. I will give them real-world experience. Of course, they’ll get paid for that job, too.”

    Song and four of his former students are taking on their first project in Downey. For now, they are looking for a space where they can do their work. The former students will be working as independent contractors, meaning they are working out of their individual homes.

    “It’s an experiment,” Song explained. “I need students who are self-motivated; I need students who are problem solvers; I need students who are technically sound, and I have them. I already have them.”

    To ensure that they are paid fairly, Song’s former students are working under a consultant agreement through the EZ Plan franchise. In essence, Song will be treating his former students as professional consultants and he will be overseeing the work.

    “Whatever is left will cover my overhead,” Song said. “Clearly, I’m not doing it as a money-making venture.”

    He envisions his project would work through a cycle of two to three years. His former students will work with the franchise, gain experience and move onward, making way for new sets of students to become part of the franchise project.

    The Commitment

    Although the workforce involved in the EZ Plans franchise is comprised of Song’s former LAHC students, the school itself is not involved in the project due to liability concerns.

    “It is a huge undertaking,” Song said. “I debated doing it for many, many years and I certainly don’t need the headache of trying to run a business. But there was just such a need.”

    “My students spend two to three years with me. I get to know them very personally. I am committed to them in teaching them and educating them.… But they can have that opportunity if they can go out and say, ‘Hey, I have three years of real-life work experience… and the degree.’ Then they have a fighting job at getting a real job at an architectural office.”

    Beyond the technical skills they’ve learned at school, the franchise offers his former students an opportunity to gain professional skills on the business side of running an architectural office.

    The Long Term Vision

    Song expects his level of involvement with the franchise to lessen within two years. His goal would be that the four former students he is taking under his wing will become project architects, who in turn will do most of the business management.

    “Hopefully, the business generates enough income for all four of them to be happy,” Song said. “Then, all the other students will filter in.”

    Of course, he won’t be able to remove himself completely from the business, because he is the licensed architect.

    As far as his investment, Song doesn’t foresee a return for at least four to five years. That’s OK, he said. As long as the business sustains itself, he’s happy.

    “My hope is that community understands the intent of the business,” he said. “We are really trying to service the community. In turn, the community will service our students by giving them valuable professional experience.”


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  • OPALINE (A DELIRIUM FOR A PARCHED PLANET) @ the Garage Theatre (world premiere)

    The world had to wait an extra half-hour to be introduced to Fengar Gael’s Opaline (A Delirium for a Parched Planet). Technical difficulties, the two-dozen audience members were told. Life in a black box can be a challenge.

    The Garage Theatre has volunteered for a variety of challenges during their 15 years, taking on works that push the limits of what such a small outfit is equipped to handle. When it pays of, it can pay off big, such as the Garage’s version of Trey Parker & Matt Stone’s Cannibal! The Musical a few years ago or last season’s first-ever staging of Tom Stoppard’s radio play Darkside. The latter brought one of Stoppard’s representatives from England to see what the fuss was about and earned the Garage official “world premiere” status from the Stoppard camp.

    Opaline isn’t Darkside, but Gael would do well to follow Stoppard’s lead and recognize the Garage’s savvy expansion of physical elements in her script, because Opaline is a better play on the Garage stage than it is on the page.

    While investigating matters related to the discovery of the corpse of a woman who was roughly 160 years old, forensic anthropologist Dr. Hargraves Moss (Allen Sewell) is led to the estate of Gaston Verdante (Adam Brooks), a dissolute but masterful painter whose domestique Opaline (Josephine Black) appears to be a younger version of the decedent. But Moss makes two discoveries of greater importance. One is the absinthe that Opaline excels at making. The other is Circe, preternaturally represented by the statuary of Verdante’s precocious young cousin Bibi (Cassandra Bell).

    Opaline has some cutesy fun with elements of noir and la vie bohème. The dialog is often pretentious, but that’s part of the gag. While the humor didn’t as well with me as it did for some of my fellow theatergoers, the characters’ growing enthusiasm for absinthe each time it’s offered does get funny.

    What lifts Opaline above the words on the page is the Garage’s expansion of the role of Circe. Portrayed by Gregory Ceseña, Erin Grissom, and Jeffrey Kieviet and gorgeously costumed by Cat Elrod as ensouled scupltures, director Caprice Spencer Rothe and choreographer Ashley Elizabeth Allen show the Greek goddess as explicitly controlling a great deal of the action, including the characters’ perceptions and motivations, despite Circe’s not even being listed as a character in Gael’s script. It’s a strong choice not only contextually, but it gives the play a distinct visual element it sorely needs. The three-sided set, which runs behind the audience on two sides (part of the fun of seeing multiple shows at the Garage is to walk each time and reorient yourself to each new set-up), furthers this effect, as does Yammy Swoot’s lighting design.

    The coordination between Ceseña, Grissom, and Kieviet is perfect. By turns they strike poses across the theater from each other, next to each other, and as a single unit, embodying both statuary and animating the paintings within the empty (i.e., to the audience) frames that line Verdante’s parlour. They effect set changes and ply the characters with absinthe, then dance as the characters become increasingly intoxicated. They bring to the fore questions of what is hallucination and what is reality. All of this is achieved with grace and strength. Allen couldn’t have done better with the movement element of Opaline, and she couldn’t have chosen a better trio to flesh out her conception. If anything, we want more of it. The penultimate scene of Act One, too long as written and without a Circe in sight, really drags. When it comes to scene changes, on occasion the Circes are helped by other actors, which is a miscalculation. Yes, the changeovers would take longer were it just the Circes, but giving all of the changeovers music (inexplicably, some take place in silence) and letting the Circes do their balletic thing would be playing to this show’s strengths.

    As for the rest of the cast, they have found their respective voices, but on opening night they had yet to imbue the stylized dialog with the conversational tinge it needs to work as well as it can, seeming to be recalling their lines rather than reacting and forming replies. Some of their best moments came on the rare occasions when a line was slightly flubbed. Those little pauses and stammers—and more importantly, the spirit of such moments—can be highly effective. Expect this tinge of naturalism to spread as the run progresses and the cast settles into their roles. Presumably they’ll also iron out glitches like one character’s miming (not very well) taking pictures with a cell phone that is clearly off (which stood out as a gaffe even before a later scene in which a different character actually takes pics).

    Opaline (A Delirium for a Parched Planet) is nothing if not a flight of fancy, a fever dream played for laughs. As such, the journey is more important than the message. To whatever degree the journey here is worth taking, it’s far more so in the green light of the Garage’s attempt to drive it forward.


    (Photo: freshframefoto.com)

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  • Stop Crashing the Art Walk

    Open Letter to City Councilman Joe Buscaino

    By Andrea Serna, Art and Culture Writer

    I am writing you this letter because lately I notice that you have become kind of—excuse the term—rude.

    You keep crashing the party.

    It appears that your office feels that scheduling crime forums during San Pedro’s First Thursday Art Walk will improve attendance for your events. Judging by the successful, standing room only attendance this past February and September, I would say you do not need to lean on the art walk to build your audience.

    The first time you crashed the San Pedro First Thursday Art Walk was in September, 2015, for a forum on homelessness. The citizens of San Pedro were in a state of alarm over the recent outbreak of tiny houses and tent encampments on our streets. You got the idea to schedule the forum at the Warner Grand Theatre during the art walk. I suppose it was done to drive attendance to the forum. No assistance was needed. The theater filled up with concerned citizens who were desperate for an answer to the intractable problem that is affecting the entire nation. From what I understand, the event was full. Because I am a gallery coordinator, I was unable to attend the forum. Many artists, who were also working their galleries, were not able to attend even though they see the problem around us every day.

    That first occurrence in September resulted in a low turnout for galleries and we wrote it off.

    More than 30 galleries participate in the First Thursday Art Walk. A great deal of work goes into scheduling, advertising and marketing our exhibitions. The result of that hard work is that on one day of the month, downtown San Pedro comes alive with people in the streets and shops making money.

    I have personally spoken to visitors who have come to San Pedro from downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Orange County because they heard about our art walk. Many of these people are first-time visitors and eager to return. The First Thursday Art Walk is a special, almost enchanted night. It is the one night we are guaranteed an audience for our work.

    Didn’t you realize after your successful September forum that you don’t really need the art walk to bring folks to your community safety forums? The impact on the February art walk was much more severe. The corner of 6th Street and Pacific Avenue was filled with dozens of Los Angeles Police Department squad cars, along with satellite news vans and individuals protesting police violence. Who would stop for an art walk with that kind of circus atmosphere?

    I can see it now, “Pull over honey, this looks like fun!”

    Most of the gallery owners I spoke with said attendance in their galleries was low.

    But wait … food trucks! The food trucks were still here. Is this is the reason why you chose that night? Was it meant as a convenient way to draw a crowd and feed your friends at the same time?

    Your office sent me two emails in response to my complaint about this issue. Both of them, using the exact same verbiage:

    “We decided to host the forum on that date as we were trying to make it convenient. We had hoped it would bring more people to downtown San Pedro to attend the forum and also visit the galleries, restaurants and local businesses after the forum concluded.”

    We did not see a single person from the forum.

    The irony here is that many artists are moving to San Pedro based on reasonable rents and a supportive arts community. We moved our studio here from Long Beach for this very reason. In addition to your propensity for crashing the art walk, we have also found that Property-Based Improvement District will unilaterally decide to close down the streets for random car shows with little or no notice. I would like to make the point that we all pay for a business license and pay rent and utilities to keep our business open. Ours is not a live-work space. It is a professional gallery work space, a business just like many others.

    A multitude of studies have shown the impact of the arts on neighborhood revitalization. A study titled “The Role of Arts on Neighborhood Change,” funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and conducted by the University of Texas, Arlington states that: “The arts remain a primary localized factor attributed to facilitating neighborhood change. A great deal of case study work demonstrates that individual artists, artistic businesses, and artistic spaces (e.g. small galleries, theaters, music venues, and art studios) function as a “colonizing arm” that helps to create the initial conditions that spark revitalization.”

    All these factors exist within a four-square block of San Pedro. Artists have spent 20 years building this environment.

    So now the March art walk is here and you have announced another opportunity to bring the LAPD to the party. Yolanda Regalado is opening Sirens coffee house to your crew for an evening called “Coffee With a Cop.” I anticipate black and white squad cars lined up in front of our gallery driving people away and sending a signal of unrest or disorder during the evening.

    My question to you is, what’s wrong with Saturday morning for coffee? You don’t seem to see the paradoxical nature of art walks and crime forums. We are attempting to create alluring, provocative stimulation for our visitors. You are signaling, “caution, danger ahead.” There is a time and a place for both, but not on the same night.

    Since you are going to be in the neighborhood, I invite you to do the art walk this month. Talk to the gallerists who have been impacted by your recent co-opting of First Thursday. All along the way you will pass Gallery Azul, Post-Future at Williams Bookstore, Warschaw Gallery, Gallery 478 (a traditional ending point for the evening), The Loft Gallery, Hirokos, Angels Ink and Huz Gallery.

    So councilman, please, consider the galleries that have worked so hard to make this evening a success. Have your forum on any other night. The restaurants and bars will all be open. Your current strategy is causing a tremendous waste of effort, focus and communications.

    The art district wants your support. All we are asking is let us work. The cliché of the dreamy lost artist is far from the reality of the art world. Art—making it and selling it—is work. We are asking for one day a month, the first Thursday, to do our job.


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  • RENT @ Cal State Long Beach

    by Greggory Moore

    I may have been the only theatre critic in America who’s almost totally unfamiliar with Rent. All I could have told you prior to now is that it was a big hit, has something to do with AIDS, and is parodied in Team America: World Police.

    Nonetheless, it was apparent to me early in Act One that Rent is meant to be a spectacle on a scale that perhaps no undergraduate production—even one helmed by the redoubtable Joanne Gordon—can deliver.

    This may be an unfair criticism. I was there to review an undergraduate production, after all. Plus, why shouldn’t part of Gordon’s mentoring this generation of young thespians include trying on shows of all sizes?

    But this review is supposed to help you decide whether you want to put your good money down. Well, that depends on what you want in return. It’s my duty to inform you that if you want Rent in all its potential glory, this isn’t the production for you.

    Full disclosure: I wasn’t going to love Rent even if I saw it on Broadway, where it won a Tony, a Pulitzer, and remains the 11th-longest-running Broadway show in history. Really more of an opera than a musical (there’s more recitative than spoken dialog) with a thin plot that in Act Two starts jumping forward as if it were a film that producers took away from the director and cut for length, if Rent works, it’s because the broadly-drawn characters strum your heartstrings with their songs. Because to me the music is often meandering (fuller disclosure: a problem I have with most musicals). Clearly, I’m not the University Players’ target demographic.

    Nonetheless, I found things to like. For starters, it’s a spirited cast. Rent is a high-energy show if there ever was one. Bored I wasn’t, partly because the energy was always flowing, with the knob turned up to 11 when need be. The highlight along these lines is “Christmas Bells”. Way too complexly layered to sing along to in your car, it would be a terrible mess were the full ensemble not in polyphonic lockstep. But the cast pulls it off without a hitch, and it’s exciting.

    The standout cast member is Christian Sullivan, who imbues Angel with that special sort of projection the best musical actors always seem to have—and that’s before we even get to numbers that give him a lot to do, like “Today 4 U”. Other cast members have their moments. “Tango: Maureen” is a clever, charming back-and-forth between Mark (Christian B. Schmidt) and Joanne (Nicole Royster) about their former and current lover, respectively. Maureen herself is introduced later, in “Over the Moon”. Because “Over the Moon” is both the longest stretch of the show focused on a single character and a performance within Rent‘s plot, whoever plays Maureen is going to stand out, for better or worse. Thankfully, Kayla Kearney gives us the former.

    In terms of pure songwriting, for me two songs tower above the rest, and the University Players deliver these effectively. One, of course, is “Seasons of Love”, so famous that I knew it without knowing it’s from Rent. Composer Jonathan Larson perfectly marries the simple beauty of his catchiest melody line with the concept of living minute by minute for the (sing it with me) five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes that make up a year, the duration Rent‘s action. I reviewed a production of A Chorus Line a couple of years ago, a musical I knew fairly well thanks to my mother’s obsession with it but hadn’t heard since childhood. I didn’t like it any better than I did as a kid, but when they performed “What I Did for Love”, I had to admire the craft. “Seasons of Love” is that moment in Rent. (God knows Larson thought so: he wrote half of Act Two around its motif.)

    The other is “Will I?”, a simple, spare, haunting bit of songwriting that by itself makes me glad I saw Rent. “Will I lose my dignity,” members of an AIDS support group ask each other. “Will someone care? Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?” The company turns these three lines into a round, harmonies taking flight from all sides, music that seems to imbue their fear of dying with all the dignity the characters hope to preserve. Powerful stuff.

    Unfortunately, the orchestration of the University Players’ production isn’t set up to propel the bigger numbers so effectively. Bass, drums, guitar, and a couple of keyboards (one with a poor excuse for a piano sound) probably isn’t enough under any conditions, but the music here is needs to be 50% louder to give Larson’s music the push it demands. This volume problem leaves the vocalists exposed, which hurts a young cast whose talents are in development.

    Visually, the staging feels incoherent. Costumes seem random (should Roger really be running around in a sleeveless vest during a frigid New York winter as he battles HIV while living in an apartment with no heat?), and the c. 1990 period specificity of Rent is sabotaged by anachronisms (everyone has a cell phone like the one in your pocket, we’re inundated with iconic images of the recent Wall Street crash). The choreography is also a jumble, with the cast’s energy dispersed as often as it is focused.

    Because of its complexity and its genetic predisposition to be spectacle, Rent is a hard show to stage. Give the University Players an A for effort, but you weren’t expecting Broadway, right?


    (Photo credit: Keith Ian Polokoff)

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  • Clem Pennington is the Whole Package

    Story by Melina Paris, Music Columnist
    Photo by Phillip Cooke

    It really pays to check out local restaurants with live music. You never know what you might find.

    A couple of weeks ago, the newly reopened Beach City Grill featured the vocal sensation Clem Pennington.

    During the 1960s Pennington worked as studio musician, as a percussionist and a vocalist, and at times he filled in as a vocalist for the Spinners and the Drifters.

    The Spinners and the Drifters were two contemporaneous rhythm and blues groups that emerged in the early 1950s. They continue to perform to this day, supporting the idea that the group is greater than any one individual.

    Rolling Stone magazine’s story, “100 Greatest Arts” called the Drifters the least stable of the great vocal groups of the time. They were low-paid musicians hired by George Treadwell, who owned the Drifters’ name.

    The Spinners were a more organically grown group started by several friends in a housing project in Detroit in 1954.

    Pennington wasn’t intimately connected to these bands, but he contributed his silky and smooth style frequently.

    He looked like a million bucks. Neatly groomed and distinctively dressed, he wore black and white pin-stripe slacks, wing tip shoes, a white dress shirt with a black applique on the collar, and a black and white striped tie.

    At 77, you’d think his repertoire only included old school R&B. It’s the opposite. Pennington is belting out hits like Michael Jackson’s Rock with You, Human Nature and his posthumous release with Justin Timberlake, Love Never Felt So Good. Pennington has even included Robin Thicke’s Morning Sun and Pharrell Williams’ Happy on his song list.

    Originally from Kansas City, Mo., Pennington was reared in Los Angeles with his mother and grandmother. Pennington began his singing career at 11 years old in church. Back then, church went on all day long, he said. So he gained much experience, which set the stage for his future in music.

    Pennington dropped out of high school early, married, started a family and went into the Navy. After his Navy service he went back to night school for his diploma. He attended Los Angeles Trade Tech College, El Camino College and earned credits through the Navy, combining all three to earn his associate of arts degree in computer languages. He went on to University of California Los Angeles earning a bachelor’s of science and eventually went to work at Hughes Aircraft as a chemist.

    While serving in the Navy at Point Mugu, Pennington sang in a group called 4+1, with four marines, he was the only Navy man. The foursome participated in the 11th Naval District Talent Show and the top six acts would go on to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. Pennington’s group came in seventh. He said those types of close chances were frequent in his music career, but it’s clear he is a musician who has always done well for himself through consistent work.

    Pennington started professionally as a drummer playing bongos and congas with a well-known Latin and jazz percussionist of Puerto Rican ancestry. Through Bobo, he met The Drifters and The Spinners. Pennington called himself one of the unsung heroes. He sang first and second tenor and played percussion behind these groups while he was a studio musician at Epic Records. If one of them was sick or out for some reason, he stepped up to sing in their place.

    During this time in the 1960s Pennington also sang at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas, all while still backing the Drifters and the Spinners and playing percussion in the studio. Two of the most popular songs he recorded on were Under the Boardwalk, with The Drifters, and I’ll Be Around, with The Spinners. He was a work-a- holic and says he still is.

    Some of the musicians started having personal problems and addictions, so Pennington pulled away from the groups in the late 60s. Pennington shifted his energy to working at Hughes Aircraft full time.

    When he retired in 1992, Pennington revived his musical career seemingly without missing a beat.

    He met Spencer Chung, who owned Hong Kong Gardens Restaurant in Torrance. Pennington was purchasing karaoke equipment at an outlet in the same mall as the restaurant. When the owner of the outlet heard Pennington singing, he introduced him to Chung who was starting a karaoke night. Chung gave him a job singing in his restaurant and Pennington performed there for 13 years. He also performed at the Golden Lotus Restaurant in Palos Verdes for the next five years. In 2009, he got a gig at Think Prime Steakhouse and has been there since.

    During the past five years Pennington has taken his brand abroad, performing in Beijing and Shanghai. He also consistently spent the first week of June and July singing at Harrah’s and at Rio, respectively, in Las Vegas until 2013.

    Hearing Pennington’s smooth voice it’s no surprise that two of his biggest influences are Johnny Mathis and Marvin Gaye. He has covered Mathis along with other contemporary classics on his own CD titled, I’m in a Romantic Mood.

    What fulfills this balladeer the most is connecting to his fans.

    He relates a story from when he sang at The Golden Lotus. A doctor approached Pennington to tell him that when he came in the restaurant he had knots all over his body. But after having his dinner and listening to him sing for a couple of hours he was completely relaxed, free of pain.

    “When a doctor tells you, you healed him— I felt 10 feet off the ground,” Pennington said. “Now of course, when I sing in the church I have that healing, that is (when) I get the most out of it. I’ve done what I’m supposed to do.”

    Pennington continues to get gigs. He is starting a new residency at Beach City Grill on the second, fourth and fifth Thursdays of each month.

    In recent years, during the holiday season local residents around the peninsula hire him to perform at their holiday parties—an opportunity resulting from his performing at Think Prime.

    He sings at the steakhouse from 7 to 9 p.m. on Fridays. His lineup there includes R&B, jazz and contemporary classics such as Johnny Mathis, or songs from Phantom of the Opera.

    “Everything from Uptown Funk to My Way, which even the young crowd loves,” Pennington said. “I love people and I love to see them happy. I’ve tried to live my life like it says in the Bible, ‘love thy neighbor as you love thyself.’ I think what people don’t pick up is this whole world is your neighbor. We have neighboring cities, neighboring countries, that encompasses everybody. God said to love.”

    Pennington knew he would never get far from music but he also knew he had a paycheck coming every Friday from his gig at Hughes Aircraft. Many people who he sang with ended up having problems. Success is not for everyone, he reasoned. He wants young people in show business to realize that they have to be educated in handling money in order to keep their success and to always get an education.

    Listen to Pennington at http://tinyurl.com/ClemPennington and at http://tinyurl.com/ClipofClem. See and hear Pennington live at the Beach City Grill in downtown San Pedro on March 10 and every second Thursday.


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